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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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.

Thief Gameplay 4

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.

Thief Gameplay 1

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.

Thief Gameplay 2

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.

Thief Gameplay 6

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.

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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Call of Duty: Ghosts Review (PS4 / Xbox One / PS3 / Xbox 360 / Wii U / PC): “Not Giving Up the Ghost Yet”

Call-of-Duty-Ghosts1

Call of Duty: Ghosts marks the second generation leap in the series’ history, making expectations for the newest iteration even higher than usual. Ghosts was released for the 7th generation consoles ahead of the next-gen versions, with the PS4 version now out and the Xbox One version serving as a launch title. Ghosts takes a trip back to Infinity Ward’s more current-day time period seen in the Modern Warfare series, but with a major twist: playing the losing side. Being a Call of Duty title, a high-budget campaign experience, riveting and addictive competitive multiplayer, and a co-op mode are assumed to be the standard fare. But is Call of Duty: Ghosts an exceptional entry in the series, or just a ghost of its former self?

graphics

Story: 3/5 

The first step to answering that question would be to tackle the game’s single-player campaign mode. Despite its title, Call of Duty: Ghosts has nothing to do with Modern Warfare 2’s Simon “Ghost” Riley or its storyline; instead, Ghosts takes place in an alternate timeline in a similar time period as the Modern Warfare series. The campaign starts out with the Walker family, consisting of Logan (you), his brother David “Hesh” Walker, and their father Elias taking some R&R on the San Diego coast. A series of tremors cause the Walker family to head back home; however, to their horror, they find the streets and homes along the way being torn apart, with the pavement being shifted into rough crags and homes being tossed about like toys. A quick flashback to 15 minutes prior shows that an earthquake wasn’t the cause of the destruction, but rather a hostile takeover of the U.S.’s ODIN Satellite, loaded with deadly tungsten rods designed to level any threat on the ground on a massive scale. A couple of NASA-trained American soldiers are able to call off the attack and destroy the ODIN, but not before several major American cities are utterly destroyed. Back on the ground, Logan and Hesh link back up with Elias and evacuate the town on a truck, but not before seeing the results of the ODIN strike below, leaving several gigantic craters in the ground.

From here, the game skips forward 10 years and involves America’s war with the South American Federation, a coalition of countries responsible for the ODIN attack. American is battered and broken, but not beaten, as you and Hesh work with Elias to commence surgical strikes against the Federation forces occupying the U.S. You’re joined by your Army-trained German Shepard, Riley (likely a homage to Ghost himself), and through a series of circumstances and missions gone sideways, meet up with the titular Ghosts themselves; a cadre of elite, special-forces-trained soldiers, and work to take your place amongst them.

While Ghosts’ story certainly sets a good enough stage within the first 30 minutes of play, there really isn’t the personal connection that was present in previous titles, like Black Ops 2. Raul Menendez is a constant thorn in your side, and makes it clear he has a personal vendetta with the Masons and Frank Woods. His followers play mostly a supporting role; the whole time, your mission is to take Menendez down. That sort of connection is lacking in Ghosts. For the majority of the game, you’ll find yourself facing a faceless enemy in the Federation, pulling off surgical strikes that seemingly lack any sort of overarching goal or reason; it’s just taking what you can, where you can. While this certainly fits the scenario of the game – placing players in the losing position from the get-go – it really has a negative impact on the game’s story and makes it hard to care about the missions you’re carrying out. It’s also jarring that the story simply skips forward 10 years after the first level, with you and Hesh suddenly committing surgical strikes against the Federation occupation forces, along with your dog Riley in tow; it’s all very sudden. When did Logan and Hesh join up? Where did Riley come from? These are simply questions you’ll have to leave on the back burner.

_-Caught-on-Film-Call-of-Duty-Ghosts-Space-Fight-_

Call of Duty finally makes its way to space.

Character development is another mixed bag with Ghosts. The Walker brothers – yourself and Hesh – have a constant and unbreakable bond throughout the game, and this really does come through a lot of the time. Whatever happens, you can count on Hesh being there to support you. The father, Elias, is another story – while he talks about his pride in his sons and how much he cares about their training and development, he comes off as a rather cold character in spite of what he tells his sons. It feels odd to have Hesh refer to Elias by rank one minute, then segue immediately to calling him “Dad” when there isn’t any warmth to warrant it. Then there are the Ghosts themselves, Merrick and Keegan being your most constant companions. Early on in the story, they come off as condescending and superior, basically telling you that you can tag along if you do “what I say, when I say it”. Over time, however, they learn to respect you and Hesh, until an eventual camaraderie builds. Other than their titles, however, I didn’t feel particularly moved or awed by their skills or behavior. Ghosts are near-legendary in the game’s universe, but to me, they felt like just any other soldier you’d find in a Call of Duty game. Perhaps that speaks to the strengths of the series’ characters, but I expected a little bit more from them.

The linchpin that brings the squad together is, without a doubt, your dog Riley. You learn to work with him very early on, and he proves an invaluable ally throughout the campaign. More than just an extra soldier in the squad though, it’s clear that he shares an extremely personal bond with you and Hesh. Logan is there with a quick pat on the head for a job well done, and Riley returns this affection by remaining faithful and loyal to you and your squad, ready to attack anyone who poses a threat. Riley’s welfare was constantly in the back of my mind, even when we were separated between missions, and when Riley was in danger, I found myself getting increasingly anxious, even being pushed to anger against his attackers whenever he got wounded. I even found myself emptying entire magazines into his attackers, more than enough to put them down, after Riley was attacked. It really speaks volumes about Riley’s design and integration into the story when you can say that he has a profound emotional reaction on you, and without him, Ghosts would have been a vastly different and shallower experience.

Of course, no modern Call of Duty game would be complete without a face for your enemy, and Ghosts has one in Gabriel Rorke. A former Ghost himself, he now finds himself working with the Federation, and a big part of the story involves you trying to find out why. I know I mentioned before that the Federation is a faceless enemy, and that still holds true – while it’s clear Rorke is meant to be the big bad of the story, he’s not really around enough to reinforce this fact. After encountering him early in the story, you spend a good half of it trying to track him down, and he really doesn’t take a personal stake in the campaign until later, towards the end. Most of the time before this is fighting hordes of nameless, uninteresting Federation soldiers. When he does appear, though, he makes for a stellar antagonist. He’s voiced extremely well, has all the snide confidence of an enemy who always thinks he has one over you, and knows exactly where to hurt his victims the most. If the story had involved him more, it would have made for a more accurate depiction of the situation you find yourself in, with the Federation working for him, not the other way around.

Overall, the game’s story comes up a bit short compared to games of Call of Duty’s past. It starts off sufficiently, and ramps up towards the end, but there’s a large swath of the middle of the campaign that will be an absolute drag, making missions feel hollow and pointless without a gripping story to motivate you. There’s also just too many questions left unanswered.  The campaign should take around 5-6 hours to complete on normal difficulty, making the story small enough to digest while still having some depth to it, but those of us used to the blockbuster thrill rides of Black Ops I & II and Modern Warfare 3 may feel a bit cheated this time around.

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Underwater too.

Gameplay: 4/5 

At this stage of the game – no pun intended – most of us know what to expect from a Call of Duty game. The mechanics have remained largely the same from year to year, and most could say that the series is afraid to take risks, but the mantra Infinity Ward and Treyarch seem to embrace is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Yet again, this stance seems to have been mostly successful in Call of Duty: Ghosts.

Solid, fast-paced gunplay is at the center of the Ghosts experience, as it has been in all Call of Duty games. Aiming down your sights and taking shots at enemies downrange is extremely fast-paced and responsive. Infinity Ward have replaced the “dolphin dive” mechanic – sprinting to prone – with a new sliding maneuver, where your character will slide for a few meters into a crouched position if you go prone while sprinting, or straight to prone if you hold the button down. This feels like a nice change, and makes dashing into cover much easier than in games past. It’s also now possible to lean around corners when aiming down your sights. A yellow arrow will show up on your crosshairs when this is possible. Infinity Ward have expanded our options a bit in terms of weapon variety, now introducing a new weapon category, Marksman Rifles. These weapons aren’t totally new to the series, as many long-range single-shot assault rifles and semi-automatic sniper rifles (such as the M23 EBR) have been present in games before. However, they now get their own category, and perform largely similar to each other, bridging the gap between the balanced performance of Assault Rifles and the long-range per-shot killing power of Sniper Rifles. Each come fitted with a scope and usually fire semi-auto, but other options exist. Players will also find that many weapons feature unique qualities built into the gun, like the Honey Badger’s integrated silencer or the bolt-action Sniper Rifles’ recoil compensators, which reduce kick after each kill.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes to the Multiplayer formula this year is Infinity Ward’s take on the Pick-10 system. However, rather than letting you spend points on every piece of gear and perk in your loadout, players have access to a primary weapon with two attachments, a secondary with a single attachment, a lethal grenade, and a tactical device for free, along with 8 “perk points” by default. This makes sense, as the game is extremely perk-focused this time around – there are 35 to choose from in all, from 7 unique categories. Some are returning favorites, others are weapon attachments seen in Black Ops 2 in perk form, while yet others provide completely new benefits, such as providing extra lethal or tactical grenades or providing a random extra perk at spawn. Each of these perks has a point cost in line with their power, and players can earn extra perk points by removing a secondary weapon, lethal, and/or tactical grenades from their loadout. This new system is an interesting take on the now tried-and-true Pick-10, but it can’t help but feel a little overwhelming at first. 35 perks in all is a lot to choose from, and using squad points – the new unlocking currency present in Ghosts – can feel risky when you’re not sure where to go first. Luckily, the game gives you a strong head-start by letting you pick a pre-set package when you first create a soldier. Whether it’s a weapon-focused Assault or Rush build, a stealthy silencer build, or a long-range Marksman Rifle package that you pick, the game will start you off with a weapon, two attachments, a secondary, lethals and tactical devices, and a selection of perks to compliment the playstyle you choose.

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The game’s new-found complexity really comes through when considering that weapons are no longer unlocked as you rank up anymore; squad points need to be spent to unlock them, but on the plus side, you can unlock them in any order you like, with some weapons costing more than others. You can also elect to use squad points to unlock perks early, otherwise a new one will be unlocked every other level or so. Finally, these squad points can be used to unlock additional members of your Squad – more on this below.  It’s definitely a less accessible system than Pick-10 was, but with some practice, players can come up with interesting loadout choices that make use of a variety of perks and equipment choices. Squad Points are also awarded at a more rapid clip than Black Ops 2’s unlock tokens, given that there are a variety of ways to earn them, including ranking up, completing assignments, and achieving field orders. In this way, it doesn’t hurt so much to drop 6 points into unlocking a new weapon to try when you can easily earn them back in just a couple of games.

Ghosts brings back the “Strike Package” feature present in Modern Warfare 3, allowing players to choose from an Assault or Support strike chain of killstreaks, or the Specialist package to earn more perks as they achieve more kills. Thankfully, taking an objective counts towards earning killstreak rewards, as with Modern Warfare 3’s Hardline Pro perk, but now available to everyone in the baseline. This was a huge plus for me in Black Ops 2; making killstreaks based on score, not number of kills, encouraged more objective play, and bringing this sort of reward system into what was already present in Modern Warfare 3 helped to keep this team-based feel intact. As in Infinity Ward’s last game, Assault streaks are designed to kill or hamper your enemies, while Support streaks are meant to support and strengthen your own team. Newer players who don’t feel confident in their skills may want to stick to the Support streaks at first, since your progress up the strike chain doesn’t reset on death. There are fewer lethal options in Support this time around, though, so players will want to commit to a team-player mindset when choosing this strike chain.

Speaking of strike chains, two very large changes have made their way into Ghosts. First, the fan-favorite  UAV has been replaced by a killstreak called the SAT COM. Rather than launching them in the sky, SAT COMS are placed on the ground, and function a bit differently from their last-gen cousins. SAT COMs provide stronger and better effects the more that are simultaneously deployed on the field at once. With one SAT COM up, enemies will only appear on your team’s mini-map when within line-of-sight of a teammate. With two, your team gets the traditional sweeping UAV scan. With three out at once, the sweeps occur more frequently. Finally, if you can manage to deploy four SAT COMs at once,  the sweeps will occur extremely quickly, and enemies’ directions will be displayed on the map as well. They still last for a limited time like UAVs, so it’s now extremely important to communicate with your team and ensure you’re getting the biggest benefit from your SAT COMs. Additionally, you’ll find that the Care Package is no longer a selectable killstreak; these are instead earned by a new gameplay mechanic called Field Orders. Enemies will sometimes drop light blue briefcases when they die; pick these Field Orders up, and you’ll be given a challenge to complete, such as getting a kill while prone or killing someone from behind, before dying. Achieve this, and you’ll be rewarded with a care package drop marker and a squad point. Fail, and your briefcase drops for anyone else to pick up. It’s an interesting mechanic that adds a new level of complexity to the meta-game.

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Squads mode puts up to 10 AI teammates at your command.

The traditional multiplayer modes – Deathmatch, Demolition, Capture the Flag, etc. – are all present here in Ghosts, along with a few new ones. Cranked is an exciting and fast-paced Deathmatch variant where killing the lead player will earn you multiple speed benefits, like moving and reloading faster, but also start a countdown timer. Keep getting kills to keep this clock alive, but if it hits zero, you explode. Search and Rescue is like Search and Destroy, but players drop dog tags on death. Pick up a teammate’s tags, and they respawn. Pick up an enemy’s tags, and they’re out for the round. Blitz takes the concept of American Football and adapts it for an FPS – a zone activates on each team’s side, and your team needs to reach these zones before the enemy do to score a point. There are many others, including Grind, Hunted, and Infected, and the sheer number of game modes available provides a large variety of game types to play. However, the biggest, and most interesting (in my opinion), addition to Multiplayer in Ghosts is the all-new Squads mode. Players can assemble a squad of up to 10 unique soldiers, customize their appearance and outfit them however they see fit, then go into battle alongside them against other players’ squads in all of the core game types. Each squadmate unlocks gear and ranks up separately, though unlocking and outfitting your squadmates takes from your shared pool of squad points, so it’ll take some time to unlock everything you’ll need for your entire squad. However, once you’ve loaded up your squad to your exact specifications and take them into battle, it’s extremely satisfying to watch them play intelligently with the gear you’ve given them. Assault Rifle characters will play the midfield; SMG and shotgun-toting squadmates will rush into the thick of battle; characters with silenced weapons will try to flank and out-maneuver the enemy; and squadmates wielding sniper and marksman rifles will set up in a good camping spot and pick off enemies in their field of fire. The AI is complete unprecedented in a Call of Duty title, and will provide a pretty stiff challenge. Squads will likely appeal to those players who get a lot of satisfaction out of designing a plan and watching it execute flawlessly; being able to outfit your squad to your specifications makes this possible and rewarding. Your squad will even earn experience while you’re away, fighting against players who challenge them in the mode’s Squad Assault gametype. Several other gametypes exist as well, including Safeguard, a take on Modern Warfare 3’s Survival mode.

Finally, for those of us looking for a different co-op challenge, there’s the new Extinction mode. Rather than fighting the living dead in games past’s Zombies mode, players will be staving off an alien invasion just two weeks after the first ODIN strikes in the story. Like Zombies, Extinction features four unique soldiers to play as, though this time around, players are given a series of objectives to complete, rather than just trying to stay alive; for instance, protecting a drill to destroy several alien hive sites, before staving off an alien attack on your evac chopper. Currency is earned by completing objectives and damaging or destroying enemies, and these can be used not only to buy new weapons, but to activate a pre-selected group of four power-ups, such as an ammo box or a deployable sentry gun. Teamwork and tactics are key in this mode, and having several objectives to complete provides a depth of focus not present in Zombies mode. It’s a fun, fresh-yet-familiar co-op mode that players are sure to love.

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Seriously. In space.

Graphics: 4/5 

We’re entering a new era of gaming with the release of the PS4 and Xbox One, so naturally a game’s graphics quality will be a top concern. Ghosts succeeds in most regards here, but it’s not perfect. Textures have taken a marked step up from the previous generation, with surfaces looking crystal-clear at a distance, while staying sharper up-close than before. Lighting, especially, has been greatly improved on the next-gen consoles, with lighting effects on surfaces and weapons having a more realistic sheen and shadow casting. In fact, there are going to be several times in the campaign where you might actually stop and just take an awe-filled look around. Sniper fans will be especially pleased, as zooming in with your scope no longer obscures your peripheral vision. Instead, the area around the scope will be blurred out, allowing you to barely see your peripheral vision zone while scoping in on a target. When you consider the amount of power this takes – the game essential has to render your view twice – it’s impressive. On the downside, however, there are many points during play where you’ll notice a marked decrease in framerate, especially during some of the game’s larger battles or outdoor areas. This is near-blasphemous for a Call of Duty title, a franchise known for constant 60-FPS performance. I wish I could say it didn’t take away from the experience, but when it happens, it’s not pleasant. There are also several graphical glitches that may creep in – a squadmate’s gun floating in mid-air during the campaign, for instance. These little cracks keep Ghosts from graphical perfection, but it’s still a game that doesn’t take the easy route on next-gen consoles, providing a noticeable step up from the previous generation.

Sound: 4/5 

Ghosts’ soundtrack suffers from the same issue as the story – it’s competent, and the tracks are appropriate to the situations they’re played in, but it’s not the kind of soundtrack you’ll find yourself humming when away from the game. Where Ghosts’ audio direction shines is in the voice acting and weapon sound effects. All of the actors in the campaign do a good job voicing their characters, but Kevin Gage steals the show as Gabriel Rorke. Rorke’s an old soldier with a fearsome reputation and all the snide confidence of a villain who knows he has the upper hand, and Gage delivers Rorke’s dialog like a knife sticking you in the side, bringing an extremely personal touch to your (admittedly few) encounters with the antagonist. This time around, Infinity Ward’s also put some extra effort into providing a more realistic audio experience with weapon design. Guns sound appropriate to their size and what they’re firing, but perhaps the most noticeable – and appreciated – improvement is when firing silenced weapons. Guns don’t let off wimpy pops when shot, but still boast a loud sound profile when suppressed, just like firing a real weapon. Along with louder footsteps in multiplayer, this really helps to break the uselessness of sound-enhancing headphones and perks in Black Ops II and present battles like they should be – loud, dangerous affairs.

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Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10 

Call of Duty: Ghosts may present the weakest showing for a game in its franchise in recent history – not counting Black Ops: Declassified – but Infinity Ward have shown that they’re still capable of producing a competent Call of Duty game. The campaign may be somewhat mediocre, but will draw you in to the game’s Multiplayer, Squad, and Extinction game-types, where most of Ghosts’ longevity will take place. If Black Ops II is staring to feel a bit old, Ghosts will give you the refresher you need.

PROs: 

+ New Create-a-Soldier system provides greater variety than Pick-10

+ Larger variety of multiplayer game types to choose from

+ Squads mode is fun and rewarding

+ Extinction is a fresh take on the tried-and-true Zombies formula

CONs: 

– Flawed, lackluster campaign

– Framerate drops more frequent than they should be

– Excellent antagonist isn’t present enough to be relevant

Call of Duty: Ghosts was purchased by the reviewer for the Playstation 4 system.

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

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition Spotted

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A strong rumor has been circulating that Tomb Raider is getting a next-gen edition with all of its downloadable content included. Aptly named “The Definitive Edition” was spotted at an online retailer, listing all of its features included. As of now, it was seen to be listed for PlayStation 4 and one mystery system, most likely being the X1. Aside from the DLC, gamers who pre-order it will receive a special packaging with an art book.

It goes without saying that this title for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 looked amazing, and one can only imagine what it will look like on a next gen platform. The listing has the launch date as sometime in winter of 2014. Stay tuned for more news on the next gen Tomb Raider.

(Source – http://www.shacknews.com/article/82075/tomb-raider-definitive-edition-listed-for-next-gen“>Shacknews)

EA announces Titanfall’s Release Date

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The much awaited news for Titanfall fans has finally be announced. Titanfall will be gracing the PC, Xbox One, and Xbox 360 on March 11th of 2014. The game will also contain a premium $249.99 Collector’s Edition, which will be released alongside the standard edition. The Collector’s Edition will include an 18-inch hand-crafted Atlas titan statue with diorama and battery-powered LED lighting, a surprising 200-page art book, and an exclusive schematic poster. The good news: both the standard edition and premium are available for pre-order now. For up to the minute news on next gen release dates or delays, stay tuned!

[Source – Forbes]

“Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition” Coming to PS4 & Vita, Skips Xbox One & Wii U

Injustice Gods Among Us

Earlier this year, NetherRealm Studios released their superb DC fighter, Injustice: Gods Among Us for the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U. Over the months, the game received a solid amount of DLC and much like their Mortal Kombat series, Injustice will be receiving the same “komplete” edition which includes every piece of DLC. Today, Warner Bros. and NetherRealm Studios confirmed that “Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition” will be headed to the PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360 and PC. This move brings the fighter to a next-gen platform, the PlayStation 4, as well as Sony’s portable PS Vita. What’s interesting is that there’s no mention of the game coming to the Xbox One or the Wii U.

When Ed Boon was asked about the Xbox One, here’s what he said:

“Um…I wouldn’t sell that 360 copy…”

While it’s strange that the Xbox One won’t receive a next-gen version of Injustice, it’s certainly exciting to hear that PS4 owners have a fighter to get excited for early into the console’s lifecycle. The Ultimate Edition will include all the DLC available now, as well as 40 additional character costumes and 60 new S.T.A.R. Lab Missions. Warner Bros. is stating that the Ultimate Edition contains $120 worth of content.

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Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition will hit the PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita and Xbox 360 on November 12th, 2013 in North America, and November 29th, 2013 in Europe. Will you be getting the Ultimate Edition? If so, which platform will you get it for?

[Source: Blogs.Games]

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare Launch Price And Details

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EA has confirmed that Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare will be an online only affair. Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare will be a pure online shooter powered by the Frostbite engine. The game will sport a 24-player multiplayer and 4-player co-op. Creative director Justin Wiebe stated that the game’s price will be inexpensive when comparing it to other games releasing on consoles.

Garden Warfare debuts on Xbox One at $39.99 as both a retail and downloadable title. The Xbox 360 and PC versions will be cheaper, retailing for $29.99. There will be exclusive content for the X1 version however. To reiterate, there will be no single player campaign, as the entire campaign relies on multiplayer. “We definitely want to build on the game once it’s launched, we’re definitely taking a cue from Plants vs Zombies 2. Using DLC and new content updates, we want to keep players engaged in the long haul,” Wiebe stated. Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare will launch on X1, Xbox 360, and PC in early 2014.

[via Shacknews]

Space Hulk Review (PC/Mac): “A Tired Take on the Original”

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2013’s Space Hulk follows in the footsteps of several forms of inspiration – naturally, this includes the original board game it’s based off of, as well as the previous two Space Hulk PC games released back in the 90s. Each was a huge success, providing a tense, strategic game landscape backed by all of the lore of the Warhammer 40k universe. Now, Full Control have released what would seem to be a modern take on the originals, allowing players to control the Blood Angels chapter of Space Marines in a chilling, bloody fight against hoards of Tyranid Genestealers aboard the titular spacecraft. The 2013 version includes fully-3D graphics and voice-overs, but does the classic gameplay stand the test of time, or is it doomed to drift in the endless expanse of inadequate game remakes?

Story: 2/5

Space Hulk sees the player controlling a squad of Space Marines, the superhuman soldiers fielded by the forces of Mankind in the Warhammer 40k universe. Representing the Blood Angels chapter, these soldiers begin a bloody campaign of vengeance aboard a Space Hulk, a massive spacecraft that has become adrift in the Warp, a terrifying, chaotic alternate dimension host to daemons and other horrible creatures. Many of the Blood Angels’ forces were slaughtered therein hundreds of years prior by hoards of Tyranid Genestealers – nightmarish, feral aliens bent on killing and consuming all organic beings.

Bulky super-soldiers in a cramped corridor. What could go wrong?

The game’s campaign consists of 12 missions of multiple varieties, and each is prefaced by a short briefing, giving you an idea of what your objective will be. A powerful, melodramatic voiceover gives a full rundown of strategic data to digest, but otherwise the game’s plot is paper-thin. This is hard to excuse, as even the board game released back in the 80s came with multiple gameplay scenarios driven by an overall story. Given the rich amount of lore available for the Warhammer 40k universe, and the high quality of games in recent years to use the license, it’s a shame there isn’t more to make you care. In short: Space Marines are the good guys, Genestealers are the bad guys. The Warhammer 40k universe makes many, many more distinctions than that, but in terms of Space Hulk, that’s all you get.

Even worse, your Space Marines, each with their own name and specialties, can die during any mission. This ought to be a huge blow, considering each death is the loss of a super-soldier, but as long as you succeed in your mission, any of your units that died previously will respawn for the next mission. It’s a case of story giving way to gameplay elements, but this would have been an easy fix – giving Space Marines a random name each game would have helped to preserve whatever element of brevity is present in the game’s story.

Gameplay: 3/5

Space Hulk’s gameplay is, for all intents and purposes, a faithful recreation of the board game that inspired it. Players move their characters through narrow corridors and cramped, intersecting rooms to make their way towards the objective. Each player’s pieces have four Action Points to carry out actions like moving, turning, shooting, opening doors, unjamming weapons, and more. Players also get a pool of Command Points which are randomly awarded each turn, and can be used by any of the player’s pieces like Action Points, but are each shared among all of their pieces. The Space Marines and Genestealers couldn’t be more contrasted from each other – Blood Angels in Terminator armor are slow and ponderous, requiring Action Points just to turn around. They do, however, have the advantage in firepower – Space Marines can wield a large variety of firearms and melee weapons, all inspired by what’s found in the Warhammer 40k universe, including Storm Bolters, Power Fists, Power Swords, and Flamers, among many other instruments of destruction. While Space Marines can tangle with Genestealers in melee combat, there’s no denying that you’ll want to use your forces at range whenever possible. Genestealers are agile and numerous, and you’ll want to use your ranged advantage to take them down before they can swarm your position. Genestealers spawn from designated areas on the board, so you’ll need to plan where to station your forces to stem the tide enough for your other soldiers to complete the objective. A neat inclusion in the game is a shoulder-mounted camera feed, which broadcasts the perspective of your currently-selected Space Marine. It’s a surprisingly nice touch and adds a sense of tension and suspense to the game’s tactical top-down display.

A lucky roll by the Space Marine. Don't count on it happening again.

A lucky roll by the Space Marine. Don’t count on it happening again.

Board game adaptations are tricky to produce on a gaming platform, since a lot of the enjoyment of a board game comes from the interactions between you and the people you play with. In the absence of that, a computer game needs to have some sort of hook to engage the player, whether it be flashy graphics or high production values. It’s obvious that Space Hulk tries to stick as closely to the principles of the board game, and in the end, it was the right decision to make. However, Full Control have taken this to the logical extreme, and presented a very bare-bones gameplay experience. There are many options present to the player, but there’s really only one clear fallback – get a Space Marine into position in a long hallway and turn on Overwatch mode, which lets the Space Marine fire at any enemies that come within range during their turn. Knowing that just one option is clearly the best for victory takes a lot away from the depth of play that is so well-known within the board game and 90s PC games. So long as you’re patient and can conserve your APs, you can have Space Marines on Overwatch stemming any Genestealers that come within range, making a practical runway to your objective. The Genestealers’ AI is somewhat inconsistent as well; sometimes, they’ll try to circle around and flank you, a surefire way to take a Space Marine down. Other times, they’ll rush headlong into your field of fire only to get easily gunned down. By the same token, for those times where you choose to take more direct action, your chances of victory are based wholly around dice rolls. Shots can miss, bolters can jam, and even attempts to bash open stuck doors can take a while to succeed. Such a huge degree of randomness makes it so that a whole scenario (which can take up to an hour to complete) can be won or lost on how lucky you are. The only time skill really comes into play is how you position your forces. Beyond that, it all comes down to chance, and can make for a very frustrating experience. What’s worse, there is no way to skip the lengthy animations of the ponderous Space Marines after giving a move order. You can give multiple orders in parallel by selecting another unit while the first carries out his orders, but each Space Marine can take anywhere from 10-20 seconds just to carry out a simple move order. This puts a real drag on the already-slow gameplay, and sometimes you’ll find yourself tapping your finger against your desk in tedium, waiting for your turn to end.

Space Hulk comes with Hotseat and Multiplayer modes, allowing one player to control the Space Marines and the other in charge of the numerous Genestealers. Hotseat play helps preserve some of the draw of gathering about a table with friends and playing through the board game, and this is really the best experience you can get. Trying to outwit another human opponent really brings the strategic play of Space Hulk into focus. However, its multiplayer showings are much more sparse – there is no server browser to speak of, and no chat functionality before entering a game. All you can do is find a random opponent, and select your desired map and faction beforehand, or allow the game to randomize these. There’s in-game text chat, but it’s not nearly as engaging as having a friend with you in Hotseat mode. Worse, as tedious as it can be playing the game solo, it becomes even more monotonous as you wait for your opponent to make their moves. All in all, the gameplay experience isn’t terrible, but it’s obvious the full effort hasn’t been given, and it’s a real shame with Warhammer 40k’s hallmark for engaging gameplay and lore.

Graphics: 2/5

A Space Hulk is, by design, a cramped, dark, confined space, and given the Warhammer 40k universe’s penchant for grim, gothic overtones, nobody is expecting to find rainbows and flowers in Space Hulk. However, the in-game graphics don’t do a lot to stand out either. While they’re certainly competent for a game released in 2013, cut corners begin to creep in at every turn. Even with the graphics turned up to the best preset, character models lack detail, and look more like plastic action figures rather than hardened combat veterans. Tyranids don’t look much better, but are certainly intimidating and gruesome enough. Animations are also sorely lacking here – the bulky Space Marines barely move at all when firing their weapons, and in general, all characters play the same animations over and over. When a Tyranid closes in on your space marine, he’ll always fend it off with a quick backhand before doing the creature in, or being felled himself. Genestealers, too, seem to recoil slightly from gunfire only to fall on their faces the next. It gets very tired, very fast.

Unfortunately, the in-game graphics can’t match the quality in this action shot.

Sound: 2/5

Another area where Warhammer 40k games are known to excel are their sound direction. From extensive voice-over work to sweeping soundtracks, they’re a big reason for the engrossing melodrama that 40k games are known for. It’s unfortunate, then, that Space Hulk contains no traces of an effective sound design. The title screen sports a dramatic, sweeping tune…and the rest of the game lacks any sort of music. Nor does Space Hulk boast a broad voice cast – in fact, there’s only two discernible voice actors lending their talents – one for the pre-mission briefings, and one for the canned phrases uttered by your Space Marines. The only thing saving Space Hulk from a critical sound score is the quality of what’s actually present. The title music is engaging, and the voice work is spoken with the same poise and deep, powerful tone as is expected from any of the Emperor’s Finest. There really isn’t much else to say – the game’s sound design is just another area where corners have been cut. It’s a real let-down.

The Space Marine "IWIN" button.

The Blood Angels call this maneuver the “I win button”.

Overall Score: 9/20 = 4.5 out of 10

Space Hulk is a game that had so much potential, both from the high quality of the board game it’s based off of as well as the source material Full Control had at its disposal. Warhammer 40k computer games are known for being dramatic, engaging, and extremely immersive. Unfortunately, Space Hulk cuts too many corners for its best aspects, few as they are, to come through. Repetitive, inconsistent gameplay, a nearly non-existent story, shoddy graphics, and a nearly non-existent sound direction make it hard to justify a purchase at $30, even for the most die-hard of 40k fans. Those looking for a grim, war-like strategic game should look to any of the Dawn of War games to get their fix instead.

Space Hulk is currently available on the Steam platform for PC and Mac, retailing at $29.99 USD.

PROs:

+ A straight adaptation of the board game stays faithful to old-school play

+ Hotseat play is the closest thing to simulating a board game session with friends

+ Shoulder-camera view adds a delightful horror factor

CONs:

– Gameplay is dull and repetitive

– Frustratingly reliant on random dice rolls

– Graphics are sub-par

– Inability to skip ponderous Space Marine animations drags each game on

– Nearly non-existent soundtrack

– Only two discernible voice actors

– Unusually thin plot for a 40k game

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy of Space Hulk! Copy reviewed based on the PC version.

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Nintendo Expanding the Possibilities of Online Gaming with Cross-Platform Play

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Nintendo is making waves in the gaming world, and this time it’s for a positive reason. In continuing to show how versatile and distinct the Wii U is from its counterparts, Nintendo has taken a bold initiative. Developer VooFoo (who is making “Pure Chess”) stated that the Wii U will allow for cross-platform play between mobile devices and the Wii U. In an interview, VooFoo stated this about Nintendo:

“They’ve also been very open minded in allowing us to support cross platform play with the iOS and Android versions of Pure Chess this is a really great move and something I hope we’ll be able as developers to do much more in the future. Wii U really seemed to be an ideal platform to bring Pure Chess to – it’s quite a beast of a machine so is very capable of throwing around some pretty impressive visuals.”

It certainly is quite a breakthrough of technology when gamers from mobile markets, PC’s and consoles can all meet online to play a round of their favorite game. We are very excited to see what possibilities await Nintendo’s Wii U as their ever expanding inventory of online titles release.

[via GimmieGimmieGames]