Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Review (PS4) – “Enter Madness”

Developed by Ninja Theory (Devil May Cry 2013, Heavenly Sword), Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice tells the tale of a young Pict (think Celtic) warrior who travels into Norse Hell to beg for her deceased lover’s soul back. His head, strung around her waist and wrapped in burlap, is a constant reminder of her loss and motivation. From the beginning this literal symbol sets the tone of the journey as we witness this round bag begin to take form of a skull and “breathe”. You see, Senua is not a normal warrior, due to the trauma she has undergone, she is forced to live with symptoms of severe psychosis. Ninja Theory uses this story as an attempt to de-stigmatize the culture surrounding psychosis and shed some light on what people who suffer from this ailment have to live with. So, does Hellblade deliver the innovative and delicate package in an enjoyable game, while simultaneously educating its player base? Or will it make you go mad just attempting to comprehend the complexity of it?

Story: 4/5

Luckily for us, Ninja Theory has indeed accomplished their quest to not only provide us with an incredible game, but properly portray mental health issues in a medium that has not really been utilized before. Hellblade puts you inside of Senua’s mind from the beginning. You start by cautiously rowing down a dark, eerie river and though you can see no one besides Senua, you hear voices – many voices. Some are encouraging, some are scared, and some mock you. This goes on for a good few minutes until you finally reach your destination. By the time you disembark your hand-crafted boat, the voices are already permeating into your own personal thoughts and you become quickly emerged into Senua’s way of thinking. She is scared but determined, and as one of the voices tells you to turn back, you push the boat away, out of reach, and you know that you are now fully committed to the task.

Senua’s journey starts her at the gates of Hellheim, Norse mythology’s depiction of Hell. They are locked and therefore you must travel to the two gatekeeper’s lands in order to defeat them and unlock the gate. Before you can advance too far, you are rushed by a number of demons who would thwart your efforts to enter the land of the dead. During this, you are presented with a very interesting mechanic. Considering Senua’s mental state and the strain of the tasks that fall before her, Ninja Theory has given the player a way of monitoring her mental degradation in a visual way by creating what is simply called “the Rot”. A grotesque depiction of her ailment is emblazed on her right arm. Brown and oozing, as flesh melts away it slowly eats at her, growing up her forearm to her neck and eventually her head. The game specifically and blatantly states what will happen if you let the Rot devour Senua by dying too many times: Senua will be consumed by it, perish, and your entire progress will be lost (or will it?). This instantly creates a feeling of anxiety in the player to match that of Senua’s. The constant reminder that too many mistakes will cost you everything is all too real and intense, and instills an incredible ongoing experience.

Upon venturing to the first gatekeeper’s land, your host of voices are joined by another, Druth, who helps guide you and keeps you moving forward. He acts as Senua’s reasoning and persistence by helping her make sense of the world. Senua’s entire journey is symbolic in many ways and the gatekeepers are a fantastic way to display this. One represents Senua’s physical suffering. As you traverse the scorched, scarred and barren wastelands of this region you are reminded of not only her own anguish, but of those around her; those she lived with and watched die. The atmosphere of this adventure evokes a feeling of helplessness, guilt and pain.

The other keeper represents Senua’s mental suffering. Illusions and hallucinations fill this area to give you a paranoid feeling that at any time, from any place, something is going to come after you. By the end of this section, you feel you can no longer trust anything you see, perfectly embodying what Senua herself would be seeing.

Upon opening the gate and venturing into Hellheim, you are presented with a feeling of accomplishment and assurance that you may actually be able to do this. You are then knocked down a few pegs and a new voice emerges to cast doubt upon your every action. “The Shadow” as he is called, has a terrifying air about him and will take any chance to demoralize you and berate you. Senua must learn to press forward with all of these conflicting voices in her head as she struggles not only to physically continue, but to build up the courage to do so as well. The journey becomes more difficult as she progresses and with every gripping cutscene you experience, you become more and more attached to her until her story becomes yours.

Laid out along your path in the story are objects called “lorestones”. They are treated like collectibles, but only a few are truly difficult to miss. They give insight to Senua’s Norse religion and world; how things are explained by her people and why certain beings are present, as well as any lessons we can learn from them. They may not all relate directly to the story, but many give background and are at the very least intriguing to hear about, it would also be wise to collect all of them, as this is the only miss-able trophy for a one playthrough platinum.

Throughout the story we get glimpses at Senua’s life before the incident. Most of the tales are not happy ones, but they all give way to pieces of information that help explain why Senua is in her current state. Her story is rarely laid out plainly in front of you; it takes a little bit of critical thinking to truly grasp what has just unfolded at times. There are flashbacks and dramatic changes in environment that cannot often be explained right away. Normally, this would be too confusing to follow in a game. However, Ninja Theory repeatedly introduces you to this concept of seeing through Senua’s eyes and you begin to understand that perhaps not everything she sees or experiences is 100% truth. This is not a story that should be played only once to fully grasp what has happened. Even at the end, I still had to take a minute to grasp what had transpired and what it meant for our beloved character.

While it doesn’t dive into the entire story, Ninja Theory has provided a bonus excerpt that should be watched once you complete the game. Due to the game’s dealings with psychosis, Ninja Theory thought it would be wise and helpful to include a 25 minute video explaining their creative process and the reasoning behind so many decisions. In this video, there are a few explanations to some of Senua’s experiences and background that help shed light on what has transpired if you have difficulty grasping it from the story.  This video was highly enjoyable and informative. My wife, a social worker who has studied psychosis and other mental illnesses, watched it with me and agreed that what they were showing and explaining was quite impressive. It was very comforting to know how and why they approached the game the way they did, and what they were trying to convey about psychosis. If you are to play this game, you should watch it (after completing it once of course).

Gameplay: 4/5

Hellblade splits gameplay into two successful sections: puzzles and combat. The former takes precedent, while the latter is treated as more of a break, until you reach the end of the story. The puzzles in Hellblade range from simple to moderate, and rarely frustrating. In an attempt to better showcase the effects psychosis might have on someone and their actions, most of the puzzles provide a demonstration of how Senua would try to make sense of her world. For instance, many locked doors have runes on them that appear to be random arrangements of lines. However, spend enough time looking at the world and you can find those exact lines somewhere hidden in say, the formation of a few downed trees. Once you locate the symbols, you can focus on them and the doors will open. Of course, the entire time you’re solving these puzzles you are constantly being led astray or doubted by the voices in your head. Other puzzles include seeing through illusions and altering your perspective of the world to drastic levels. While many of the puzzles won’t keep you hung up for long, they do a very nice job of helping you understand Senua’s mind, which in a game about psychosis is a very smart and tactful experience.

The combat in Hellblade is tremendously satisfying and rewarding. You can view the controls from the main menu, but outside of that there is hardly a tutorial on how to survive when up against demons. The game kind of throws you into the fray rather quickly, which aids in its quest to make you feel outnumbered, underprepared, scared and cautious – but capable. You can attack with quick, heavy or melee attacks (kicks/shoves to throw off balance); as well as dodge and block. Different hits and combos can be strategically used depending on the enemy, and this adds a nice layer of complexity and variation to the battles. Each hit you land on an enemy has a substantial weight to it, really solidifying your connection. Of course each hit the enemy lands on you puts you close to dying and subsequently allowing the Rot to grow. Senua is also able to build up a focus meter during combat which will allow her to slow time down and deal more damage faster to enemies. This mechanic saved me time and time again in the late game!

Combat is typically handled in a slow, standoff fashion as anywhere from 1 to… many… enemies dauntingly take their time advancing upon you. You can lock-on to a single enemy and take them on one-on-one, but you’ll need to be cautious about the other encroaching threats. Thankfully, the voices in your head will warn you if you are about to be attacked, or when you should dodge, block, or finish an enemy off. In a world all by yourself, it’s good to have some backup. Boss fights tend to be a little faster-paced, but that doesn’t mean they will only last a short while. A particular boss fight took me 20+ minutes to defeat even with constant attacks on my part (this may be patched out in a recent update). Each fight you are presented with is a tense battle, and though I never failed a fight sequence, there were many times when I had to take a minute because I thought there would be no way out of this – that surely, I was meant to die to progress the story instead of defeat everything the game had thrown at me. This terrible feeling of unavoidable failure is paramount in delivering Senua’s experience to the player. You are not a one woman army. You will struggle. You will doubt yourself. But you will persevere.

There were times when I was frustrated by the combat however. A few sequences pit you against seemingly endless enemies in small quarters, and to navigate around to avoid them is difficult when you have to stay locked-on to one at all times. You find yourself dodging repeatedly just to move faster and it kind of takes you out of the experience – not to mention get you killed easily.

The game is quite linear with very little actual exploration, though some is necessary to find all of the lorestones. Advancing through the story, the gameplay is a fantastic way to exhibit Senua’s evolving emotions and really helps pull the player in more.

Graphics: 5/5

From the beginning, Hellblade is a gorgeous game. Textures, lighting and physics all play well together to form a complete package that surrounds the player and plunges them into the world. With the game focused on Senua in third-person, it is reassuring to see her dreadlocks, matted and torn, in such great detail. Her face shows life throughout the game and easily shifts from emotion to emotion. Her clothes are worn and get progressively worse as you tread through the underworld. The environments are clean and detailed, to the point where simply walking around is a pleasure.

While the game is primarily set in dark tones (considering it IS Hell after all), the game does offer a few glimpses into a lighter, warmer atmosphere that is equally as detailed and enjoyable.  Due to the consistent darkness of the world, these breaks into a more joyous environment really pop and provide a feeling of being at ease, if only for a moment.

Enemies are just as detailed as Senua, and will show injuring and scarring as you damage them. The interesting thing is how the developers handled cutscenes and other characters. The times when Senua is alone and featured in an important scene, Ninja Theory uses their new technology to achieve incredible precision in facial feature tracking. At one point, my wife walked in during a scene and was taken back by how she thought Melina Juergens herself was being shown. These moments are breathtaking in their graphical fidelity and accuracy in facial expressions. Other cutscenes take a less impressive, but still effective, route of delivery. Senua is portrayed closely to how she is in gameplay, which is still very well done, however the main voices she hears in her head are shown as distorted renders of live-action actors. At first this contrast was a bit jarring, however upon thinking on it for a few minutes it makes complete sense. Everyone Senua talks to is not actually there. The stark difference in illustration of the characters is a clear portrayal of Senua’s suffering: that she knows, on some level, that these voices she is hearing and these people she is talking to do not exist. This visual aid for the player may seem a bit unpolished at first (also considering this was potentially done in part to save on costs), but it works with the theme of the game and yet again delivers an amazing experience to the player to keep them in Senua’s world.

There were only two instances in the game where physics seemed to overrule the laws of the game and constant pieces of enemies began to convulse rapidly, becoming very distracting and off-putting but not persistent. With a simple, yet satisfactory photo mode active during almost the entire game, you can capture some truly beautiful or haunting moments. The graphics also seemed to hold consistently with no noticeable drops in framerate.

Sound: 5/5

The perfect bow to wrap up the gift of Senua’s journey is how Hellblade handles the game’s audio. Upon starting up the game, you are notified that it is best enjoyed with a headset. I was using a 7.1 virtual surround sound headset, as well as listening to the game straight from the TV for comparison. There is a stark difference and I highly recommend playing this game with a headset, even if it isn’t virtual surround sound. This is because (as detailed in the bonus “Hellblade Experience” video) Ninja Theory captured their audio tracks in 4D, so the voices that Senua hears were literally coming from certain directions. Considering the voices are omnipresent, they need to feel like they surround you and it is pulled off near perfectly. This feeling of being unable to escape the influences of your own thoughts is essential to the experience.

Hellblade not only uses these voices to create an atmosphere for the player, it also chooses when they are most frequent or in the most eerie of times, not present at all. This careful balance of voices, music, environment, and ambience audio tracks are so meticulously crafted you won’t even notice them changing. The audio alone captures the entire motif of Senua’s adventure. Not only was the background exceptional, Melina’s, and the other actors’, performances were among some of the best acting in video games in the past few years. They were able to draw you in and create the emotions they needed to portray with ease and consistency.

The game also had a very natural flow to it. Using the audio in parallel with the story, the game was able to control the player’s feelings to help smoothen out the more “intense” events of the game, as well as build you up with self-assurance when it needed too! Hellblade would not have been half the game if it slacked on the audio aspect, and thankfully for all of us it truly delivered a flawless experience.

Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is much more than a warrior’s journey of love. It is about overcoming, as well as accepting, aspects of one’s self that were previously holding you back. It marvelously ensnares the player into the emotions and state of Senua, and effectively ensures that you are right there with her the entire time. Through a clever system of puzzles, overwhelming combat, as well as audio and visual trickery, Ninja Theory created a game that simulates aspects of psychosis in an effort to better destigmatize the illness. Acting in Hellblade is impeccable, and while it can at times feel like a slower-paced game, it is thoroughly enjoyable and challenging. The story can be a bit confusing at times, so multiple playthroughs are recommended (only about 6-8 hrs per playthrough). This $30 game should not be passed on by anyone who wants an experience different from any other game.

Pros:

+ Only $30

+ Satisfying and challenging combat

+ Complex story

Cons:

– Somewhat repetitive puzzles

– Never ending feeling of doubt

– You may start to hear voices…

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was purchased by the reviewer and tested for the PlayStation 4 system.

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Phantom Trigger Review (Switch/PC) – “Worlds Collide”

Phantom Trigger is the latest indie to hit the Nintendo Switch courtesy of TinyBuild and Bread Games. This pixelart, top-down hack-and-slash, or “neon slasher” as the developer calls it, has you slashing, whipping and punching vile creatures through various environments. Is this hack-and-slash worth the experience?

Phantom Trigger has you start off playing as Stan, an ordinary human being who is married and trying to get through life. Things take a turn for the worse very quickly though, as Stan collapses on the kitchen floor in front of his wife. Suddenly, you will play as a different character known as the “Traveler” in a fictitious world that has zero semblance of reality. This distorted world has you meeting outlandish characters, each of which help hint at what is going on. As you progress, the game will instantly switch from gameplay in the distorted world, to seeing what is happening with Stan in the real world. There are times when you will choose the dialogue for both characters to carry a tone and weight to the story. Certain items you collect and how you utilize them will also affect the ending. While it doesn’t take long to realize what is really going on here, the premise is really intriguing. Phantom Trigger’s story is by far its main highlight. It’s a very engaging story that tackles a fairly important struggle in reality.

The game is a hack-and-slash at its core with some RPG elements in place. Playing as the Traveler, you will wield three weapons in hand: an ice sword, energy whip, and fire gauntlets. You can do three-hit combos, and each hit will garner XP for the weapon used. Each weapon is mapped to the face buttons and accessible at all times. As you level up your weapons, you will unlock various mix-and-match combos that will help when dealing with groups of foes. Certain combos may provide an elemental attack that can freeze enemies in place, burn them gradually, or even draw enemies in upon a small blast. Also, the Traveler has the ability to teleport dash, whether for dodging during combat or simply to move around faster. As you progress through the game, enemies will ramp up in numbers and variety. You will feel the combat intensifying the further you progress. If things get too hectic for you, you can always grab a buddy to play local co-op together. There are times when you can breeze past combat, but several segments where the environment will be sealed around you, forcing you to defeat everyone before advancing.

When you’re not fighting for your survival, you will be scouring the environment finding obscure items and solving puzzles. This does help break up the combat a bit. The items collected will seem odd or even out-of-place, but by the end, they are there for a reason. There are occasionally shrines you will come across as well that will boost your XP for specific weapons. Each weapon can reach up to level 7, which is the max. By the end of the game, you will have maxed out all three wielded weapons without any issue or unnecessary grind (unless of course you didn’t mix up your combat). Certain areas will require some minor puzzle-solving to open locked doors. This can consist of playing essentially “Simon Says” by hitting totems in a right order with the right colored ability, or moving a mine cart around a maze of tracks to collect a specific item. It does help break up the pacing of the game. Also, the end of each level has you facing a boss. These boss battles will require your wits and thinking outside the box to solve. The bosses are actually well-done for the most part, but one particular boss will really have you scratching your head that resulted in pure luck to figure out. Upon beating the game, there’s an Arena mode to unlock, which is basically an endurance mode.

Phantom Trigger does have some issues unfortunately that do hurt the overall package. First off, the game’s initial load time takes almost one minute just to get to the main menu. That is a very lengthy loading time, especially where it’s just a single image to look at that would make you think the game froze. Second, there are several times during dialogue sequences where some of the words are misspelled. Third, the framerate takes quite a hit during combat, specifically in the second half of the game where there are significantly more enemies on-screen. Third, there are some collision detection glitches that occurred. There were two times when I was able to run through a wall. There was a combat sequence where I was closed off from escaping, yet I was able to run right through the barrier. This segment I tested a few times and it was always the same spot and barrier I could run through. There’s a segment with a mine-cart that shows the cart continuing off the track and out of the level entirely. What’s strange is if you run in the opposite direction and then run back to where the mine-cart should’ve stopped, it will magically appear there. Thankfully this is a glitch that fixes itself, but happened almost every other time the mine-cart hit a corner it was supposed to stop at. Now the game features four different endings, which means you’ll need to replay the game a few times to see each ending (should you make the right choices). Unfortunately, there is no New Game + mode to make it easier to return to. Combat is neat and all, but it does get repetitive after a short while. Also, the game’s checkpoint system is a bit flawed. I’m all for challenging games, but checkpoints are very easy to bypass here, and dying can set you back upwards to ten minutes of progress. May not sound like a lot, but it adds up when you keep dying in the same spot. Lastly, the level designs can be maze-like, and there is no map system what-so-ever. While checkpoints usually direct you on where to go, it’s very easy to find yourself going in circles or getting lost.

Visually, Phantom Trigger is a nicely detailed pixel-art title. Animations are pretty smooth for all the characters, and the environments all have a specific style to them. The game runs at 60 fps…well, it tries to but ends up dropping closer to 30 fps most of the time. It doesn’t make the game unplayable by any means, but the drops were very noticeable and consistent. Audio wise, the soundtrack that is here accompanies the game decently, but nothing that stood out. Honestly, the music takes a backseat for most of the experience. Sound effects on the other hand do a great job of distinguishing the combat. Each attack from the weapons have a distinct, almost musical, tone to them. Even the audio that plays when you get closed off in an encounter just sounds very cool. I just wish the soundtrack stood out more during the game.

Overall, Phantom Trigger is a neat game that tells a gripping plot. The story alone was the driving factor to see where it was going next. In terms of gameplay, what is here is solid, but certainly repetitive. Couple that with some technical issues and odd game design decisions, and it just feels like a little more time was needed to polish it up. It’s a good game that’s worth your time for its story, but it was hard to return to upon completing it.

Overall Score: 6.5 out of 10 = Wait for a price drop…

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Phantom Trigger! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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Infinite Minigolf Review (PS4/X1/Switch) – “Minigolf Times Infinity”

Zen Studios has certainly acquired quite the reputation with their excellent Zen Pinball titles, which are available on almost every platform to date. Since then though, the team has only worked on a few titles outside of their big pinball hit, such as Punisher: No Mercy and Planet Minigolf (both of which were PS3 exclusive titles). After some time, they’ve decided to take a break from their pinball roots and return to a familiar field, minigolf. Infinite Minigolf has now released for PC, PS4, X1, and Switch, and is a sequel to Planet Minigolf. Is this minigolf game worth the putt or is it a complete bogey?

Minigolf has always been about varied, fun locales brimming with imaginative set pieces and scenery. With Infinite Minigolf, the wacky locales are here, but as are some unique twists. This isn’t your typical minigolf game, but rather a more fast-paced, over-the-top game of putt-putt. You will enter tournaments across three different locales: Giant Home, Nightmare Mansion, and Santa’s Workshop. Giant Home is kind of like Andy’s Room from Toy Story, with plenty of toys and games that fill up the environment. Nightmare Mansion is your Halloween-themed environment full of bats, spiders, swinging spike pendulums and tombstones. Lastly, Santa’s Workshop is your snow-filled, Christmas-themed environment filled with elves, candy canes, presents and plenty of ice. Each locale feels very unique and provides their own identity (and challenges) to each course.

Infinite Minigolf is not about getting the ball sunk into the hole with the least amount of hits. Well, it is, but the game revolves around who can get the highest amount of points within nine holes. Throughout each of the courses, there are blue orbs littered around to collect, as well as a purple diamond. Getting these will bump up your score quite a bit, especially the purple diamond. Additionally, the real curve ball mechanic are the power-ups that are attainable at each hole. These power-ups range from rocketing a ball forward, getting full control of where the ball rolls (within the momentum the ball has from the hit), stopping a ball in place, blasting items away from your ball, magnetizing the ball into the hole, etc. These really change the dynamic of the game and really help push the fast-paced flow of gameplay. Controls also help with the game’s flow, and are quite simple for anyone to grasp. You can turn the character with the left analog stick, and then control the power of the hit by pulling back on the right analog stick. You can control the power meter by slowly maneuvering the right analog stick from its centered position and all-the-way back, and vice versa. Any other buttons to use are highlighted on the game’s HUD. It’s simple and intuitive, making it accessible for anyone to play.

The game’s core mode is the Tournament mode. You go up against three AI opponents and compete to have the highest score by the end of the nine holes. There are four tournaments in each of the three locales, with three difficulties to work your way up through. However, the game’s highlight is by far its Course Editor mode. The Course Editor mode gives you an unprecedented amount of freedom creating the course that hits all the right notes. You can choose which of the locales you want to build a course on, then cycle through an abundant amount of pieces to put everything together. Straightaways, curves, spiral loops, upside-down loops, speed boosts, interactive pieces, power-ups, orbs, diamonds…the options are tremendous. You can choose the height of the course and even place objects on and off the course to further add life to the course. Now, it should be noted that there is no tutorial in place to learn the Course Editor. However, there’s nothing here that can’t be figured out by spending 10-20 minutes playing around with the tools provided. You can test out your course, and then go back to editing seamlessly, tweaking each element to your liking. Once done, you will have to test the course and finish it to validate that it’s ready for uploading. When all is said and done, you will then name your course and once uploaded, it will be available for all Infinite Minigolf players. So if you make a course on the Switch version, PS4, X1 and PC players will be able to play your course as well. This universal connection for user-created content is outstanding and removes any restrictions of trying courses that all Infinite Minigolf players create.

Infinite Minigolf gives you a range of characters to play as, each with their own personality. Each character reacts differently to how they sink the ball in the hole with unique winning poses and one-liners. However, you can also create your own character. As you win tournaments and also level up throughout the game, you will earn cards pertaining to each set of clothing and gear. You will use these cards to unlock the clothing and gear you’d like equipped for your custom character. Hairstyles, shirts, pants, belts, shoes, clubs and golf balls are all customizable. This method of unlocking content is a bit of a grind though since you get randomized cards for tournament wins. There are even challenges you can complete that will earn your gold coins, which can be used to buy a pack of cards. It’s almost like having currency, to buy currency, to then buy items. Thankfully, there are no micro-transactions for this, otherwise there would be some serious currency-ception.

When not playing solo, Infinite Minigolf features both local and online multiplayer with support for up to eight players. You can take turns passing the controller around or have multiple controllers connected (as much as the console supports). What is really neat is that there are a variety of modifiers to tweak for a match. You can choose to play with Classic minigolf rules, unlimited ball jumping, the number of strokes allowed for per course, etc. You can even make things really wild by changing the ball type as an egg, pyramid, puck, cube, and more! This really makes things interesting, and downright hysterical. When playing online, the game has lobby support. Simply open your friends list, send an invite and they’ll jump right into your lobby. Like local play, you can fully customize your matches (should you play a Private Match) or jump into a public match with others. What’s interesting is that unlike local’s turn-based play style, everyone here putts at the same time. Once sinking the ball in, you can watch the remaining players finish the course. If it’s a custom course, you can even rate the course while waiting. The simultaneous play makes things frenetic, but you can make it more so by turning on the ball collision modifier. The overall online experience was quite smooth, especially on Switch.

There are a few issues to be found in Infinite Minigolf. First off is the grind mentioned above when unlocking gear. Second, when controlling the power meter with the right analog stick, there seems to occasionally be a delay in the meter correlating with the control stick sensitivity. You can adjust the sensitivity in the game’s options, but it seemed to still have a split-second delay somewhat. It’s not game-breaking by any means, but could be just a tad smoother. Third (and this is entirely dependent on user-created courses), there are times when people will place speed boosts next to a ramp. However, if the ball doesn’t go up the ramp fully and rolls back down into the speed boost, it’ll never be enough power to get it up the ramp. This leads to the ball being stuck in limbo and leaving you at the mercy of the game, praying that the ball will move enough to eventually stop and let you putt again. There’s an option to skip the hole, and that seems to be the best solution, but you’re penalized with getting zero points for the course. Now this is more of an issue if it’s an online match, whereas a local match you could easily restart the hole. Fourth, on the Switch, there is no voice chat support at the moment. Here’s hoping Zen Studios provides voice chat support through the Nintendo Online app (despite its choppy start).

Visually, Infinite Minigolf is a very vibrant looking game, with clean texture work. Characters have smooth animations, as do the objects on course and the ball itself. As mentioned earlier, the environments themselves are very well done and are great to look at. The game runs at a locked 30 fps and never dips below that, which is nice. In terms of audio, there is a variety of sound effects. Whether you are using a power-up, simply hitting the ball, collision with the various objects…it’s all fitting for sure. The music also does a great job of capturing the environments you will be putting in, as does the main menu track. The odd thing though is that when creating courses, the music will play once, and then never repeat…just sound effects play at that point. This also seems to occur when playing online and waiting for the player(s) to finish, the song will not loop until you’re back in-game for the next course. It seems to be a glitch that could use some patching. Outside of that though, the audio is very catchy.

Infinite Minigolf is a great minigolf game that should not be overlooked. It’s highly accessible mechanics really make the game an easy to pick up-and-play game of putt-putt. There’s more than enough in-game content here to keep players busy for sure, but the in-depth Course Editor is the main highlight without question. Couple that with the ability to play and share courses that are accessible on all platforms and you really have “infinite minigolf”. Despite some gripes, Infinite Minigolf cannot be recommended enough (especially Switch owners since it’s perfect for on-the-go gaming). It was very difficult to put the game down. Even when taking a break, I wanted to keep returning to play a few more rounds and create more courses.

Overall Score: 8.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Infinite Minigolf! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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Has-Been Heroes Review (Switch/PS4/X1/PC): “Still-Are Heroes”

Has-Been Heroes is the latest title from developer Frozenbyte, known for their Trine series. This new title is a unique strategy RPG in the market with rogue-like elements. Are these heroes worth joining?

Gameplay: 3/5

Has-Been Heroes is unlike any other game in the genre. You start off the game with a bit of exposition, laying out the ground work of who these heroes are, and what has become of them. These old, tired heroes are tasked with one last quest: to escort the king’s daughters to school…and man, what a treacherous path it is to this school! That’s as much exposition as you’ll get, and that’s honestly fine since it’s enough to get the game going.

Has-Been Heroes is not your typical RPG, and thankfully provides you with a proper tutorial to have you understand the intricate mechanics. When starting an area, you will use the right analog stick to choose a location to go to from the map. Highlighting the area next to you will show if it contains a battle, has a merchant to buy things from, has treasure chests, or may be empty so you can just safely pass by.

Battle mechanics are very engaging. When in battle, your characters are always moving, as are the enemies. You will have to press the button that corresponds with the character you’d like to attack with (X, Y, or B), and once chosen, you will attack with the A button. Each character will have to wait before attacking again, and they each vary with cooldown timers. More integral to survival is understanding the stamina mechanics. Enemies not only have health (indicated by the red bar next to them), but stamina boxes as well (indicated as green boxes next to their health). Stamina basically works as a shield before you can chip away at their health bar. If you chip away their stamina enough to stun them, and then give them a quick attack afterwards, you will knock down their stamina capacity, making it easier to stun them the next time you attack them. Stamina does build back for enemies after attacking them, so knocking down their stamina gauge is absolutely pivotal to victory.

The same applies for your characters as well. They each have a specific amount of stamina and health that you’ll need to keep an eye on. Naturally, the knight is like a tank and can withstand the most damage. The elder monk is fairly weak, but is utilized more as a knockback character. The young rogue character has speed in her attacks and can dish out more hits in a combo. On top of this, each character has a spell that can be summoned. Spells all vary on whether they’re elemental or not, passive or aggressive, and ultimately can change the course of battle if utilized right. Combat can (and will) get very overwhelming and thankfully you can pause the time so you can carefully plot your attacks across the three lanes of battle.

So here is the thing about Has-Been Heroes: It’s difficult…insanely difficult actually. Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Nioh…you’ve heard of those games by now for their high difficulty (all of which I’ve beaten for the record). Has-Been Heroes’ difficulty is a whole new breed though. This is where gameplay experiences will vary among players. If you like your games to be easy and a walk-in-the-park, well this may not be your cup of tea. If you welcome a challenge, then Has-Been Heroes will certainly do so. All it takes is for you to get frazzled and overwhelmed in combat to quickly fall to your demise. If a single hero dies, it’s game over. No continues, no checkpoints. After all, this is a rogue-like game.

Now, Has-Been Heroes has some issues that hurt the gameplay a bit. First off, the game has a feature where the camera zooms in with certain attacks. This is nice and all, but the problem I had was that the game would glitch and the zoomed-in camera would be stuck, leaving me with no view of the battle. This happened twice during boss battles and resorted to my characters dying. Thankfully, this camera feature can be shut off in the options menu, but it’s still something that needs to be addressed. Secondly, the game’s difficulty, while more than welcome for this reviewer, feels unbalanced at times. There were times where I was able to blast through both regular battles and boss battles, and there were other times where I would falter at the first regular battle due to an absurd amount of enemies randomly generated. Boss battles are also an exercise in frustration, as some of them throw far too many enemies into the mix, making it inevitable for your characters to meet their doom. Also, it would’ve been a great feature to be able to choose a spell loadout based on the spells acquired in each playthrough. Instead, you will have to randomly come across spells at each merchant and hope for the best. Ultimately, it just feels like there are numerous times where the game relies on luck, regardless of how skilled you are at it.

Issues aside though, there’s no denying the amount of enjoyment I had playing this game. The gameplay was addictive, and no matter how many times I died, I always found myself coming back for more.

Graphics: 4/5

Visually, Has-Been Heroes is a more simplistic approach from the developer’s previous Trine series. At first glance it may appear like a mobile title, but don’t let that dismiss you. What we are treated with here are nicely drawn environments and characters, each with their own unique animations. The game does run at a solid 60 fps and the overall aesthetic is very crisp. The main gripe is the text font when playing on the TV. While on the Switch screen it’s easy to read, it’s pretty tiny on the TV. Despite that though, the overall game is easy on the eyes and quite vibrant (which is expected from the team that made the visually stunning Trine games).

Sound: 4/5

The audio design is incredibly well done in Has-Been Heroes. Outside of the narrator, characters have minimal voice acting, but what is here is completely fine. Sound effects are strong and capture the intensity of battles. When entering a level, the narrator actually sounds almost reminiscent of that from the Gauntlet games. The majestic score is great here as well. Whether advancing through the land, in combat, at merchants, or the spell gambler, the tunes all fit the setting superbly. I found myself really getting into the soundtrack and humming it outside of playing the game.

Replay Value: 5/5

For the $20 price tag, there is an insane amount of content and unlockables to be found here. Has-Been Heroes contains 10 different endings, a ton of additional characters to unlock and play as, and countless spells and enemies to discover. As mentioned in the gameplay segment, this is a game that was very addictive no matter how difficult it was. The Switch version in particular really shines in this department, as it is a perfectly suited game to have on-the-go. There’s a lot of bang for your buck here and it will keep you coming back for a long time.

Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Has-Been Heroes may seem like a simple, mobile style game from first glance, but what’s here is an incredibly difficult, yet very rewarding game. The engaging combat system, crisp visual art style, strong audio and plethora of content makes Has-Been Heroes a great package for the asking price. Again, this game may not be for everyone. Even with its unbalanced difficulty curves, it never discouraged me from trying again repeatedly. For those who do appreciate the challenge and invest the time into it, there’s a very deep game overall that will have you coming back for quite some time.

Second Opinion
Written By Karl Upman

From the developers of the Trine series comes a very different, very new experience. Has-Been Heroes tells the tale of old, retired heroes who really shouldn’t be put in charge of guarding anything but their own front lawns. But nonetheless here we are, guiding our time-worn travelers through treacherous terrains. Accompanied by a third member of the group, an aspiring heroine, the unlikely lot set out to deliver the king’s two daughters to…school. If that doesn’t set the precedent for the game, I don’t know what will. Has-Been Heroes is set up to be funny, and in many cases it succeeds! However, the amount of laughter quickly died out for me because I kept…well…dying.

Has-Been Heroes is a rouge-like, strategy, dark souls-esque game where you have a starting and end point, and in between are procedurally generated pathways and “rooms”. I tend to like this set up; give me a dungeon with areas to explore and I’ll be content for hours. But this is a different formula and the key to enjoying it comes down to one thing – luck. In my first two hours of the game, I couldn’t beat a single enemy encounter. It was only after playing for a bit longer and really understanding the mechanics that I realized I had been totally getting screwed over! I was getting loads of enemies thrown at me when I had no clue what was going on and I was expected to just learn. After a few frustrating attempts at making progress, I finally faced a relatively easy mob, only two handfuls of enemies compared to the waves upon waves I had faced before. This allowed me to finally learn the mechanics and progress… until of course I was overwhelmed time-after-time again.

I don’t mind the mechanics of battling in Has-Been Heroes, it’s unique, clever and requires a lot of planning – which the developers clearly recognized since you can pause the game to think of your next move at almost any time. What it comes down to is the consistent “enjoy-ability” of it. From the start, you’re incredibly overwhelmed with just the system alone, but you’re treated as though you’ve been playing it for weeks right when you jump in! It also would have been nice to get some recognition for making any progress at all, but the unlocks you get are seemingly useless other than to learn what you may or may not pick up in a future adventure. This was partially beneficial however, because the text is incredibly small and smooshed together, I could barely read anything during a playthrough. I did manage to defeat the first world boss once, and naturally was thrown into an impossibly difficult first battle in the next playthrough – so back to square one! Personally, I don’t get much out of games where your only goal is to see how well you can make it through an ever-changing labyrinth of suffering and frustration, only to walk it out with some new text to read.

That being said, I did take a few things away from Has-Been Heroes. The art style was playful and stimulating, and the music was a great balance of intense and out-of-the-way, allowing you to really focus on what was going on. When I could read the dialogue (playing in handheld mode on the Switch), I found the humor quite enjoyable. Although after dying so many times, it did tend to get repetitive.

I think some people will find satisfaction in Has-Been Heroes, but it’s definitely not just a game you can jump into and expect to enjoy – you’ll need to work at it and appreciate it for what it is: a rouge-like dungeon crawler that hands out dull consolation prizes and wants you to die…a lot.

Second Opinion Final Score: 6.5/10

 

 

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Has-Been Heroes! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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Mr. Shifty Review (Switch/PC) – “Shiftastic”

Mr. Shifty is a unique indie that’s part Hotline Miami, part Matrix, and part the opening scene of the X2 movie with Nightcrawler. Developed by Team Shifty and published by tinyBuild, Mr. Shifty has hit both Steam and Switch. Should Mr. Shifty shift his way to your library, or is it best to shift away?

During my time with Mr. Shifty, I can easily say that this is one immensely engaging game that was extremely difficult to put down. The game is played from a top-down view and is reminiscent to Hotline Miami (as I mentioned earlier). Mr. Shifty is a thief trying to break into Olympus Tower that contains the powerful Mega Plutonium being weaponized. His handler, Nyx, provides updates via comms (all text-based) with intel on where to go, as well as some background info. The main antagonist, Chairman Stone, becomes aware of Mr. Shifty’s presence and will stop at nothing to ensure his demise. The story in place here is just the right amount for the type of game it is. There’s enough dialogue exchange and never too much to bog down the pacing.

Gameplay wise, think Hotline Miami but without the dual-stick control or gratuitous amounts of blood. Instead, Mr. Shifty relies on his unique teleportation ability. Simply pressing the B button, you can teleport a few feet in front of you. Whether it be open area, through objects, or through walls, this mechanic is absolutely essential to survival. All it takes is a single hit for Mr. Shifty to meet his doom. This actually helps make the game so much more intense, and keeps you sitting at the edge-of-your-seat when caught in battles. You do need to be careful on your teleporting though, as Mr. Shifty can exhaust the ability. On the HUD, there are blue boxes that serve as your teleport stamina. You can teleport up to five times consecutively until you have to wait for him to cool down. However, if you space out the teleporting, you shouldn’t have this issue, as simply teleporting and waiting a second will replenish the stamina. Use it all up and it’ll take him much longer to regenerate (and this will definitely leave you vulnerable in battles).

Mr. Shifty does not resort to guns as a way to deal with his foes. Instead, he has his trusty fists, and can also utilize melee weapons in the environment. Make no mistakes, his fists pack a punch and will send enemies flying across the screen. When fists aren’t enough though, he can wield sticks, brooms, keyboards, wads of money, swords, shields, proximity mines, and much more. The weapons are all immensely gratifying to use, especially when you take out multiple enemies with a single swipe. However, it’s truly the game’s masterful design that makes combat clever. You can go into an area and take enemies out head on, teleporting between them and evading gunfire. However, if you go the more creative route, the game allows you to mess with the AI and trick them a bit. For example, there were times when enemies were chasing me and I’d teleport into a room, grab an active proximity mine, teleport back out, throw it and stick it on an enemy, and teleport into another room to watch the group of guards explode. Another time would be picking up a shield and throwing it like Captain America, taking out all the enemies in direct line of sight. You can even punch doors completely off their hinges into enemies, killing them instantly. When you take out enough enemies in a quick timeframe, you fill up a meter. Once the meter is full, you will have the ability to slow down time that automatically initiates before a bullet hits you. This gives you a few seconds to clear away from the bullet and get the upper hand on some enemies. The overall combat is creative and superb, and cannot stress enough how gratifying it is.

While doors will usually be locked until you take out the enemies in each area, the game has its share of environmental puzzles. You may need to find switches that shutdown lasers in an area, or you may need to find a way to get through a room with a switch that is in a field that doesn’t allow you to teleport (just to name a few examples). This sounds rudimentary, but I assure you, it’s done in very clever ways. The thing with Mr. Shifty is that throughout the game’s campaign, each level provides something unique to the mix, whether it be new enemies, new obstacles, or new traps. It really makes the game flow very smoothly and gives you that “just one more level” feel.

The main thing that hurts Mr. Shifty is that once you beat it (which took me just under three hours), there’s not much left to do. You can do a stage select to better your times and number of deaths, but that’s about it. There are no unlockables to be found. It would’ve been nice if there was a ranking system in place so that each level would grade you on performance. This would’ve definitely added longevity to keep replaying levels. Again, you can go for faster times and try to go for as little deaths as possible, so it is something.

Visually, Mr. Shifty is a cel-shaded game that uses the style brilliantly. Nice lighting effects and spectacular animations make this a game that’s very appealing to the eyes. Enemies all have equal attention to animation detail, and deaths are all handled with rag-doll physics that look great. Also, the environments are quite destructible, whether it be walls you break down, windows that shatter, statues that crumble, or desks that break. Almost everything is breakable and animates very well. The framerate stays at 30 fps, but there were times when too many enemies on-screen caused it to drop. There were even instances where the game would freeze for a split-second during heavy action sequences. The crazy part is that while this can certainly be fixed with a patch, the slow-down and split-second frame freeze actually helped me breathe for a second to carefully teleport out of harm’s way. 

Audio wise, Mr. Shifty has excellent sound effects that really draw you into the experience. Enemy guns sound crisp and powerful, melee attacks sound like they pack a punch, and explosions are nice and loud. Knocking enemies into walls sounds painful, and knocking them out of window to hear them yell to their doom are great touches. Music fits the game really well and keeps the game’s pace moving nicely. It has that right amount of heist tone to it, and then elevates to very fast-paced tunes when either escaping or caught in a trap full of enemies to combat. While I do wish there were more songs, the tunes were really catchy and I found myself thinking about the music outside of gameplay. Even the stage complete tune is incredibly catchy.

Mr. Shifty is a great game that was almost impossible to put down once started. Each of the 18 levels provide something new to tackle, and keeps you wanting to see what’s next. The sleek visuals, strong audio, and enticing gameplay make Mr. Shifty a game that cannot be recommended enough. While the game’s short length, framerate drops and lack of replay value hurt it a bit, the overall experience is a heart-pounding, adrenaline-fueled great time.

Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Mr. Shifty! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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Aqua Moto Racing Utopia Review (PS4/PC) – “Refreshing Ride”

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Extreme sports racing games are a dime a dozen nowadays, but there are some developers trying to rekindle relatable experiences, while also aiming for a new market. Swedish developer Zordix has been establishing themselves with a series that started on the iOS/Android called Aqua Moto Racing. In years to come, they brought their series to the 3DS, and now, they’re bringing the series to home consoles for the first time ever. Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is the latest installment in the series, available on Steam and PS4 (with a Wii U release in the near future). Is this worth braving the waves of the ocean, or is it stuck in open-waters?

Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is essentially a racing game that most closely resembles Nintendo’s “Wave Race” series. You will race through a series of championship events, each with different CC engine speeds, as well as jet-ski types (sit-down and stand-up models). The sit-down jet-skis are much more speed-focused, whereas the stand-up ones excel in stunt flexibility. Before hitting the waters though, you will start off by creating your own character. This is a nice way to kick things off by giving the player a bit of customization. There are a decent amount of options to tinker with to ensure not everyone looks similar out on the waters.

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Races rely on racing alongside the buoys in place on each track. You’ll be bobbing-and-weaving your way on the water to ensure you’re on the right side of the buoy you need to pass. If you miss three of these in a race, you’re disqualified. As you progress, you will earn cash based on your placement (as well as some to earn out on the track). This can be used to purchase newer and better jet-skis, with multiple attributes that are affected. Each jet-ski can be customized with a variety of colors, whether it’s the body or decals.

Each environment has a distinct feel, with multiple variation tracks to tackle throughout the game’s championship mode. Whether it’s the lush jungles, a water filled town in China, the open-ocean around tanker ships and oil rigs, or tropical paradises (to name a few), all of these locales are as fun to ride as they are unique. Another cool aspect is the option to race in first-person mode. The way the camera handles in this really adds to the immersion, whether you’re whipping around turns or doing flips in the air.

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Any game revolving around water is reliant on its physics, and honestly, the physics in place are quite good. The jet-skis handle more or less like they should on both calm and intense waves, with an arcade-style feel to it. It may be a little less interactive than Wave Race’s water physics, but what’s in place here works great. When going off of jumps and high waves, you’ll be able to pull off tricks as well. Doing so will allow you to gain boost. You can also pull off specific tricks while on water. The tricks are fairly simple to pull off, with some more advanced ones that take some time to master. There were some instances though (more evident during trick events) when the trick inputs didn’t respond, or the trick name was displayed but the animation kicked in after releasing the buttons. It worked well enough for the most part, but this particular instance is something that could be patched.

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There are plenty of modes to explore as well. Aside from the game’s core championship mode, there are time trial and free roam modes. Time trial is standard fare, except you’re provided times to beat to go for a gold medal in each track (aside from beating your own times). Free roam has you go around any of the game’s environments, but with a twist. There are “Z Balls” to collect in each environment, as well as a hidden collectible to find. Also, there are interactive events that can be triggered in each area, which is a great little feature to incorporate here. Then there’s the multiplayer modes. The game supports both local and online multiplayer. Local multiplayer has 4-player split-screen action, whether you’re racing against each other or tackling the party games together. The party games are a blast, whether it be Aqua Moto Hockey, King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, or our personal favorite here, Duckling Mama (think Super Rub-a-Dub from the PS3 launch days…if you ever played that). The online multiplayer strangely only consists of racing against others, with no party games to be found. While the party games are tailored more for the couch multiplayer, it would be nice to get friends together online to do this as well. That being said though, we were able to test out the online amongst staff members here and can say it ran quite smooth. Oh, and there’s a fairly attainable Platinum trophy to be found in this game as well.

I think we're going to need a bigger jet-ski...

I think we’re going to need a bigger jet-ski…

Visually, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is an incredibly clean and vibrant looking game. Environments look great, with some nice texture work and immensely inviting water. The objects and jet-skis are also well-detailed and appropriately scaled. Characters on the other hand are a bit lacking detail-wise, and have some stilted animations. There’s one odd animation too when landing from a trick. If you’re not fully complete with the trick, the animation doesn’t finish and goes right to the rider and his jet-ski being perfectly leveled with the water. Is it immersion-breaking? Not entirely, but it’s noticeable. On the flip-side, the game runs at a smooth 60 frames-per-second, which is a huge feat. The audio in AMRU is also right-on. Each environment has music that matches the locale very well, and the audio effects do a good job capturing the arcade-style feel to the game. The announcer on the other hand sounds mundane and unnecessary. Honestly, just going to the options and shutting him off makes it better.

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All-in-all, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is a great game that can easily be recommended to fans of arcade-style racers, and more so, fans of Nintendo’s Wave Race series (since Nintendo still has yet to return to the series within the past 15 years). Zordix has really evolved this series since its conception on iOS, and continues to get better each time. While the $30 price tag may be a bit steep for those on the fence, it’s certainly a worthy game to add to your collection. Between its vibrant visuals, addictive gameplay, and strong local party games, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is one wave you’ll want to ride.

Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Aqua Moto Racing Utopia! Copy reviewed on PS4.

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Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour Review (PS4/X1/PC): “Come Get Some”

In 1996, Duke Nukem 3D splashed onto the scene of PC and console gaming like a megaton. The brash, X-rated humor was breaking down the walls of traditional gaming narratives. Duke was in a class of his own with dialogue and gameplay that blasted through the standards of yesterday. Twenty years later, Gearbox Software has decided to release Duke’s best known adventure once again. The epic Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour is intended to appeal to both new comers of 3D Realms’ hero from the 90’s, as well as fans of old. Originally when it was released back in 1996, Duke Nukem 3D was one of the most significant titles in the FPS genre’s history. Its intricate level designs set it apart from its contemporaries back in 1996. What exactly makes the 20th Anniversary Edition worth trying out? Let’s dive in to find out!The great thing about this anniversary edition is that the original designers, Allen Blum III and Richard “Levelord” Gray, have returned to craft eight brand new levels for Duke Nukem 3D. The new episode takes Duke everywhere from the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, to Moscow, and finally to Hollywood for a final boss battle. However, rather than use current design technology, the pair decided to design each of these levels the exact way they would have done in ‘96. The result is amazing, playing these levels feels like they were always part of the original game. Nerve Software’s team understood what made the levels of the original game so entertaining. While these levels are not as large as the true original levels, they are still pretty large considering. Duke 3D famously had huge maze-like levels and made you want to explore each section of the map.

The gameplay holds up pretty well considering it has now been 20 years since its original launch. I feel part of the magic that kept this game’s gameplay current and not dated was its simplicity. 3D Realms created such a well put-together shooter that 20 years could not dilute it. I recently got to co-op a sizeable chunk of the game with Marcello (which can be viewed here for some good laughs). We were both reminded of how detailed and labyrinth-like the levels were. These twisty, but carefully crafted stages are not found often in today’s gaming. Too many modern day games simply create big levels, but overlook that larger does not necessarily equal a better level.

In addition to the single-player campaign, this release also features some good multiplayer action. You can face-off with others online in a mode called Dukematch, or you can team up with some friends to engage in online co-op. Much like the single-player campaign, these selections feel like a remnant from the old days of gaming mode choices. Duke’s simplistic gameplay is fun for playing single player, and is just as pleasing on the multiplayer side. The idea of playing 8-player co-op online with friends from a game released over 20 years ago is neat, and certainly adds longevity.

For the Anniversary Edition, Gearbox has given the original Duke Nukem 3D a minor restoration. Gearbox created a True3D Rendering mode specifically for Duke. The title still runs on the same game engine from ’96, however several visual aspects have been improved. The lighting has been considerably upgraded, and textures are just cleaner to look at now with my 2016 eyes. Instead of looking like a game from 1996, it can maybe pass for a game a few years newer. A feature that I love is the ability to toggle between the original’s visuals and the remastered’s visuals. Videophiles who want the original visuals can switch between the two modes with a press of a button.

The audio factor of the game also received several tweaks. Gearbox has brought the original voice actor of Duke, Jon St. John, to re-record his original dialogue, as well as record some new lines too. Even if the series of famous one-liners begin to dull after a while, St. John’s distinct voice is seamlessly right for the character of Duke. There is new music composed by Lee Jackson, which fits the heavy action that is constantly happening around you.

Another great feature added into this edition is developer commentary that has been placed in various points throughout the game. Several members of the Duke team recorded their views on it. It’s pretty interesting to hear some of their thoughts two decades later with a retrospect from the people who actually created Duke and launched him into gaming history. You will find some funny stories in these commentaries as well. Whether they’re discussing the making of it or the game’s impact, these little bits of commentary are fascinating. For those looking for a lengthy commentary spanning the entire single player adventure, you will be disappointed. Unfortunately, these audio logs are only found in a few levels. I am by no means expecting all the levels to have commentary, but it would have been great to have more great stories from the developing pioneers of 90’s gaming to listen to.

While today’s gamers may be turned off by the very basic gameplay Duke provides, they need to remember that this title is part of the forces that ushered in today’s modern day shooters. Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour is a nostalgia trip that recalls many memories for gamers that were around when this hit the stores. The fast-paced, crazy shooting is as strong as ever, and the extensive level design is still exceptional. For those that have never experienced the classy charm-filled Duke “sarcasm”, this is a tour worth experiencing.

Overall Score: 7.5 out of 10

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour! Copy reviewed on PS4.

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Resident Evil Revelations 2 Review – “Back on the Right Track”

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The Resident Evil franchise has been around for approximately 2 decades and we have seen the series blossom into some of the most memorable games, giving you the feel of scavenging for items, weapons and ammo. However, we have also seen the series recently take a turn for the worse, with the horrendous spin-off, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, and the absolute mess known as Resident Evil 6. It has been roughly 2 and a half years since a new Resident Evil has released to the market, and with Resident Evil Revelations 2, the team over at Capcom is trying to appease fans like it did with the first Revelations. Does it bring the franchise back to its roots or does it continue to slap fans in the face with obnoxious helicopter piloting and tank chasing sequences?

Story: 4/5

Resident Evil Revelations 2 takes place between the events of Resident Evil 5 and 6. A special unit known as Terrasave is formed, which acts similar to the BSAA except that they’re more about curing the viruses rather than being a special military unit. While at a company party, Claire Redfield (who is now part of Terrasave) is seen entering and looking to meet the new recruit, Moira Burton. However, the party is suddenly crashed by a mysterious group and knocks everyone out by injecting them with a tranquilizer. Claire suddenly wakes up in a prison cell of some sort, finds Moira locked in another cell, and together they must find out where they are, what’s going on and how to escape this nightmare. Claire and Moira have a fairly believable bond interacting with each other. Moira as a character though has some of the most forced swearing ever in gaming history. Seriously Moira, what the f*** is with you and f***ing technology? See how forced and pointless the swearing was there? That’s how she speaks in-game.

At the halfway point of an episode, the plot will switch over to another series’ veteran, Barry Burton. Here we see Barry heading to the last known location of his daughter Moira and upon arrival, partners up with an unexpected little girl named Natalia, who’s origins are unknown. Throughout their segments of the campaign, you will see how everyone’s paths cross into each other, while solving the mystery occurring on the island. The story is told through an episodic format much like the original Revelations, but with more effect, as the cliffhangers at the end of an episode are quite strong. The story is certainly intriguing and kept me engaged through to the end with a few twists in store (as well as two different endings depending on a specific decision you make). Also, fans of the series will appreciate the continuity brought up from various RE installments. All in all, the storyline is one of the better written ones in quite some time, rekindling the classic, mysterious feel of Resident Evil.

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Gameplay: 4/5

Resident Evil Revelations 2 (much like the first Revelations), ditches the full-blown action with minimal scares and provides a much more refined style to its predecessor. The partner system is still in place (whether you like it or not) but works in an unexpected way that works very well. Gameplay still remains over-the-shoulder, with fluid move and strafe controls that may very well be the series’ best control scheme since RE4. Throughout the game’s four episodes, players will switch between Claire and Moira’s scenario and Barry and Natalia’s scenario, each with supporting character’s changing the dynamic a bit. For example, Moira is petrified to use a gun (even despite the fact that there are murderous creatures attacking her) due to having a certain “past”. Instead, she will provide Claire with lighting support and she’ll wield a crowbar in her defense. There are times where she may have to pry a barricaded door open while Claire will have to provide gun support against any creatures coming after both of you. With Natalia, a page was borrowed from The Last of Us where she has a keen sense of hearing and can detect where enemies are through walls. Adding another element to it, she can spot out enemy weaknesses, as well as hidden items in the area.

When taking control of the main leads (Claire and Barry), they will play as you’d expect from traditional Resident Evils. You’ll be able to wield up to four weapons to switch amongst on the D-Pad, while carefully managing your inventory like the classic installments. Ammo is certainly scarce in this game, so don’t expect to wage an all-out war with all the enemies. You will have to be careful and considerate with how to handle situations. Also, unlike previous iterations (except RE6), there will be no Item Box to actually store your items in, so you will have to make decisions on what items you’ll want to carry more of and drop on the ground. A handy element is to let your partner carry some of the supplies. For example, Moira and Natalia would be better at carrying more of the health supplies and misc. items so that Claire and Barry can focus on carrying more of the ammo. How you manage the items though is ultimately up to you. One of the biggest gripes that’s not in place here though is commanding your partner to pick up the items. Instead, if your inventory is full, you will have to switch to the character and then pick up the object. It may not sound too bad written down, but it becomes tedious to do so during the entire campaign. In RE5 for example, you could simply command your partner to pick up the items if you did not want to carry it or couldn’t. Why they haven’t implemented that here is questionable and impacts the flow at times.

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As mentioned earlier, the controls are incredibly smooth and fluid. Shooting also feels pretty solid and reminiscent a bit to Dead Space. Whereas RE6’s shooting felt too loose and janky, this one certainly feels tighter. The evade mechanic returns from the first Revelations but now isn’t about simply timing when to press up on the analog stick. Instead, you can control the dodge with the circle button and pressing any direction you wish to evade to. Timing your dodge is still important, as you can still take damage should you dodge too early or too late. At the end of each character’s segment in an episode, you will be able to use the BP you’ve earned and collected to upgrade skills. The skill upgrades are fairly similar to those found in Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, except you actually can utilize all your upgrades, not just equip three of them. Some of these vary from farther dodging radius, better firepower when crouching, sprinting and knifing at the same time, increased health, etc. There are a ton of skills to upgrade, as well as upgrading the levels of those skills to better them. Also, returning from the first Revelations is the weapon upgrade system. You will collect parts to attach to your weapons at a workbench that can increase the firepower, fire rate, reload speed, etc. Mixing and matching the parts with certain guns is a rewarding experiment, and trying to find as many parts to really make your weapon a beast is part of the fun.

When it comes to survival horror, the atmosphere and setting lend a dramatic amount to the experience. Capcom has done their homework and provided a creepy, and at times unsettling, environment that really can be twisted at times. No corner is safe and diabolical traps await you as you try to escape the demented facilities that accompany this island. Switching between Claire and Moira, and Barry and Natalia changes up the pacing of the game a decent amount. While it kept me thoroughly engaged most of the time, the very final chapter for Barry is far too slow paced to make it feel climatic until the last 10 minutes, whereas Claire’s final chapter feels much like it should (without spoiling anything). To make Barry’s final episode more of an issue, is that there’s a certain moment in the campaign where one of your decisions will greatly affect the ending. And I’m not talking about seeing an additional minute or so to the ending or a slight variation…this decision will add an additional 15 minutes of gameplay and story to resolve everything. Unfortunately, many people may not see this if they don’t make that specific decision and it’s a shame since it is much more gratifying.

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Aside from the main campaign, that sits anywhere between 7-10 hours roughly, there is a ton of replay value. First off, you can replay the game in New Game +, replaying the game with all your earned skills and upgrades. Secondly, you can tackle two new modes for each episode. The first is called Countdown, where you’ll have to speed run through the episode and can earn time back by taking down enemies and collecting clocks. The second is Invisible, where it harkens back to the Invisible Enemy mode found in the RE Remake. All enemies will be invisible and your partner can temporarily spot them. Both modes provide quite the extra challenge for purists. However, the main extra mode where people will clock in countless hours will be the infamous Raid mode.

This installment’s Raid mode is vastly improved from the original. In this installment, we start off in the Red Queen’s Chamber as a network code character (think the green coding from the Matrix). You will be able to choose which character you would like to play as (including some iconic characters like Wesker, HUNK and Leon), as well as choose what weapons to bring with you and attributes to equip. The attributes allow you to either increase your health, allow more melee damage, survive an instakill attack with a single HP left, etc. All the attributes can be leveled up with the Skill Points you’ll earn from leveling up, so upgrading these and choosing the right ones will help tremendously as you progress. The levels are broken up into gauntlets, each carrying approximately 6 stages. Each stage will have you ultimately taking out as many enemies as possible before the exit medal appears, however it can be trickier than that. When you complete a level, there are five types of medals to earn: finishing the level, killing all enemies, using no green herbs, clearing a mission within the recommended level, and completionist. Earning a completionist medal (which is earned by getting the other four medals in a single run) will prove to be quite the challenge. Luckily, just like its predecessor, Raid mode can be tackled in co-op (local and online) and it is best to play this with a friend. There are roughly 9 gauntlets and 3 difficulties. Overall, Resident Evil Revelations 2 plays great and has plenty of replay value.

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Graphics: 3/5

Resident Evil has, more or less, been a series we’ve seen some seriously strong visuals. From the Resident Evil Remake, to Resident Evil 4, to then Resident Evil 5 (I won’t even include 6 with the inconsistencies I spotted visually there), it has usually wowed us from trailers leading up to gameplay. When Revelations 1 was released on the 3DS, it was mind-blowing to see that the handheld platform could produce visuals so close to that of a console. To this day, that is still one of, if not, the best looking game on that platform. Revelations 2, on the other hand, went a different route. Due to cutting back on budget costs, it plays it safe and brings the game over to current-gen and last-gen consoles (PS4/X1/PS3/360) with solid visuals. The main difference between the platforms are that PS4 and X1 run at 1080p and 60 fps (which may drop a bit surprisingly on PS4 but nowhere near the point where it’s as noticeable as some people have blown it up to be), whereas the PS3 and 360 versions are 720p and 30 fps. There are texture differences naturally between current and last-gen editions, but as far as how the game looks on current-gen, it never looks “great”. Not often was I impressed with the visuals, with some dull looking indoor environments at times. Some areas look neat and nail the atmosphere, but it rarely ever stood out tremendously. Character models are detailed nicely, but they don’t appear to show anything that would classify it as a generational jump up. Enemy death animations also appear a bit disjointed and choppy at times, looking almost low quality. Gripes aside, it still looks good for the most part, with some solid lighting and again, terrific atmosphere. However, it just never reaches the point of “greatness”, which is odd for an RE title.

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One of the better looking, and honestly best played, scenes in the game.

Sound: 4/5

Resident Evil Revelations 2’s audio is quite good, with enemy screams sounding vicious and creepy, which will keep you on your toes to keep moving. Gun effects all sound appropriate and effective, while ambiance help keep that unsettling feeling in check. Voice acting is quite solid, even if Claire’s iconic voice actress (Alyson Court) is no longer onboard. Thankfully, the new VA that stepped in for her role does a good job of making her feel like the Claire Redfield we’ve come to know over the years. Barry’s and Natalia’s VAs also help breathe life into the characters and make it enjoyable hearing their dialogues amongst each other. Moira on the other hand…well, while I didn’t mind her delivery at times, it was every time she threw an F-bomb or some other swear word that just…doesn’t…fit…period. Seriously, no one would swear just to swear in the middle of talking. When someone swears, it usually adds emphasis to the situation. When you swear every 4-6 words, it’s downright obnoxious and irritating. On the flipside, the soundtrack accompanies the game very well, with music picking up when enemies appear and low-key ambiance music playing as you explore this demented island. Even the Raid mode remixes the Mercenaries theme from RE6 (the only good thing I can think of from that installment) for some of the missions you’ll do.

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Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10

Resident Evil Revelations 2 is a game that no one really saw coming, as it was thought to be a single spin-off for the series. Instead, Capcom aimed to bring back core fans of the series by sticking more to the survival horror roots, rather than the helicopter-fighting, tank-chasing, motorcycle-riding, Ace Combat flying, full-blown action non-sense that was RE6. Ultimately though, Capcom really did a great job with Revelations 2. While the visuals are a bit rough, and Moira’s excessive and constant swearing is downright stupid, Resident Evil Revelations 2 truly is a very good game, and a great Resident Evil game. The strong and engaging story, the eerie atmosphere, the environment exploring, the tight controls and combat, plus the return of the addictive Raid mode all couple to provide a robust package. Resident Evil fans have much reason to return to the series with this latest installment. Here’s hoping Capcom sticks closer to this route with Resident Evil 7…

Pros:

+ Strong story with series continuity

+ Tight controls

+ Creepy atmosphere

+ Solid soundtrack

+ Engaging gameplay

+ Raid mode is back

Cons:

– Having to switch to your partner all the time if you want them to pick up items

– Moira’s downright stupid swearing

– Barry’s slow final chapter

– Visuals don’t do anything special and just plays it safe

– Have I mentioned how irritating Moira’s swearing is…?

Resident Evil Revelations 2 was purchased by the reviewer and tested for the PlayStation 4 system.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review (PS4/PS3/360/X1/WiiU): “Losing some of its webbing”

ASM2_Spider-Man

“With great power comes great responsibility”, or in this case, with a new movie comes a new game. Activision and developer Beenox had released a movie tie-in release for the Amazing Spider-Man back in 2012, which not only was a great movie-based game, but a great game in itself. With the sequel to Amazing Spider-Man now in theaters, Beenox put out a sequel to their predecessor, aiming to improve on various elements. Is this installment worth swinging a web at or should your spider-sense be warning you to avoid it?

Story: 3/5

Taking place after the events of the first Amazing Spider-Man game, regarding the cross-species incident, we find Peter Parker reliving his past and witnessing his Uncle Ben’s death. It’s from this point where we fast forward to present day and Peter is trying to make amends for his uncle’s death by tracking down the killer as his priority. Throughout the story, Peter will soon find out that there’s more going on that’s connected to Uncle Ben’s death. Peter will face his greatest threat yet as he comes across Wilson Fisk (aka “The Kingpin)”, Green Goblin, Electro, Shocker, Kraven, Black Cat and Carnage. The story is pretty solid and engaging enough to keep you interested. However, there are times where cutscenes feel rushed, showing Spider-Man in one location and transitioning to gameplay completely elsewhere. There are also moments where you’ll be given dialogue options to choose what Spider-Man can say during cutscenes. Unfortunately, this doesn’t have any alternate effect on the storyline. Ultimately, while the story wasn’t as strong as its predecessor’s, what’s here is still fun, especially for Spider-Man fans to see the villains in place. Oh, and be sure to watch the cutscene after the end credits of the game (much like the Marvel films themselves).

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Gameplay: 3/5

When playing as Spider-Man, one loves to have the feel of what it would be like to web swing through New York City. The first Amazing Spider-Man game was Beenox’s first attempt at bringing the open-world aspect in and did a great job of doing it. In this sequel, Beenox wanted to bring out a more fleshed out, lively city. Additionally, the main core mechanics they aimed to touch on was the web swinging. In the predecessor, Spidey would stick his webs to anything in the air, no matter where he was. In the sequel, you use the L2 and R2 buttons to swing with the left and right hands respectively as the webs attach to the buildings now. He can even swing faster holding down both the L2 and R2 buttons together once latching a web onto a building. Physics-wise, this changes the swinging mechanic a good amount and actually feels reminiscent to Treyarch’s Spider-Man 2 back in 2003. There’s even a neat slingshot move where Spidey can attach webs between buildings and pull himself back to launch through the city. The web rush mechanic is still in place and has been refined a bit, allowing for a smoother flow and momentum by hold up on the analog stick. The issue with this new web swinging mechanic is that you’ll find yourself swinging into building corners that stick out and you’ll get stuck transitioning to a crawling animation. This tends to get frustrating when Spidey has a bomb he needs to toss in the river and time is of the essence.

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Additional in this installment is the Hero or Menace feature. Now there will be a variety of side-missions that appears on the map where civilians or cops are in need of assistance. Choosing to save them will increase your “heroic” meter, with the press and civilians standing up for Spider-Man in the streets. Ignoring the missions over a period of time will decrease your hero meter and continuing to do so will progressively shift over to the “menace” side of the meter. At this point, civilians will trash talk Spider-Man, the Daily Bugle will badger Spidey and the task force around the city will be on you like white-on-rice trying to dispose of you. Beenox also focused on an increase in suits you can switch between. Each suit contains specific traits that pertain to various scenarios, whether it be for defensive purposes, stronger attacks or better stealth. The more you use a suit, the more it will level up (can reach up to level 10 as the max). Also, depending on your hero or menace rank, the attributes will either increase or decrease respectively. This time around, Spider-Man has a health bar again (as opposed to the no HUD, flashing red screen warning you of death). However, to regenerate health, you’ll hold down on the D-Pad and he’ll patch himself up with webbing within 3-5 seconds. Careful though, as enemies will find this opportunity to gang up on you.

Throughout the game’s 14 story missions, Spidey will mix up missions between outdoors and indoors. The first game focused more on indoor locations but this installment tries to flesh out the environment a bit more. Like the predecessor, the game blends a variety of protection, combat and stealth mechanics, while also throwing in a slew of boss battles. Boss battles were a highlight in the first game, in particular with the mammoth-sized mechs or flying mechs that terrorized the city. In this one, epic scale boss battles are completely removed unfortunately and we’re left with more “traditional” battles. Each boss fight tries to change up the method/strategy of approaching it, whether it be trying to sneak up on Black Cat, tricking Kingpin into stunning himself, or webbing Electro so that you can safely attack him. The bosses are pretty well done for what they are, but rarely had a “wow” factor like its predecessor.

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Combat and stealth have been tinkered with a bit as well. Combat is built upon the rhythm formula found in the predecessor that’s akin to the Batman Arkham series. However, it feels like the combat isn’t as polished as it was originally. Dodging multiple attacks is frustrating as you have less than a split-second to dodge those, as opposed to single attacks giving you about half-a-second to react. Also, pulling off signature moves seems less common to do than the predecessor, leaving you pummeling an enemy a bit longer than necessary. Webbing takes more of the front seat now with Ionic Webs and Seismic Blast. Ionic Webs deteriorate heavy armor and metal brittle enough to break, while Seismic Blast lets you charge up your webs and blast people back. Stealth has been tinkered a bit, where you can now rappel from ledges and do a stealth takedown from a distance without enemies noticing as quickly. Enemies will notice if a comrade is webbed on the ground, which can lead to you going in for another takedown as well. Also, Spider-Sense has been enhanced this time around. Now, Spider-Man can see the visibility angle (with the proper upgrade) of an enemy on patrol, as well as highlights all items and objects in an environment.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 has a good amount to do upon completing the story (which takes roughly 4-6 hours). There are races you can take on in the city, photos to be taken, 300 comic book pages to be found, hideouts to sneak into and acquire new suits, and an endless amount of crime to stop. You can even revisit all the missions to go back and find audio logs, or just replay them for fun. Then there’s also the fact that you can replay missions with alternate suits to level those up. You will even play certain segments as Peter Parker himself, which is a nice touch. The game’s pacing felt a bit off though, with the first half of missions being nothing more than “ok”, and then the second half consisting of building on the villains and facing off against each one at the end of a chapter. When it reaches this point, it feels like the enemies are rushed into the story to make an appearance, face off against them and move on. Overall, the gameplay is still solid and enjoyable, but couldn’t help but feel like it was less polished than its predecessor.

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Graphics: 3/5

There’s no question that the team over at Beenox has shown off some impressive visuals throughout their history of handling Spider-Man titles. It’s unfortunate to say though that this installment was barely touched-up for the next-gen platforms. Reviewed on the PS4, the visuals looked exactly the same as its predecessor on the PS3 in 2012. The only difference in the next-gen version is that instead of running at 720p, it runs at 1080p (which is nice). However, aside from that, the visuals were still a bit uneven. Spider-Man himself, as well as all the main villains, are very well detailed (especially Spider-Man who appears very photorealistic). On the flipside, NPCs in the environment look very dated and lack any of the fine details, making conversations between NPCs and Spider-Man look…well, like Spider-Man is from another console generation. Also, textures in the environment tended to load up during action on-screen or during cutscenes. Spider-Man’s animations were mostly fluid and detailed (even when web swinging alongside a building and he runs along it while still in mid-swing) but during cutscenes, some of his movements seemed wonky and awkward. One of the cutscenes early on made me think Spider-Man was the “UPS Guy” from MadTV back in the day (90s reference), just constantly moving around and flailing his arms around while talking.

Hiccups aside, the game’s frame rate ran at 30 fps without issue and occasionally hit a higher rate during indoor scenes. Also, the city has been redesigned to be properly scaled and given more “life”. Buildings are more detailed and less blocky, while there are more cars on the streets as you swing by. However, the draw distance isn’t very strong and objects tend to fade in at a viewable range. The visuals are mixed overall, some things look quite good, with the city more detailed and Spider-Man himself looking impressive, while oddity issues arise that hurt it. It doesn’t help that for the PS4 version of the game, it barely improved the performance of the issues.

ASM2 - Aerial Shot 2

Sound: 3/5

Spider-Man games have genuinely had some strong audio, whether it be the soundtrack, sound effects and voice acting. In terms of voice acting, Sam Riegel returns to reprise his role as Spider-Man and does a great job much like he did in the first game. All the other characters are also brought to life from a mostly solid voice cast. Sound effects are also quite strong, with webbing sounding precisely as it should, combat sounding effective and the ambiance of the city (in particular when swinging at street level with the cars) drawing you into the experience. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is the weakest element here. The music found in the game (aside from maybe one or two tracks) is completely unmemorable. Unlike the first game which had catchy and memorable tracks to swing around the city to, this one’s soundtrack was on the verge of me having to breakdown and use a custom soundtrack. It’s unfortunate because I always look forward to a game’s soundtrack (especially Spider-Man games) and this one was just very underwhelming. Thankfully, the sound effects and voice acting are what redeemed the audio overall.

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Overall Score: 12/20 = 6.0 out of 10

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is far from a bad game, but as a sequel to a great game, it’s nowhere near as impressive as its predecessor. Visuals are a mixed bag, the story (while interesting) feels like it cuts corners a bit, the soundtrack is underwhelming and the mechanics aren’t as polished as they should be. The enhanced swinging mechanic is certainly a highlight here, but it feels like that was the only main element they focused on improving. What is here is still an enjoyable experience for Spider-Man fans, but it’s less imaginative and inventive than the first game.

Pros:

+ Swinging through the city is a lot of fun
+ The roster of villains is solid
+ Some boss fights are pretty cool
+ Story is decent
+ Great voice acting and sound effect

Cons:

– Combat mechanics feel less polished
– Most boss battles lack “wow” factor
– Soundtrack is very unmemorable
– Visuals are completely mixed

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for The Amazing Spider-Man 2! Copy reviewed on PlayStation 4.

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Thief Review (PS4/X1): “Something lurks in the shadows, perhaps it should stay there”

Thief Wallpaper

Thief launches the series into a next-gen experience; adding to its quiver everything that goes along with a complete rejuvenation of a series: new graphics, a fresh story, clever designs and a whole new world to call your own. But just because something is new doesn’t always mean it’s better – does this new Thief properly pay tribute to the past entries in the ever popular series? Or should it just cower in the shadows, dwelling in the shame of being “just another game”?

Story: 1/5

Instead of reviving an old storyline from previous entries in the series, Eidos Montreal took a classic move and started from scratch; giving main character Garrett a new background with a new reason to be the master thief (as well as a killer new look). Thief takes place in a busy setting simply called “The City”: an almost middle-aged, steampunk, “we just discovered electricity” kind of place. This means that modern-day locks, contraptions and security systems haven’t been invented yet, which is all the better for us. It’s also around the time where sorcery and a hint of mysticism can viably make an appearance. For an agile spirit in both mind and body, this makes for a pretty attractive place to set up camp and reap the benefits of the ever abundant shadows.

At the start, the city is booming, meaning plenty of heists to pull off with a plethora of back alley deals going on. Garrett accepts a job working with an old student of his and you both head out to steal a valuable artifact. However, when things don’t seem quite right, Garrett has the smarts to turn away; but an overzealous “co-worker” thinks she has what it takes. A few miscalculations and an interruption or two and we wake up a year later with no idea what happened to her or what happened to our beloved City. What once was thriving with markets and healthy people has now descended into the depth of purgatory, with sick filling the streets and an overruling government squeezing the City into submission with a clenched fist.

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Garrett decides he needs to figure out what’s been going on for the past year and what happened that fateful night. What starts as a few simple inquisitory jobs evolves into something much deeper… and darker. Garrett soon finds out that he may be the only one with the ability to save the City he calls home.

Thief takes off with a pretty rough start. With what can only be described as a pre-rendered unsynced mess of a first cutscene, it’s pretty hard to get involved in the story. To be completely honest, every cutscene is this way, and to truly enjoy and take the story for what it is, you’ll need to distance yourself from the quality and focus on the hard facts. Sadly, that still won’t do you much good. While the story seems to make sense in the end, it relies on what I like to call “accept-a-scene’s”. These are events that take place without any previous or further explanation, forcing the player to just accept what has happened as practical and move on. While some games may have one or two of these events, Thief will have about one major event a chapter, really adding some suspicious loopholes to the story as well as incomplete connections, leaving you with a cheated feeling.

The story takes a few winding turns in an attempt to make it more interesting, but in the end with only one decent (though poorly followed through) twist, you won’t end up remembering much of what happened.

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Gameplay: 3/5

If you can get past the choppy cutscenes and poorly strewn together storyline, you can find a mildly addictive game to enjoy for a while. The City is a large arena filled with loot for you to steal. Sadly, many of the areas are patched together with loading screens, making the game feel unconnected and as choppy as the cutscenes. Luckily, none of the chapter missions will put you through this waiting period, allowing you to roam free and interact with the world as you like… well sort of. While the game originally boasted near-absolute freedom, you’re really quite limited. You have a clever arsenal of arrows at your disposal, but really only a handful of ways to use them. Wander through an area in a mission and you can clearly see how the developers wanted you to play it, which honestly makes you feel like some entity is watching you play, constantly forcing your hand to interact with the world the way it has intended you to.

Nevertheless, there is still a large amount of satisfaction in uncovering hidden passageways and alternate routes, and that’s really where the game earns its keep. Unlike many other stealth games, Garrett is not a force to be reckoned with. Facing one guard is challenging enough but when you’re pit against multiple enemies, your best bet is to run, hide, and survive. You have a small amount of self-defense, with the ability to dodge and weaken enemies enough to a finishing blow, but this takes time and will definitely cause attention! This is something that is highly appreciated, really capturing the feeling of being an actual thief, and it will make you play the game that much more skillfully. Utilizing no real powers or abilities other than a swoop action that dashes you forward a few meters, you’re left to use your wits.

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Different environments make sneaking around more difficult. For example: carpet will mask your footsteps, but be careful on wood, and God forbid you happen to step on any perfectly placed broken glass! This concept is strung about through the entire game as the AI is keenly aware of what happens around them. Sure, you can distract a guard with a broken bottle to make them wander over, but land that bottle too close and they’re on full alert, quickly searching every nook and cranny! Your only option is to stick to the over-protective shadows as much as possible. You can put out candles (when no one’s looking) or swoop across lighted areas to avoid detection, but you still need to be aware of everything that is going on in your surroundings. You may not have noticed the traps set up in that hallway, or the guard on patrol around the corner. It’s best to take it slow, using the incredibly smooth peak/lean function or utilizing your mystic focus ability to highlight objects of note. Sticking to your skills and being alert will allow you to cruise through the missions with ease; pulling off huge heists without anyone even knowing you’re there.

While story missions are long and well-thought out, it’s good to get some diversity in the game. That’s where miscellaneous jobs and client jobs come in. In between story missions, you can peruse the town in search of specific loot to steal. Most of the time this involves a drawn out and repetitive sequence to open a window and pick a lock with no threats around, but once in a while you will have to avoid a resident or guard. The real challenge is usually finding how to get to the said window, as the city can be a tempting puzzle. The client missions are a little different however. Locate the specific waypoint in the City and you’ll be ported to a small section to carry out your mission. These are a pleasant change of pace as the venues are small enough to tackle quickly, but complex enough to take your time and practice to perfection. It’s a shame there aren’t more of these as it would really add to the game’s replay value. Much like each story mission, there are collectibles to find, loot to steal and threats to avoid. At the end you’ll get a nice report screen detailing your actions and how you performed and what you should do to improve. These, combined with the story missions, will give you plenty of time playing to become the master thief. However, if that’s not enough for you, there is a challenge mode which puts you in a map (albeit a small number to choose from) and gives you new objects to steal. You can choose to alter how the game is played, possibly giving you more points when the job is completed, and then you can compare to your friends’ scores on the leaderboards. While these challenges will take some time to master, the real meat lies back within the City.

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Graphics: 4/5

It’s a rare occurrence when cutscenes are the weakest point of a game visually. However, Thief really showcases this conundrum well. Luckily, that means that the rest of the game looks stunning. During gameplay, you’ll constantly find yourself stopping to appreciate the textures and lighting effects, and how those light effects affect the textures and how the textures texturize the lighting effects! With a game almost entirely set at night, it’s an impressive feat that Eidos has been able to make the world stand out visually. Fog and visibility has been expertly created to make you feel like you truly can hide in the shadows, if only the same effort was put into the dreadful, yet somewhat infrequent game events.

Thief Gameplay 5

Sound: 4/5

Thief knows you need to concentrate, and that means silence. You won’t often notice music or background ambience unless it’s absolutely needed. One of the things Thief helps you with is knowing when you’re being spotted. An eerie atmosphere of voices will kick on when someone is contemplating if they see you or not, and music will drastically appear if they decide that you’re not actually a shadow. This allows to you focus on the environment as a whole when planning your next move. Realize that your footsteps aren’t so silent? Probably shouldn’t swoop then. Hear a guard walking around the corner? Maybe he’s sleeping quietly – best to peek and check it out. Thief also takes a new approach to sounds alerting threats by adding birds and dogs. Move too fast by a bird and they’ll act like an alarm. Dogs will smell and see you in the shadows so you need to consider your routes carefully! Sadly, not everything is balanced in the world. People talking will carry without drop off for a long distance! This truly creates a poor experience when you’re trying to sneak around a 3rd story building but you head the guards on the 1st floor by the gate as clear as day as if they were in the next room! Not to mention that in the City you’re constantly barraged by a mess of different people talking, it’s almost enough to make you want to sit through an unsynced audio session in the cutscenes!

Thief Gameplay 3

Overall Score: 12/20 = 6.0 out of 10

Overall, Thief is a rather unpolished attempt at a next-gen revitalization of a classic stealth game. Freedom isn’t truly free and while the in-game graphics will keep you mesmerized, the repetitive nature of the in-City jobs can feel like a chore after a short while. The City itself has some addictive puzzles and alternate paths if you can get past the loading screens, and the gameplay can be highly rewarding if you let yourself get into the mindset of a shadow-walker. However, in the end, if you’re looking for a stealth game, you should probably purchase Dishonored.

Pros:

+ Some pretty neat and clever paths in/out of missions

+ Awesome in-game graphics

+ Clever strategies to progressing in missions

Cons:

– CUTSCENES?!

– Loading screens all over the place

– Story is filled with “accept-a-scene’s”

– Same cool paths feel like you’re simply being guided

– Repetitive nature of out of mission heists

Thief was purchased by the reviewer and tested for the PlayStation 4 system.

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