Total Reviews: 19
Average Overall Score Given: 7.65263 / 10
Total Forum Posts: 0

Degrees of Separation

Fittingly released on Valentine's Day, indie dev Moondrop’s Degrees of Separation is a 2D puzzle platformer that tells a tale of two lovers, Ember a princess of fire and heat, and Rime, prince of snow and ice, who desperately wish to be together but are kept apart by unknown barrier. With a beautiful story written by game industry veteran Chris Avellone, the narrative ties in quite nicely with the game's puzzle and platform mechanics. The two main characters live in the same world, but are alone in their own dimensions.

Their epic journey to be together can only be successful with help from the other and each have the power to manipulate the environment with their powers. Ember, radiant with heat and warmth, can melt icy puddles to access hidden caverns underneath and heat up lanterns to raise and lower platforms. Rime on the other hand, with his icy grip, can turn a log into a giant snowball to access an out of reach roof, freeze bodies of water to walk across or shut off a hot gas geyser that would otherwise send him soaring off of a platform. I really enjoyed the unique way that temperature and the barriers between Ember and Rime played a role in the puzzles. It’s a great twist on the genre and it definitely works well in Degrees of Separation.

You can play alone, and frequently switch between the two characters, but Degrees of Separation is definitely best played on a couch in local co-op, as I played alongside my significant other. It was great fun working together to reach a platform to collect a scarf, but also can definitely spark a fight with your partner (I may or may not speak from experience!) when trying figure out a head scratching puzzle together. Cooperation and communication is definitely key to success.

My biggest peeve about Degrees of Separation is the lack of online co-op, and the fact that the game does not recognize Player 2’s credentials on Xbox Live. We both felt it was unfair, especially in a gamer household like ours, that the other player could not get achievements, and understandably, it definitely took some of the fun away for my Player 2. I suppose it gives you reason to go back and play again, but after dealing with some of the more frustrating puzzles, we have yet to find the urge to return for another playthrough.

Degrees of Separation is a completionists dream (or nightmare, depending on how you look at it), as each level in Degrees of Separation is filled with wispy scarves to be found, often out of reach. These scarves help progress the game and highlight the intricate puzzles and platforming. You can certainly finish the level without collecting them if so inclined. And if you find that you missed one, there were numerous checkpoints found throughout the level that could be used to fast travel, which made backtracking to find a missing scarf a little easier than making the long trek backward on foot. Fast traveling also gave a brief glimpse of what needed to be done to get that scarf, and we often found ourselves traveling back and forth between these checkpoints in our attempts to figure out a tough puzzle.

I didn’t think that the puzzles were overly difficult, although there were moments that we found ourselves quite stuck, and quickly found out that Degree of Separation wasn't exactly a linear experience. Frequently, we found ourselves quite irritated with tracking back after realizing that we have missed scarf. As well, while most of the puzzles were quite clever, sometimes we would throw our hands up in exasperation at the steps needed to reach a scarf, which definitely took some of the magic away, and found ourselves turning the game off in sheer frustration. That said, the game mechanics were easy to figure out and intuitive and even a first time gamer could sit down and play without difficulty.

The Degrees of Separation soundtrack is filled with beautiful music that perfectly accompanies Rime and Ember’s adventures through castles and caverns filled with intricate knotwork and fairy tale backgrounds. The lovely hand drawn characters and fantasy storybook-like world were truly were pleasure to look at, and help Degrees of Separation standing out from being just another 2D platformer.

If you're looking for a fun couch co-op game, then Degrees of Separation is a lovely 2D puzzle platformer that should definitely be experienced. The beautiful hand drawn backdrops, great music, with interesting narrative that cleverly tied into the game mechanics made this a pleasure to play, but at times the platforming and the puzzles can sometimes be frustrating and ruin the fun. At a mere $29.99 CDN, playing Degrees of Separation makes for a cheap (but fun!) date night in with your Player 2.

Overall Score: 7.6 / 10 Just Cause 4

The latest entry in the fan favourite action adventure series, Just Cause 4, promises to be filled mayhem and madness. Having never played a Just Cause game prior to this, I was very eager to check out this massive open world filled with “conflict, secrets and danger”. Unfortunately, it did not live up to the hype or my expectations.

The story of Just Cause 4 centers on the series protagonist Rico Rodríguez, who is tasked with defeating the Black Hand and Gabriela Morales, while also assisting with building a rebellion against them. Taking place in Solis, a massive fictional South American country, Rico rallies the troops, enlisting local townsfolk in the revolution against the Hand, while digging deep into his past, revealing a secret about his father and his involvement with the group.

A true open world game, there are numerous missions to complete over a whopping 1024 square kilometers, and it’s definitely easy to get sidetracked. You can follow the Operations Missions of defeating the Black Hand, or you can complete numerous side missions on behalf of certain important figures in Solis who can aid your quest in defeating Gabriela. To be perfectly honest, I found myself very lost when attempting to follow the storyline. I found the mission structure made things a bit hard to follow, especially as someone new to the series. As well, there was a great deal of repetition in the mission types, and eventually found myself frustrated with escorting yet another NPC, or driving someplace to destroy a building/weapon, and found myself losing interest very quickly.

I think I had more fun with the challenge side missions than the main story. There are three different characters who will give you tasks to complete, and the location of these missions can be found on the map, indicated by an S, J or G. Sargento (who helps Rico lead the Army of Chaos, the rebels who seek to overthrow the Black Hand) will give missions to further advance the army. Javi, an archaeologist, tasks Rico with uncovering the history of Solis by uncovering ancient tombs and exploring ruins. And Garland, a movie director seeking to complete her opus, is looking for the perfect shot, asking Rico to complete outrageous stunts. There are also seven pilots to aid you in your missions with supply drops and fast travel on the map, unlocked at various levels in the game.

But let’s be real. You’re not really playing for story. The best part of a Just Cause game is the chaos that you can create with the grappling hook and vast arsenal of unique and crazy weapons and vehicles, like helicopters, jet skis and boats at Rico’s disposal, and Just Cause 4 certainly does not disappoint. As someone new to the series, it took me a bit to master, but I was soon whipping across the map using the retractable attachment, swiftly climbing trees or clinging to the bottom of a cable car on my way up a mountain to take out a drone facility. And along with the wind suit to gracefully soar through to your objective and the parachute at your disposal, you can travel around Solis with ease.

The grappling hook is highly customizable, with thousands of potential modifications available to wreak havoc. Completing missions for Sargento, Javi and Garland will give you much needed upgrades to aid to your chaotic destruction as well. There are three attachments; the retractable hook, the air lifter (balloons that can be attached to objects) and the booster (jets that can be attached to anything). Virtually anything can be used to create epic destruction, and creativity is rewarded with hilarious chaos.

Creating epic chaos and mass destruction will earn points that will unlock and allow you to advance your army, which is indicated by a gauge at the top of the screen. For example, attach air balloons to a car and use it to float around. Use the retractable hook and draw yourself closer to an enemy. Send enemies soaring into the air with a jet booster. And adding to the insanity and chaos is extreme weather (an important part of the storyline but not wishing to reveal spoilers!) such as man-made tornadoes, lightning, and blizzards to contend with, or perhaps use to your advantage.

I found that using the grappling hook was smooth and intuitive (except when unexpectedly I lost the use of my retractable attachment. I have determined this potentially was an isolated bug). I had no problem traversing around the map! Gunplay felt right, and auto aim made hairy situations and overwhelming enemies quite manageable. But the driving controls were absolutely atrocious, which isn’t great considering many side missions involve using a vehicle to perform a stunt or escort an NPC.

There is definitely high replay value, and one of my favourite things about Just Cause 4 was the feats system. I absolutely loved this! There is a mini leaderboard in the right corner of the screen that tracks your progress against your friends. There are Land, Air, Sea, Mayhem, Marksmanship and Creative Feats to try your hand at, like farthest distance an enemy travelled after being thrown by a retracting tether, or longest time spent in a wingsuit without taking damage, which adds a bit of a competitive edge to this single player game (and great disappointment when you realize that you’ve failed to complete it!). At times I found the leaderboard was sometimes a nuisance on the screen, but it can be adjusted or turned off in gameplay menu.

Unfortunately, Just Cause 4 just didn’t look that great. Despite playing on a 4K TV, visually it was rather average, with character models and map textures looking somewhat dated. That said, considering what’s required with the in-game physics and to have the level of chaos and destruction in the game, it could perhaps be forgiven. I did encounter several graphical bugs, but nothing I that would consider game breaking. Voice acting was well done, and the soundtrack fitting, but again, nothing really outstanding or noteworthy.

It’s absolutely insane and absurd at times, and creating epic chaos while attempting to complete challenges cans be great fun, but Just Cause 4 really didn’t wow me. It simply felt rather average. The story was mediocre and hard to follow, it’s really wasn’t much to look at and the missions soon became painfully repetitive. Please don’t get me wrong, Just Cause 4 certainly isn’t an awful game, but it lacks the polish that I have come to expect with a AAA title in this generation. There are definitely better open world games that have recently been released, but if you are a fan of the series or looking for the chance to blow things up and tide you over until the next big release, then you may want to add this to your collection.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Battlefield V

As a long time Battlefield veteran, I’ve played nearly every game in the series, such as 1942, 2142, Bad Company, and even Battlefield Heroes, so I am somewhat excited to play DICE’s latest entry in the series. I love the historic battles, the huge maps and the epic destruction that a Battlefield game offers, so I had very high hopes for Battlefield V. It’s a fantastic multiplayer experience, but the controversy surrounding the lack of content at release is very hard to ignore (Editor’s Note: Since this review was written, a free Single Player DLC episode was added).

This latest entry into the franchise offers a short single player campaign that is told through three War Stories. These brief narratives offer an emotional experience and tells some lesser known stories of World War II, like the occupation of Norway by the Germans, and the struggle of the Tirailleurs in Northern France. Each story was approximately just over an hour long in terms of gameplay. While these stories were interesting enough, and deserve to be told in my opinion, I found there was a lot of repetition. I suppose it’s difficult to come up with new gameplay ideas in a World War II single player game, but it was very repetitive throughout. The gameplay, and narrative, felt too familiar, as I’ve played these types of objectives in numerous other games. Such things as having to take out the artillery guns, hold the headquarters, etc., are common themes in games like this. Some variation would have been appreciated! Completing these stories gives you access to special melee weapons, and there is high replay value with collectibles to be found. There will be another War Story released in the future as well.

Multiplayer is the big draw for any Battlefield fan, and Battlefield V hasn’t strayed far from its’ standard formula. Massive maps filled with vehicles and walls to destroy with numerous objectives to capture. It’s very strategic, and communication is of the utmost importance for success. Unfortunately, a good chunk of the player base is focused on kills instead of working as a team, which can be extremely frustrating when attempting to capture an objective. The lone wolf may survive, but ultimately your survival depends on your squad mates. Battlefield V forces players to work together as you are instantly placed in a squad when you load into a game, it may just be filled those who choose not to communicate. Difficulty will be had should you, or your teammates, not talk to one another during play.

Something I really enjoyed in the multiplayer aspect is the progression system and how points are awarded in Battlefield. Sure, killing other players will certainly heighten your score, but even players who have a terrible K/D ratio, like me (I’m a veteran but not very good), can make a difference by contributing to capturing an objective, spotting other players, healing squadmates and using your class specific skills to aid others. It’s extremely satisfying when merit points pop up on the screen after capturing an objective or following a specific order. And there is great motivation to return to battle each day, as there are daily point rewards, such as heal 5 teammates or get a specific number of points in a certain game mode.

The online game modes, except for Team Deathmatch, are all seemingly different variations of Conquest, and while I do wish for a bit more variety, I’m also totally OK with this. For those unfamiliar with Battlefield’s awesome multiplayer experience, Conquest is massive populated all-out-war. Capture and hold flags (spawn points) on the map while attempting to eliminate the other team. Veterans of the older games will be happy to know that the points system has also returned. Each team starts with 600 points. As players are killed off, or when the enemies hold all the points on the map, your team’s tickets begin to reduce, and the team who reaches 0 tickets first will lose. Interestingly, if a team is losing, they will begin to capture points faster near the end of the round, giving them the opportunity to rebound, making for some close matches and epic comebacks.

Grand Operations is a new massive multiplayer experience and similar to Operations in Battlefield 1 that spans over four days (in game, not real time!). It uses multiple modes and maps for an intense multiplayer experience. In Breakthrough, the attacking team captures sectors while the defending team desperately attempts to hold them off. Frontlines is a combination of fan favourites Rush and Conquest, as both teams fight to capture objectives, closing off sectors on the map once the enemy base is opened at the end game. This mode adds explosives for a heart pounding race to the end.

The final mode I want to talk about, Domination, is my personal favourite. It is a smaller scale map with 32 players and no vehicles, with focus on gunfights and a much faster pace than Conquest. As expected in a Battlefield game, the maps are massive! Taking place in locations like Northern Africa, France and Norway, these maps are filled with swamps, trenches, desert-like conditions, decrepit bridges and the ruins of buildings that were destroyed in battle.

There are a few new game mechanics to note. Every player now has a toolkit to help build fortifications, and the spotting system has changed. Many see this as an improvement, but I must say I’m not a fan of the change at all! Instead of spotting an individual player with a tap of a button, you now indicate a general location where an enemy was recent spotted. I suppose it comes in handy when you see the flash of a sniper’s scope, or catch a glimpse of a soldier in the distance, but it’s difficult to use and I found that many of my team simply ignored it. Also new in the Battlefield series is that squad leaders can now call in support, like a supply drop or a rocket attack, depending on how many points the squad as a whole accumulate as a whole.

Unfortunately, those new to the series may struggle. It’s a tough game to master and the UI is not very well laid out at all. Even I found myself fumbling a bit. Battlefield V certainly isn’t a beginner friendly game. I highly recommend playing at least one War Story before jumping into multiplayer action to familiarize yourself with gameplay.

I was really impressed with customization of your character in Battlefield V. Your choice of class remains as Assault, Medic, Support, and Recon. The Company offers a great place to not only customize your class (Combat roles - like a subclass) and your load out, but you can choose what your character looks like. Change your gender (and play as a female thank you very much!), war paint, and even customize your outfit to your liking.

Visually, Battlefield V is absolutely stunning as EA and DICE have fully utilized their in-house graphics engine known as Frostbite. You’ll notice such detail, like the fall leaves that cover the path in the forest, poppies draped over brick walls in a village, to the the remnants of destroyed buildings (e.g. concrete wall chunks, wooden shingles, etc.). The environments truly capture the utter devastation of World War II. The sound effects really add to the immersive experience including the distant sound of gunfire on the battlefield, the drone of a plane propeller overhead, to such things as your squad yelling out or the clickety-clack of tank tracks nearing the capture point, the latter which adds to the heart pounding gameplay.

I suppose it wouldn’t be a Battlefield game if it wasn’t filled with bugs. I frequently found myself spawning in the absolute worst locations including such areas as the middle of barbed wire or in a wall, and while I was successful freeing myself, I watched as others met an untimely death as they struggled to leave the point. When I was placed right on the edge of the player area I found myself immediately faced with the return to combat message, and it was the game, not me, who placed me there. And all too often, I found myself in the map, yes, physically (glitched) in the map’s environment. I even had a body floating in the air, blocking my shot. There’s work to be done for sure. Does it take away from the overall Battlefield experience? Not really, but it’s rather frustrating and notable, and I hope to see some improvement.

Unless you are OK with playing variations of Conquest, there’s not a lot of content here. Sure, EA and DICE claim that there is no premium/paid content and that all DLC going forward will be free. But shouldn’t these game modes and war stories be included when released? Is it OK to release an unfinished game? I commend their commitment to making players happy, but it feels somewhat unfinished in the state that it’s in now. That said, the updated content will keep players coming back for months to come, especially with Tides of War, filled with timed events, new missions and allowing players to collect custom location and event gear (which is awesome!). And of course, the much-anticipated Firestorm, DICE’s answer to the popular Battle Royale genre will release early next year, which I have no doubt will be nothing less than amazing.

Admittedly, this has been a tough one for me to review. It has great potential, but it feels so incomplete. There’s still so much to come, and perhaps a postponed released date may have been a better option. But it’s still Battlefield, the immersive amazing multiplayer gameplay that veterans have come to know and love. It’s unfinished, but I’m highly optimistic that it will improve as new content releases and its Battlefield multiplayer at its finest, and that alone may sell the game for the longtime veteran considering what’s to come. I very reluctantly recommend Battlefield V in its current state, but I must stress my disappointment that EA and DICE willing released a game that feels kind of unfinished.

Overall Score: 7.6 / 10 Hitman 2

IO Interactive has had a bit of a tumultuous past with the Hitman franchise. With the departure from Square Enix as a publisher, and faced uncertainty as an independent studio. But a partnership with Warner Bros. Interactive gave them the opportunity to give a new life to the series. First, they released a “definitive” version the 2016 Hitman, and now they have recently released a sequel to that game, simply called Hitman 2, which I am reviewing. As I write up what I think, I have to note that I am writing as someone completely new to the Hitman franchise. I hate to admit, I was ridiculously ignorant and passed it off as just another shooter, which now, after playing Hitman 2, is so laughable! Given my experience with Hitman 2 as I review it, I am very regretful that I did not experience this series before.

For those not too familiar with the series, Hitman 2 centers around the iconic cloned assassin Agent 47, with his trademark bald head, barcode tattoo, black business suit, red tie and briefcase that has become recognizable to many. Employed by the International Contract Agency, he is sent across the world to eliminate targets. Aided by his handler Diana, he is calm, cool, collected and will stop at nothing to get the job done. There is story to be told, but I will be completely honest, I did not follow the narrative at all, simply because the cutscenes were quite odd and hard to follow, and I was eager to play. There were no cinematics, as the story played out with simple pictures and voiceovers. It was awkward, and I don’t feel cutscenes like this have a place in 2018.

If you have never played a Hitman game before, there is a prologue and training scenario where you familiarize yourself with the game mechanics, and I HIGHLY recommend playing it. Gameplay centers around being stealthy, carefully blending in and disguising yourself to eliminate your intended target. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that was for someone who prefers a run and gun approach! I quickly learned that boldly walking up to my target and shooting them without any planning just doesn’t work, as I quickly met an untimely end.

To the uninitiated, Hitman 2 can be very overwhelming. Thankfully, there are three different levels to play, from casual, for those who like to experiment and not worry so much about combat, to professional, for those who like a slightly more difficult challenge, to the master difficulty, which is for those looking to be the ultimate assassin with very little guidance and ruthless enemies to contend with.

I stuck with the casual difficulty for this play through, as the mission hints were very welcome for my first Hitman experience! These hints provided guidance to new intel, locations to discover, and NPC’s to meet. The beauty of Hitman 2 is that if you don’t follow the story, it’s no big deal. The guides are certainly helpful, as they put you in situations that provide an easier opportunity to kill your intended target, but you absolutely can finish the mission without following these steps.

If you carefully listen to the subtle clues in the background, NPC conversations often offer insight on where to find the target and a way to eliminate them. I think of my time in the Miami level. The target I was tasked to eliminate showed off a robot that only fired upon someone who was identified with a picture that was programmed into the system. As I walked down a corridor, I overheard a conversation with a lowly team member, complaining that the security detail had emptied the energy drink machine. Curious, I made my way to the machine, and to my surprise found a magazine cover with my targets picture on it, which I then used the picture to program the robot to shoot to kill the target, which matched the picture I found. I thought that interactions like these are extremely clever, and one of the many reasons that Hitman 2 is fantastic.

Sandbox gameplay is at its finest here, as the number of creative ways you can kill a target in Hitman 2 just blows my mind. Each locale offers numerous methods to get it done. Simple everyday items can be used as a projectile to knock out your target, you can slyly slip a bottle of poison into food or drink, lead your target into the bathroom and drown them in a toilet, blow the target off of a roof with a high powered fan, or even leave full pack of cigarettes for guy on oxygen that has a ‘leaky’ canister. The possibilities are seemingly endless. Of course, you could use the traditional method and arm yourself with Agent 47s trademark pistol, but in my opinion that’s no fun at all! I should note, aiming was a bit off, and when I did use a firearm or projectile, it was somewhat difficult to properly target.

There are many things that can aid or hinder a mission. You can take on the persona of a comical pink flamingo mascot at a race event, a repair man, and even a food vendor, the number of disguises that Agent 47 can wear to get closer to a target is astounding! If you are new to the series, and should you find yourself under suspicion or followed by an enforcer, you can blend into a crowd or hide in tall grass to stealthily make your way to your objective. Depending on what difficulty level you play, there are cameras scattered throughout that may catch you in action and alert a nearby NPC, but the new picture-in-picture feature gives you a heads up to their reactions and gives you the chance to figure out what to do before things escalate.

When playing Hitman 2 I was always on the edge, my heart racing when I successfully eliminated a target and desperately sought a way to an exit, or I felt a sense of dread when someone discovered a body of someone I subdued and stole their outfit and assumed their identity. I felt as if I was always on the verge of failing a mission, which added a great sense of urgency and a huge sigh of relief once completed. Despite playing through each location. I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface.

There is a ton of replay value, such as an online leaderboard (it amazes me how quickly people can finish these missions!), challenges to complete, weapons and starting locations to unlock, and numerous targets to eliminate within each locale. All of this will keep you coming back for more. Gone is the episodic content of the previous game, as all missions are available on day one with free content available soon with Elusive Targets, contracts that are only available for a limited time (the first one is voiced by Sean Bean). On top of that, there a couple multiplayer modes. There is Ghost Mode, a one on one mode to see who can eliminate their targets before the other player, and a co-op Sniper Assassin mode. And if that’s not enough, when you get bored you can create your own contracts for others to play.

From a white fenced neighbourhood in suburban America, to the bustling slums of Mumbai, the mission locations in Hitman 2 are massive and incredibly immersive. There are many secrets to uncover, places to hide, and nooks and crannies to explore! Visually, the environments are well detailed, but the character models could use some work as they looked a bit dated. The witty dialogue certainly adds great comic relief, and I had to laugh as Agent 47 talks in his deadpan voice about “executing” a plan with his intended target, foreshadowing what was to come. The voice acting was spot on. In terms of any music, you’ll hear tracks that just make sense. From the thumping tones of electronic music in a nightclub, the strains of a sitar in Mumbai, to the urgent music when you’ve killed your last target and need to make a quick exit, the soundtrack truly adds to the immersive experience.

Hitman 2 might just be one of the best games I’ve played this year, and it was a pleasant surprise given I did not know what I was getting myself into going into this review! While it’s not without its faults, as the narrative “cutscenes” were disappointing, it can be a bit overwhelming to those new to the series, and some of the controls need improvement, the overall experience is fantastic. With great stealth gameplay, amazingly creative ways to eliminate your target, incredibly immersive environments, and high replay value, these elements make this a must play for both newcomers to the series and for longtime fans of the elusive Agent 47.

Overall Score: 8.4 / 10 Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

I’m no stranger to the Call of Duty series. My very first achievement on my Xbox 360 was from Call of Duty 3. My COD love continued, as I fondly remember the excitement of getting into the Modern Warfare beta and how the multiplayer experience changed online gaming in that generation. I absolutely loved playing multiplayer. Friday nights, a couple beers and good friends and I would play into the wee hours of the morning. And this continued. I absolutely loved World at War and even found myself at the midnight release for Black Ops, but sometime after the release of Black Ops II I lost interest. I was fatigued with the series and the community, and really haven’t played since.

When offered the chance to review Black Ops 4, I’ll admit it, I was a bit reluctant. I’m certainly not up to date with what’s been happening in the COD universe over the past few years, my first-person shooter skills and reflexes are certainly not what they used to be, but damn I’m glad I took a chance on this game. So fair warning, as you read on, this is a glimpse into my experience as a veteran of the series who really isn’t that good but enjoyed the hell out of Black Ops 4.

Much to the dismay of some gamers, Treyarch decided to opt out of including a single player campaign this time around, instead, the focus is on the social aspect of Call of Duty multiplayer. There is no doubt that many find this decision upsetting. Perhaps I’m playing the devil's advocate, but I think that considering the time frame and resources needed, I would much rather have a rich multiplayer experience that has a ton of replay value rather than a four-hour single player campaign. Treyarch found that not many took advantage of the single player campaign, even with adding an online co-op option. Instead, most players jumped right into multiplayer arena. Treyarch's focus this game is replayability as they want people to play their game for years and not put it away after finishing the solo campaign. Personally, the only reason I personally played the campaign was to better my skills before jumping in online, and for Black Ops 4, the Specialists mission now serve that purpose.

Black Ops 4 takes place sometime between Black Ops 2 and 3, and the story, should we call it that, is introduced through the brief solo Specialist missions. While they don’t exactly take the place of a single player narrative, I thought the Specialists missions were very entertaining, with a certain master sergeant providing training instructions with some great comic relief. Heck, there are even some emotion stirring cinematic cutscenes after completing your mission. After completing the training with each Specialist, and learning how to use their weapons and gear, you’re given a chance to play multiplayer modes against bots to practice your newly learned skills, a fantastic way to get familiar with them before venturing online (especially great for a gamer like me!).

In terms of my favourite specialists, I absolutely love playing as Firebreak and Battery, as I found these two specialists easy to play and their weapons cause lots of damage, but those with more experience might prefer a more strategic and tactical characters like Crash. I think the Specialist missions offered just the right amount of single player experience, with incentive to go back and play through again for a higher score.

Multiplayer is...well, it’s Call of Duty multiplayer. Not much has really changed from the formula over the years. The same modes that fans of the series know and love are still there; Team Deathmatch, Domination, Kill Confirmed, Search and Destroy and Hardpoint return, along with two new modes Heist (moving cash to an extraction point) and Control (where you attack and control two points on the map). And veterans of the series will be happy to know that Hardcore game modes are available at launch. I’ve played several hours of multiplayer, and I’ll be honest, despite my constant death at the hands of high level players, and my awful K/D ratio, I still had fun. I was very pleased to play on a few maps that I was familiar with! Redesigned fan favourites like Jungle, Slums, Summit and Firing Range (Nuketown arriving shortly after release) were definitely a welcome addition. I did not have a chance to play on all of the new maps, but those that I did play on, like Monaco, resulted in some intense fights, great sniping locations and loads of intense of close quarter combat.

The multitude of guns and attachments, and the various Perks and Wildcards that COD is known for, remain, although the assortment sometimes can be a bit overwhelming for a newcomer (or someone who hasn’t played the series in a few years). There has been slight changes to gameplay worth noting. Combat is more tactical, with seemingly more of a focus on teamwork, and more ground based combat with outrageous moves like thrust jumps and wall running eliminated. Movement seems just so slick! The way you effortlessly climb through a window, a quick slide into cover, it just feels right. And the healing system has been revised as well. Regenerated health has been removed, instead, players now inject themselves in the midst of battle, which can lead to some very tense moments and strategic gameplay. You have to use it at just the right moment, as there is a cool down before you can use it again.

I haven’t played Zombies since the days of Call of The Dead (and zombie George Romero). Over the past 10 years, the story has become pretty intricate and, well, somewhat out of control and hard to follow. This time around, Treyarch has introduced a brand-new storyline to Zombie mode called "The Chaos Storyline", which features a fresh new cast of characters and exciting new scenarios. For the first time ever in the series, there are three zombie filled maps to play through right from the start (with a fourth - Classified) available at launch for those who purchase the Season Pass), and fans of the old storyline will be pleased to know that a remake of fan-favourite map Mob of The Dead (from BLOPS II), where you travel to a secret laboratory beneath Alcatraz, is one of the three, complete with Cerberus who craves the meat of nearby zombies (love this!).

Beginners to Zombies mode can start off with map IX in a classic based survival mode. Inspired by epic Colosseum battles found during the days of Ancient Rome, and taking place in the new Chaos storyline, the four heroes are whisked back in time to face off against hordes upon hordes of zombies in an ancient stadium, with many secrets to uncover, complete with massive champions and possessed tigers to contend with. It offers a larger map to move around, the zombies are gentler, and there is increased health. Voyage of Despair takes the Chaos adventurers to RMS Titanic, where their attempts to pull off an epic heist leads to a supernatural encounter on board the doomed ship. This was probably my favourite map of the three, with lots of close quarters combat, and some epic battles, all while the infamous iceberg is looming in the background.

There are still special power ups that drop from killing zombies, like max ammo, along with mystery boxes that can be used for your own benefit or passed on to a team member. You can also create a class for each storyline, with various perks, talisman and custom mutations that can really change up the gameplay. Special weapons are pretty badass with three stages of destruction, and their availability will change depending on which storyline you are playing. I took great pleasure in using the Hammer of Valhalla to smash my way through a horde of zombies and loved using the Viper and Dragon combo to slice and dice my way out after being surrounded.

There are various elixirs to use in the heat of battle and they can drastically change the outcome. These buffs range in duration from a couple of seconds to 5 minutes, but they add awesome buffs like headshots that have a chance to Instakill, charge your special weapon faster, spawn a special power up, and more. Some of these are some only available at higher levels too. You'll find that there are elixirs, that are legendary and epic, that are picked up within a level or are a reward when you take a chance at the laboratory.

You can truly create a more personalized way of playing with Custom games and the option to change the experience to match your play style. I dare say I had more fun with Zombies than I had with any other multiplayer mode. It was awesome, gruesome and with the different options and modifications to use, the replay value is high. I love the added story elements that always make COD Zombies stand out from your typical Horde mode. You will die often (I did anyhow!) but it’s so fun to play with friends, even alone with bots.

And last but certainly not the least, there is the new Blackout mode. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll know that the Battle Royale genre is on fire right now. What’s not to love? Massive maps, 100 players, loot, and intense gameplay that’s a blast to play. And it’s accessible to all players. Everyone starts out with the same loot. Everyone has a chance. Is Activision throwing all of their eggs in one basket with Blackout? Maybe? Is it worthwhile business decision? I believe so. With the stellar success of other Battle Royale games, it’s no wonder that Activision wants a piece of the pie. I don’t think it will touch the Fortnite fan base, but I do feel that PUBG may see a hit. It has that extra touch that PUBG doesn’t offer on console. 60 FPS, nearly bug free, it doesn't look like garbage. Don’t get me wrong, I love PUBG, and think it’s one of the better of the Battle Royale games out there, but the extra polish and the slick gameplay that Black Ops 4 offers is hard to resist. Think about it, taking a game series as well-crafted as Call of Duty, the experience of the Treyarch dev-team, a massive map filled with COD fan-favourite assets from previous games, and you mix it all into a game genre that is on fire right now. It works so well and it’s damn fun to play.

From the moment you drop from the plane and land in the staging area, the extra polish that Treyarch has added is quite evident. I’m a sucker for detail, and I really appreciate the little things that make this an immersive experience. The way a player raises his/her gun, the swinging clip from the strap on a sniper rifle to the letters on the inside of the scope. You will also notice the little things in the environment, like bugs crawling out of a garbage bag, Treyarch has seemingly thought of everything. It looks good and feels good, although some of the textures and colours did seem slightly flat.

Gameplay is pretty typical of what you might expect in a Battle Royale style game. 88 players (for single and duos) and 100 players (quads) are dropped into the map without equipment and left to fend for themselves as they loot equipment and ensure they remain in the constantly reducing safe zone circle until the last person (or team) remains. I can tell you, playing this in the Call of Duty universe was fantastic. Sure, it definitely takes inspiration from PUBG and Fortnite, but playing Blackout definitely feels like traditional Call of Duty. The map is filled with many recognizable elements from the series, familiar locations from previous games, (like Nuketown), and the extensive weaponry that BLOPS is known for.

You can play solo, but it’s definitely best played with a friend or three. Communicating is huge when playing with teammates. I can think of several times my squad was completely silent, and needless to say, we were one of the first to be eliminated. Vehicles play a very prominent role with 4 different types to use at launch (ATV, boat, truck and helicopter), and they have added an extra sense of dread when you hear one in the distance as it approaches your location. It’s also a blast to zip across the map on an ATV with your teammate clinging to the back. Loot is plentiful too, and I never had any difficulty finding a weapon. You can only hold two, so carrying one ranged and one for close-up combat is ideal. If you dare, you can visit the known locations of Zombies. Yes, you heard me right, even they make an appearance in this Battle Royale mode, how awesome is that? It's here that you can grab some extremely powerful guns while fighting off the Undead, but at a cost, as it will alert other players to your location. Backpacks, armor, special items that give you a temporary ability, even Specialist equipment like Ruin’s Grappling hook, can be found hidden within a building or shed.

Although this mode is so fun, it’s certainly not without its faults. Perhaps I didn’t jump from a high enough location, but I found myself falling to my death after a jump without my wingsuit deploying, but again, this could be my gaming skills. Regardless, I do think that the wingsuit could use some work. Oh, and the Level 3 armor is tough to beat! Other players were essentially bullet sponges while wearing it. I mean, I’m not a great shot, but it felt like they didn’t even take any damage. That said, Treyarch has been fantastic in responding to player feedback, and I have no doubt that commitment will remain well after launch in making improvements to Blackout.

Blackout is a game mode that will no doubt be played for years to come. It’s a refreshing change from the typical modes usually found in a Call of Duty game. And maybe it’s just me, but it makes multiplayer a little more accessible for someone who loves playing the game online but certainly struggles playing a mode like Team Deathmatch against high level players. It honestly makes me excited to play Call of Duty online again.

With the exception of Blackout (as previously mentioned, I found some of the textures and colours to be a bit flat), the visuals in Black Ops 4 look fantastic. The cinematics are spectacular and the zombies mode is delightfully gory (I bet the game designers must have had a blast working on that mode). The weapons, character models and everything else was exceptionally well-detailed. In terms of the audio, the ring of gunshots, the footsteps on the ground, the distant moan of a zombie in the background, and of course the voice acting and atmospheric sounds, were well done and truly added to the immersive Call of Duty experience.

Some may argue that there isn’t enough content to warrant an $80 CDN price tag (sure, cheaper is always better) or that other games in the Battle Royale genre are free-to-play. But I like to think of replay value when recommending a game, and there is plenty here. I think in the case of Black Ops 4; it’s quality over quantity. The new Blackout mode is very polished and it actually works. It’s familiar, it’s gritty, it’s everything you love about Call of Duty Black Ops in one huge map. Not to mention in addition to Blackout, Black Ops 4 includes 14 different multiplayer maps at launch, numerous game modes and three Zombie experiences. That’s a lot of content. It’s nothing groundbreaking or innovative, but its heart stopping gameplay is fun and exciting and it reminds me of why I loved playing Call of Duty back in the day.

At the end of the day, I am very confident in recommending Black Ops 4 to anyone who loves the Black Ops series, the COD franchise as a whole, or the Battle Royale genre. For those that might not fall into one of these three groups, if you are just a gamer looking for some great multiplayer experiences, both PvP (traditional CoD modes and the new Blackout Battle Royale mode) and PvE (Zombies), you should definitely consider this game. For this writer, Black Ops 4 has me looking forward, again, to grabbing some of my gaming friends for a night of beers and Blackout.

Overall Score: 8.9 / 10 Life is Strange 2

***PLEASE NOTE - There are some spoilers in this review. If you want an overall idea of the reviewers opinion without spoiling the games story, head down to the final paragraph which is the overall summary***

I never played publisher Square Enix’s Life is Strange. It’s been sitting in my backlog on my Xbox One for months. Don’t get me wrong, I love a great narrative game, but I could never bring myself to play the much beloved story of Max and Chloe. I believe this is a good thing, as I have an advantage playing Life is Strange 2. The devs want to leave behind the stories established in the original game and introduce new characters and themes in the same universe as the first, and I can fully embrace and accept them without comparing to the previous game.

Meet Sean and Daniel Diaz. Two Hispanic brothers being raised by their father in the suburbs of Seattle. Sean is 16 and is pretty much your typical teenager. He indulges in things his dad would frown upon. He has a crush on a girl and practices his moves in front of the mirror. He’s a track star, loves to draw, likes loud music and has a delightfully badass friend in Lyla who may not be the greatest influence on him (she’s very likable and I do hope we see more of her in future episodes!). He’s generally a great kid with a good head on his shoulders.

And then there is Daniel, his yournger brother who is 10 years old. He is big-hearted and a bit reckless. He loves to talk and is a bit naive in thinking that everyone is good. Daniel truly dotes on his brother and watches Sean’s every move. He strives so desperately to impress his older brother and will stop at nothing to grab his attention.

Their life was torn apart when Daniel was just a baby. Their mother left, and Sean was forced to take responsibility for Daniel at a very young age. You sense his reluctance in being a role model, and while he obviously loves his brother, being the teenager that he is, he sometimes pushes him away when he gets annoying. But he is very protective of his brother, and he will stop at nothing to make sure he is safe.

There is an incident with their neighbor, after Daniel accidentally spills his “zombie blood” concoction on his shirt. It starts an outbreak of violence, and Sean accidentally severely injures the young boy. That’s when all hell breaks loose. A young officer reports to the scene and shakily points his gun at the Diaz brothers, which brings their father to their defense. Unfortunately, the inexperienced cop is trigger happy, and kills him. It is here that we get a glimpse of a what will be Daniel’s extremely powerful supernatural power, one which leaves utter chaos around him and the police officer dead.

And so begins their long journey on the run to Mexico to the place of their father’s birth, a place that promises hope for the young Diaz brothers. They find themselves on the road in the midst of Washington’s wildness, seeking shelter and a way to survive on their own.

Much like any narrative game, your earlier actions and dialogue play a large role in the outcome of the game’s narrative. Your interactions with other people, and the choices you make, truly impact and weave the intricate story. I think of when Lyla gave Sean the task of gathering supplies for a party later that night. Little did I know that the decisions made here would affect their survival later. Instead of grabbing a 6 pack or beer, I decided to grab pop instead, which provided a little sugar for Daniel when out in the forest. I stole a little money from the change jar, which gave me additional money for camping supplies at a gas station.

The most important impact on the narrative is how Daniel reacts to Sean’s behavior. The effects of the choices you make are not always apparent, but no doubt they will affect the story down the road. You are often faced with complex decisions. Do you do something that may not be the right thing but will help you survive, or do you do the right thing and your brother goes hungry. There’s no wrong or right why to act, because ultimately, your brothers survival is a stake.

A great example of this was when I stole a much-loved chocolate bar for Daniel out of a car. I know it was the thing to wrong, but Daniel was starving and could use the sugar. But he was watching closely, and later on I thought nothing of taking a trinket from a friendly benefactor at the end of the episode. I suppose it’s all about finding the right balance, taking care of your survival while trying to be a good role model for Daniel.

DONTNOD hasn’t shied away from including real world concerns into the storyline, which some may consider too political as it takes place in the days before the current president was elected. There is talk of “the wall” and there is police violence against minorities. But I think it was an important addition to the story, the Diaz brothers not only have to face being on the run and the loss of their father, but they also unfairly faced with being racially profiled which adds extra tension to their already difficult journey.

The dialogue can be a bit stiff and unnatural at times, and to be honest, Daniel’s whining irritated me (but perhaps it was meant to!), but generally the voice acting was extremely well done. The soundtrack choice was perfect! It truly captured the emotion of the story which is best summed up as Sean’s youth and the loneliness of life on the road. Visually stunning, DONTNOD truly captures the beauty of Washington’s wilderness and the environments immersed the player in the Diaz home, and the locations on their epic road trip.

I know some may struggle leaving the story of Max and Chloe behind, but I encourage players to get to know the Diaz brothers. There is a great tale to be told, and I can’t wait to find out the fate of Sean and Daniel. I want them to them to reach Mexico. I want to find out more about Daniel’s powers, which for now for seem like out of control telekinesis (also stay tuned for a little something regarding this after the credits role!). Future episodes promise new towns and settings and a great road trip story. Despite a bit of a pacing issue, the first episode of Life is Strange 2 has captured my attention, and should capture yours, and I eagerly await the entire season. For those who enjoy narrative games, this is one you will definitely want to add to your collection.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Strange Brigade

What do you get when you cross Indiana Jones with Left 4 Dead? That’s probably the best way to explain Rebellion’s latest co-operative game. Strange Brigade is a third party shooter that promises to be thrilling and filled with perilous puzzles and tantalizing treasure, as it pays homage to old school serials with a supernatural adventure that takes place in 1930’s Egypt.

In terms of the game’s story, the witch queen Seteki has risen after a 4,000 year slumber. Only the Strange Brigade can defeat her, but to do so they must face off against her army of undead in ruins, caves and jungles, in their quest to rid the world of evil. A team of four likeable heroes make up the brigade and add their unique skills to the quest to defeat the wretched monsters that have overtaken Egypt. Gracie Braithwaite, who looks as though she was plucked directly from a Rosie the Riveter poster, heavily relies on grenades and shotguns. Frank Fairburne, the former British soldier, is armed with a rifle and dynamite. The scholarly Archimedes de Quincey uses his submachine gun to fend off the fiendish foes, and finally, the statuesque (and my personal favourite!) Nalunga Rushida, the African hunter with a mean kick and an automatic rifle.

Gameplay is pretty straight forward. Sure, it’s somewhat mindless but it’s great fun! Shoot lots and lots of enemies in horde/arena style levels. There are a few objectives to complete and numerous puzzles to solve (more on that later), but you spend the majority of your time constantly shooting a seemingly never ending wave of enemies. You begin your adventure with a pretty basic gun and a grenade of your choice, but you can upgrade your equipment at work benches found deep within the ruins and overgrown vegetation. You can also purchase some very powerful weapons from chests, like a flame thrower or a blunderbuss, but they are removed from your inventory once you’re out of ammo. Money for upgrades is earned from downed enemies or by finding chests scattered throughout the levels.

When your enemy perishes, they leave a glowing blue orb behind, and with a pull of the right trigger, they are collected to power your amulets special ability and used to cast a powerful area of effect spell. This was such an effective way to deal with being surrounded! I often found myself deep amid a swarm of mummies anxiously awaiting to use my amulet; then delivering a devastating blow to everything around me.

There are three games modes to play. The campaign, a Horde mode (self-explanatory) and a Score Attack mode to test your skill. You can definitely play alone, but there are no AI characters to assist you in your solo adventure; you’re all on your own. I did ok on my own playing in the campaign, but only made it to Level 3 in Horde mode before becoming completely overwhelmed. This is a game that’s meant to be played with others.

Strange Brigade is truly a collectors delight. Each level is filled with hidden secrets, chests to unlock, and hidden chambers filled with gold that can easily be overlooked... It seemed I always found something new each time I repeated playing through level. There are relics to be found that allow your character to increase skill points and upgrade your amulet abilities. Oh, and you might want to keep your ears open for a cats’ meow! There are blue glass cats hidden in each level, and collecting all of them will reveal a room filled with treasure before a perilous boss battle.

My biggest complaint with Strange Brigade is the loot system. In this generation of gaming, not sharing loot among all players is unacceptable in my opinion. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it was to open a room with two treasure chests and have your companion (I did play some local cooperative) receive a stash of gold while you receive a measly comic book collectible. This is especially problematic if you are playing with randoms online rather than friends. I get that it’s meant to be competitive, but it definitely took away from the co-op fun.

I also found the enemies tended to be slightly ‘bullet spongy’, which could be especially annoying in the later stages of a level when you are bombarded with swarms upon swarms of foes. Perhaps Rebellion wants the player to rely on the numerous traps and puzzles that can be found within a level, but firing 3-4 shots into a low level skeleton when you are being swarmed is enough to make you want to throw your controller in frustration.

Speaking of traps, I thought they were very well implemented, both in the campaign and horde mode. It was extremely satisfying to round up a group of skeletons and mummies and trigger a whirling fan or a swinging blade that smashed and/or sliced them into pieces. And as for the puzzles, as promised, Strange Brigade was filled with hidden treasure only to be uncovered once you complete a puzzle, like shooting symbols in the correct sequence or stepping on the right stone to open a door. Too many attempts and the door is looked for eternity (or until you restart at the previous checkpoint!). Perhaps I’m a grizzled veteran (I have played my fair share of Zelda games!); but I found that the puzzles in Strange Brigade were not challenging at all. Sure, they were fun, but just way too easy in my opinion.

Strange Brigade really didn’t have much of a soundtrack, and very little music to note, except for the cutscenes and boss battles, but the atmospheric sounds in the game were perfect. As you’re traipsing around ruins and tunnels, the eerie moans of a mummy in the distance really adds to the supernatural of feel the game. The voice acting was pretty great, especially the narrator, who really made it feel like a 1930’s serial with his sarcastic quips and constant breaking of the fourth wall. Visually, Strange Brigade was fantastic (especially stunning in on the Xbox One X and a 4K TV). There was so much detail in the environments, I often stopped and looked around and took in the beautiful surroundings.

I should also note that Rebellion has some great community support. They recently released some free content, including a new character, and there is more to come. They can also often be found giving out gifts of some nature when streaming and interacting with the community on their social channels. It really stands out how committed they are to the player experience and should be commended on their efforts.

Despite some of its shortcomings; I highly recommend playing Strange Brigade. Yes, the loot system can leave much to be desired, and the gameplay can be a bit frustrating at times, but it’s great fun, especially with friends. Oh, and the addition of lots of collectibles and a horde-like mode add a high replay value. It’s a solid title to add to your collection. Grab some friends and go onward Brigade!!

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 Jurassic World Evolution

It’s been a long time since I’ve played a park management/business sim game. I played my fair share of Roller Coaster Tycoon back in the day, but it’s a game genre I’ve never really explored. When given the opportunity to review Jurassic World Evolution, it piqued my interest to have the chance to recreate the ill-fated park from the popular movie series.

The crux of the game is simple. You are the new manager of Jurassic World, whisked away to the Islands of the Muertes (also known as the Five Deaths) and given the task to create an epic Jurassic Park experience that draws in guests from around the world with help of a few key characters from the movies. Yep, it is as simple as that.

I must admit, I felt a bit lost at the beginning as there really wasn’t a tutorial to speak of. While there were a few buildings already pre-built, I found myself fumbling through the menu trying to figure out what to do. Pressing the d-pad to the left brings up the different building tools you can use to appease your guests and increase your island rating. It will take you a bit of time to get the controls down pat, but don’t worry, it can be done.

There really wasn’t a campaign to speak of at all! There are five islands to play through, the next one unlocking as your island rating increases, and the newly unlocked island will bring an even greater challenge with terrain and weather. Staff from three different factions are on the island. Security, Entertainment and Science contacts will provide you with contracts and missions to help fund your ventures and unlock new dinosaurs and buildings, but make sure to pay attention to all three! Not paying attention to one of your advisors will lead to the sabotage of your park.

It’s very rewarding to see your magnificent creatures unleashed from the Hammond Creation lab for the first time! Of course, the dinosaurs are the main attraction, and you will need to keep a careful eye on your assets to keep your guests interested. Each dinosaur has its own status to track, a personality, it’s happiness, etc. They can get sick, run out of food, fight and a whole lot more. That’s where the Ranger Station comes in handy. After adding this building to your park, you can send teams in Jeeps into the dino enclosure to top off their food, provide medicine, repair a broken building and you can chain their tasks too. A nice added touch is that you can take control of the vehicle, get a view from the ground and even take close up pictures of your dinosaurs in their enclosures.

Building an Exhibition Centre gives you the option to send a team to sites across the world to dig up fossil and chunks of amber, essential for extracting precious DNA, with more dig sites (and more dinosaurs) available as you complete missions in the game. In order to incubate one of the 42 different species, you need to create a genome that’s at least 50% to create a dinosaur, but a higher percentage creates a more authentic specimen, and increases the rating of your island.

The research building allows you to improve your park via a skills tree. Here, you can unlock more buildings to bring in more guests (like an arcade and a bowling alley, because that’s what you want to do when there are long extinct dinosaurs to see!). You can also add upgrades to your buildings, like improve the accuracy of your ranger team or speed up the incubation process.

My gameplay in Jurassic World Evolution involved a lot of trial and error. As previously mentioned, there really weren’t any tutorials to speak of, so I made a few costly mistakes because I wasn’t really aware of what was available to me. I suppose that could be the intent, for players to experience the game on their own, but I found it to be a bit frustrating at times, like when I made the fatal error of creating the carnivorous Ceratosaurus and unleashed him into the enclosure. I quickly discovered the importance of having an electrified fence, as my dino broke free and began stalking and eating the park guests (which I won’t lie... was rather entertaining!). Having an ACU building was a must in a situation like this! With an ACU team in place, you can send a helicopter quickly to tranquilize a roaming dinosaur and transport it back to their enclosure. Unfortunately, if you are not carefully paying attention to your dinosaurs, they can pass away, and the ACU team can be called into to remove them.

I found Jurassic World Evolution to be very repetitive at times. There were more than a few instances when I had the exact same contract to compete, sometimes immediately after already completing it for another faction or while I was progress. It seems I was always either looking for a new fossil or creating a new genome, over, and over and over. A variety in contracts would have been appreciated, as well as the ability speed up time. I felt like I was always waiting for something, waiting for my team to return from a dig, waiting for my dinosaur to incubate, although there are upgrades that can speed up the process.

There is a management view, but it didn’t seem in depth at all. Everything was seemingly easy to manage, never overwhelming, actual somewhat dull at times. I really expected a bit more here, and I think those looking for a rich park management experience may be slightly disappointed.

The power system was perhaps one my greatest frustrations. After building a few storage facilities on my island, I soon found that there was not enough power. Again, left to discover what to do on my own, when I clicked on the buildings, I discovered they each has different power needs, larger buildings needing more off course, and I had to build a series of awkwardly placed pylons and substations throughout the already crammed park. I definitely felt there could be improvements made to this aspect of the game.

The Jurassic World Evolution soundtrack is filled with clips of the John Williams theme we have come to know and love. With legendary Jeff Goldblum providing dire warnings, Bryce Dallas Howard quips about feeding your dinosaurs, many of the voice actors from the movies lent their voices to the game, with the exception of Chris Pratt. Visually, it was to be as expected with a park management game. The dinosaurs themselves were well detailed and stunning, the islands and landscapes were beautiful and truly brought the game to life, but I never felt really wowed by what I was looking at.

Despite my frustrations with the game, I think that Frontier did quite well bringing the beloved franchise to life. It’s not the in-depth park management game that some may be looking for, and there is a fair bit of repetition with in-game quests, but I still really enjoyed my time with Jurassic World Evolution. Creating new dinosaurs and having a successful park was extremely satisfying and addictive, and recommended for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the Jurassic Park Universe. Just remember, you’ll have to learn a lot on your own, but once you do, it will be a dinosaur park sim game you should enjoy.

Overall Score: 7.2 / 10 Fe

The highly-anticipated first entry in the EA Originals library, Fe, from developer Zoink! Games, is a stylish action-adventure platformer that has finally made its way to console (and PC). With a promise of discovering a world that I would never want to leave, a living breathing forest filled with secrets, legends, and mystical creatures, I had pretty high hopes that this game would be nothing less than amazing. Unfortunately, after my play through, I was left feeling somewhat disappointed with this beautiful but frustrating game.

An adorable, spikey-headed, fox/wolf-like creature who leaps and bounds along the trails of a beautiful forest, Fe (assuming that’s his/her name, as it was never really indicated in the game), sets forth on a journey to free other forest animals from the evil grasp of one-eyed robots called the Silent Ones. At least that’s what I think is going on. We get a brief glimpse of what’s happening through crystals that are found through the forest and a cutscene that you will find here and there. There’s no dialogue, nor is there any plot or distinct narrative to follow. And there’s no instruction or tutorial. You are left to discover and learn everything, and I do mean everything, on your own.

As you traverse throughout the beautiful forest, little Fe encounters plants and animals that assist him on his journey. For example, a deer that allows you to ride on its back, a pack of lizards that open a flower for you to bounce on, even odd-looking worms who whisk you away through a wormhole in an effort to allow you to reach an unreachable platform. Fe’s relationship with the forest creatures helps him on his quest to rid the forest of the Silent Ones.

The forest creatures are shy at first, often running away, or in the case of the birds, they actually push you out of their nest. This is where one of the key game mechanics comes into play. As the game progresses, Fe learns to hum to gain the favour of his fellow forest inhabitants. An adorable warble that springs to life flower platforms for Fe to jump across or a tune that opens a bud that sends him soaring across a gap or river, these various songs are learned after completing a side quest such as collecting eggs for a giant bird or freeing a massive deer from the grasp of the Silent Ones. You also collect pink crystals scattered throughout the world, and once you have accumulated enough of these orbs you can also unlock songs which can be accessed on a wheel with a simple click of the left trigger.

I sometimes found myself a bit lost as I played through Fe. While the game is quite linear, you can still stray off to explore and search for crystals, and you may just find yourself a bit disoriented. Thankfully, early in the game, you befriend a Navi-like bird who flutters in the direction you need to go. There is no combat, but the Silent Ones, and the odd enemy here and there, add for some rather terrifying encounters where Fe needs to sneak past, which adds a bit of stealth element to the gameplay.

Unfortunately, I found the platforming and the controls to be unintuitive, clunky and even downright frustrating at times. I often found myself clumsily falling to the bottom of an area after an accidental button press, only to begin the long climb all over again, and the polygonal rocks and trees led to more than a few instances of getting stuck in the environment and having to restart the game.

I’ve heard from some that the game can easily be completed in about 3 to 4 hours. Perhaps it’s a testament of my platforming skills, but that certainly wasn’t the case for me. I easily invested at least 8-10 hours or more, exploring every corner, figuring out the Zelda-esque puzzles and attempting to collect crystals previously missed when I obtained a new ability.

In regards to the presentation, the gorgeous, stylish environments make Fe simple stunning to look at, filled with muted colours mostly in shades of blue, pink, and purple. I sometimes found myself standing on top of a tree or a cliff, admiring my surroundings, just taking everything in. The music was quiet, sometimes barely audible as Fe traipsed around the forest, but when heard the soft sounds of string instruments beautifully set the tone for Fe’s epic adventure.

At the end of the day, underneath the gorgeous environments and the adorable creatures, is an average platform game that at times isn’t very fun to play. Fe isn’t an awful game though, but it’s a bit disappointing, and I feel as though there definitely could have been some additional polish to make the experience better. That being said, I was addicted to collecting songs, discovering crystals and making friends with a lovable group of forest creatures. If you can get over the frustrating platforming and sometimes clunky controls, you should definitely check out this stylish and unique first entry in the EA Orginals library.

Overall Score: 7.1 / 10 Escapists 2, The

I wasn't sure what to expect with The Escapists 2. I never had the opportunity to play the first game, so when I took on the task of reviewing the sequel I had no idea what I was in for. I’ll be honest, when I first saw the colourful retro graphics and the cute pixelated characters I thought I was in for a fun, casual adventure game. Little did I know that Team17’s prison sandbox game would be extremely challenging and surprisingly violent.

Similar to the previous game, The Escapists 2 plops you in the midst of a prison and you are forced to plot your escape and make it outside the prison walls without being caught. From a standard jail, a moving train, even a spaceship, there are 10 prisons to figure out how to get out of, filled with multiple floors, rooftops, gardens, vents and tunnels to explore as you stealthy try to get on the outside.

I quickly found that there is a huge learning curve with The Escapists 2. Sure, there is a short tutorial at the beginning of the game that briefly explains how to escape, but once you’re dropped into your first prison, you are pretty much left to fend for yourself and figure out what to do. That being said, fans of the first game will most likely have no issues here.

Honestly, as a ‘newbie’ to the franchise, I felt completely lost. I know the objective is to escape, but I had no idea where to begin. I found myself wandering aimlessly around the prison, doing the odd job for a fellow inmate here and there, rummaging through cells in search of items with hopes I would figure out what to do with very few clues and multiple ways to get out. I wasn't very fond of the controls at all and often found myself inadvertently picking up a desk instead of interacting with an item in error.

There is a crafting system in place that allows you to create a wide variety of tools and items to assist you. I finally realized after a couple hours of game time that by visiting the library you can increase your intelligence by reading (via a mini game), which allows you to craft better items. You can also increase your fitness, which helps your stamina when you are digging a hole or how much damage you do when fighting an inmate or prison guard. In addition to searching through desks, you can purchase items from prison mates to aid you in your quest to break free. You can earn money by doing favours for others, such as roughing up another inmate.

I quickly learned that this game is definitely a time management game. It certainly seems to replicate the tedium of prison life. You can't freely wander the halls of the prison looking for items and digging holes. You absolutely must report to your daily activities and get a green check mark noting that it's completed, if you don’t you risk an increased security level, making your escape nearly impossible. The guards are extremely unforgiving, and if they catch you missing out on breakfast, or not reporting to job duties, you’ll be rewarded with a beating and a visit to solitary confinement. As I was figuring out the game, this happened to me on several occasions, and let me tell you, it’s unbelievably frustrating. All of the hard-earned contraband, the items you've crafted, they are plucked from your pockets leaving you to start all over again.

You definitely have to think outside the box with your breakout attempts and be creative with limited resources. I’ll admit it took me quite some time. The Escapists 2 is not a game you can sit down and play for a few minutes here and there. Careful plotting of your escape and finding/crafting items can take hours. Losing patience, I made some pretty big errors when trying to flee, like when I stupidly cut through a vent and found myself above the prison, only to find the vent repaired by maintenance and I was stuck. Or exploring deep within a hidden passage, missing roll call and having the prison dogs search for me.

There is also multiplayer, and playing drop in/drop out co-op with friends can somewhat ease the pain. You can gain access to rooms you can’t enter in single player with one holding open the door while the other stealthy enters, as well as share items between each other, increasing the likelihood of a successful escape. You can also play in a versus mode, to see who can escape the fastest or battle it out one on one in the prison yard.

I absolutely loved The Escapists 2’s visuals. For me personally, it was made the game a bit more tolerable. The colourful retro, top down graphics is definitely part of the appeal, with cute cutscenes after a successfully fleeing the prison. You can also customize your pixelated prisoner with a wide variety of skin tones and hairstyles which adds an awesome personal touch to your escape plans. The soundtrack matches the awesome old school feel of the game, as does the sound effects, as all the audio creates the perfect mood and ambiance (if you can call it that) for a prison escape.

I still don't know if I personally like The Escapists 2. It was slow, extremely frustrating and by no means a casual gameplay experience, but I wouldn't say it’s a bad game. Oddly enough, despite my problems learning the ropes of prison life, and the failure of trying to escape, I still find myself drawn to it. Once you figure out what you are doing, get a grasp of prison life and crafting items, it becomes somewhat addictive. Gamers who enjoy time management will have a lot of fun plotting their escape, and fans of retro games will surely enjoy the pixelated characters and graphics. The Escapists 2 isn't for everyone, but if you're looking for a challenging game with high replay value, or you were a fan of the first game, then you'll definitely want to add this to your Xbox One collection.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 What Remains of Edith Finch

Giant Sparrow, a developer best known for their PlayStation exclusive game The Unfinished Swan, has developed and recently released a title called What Remains of Edith Finch on the Xbox One. It is a game that features a series of short stories spanning numerous generations of the ill-fated Finch family. First released on PC earlier this year, this highly anticipated first person narrative adventure recently made its console debut, and Xbox One fans should be interested indeed.

When we first meet the 17-year-old Edith, she is returning to her long-abandoned family home after her mother’s passing. Seven years ago, the Finch family left abruptly after the tragic loss of Edith’s brother. A key was bequeathed to the young Edith, the only remaining family member, and she was left to explore the Finch estate and uncover the secrets that the family had hoped would remain forgotten. We soon discover that the Finch family has a terrible curse upon them, with most of the relatives meeting an untimely end. From the 1900’s to modern day, the Finch family tree is filled with aunts and uncles, grandparents, and great grandparents, all of whom have perished in shockingly tragic accidents.

The gameplay centers around Edith, of course, as she uncovers hidden passages throughout the house, giving her access to her ancestors rooms that have been sealed shut after their tragic passing. Within these rooms lie memorials, with their date of passing mixed in along with a few items that give clues as to how they lived their life. I use the term gameplay quite loosely, as What Remains of Edith Finch plays more like an interactive storybook than a game. There are no puzzles to solve, no difficulty levels at all, and there is zero chance of failure. Sure, you can interact with the odd item here and there, but What Remains of Edith Finch keeps the narrative linear, keeping your focus on the items and rooms needed to tell the tragic tale of the cursed family.

The few controls needed to play feel slightly awkward, as you use the left and right trigger to open and close doors or interact with various objects, but it’s nothing that really took away from the game. Just a minor nuisance. Unfortunately, early in the game I encountered some slowdown to the point where it was unplayable, even after restarting my console, and had no choice but to start the game over. Having just finished a particularly disturbing moment and having to play through it again was definitely bothersome. I really do hope that it was just a hiccup and not something others will have to face.

What Remains of Edith Finch potentially could have been repetitive and boring, simply walking through the house from memory to memory really doesn't sound like much fun. However, Giant Sparrow adds a great touch to keep things interesting as each family member’s story is told from a unique point of view. From the eyes of cat, through a camera lens, a flip book, or the perspective of a young child in a bathtub, each family member’s take is engaging. It is a refreshing way to progress the narrative. and I was quite eager to move on to find out what happens next. I genuinely felt interested in finding about all the Finch family, intrigued by the lives they lived and whatnot, and I’ll admit the the story got me truly heartbroken when I found out how they passed away.

There are certainly some shocking moments as we get to know Edith, and a surprising detail about her is revealed during the game. And be forewarned, I certainly don’t want to spoil the story, but What Remains of Edith Finch can be a bit disturbing at times. The Finch family is truly cursed, and the way each family member dies is quite terrible. There is one particular family member’s story that really left me feeling crushed. Upsetting as they may be, each family member’s tale is told so well you’ll get quite caught up. It only took me two hours or so to complete the game, and after the credits rolled, I was left wanting more. It’s one of those games that has stayed with me for a few days after I had played it, thinking about some of the heartbreaking moments.

Visually stunning from the moment Edith makes her trek through the forest path, What Remains of Edith Finch is gorgeous. The ancestral home was so awesomely detailed, the surrounding property just as beautiful. I would love to live there, especially in the castle that Edith’s grandmother built for Edith and her brothers. It was a pleasure to explore every single room and the outdoor environments, even though I could only interact with items that progressed the story. Considering the budget and the time constraints that the developers faced, you’d think it would make it nearly impossible to get this detail. Oh, and it is only a $20 game. I do admit though, that I would have loved the opportunity to perhaps solve a puzzle or two, pull a book off a shelf and read it, or explore every nook and cranny of this delightfully eccentric home.

The voice acting is just fantastic as the visuals and adds a great touch to the emotion of the stories, especially the actor who portrayed Edith herself. Much of the music was borrowed from well-known soundtracks, such as Halloween or Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, but quite often you find the game to be eerily silent as you explore the decrepit house, which adds a bit of a frightful element to the game.

What Remains of Edith Finch is one of the best narrative adventures I’ve ever played. It very well could be a contender for a Game of The Year category, or at least an Indie award for such. Sure, it does have a few technical faults, but it’s story will leave a lasting impression on you for days, and the beautiful imagery and fantastic voice acting fully immerse you into the incredible lives and tragic deaths of the cursed Finch family. While the credits rolled just after two hours, I truly feel that it’s worth spending $20 on given the presentation and story alone. I cannot recommend this game enough. What Remains of Edith Finch is a game that one should definitely experience.

Overall Score: 9.2 / 10 The Little Acre

I love a good point and click adventure. I spent my teenage years playing numerous Sierra adventure games in my day, engrossed in titles such as The Quest for Glory and Gabriel Knight. I remember how exploring every corner and scrolling my mouse over every square inch of the screen with hopes of finding a clue brought me great joy! Unfortunately, it’s not a very popular genre in modern gaming, although with the remake of King’s Quest, and games such as The Walking Dead, there’s been a slight resurgence of such adventure games on the indie scene. Dublin-based Indie Developer Pewter Games has lovingly crafted their own entry into the genre called The Little Acre. With hand-drawn and fully voice acted gameplay, The Little Acre is reminiscent of the old school point and click games we’ve become so fond of. Recently making its debut on PC and consoles, it also marks the very first game Xbox One game to come out of Ireland!

The Little Acre follows the adventures of widower Aidan, and his young daughter Lily, during a 1950’s rural Ireland. Somewhat down on his luck, he shares a quaint cottage with his father, an eccentric inventor named Arthur, who suddenly disappears without a trace. Aidan sets off to find him, and inadvertently finds himself transported to the weird and wonderful world of Clonfina during his search, unaware that Lily has followed close behind. As the story progresses, you switch back and forth between the two characters as they journey through the strange land, encountering an odd cast of characters in their desperate search for Arthur.

From the cluttered cottage, Arthur’s ramshackle workshop to the nooks and caves of Clonfina, all these settings make for some fantastic point and click gameplay and exploration. When you first meet Aidan, you are tasked with helping him get dressed without waking Lily from her slumber, and this paves the way the for the type of puzzles you will face throughout your gameplay time. Solving these puzzles were never very difficult, and while there is a hint system in place, you are more than likely able to make it through the game without using it. I think it’s a bit disappointing. It may be because I’ve played my fair share of games in the genre, but easily figuring out what to do somewhat takes away from the experience. Despite the difficulty level, the point and click adventure is still quite enjoyable. Fans of such adventure games will surely enjoy The Little Acre. There was no shortage of places to explore as the cottage, workshop and Clonfina are filled with doors and drawers to open and numerous items to interact with.

There is no doubt that the visuals are the highlight of The Little Acre. The environments are just spectacular! The countryside cottage, the rural Irish landscape, and the mysterious land of Clonfira are filled with vibrant colours and beautifully hand drawn environments. The characters themselves, from Aidan and Lily to the outlandish and cartoonish monsters, seem almost as if they have been plucked directly from a Disney movie. The charming Irish soundtrack perfectly accompanies the gorgeous visuals. The Little Acre is fully voice acted, and is quite well done, especially the voice for young Lily.

Unfortunately, the story leaves much to be desired. The game was short, taking just under 3 hours to complete. That’s not always a bad thing if the story is done right, or if it was the first game in an episodic series, like King’s Quest or The Walking Dead, but that isn’t the case here. Just when I really started getting into it, it was over. The pacing of the game was completely off. It started off great, weaving a heartwarming tale that had the potential to be a fantastic narrative. But then it just fell flat, ending quite abruptly, as if it was hastily finished. I had just started to get to know Lily and her rambunctious ways. I wanted to know more about her and Aidan. What exactly happened to Arthur while he was in Clonfina? And what about Bugsy, Lily’s caterpillar friend? I couldn’t believe it when the credits started to roll. The Little Acre was just too short. There is a wonderful story to be told, and I wish the same detail that was put into the visuals was put into the narrative as well.

If I could base this review on the visuals alone, I would give The Little Acre a very high score. The hand drawn images are simply breathtaking, and Pewter Games should be commended for painstakingly bringing Lily, Aidan and the creatures of Clonfina to life. The gameplay, while not extremely difficult, was still quite enjoyable and exploring every nook and cranny is something that any adventure gamer will surely enjoy! Unfortunately, the narrative, something that is important in a point and click game, was filled plot holes and was extremely rushed in the second half of the game. It’s shame, because the story of Lily and Aidan deserves to be told, and I can only hope that The Little Acre 2 will soon be in development. If you can overlook this fact, and the extremely short length of the game, I can definitely recommend playing The Little Acre, especially if you are a fan of the old-school point and click adventure games as it’s another welcome addition to the ID@Xbox program,

Overall Score: 7.3 / 10 Manual Samuel

Imagine if you lost complete control of your body for 24 hours and could only move manually with the aid of some sort of input device. Every single step you take is deliberate and slow. Your spine seemingly has a mind of its own and your eyes can’t blink, so they become red and irritated. You forget how to breathe, and pass out unless reminded to inhale and exhale. Simple everyday tasks, such as feeding yourself, or even urinating, are now nearly impossible. Developer Perfectly Paranormal has taken this premise and crafted Manual Samuel, an adventure game with a very unique twist, forcing you to control the protagonists every move with hilarious results.

Samuel is arrogant, rich, and a huge jerk to everyone around him. He has a girlfriend, but she’s sick and tired of his selfish and childish ways. After fighting with her over forgetting her birthday, he meets an untimely end after being hit by a truck while dizzily chasing after her as she knocks him over the head with a bottle. He finds himself in the depths of Hell and comes face to face with Death, who just happens to not be your typical Grim Reaper image, as he wears baggy clothes, a backwards hat, speaks in horrible 90’s slang, and is really focused on trying land the perfect kickflip. Left with the choice of getting a menial job, which to Sam is truly hellish, he makes a deal with Death, who gives him one last chance to live, but only if he can survive the next 24 hours enduring something truly torturous.

Thanks to Death’s mischievous deal, such things as breathing, driving, and blinking for the next 24 hours is a test, as every movement Samuel makes is, well, manual. Nearly every part of Sam’s body is controlled with a button on the controller. Walking is not as simple as you might think, as each step is controlled by the trigger buttons. Walk too fast and Sam’s legs will abruptly do the splits, causing him to hilariously shuffles across the floor or tumble down the stairs. His spine is not very stable either, and often out of nowhere he will awkwardly bend over backwards and you are forced to position him upright with the D Pad.

These movements alone are challenging, but developer Perfectly Paranormal takes it a step further, having you control Sam’s breathing and blinking as well. Forgetting to press the right buttons to inhale and exhale leaves Sam turning blue and passing out on the floor, or his poor eyes turning red and seeing the world in a painful haze. Such things as eating, drinking coffee, urinating, taking a shower, which are simple everyday tasks, have become extremely difficult for Sam, and combining all of these movements takes great dexterity as you try desperately to keep Sam alive for the next 24 hours without harming himself and creating chaos in his wake.

Sam must painfully survive through the scenarios that Death throws at him. As you can imagine, driving a car would be difficult, considering that you need to control each leg’s movement. Now, imagine if you had to drive it in manual! During a sequence that went on much too long, you are forced to drive Death through a series of roads while using the clutch and stick, while swerving to avoid numerous old ladies and picking up a hitchhiker who has you stop periodically as they all need complete a very gruesome task. In one sequence, you are forced to go work, assembling robots, and are required to push a button to open a door and hurriedly bring an item to another room before the door closes. This was super tough, and to be honest I felt it was unnecessary and didn’t add anything to the game.

The novelty of controlling Sam’s every movement wears out fast, and Manual Samuel quickly becomes tedious and repetitive to play through. It was mildly amusing at best. I started the game thinking it was hilarious and it showed some promise of being very entertaining, but the story’s comedy got old quite fast, and at times the script was downright cringe worthy. There were times that it felt like they were trying too hard to be funny. The most comedic moments were in my own screw-ups, like when I accidentally splashed hot coffee in Sam’s eyes after I missed hitting a button or I sent him crashing down a flight of stairs when I hit the trigger too quickly.

The 2D visuals are colourful and cartoonish, and fit in quite well with the silliness and the premise of the game. I thought the narrator was great with his smart and sarcastic quips, but Death’s voice, in his attempt to sound young and hip, grew to be extremely irritating. Perhaps it was intended to be comical, but his repeated exclamations that he was attempting to do a kickflip quickly got on my nerves.

Thankfully short, Manual Samuel only take 2-3 hours max to play. Should you wish to play again, completing each level unlocks a time trial that adds a whole new level of frustration to the already challenging gameplay. And once you finish the story mode, a co-op mode unlocks and you and a friend can control Sam’s movements between two controllers. I didn’t have the opportunity to play this mode, but I can only imagine how maddening it could be! I should note it’s a fantastic game for achievement hunters, with unlocks popping at a surprisingly fast rate for very easy tasks.

Developer Perfectly Paranormal should be commended for creating a unique game that stands out among the numerous remakes and nostalgic 8-bit indie titles. While the game does suffer at times from repetitive, frustrating gameplay, and the comedy wears thin very quickly, there is still some fun to be had as you hilariously and manually take control of Sam and his bodily functions. Priced right at $9.99, gamers looking for something completely different should at least consider adding Manual Samuel to their ID@Xbox collection.

Overall Score: 6.7 / 10 ClusterTruck

Jumping on trucks. That’s it. You’re not shooting anything, you’re not fighting anything, you just jump on trucks. That’s the best way to describe ClusterTruck. At its core, developer Landfall Games physics based platformer is nothing more that jumping across a series of moving trucks to reach a goal. With a premise like that it has the potential to be boring and repetitive, but surprisingly this “truckformer” is well designed and filled with some very wild and crazy obstacles, making jumping on trucks incredibly enjoyable!

When I first picked up the controller to play I must admit, my first impression wasn’t a good one. I did not like it. Playing through the first two or three levels felt odd to me. Clustertruck is entirely first person and not being able to see my character as I made my way from truck to truck really threw me off. At first glance you simply run from truck to truck towards the finish trying not to fall or touch anything in your path. There isn’t much to look at in the environment, the trucks themselves are plain white and there is not much going on other than the trucks you see driving. You would think that it would get dull and boring after a few levels, but I stuck with it and I was pleasantly surprised. As I made my way through the first world I soon realized that ClusterTruck is like no other platform game I’ve played before.

I don’t know who is driving these trucks, but they are terrible drivers, often flipping off the road and crashing into one another, which makes for some very fast paced and chaotic platforming gameplay. The level design is absolutely fantastic, making for some death defying moves in your race to the finish. From jumping down from one truck to another, travelling in an opposite direction to walls closing just as you reach your goal, you definitely need to think fast about your next move. With worlds named Winter, Laser, Ancient, and Hell, you can only imagine the crazy and insane hazards that will be thrown at you. Turning sprockets to jump through at just the right moment, burning lasers to avoid as the trucks go racing by at a breakneck speed, to falling boulders and logs, each level has its own set of unique traps and obstacles to encounter that are utterly ridiculous, but insanely fun.

You are awarded points at the end of each level, based on your maneuvers from truck to truck, on how fast you complete the level, and how stylishly you do so, like getting lots of air when jumping. These points can be used to purchase new abilities to change up gameplay, movements, and utilities, with only one of each that are able to be equipped at one time. I should note that they are not needed to complete the game. To be honest, I often forget about purchasing these as I was quite eager to continue on to the next world. That being said, the double jump and slow time I purchased were somewhat beneficial in the later stages of the game.

Controls are simple to master, and other than a few sticky moments here and there which caused an unfair and untimely demise, they felt pretty tight. You use the analog sticks to move and the triggers to access special abilities. Even though the controls are fairly simple, the game is extremely challenging and death will be a common occurrence, especially in the later levels, yet the extremely addictive gameplay keeps you eagerly coming back for more, and leaves you feeling extremely accomplished and satisfied when you suddenly find yourself finally reaching the goal after your 50th try.

I can’t help feeling that you are not entirely responsible for your fate. Sure, there is a fair bit of skill required, as perfectly timing your jumps between trucks it essential for survival, but quite often I felt like it was sheer luck that I was able to complete a level. The trucks, while always heading the direction of the goal, act randomly, their patterns erratic, and you never know when one might crash into another, head off into another direction, or explode after impacting an obstacle. This random behavior frequently caused me to miss a jump or have no truck to jump onto all, something I had absolutely have no control of and had no choice but to try again.

While there is not much to look at, the simplicity of the visuals, the clean and simple look of the trucks and the environments actually works quite well in ClusterTruck, allowing you to focus on the gameplay itself, rather than what’s going on around you. The soundtrack for each level is upbeat and fitting for the fast-paced gameplay filled with pulsating beats that perfectly accompany the movement of jumping truck to truck.

Noticeably missing was a leaderboard, which I thought was strange, considering there are points awarded when you reach the end of a level. It would add an extra incentive to play through again, seeking to reach the goal faster and more stylish than your friends. Even without the online leaderboard, ClusterTruck offers high replay value though, with 9 different worlds and 90 chaotic levels to play through, and the unlockable movements and utilities change the gameplay enough to make you want play through again and again.

ClusterTrack is very aptly named. At times it truly is a complete cluster &$%@, but in a good way! It’s a chaotic, yet smartly designed platformer, one of the best I’ve played it quite some time. While there were a few notable flaws, the simple yet challenging gameplay makes for an enjoyable, and incredibly addictive experience. I never thought that a game about simply jumping on trucks could be so damn fun! ClusterTruck is a great addition to the ID@Xbox library, and I highly recommend it to gamers of all levels.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Anarcute

When you think of large scale riots in major world capitals, you think of fires, violence, and mass destruction that the nightly news may portray. You typically don’t think of cute animals and catchy music. Developer Anarteam has taken a dark and dreary subject and developed a riot simulator filled with adorable creatures, bringing their student project riot simulator Anarcute to consoles with a flourish of bright colours and adorable characters. Who would have thought it, right?

The narrative has the wretched and evil Brainwash Patrol who have taken over the world, filling major cities with their minions of police and special forces. A group of protesters seek to rid the world of this terrible group, donning animal masks to disguise themselves while allowing themselves to recognize each other as allies as they march through cities like Tokyo and Miami, growing in size as they wake up other protesters to join their cause and wreak havoc in their wake. Your job, should you take it, is to control these mobs and help them complete their mission.

The gameplay centers around growing your group of protesters and freeing different areas of cities from the nasty Brainwash Patrol while overcoming various obstacles. From stealthily sneaking past police, turning on a radio antenna, to fending off waves of special forces as you set explosives off to topple the Eiffel Tower (for a good cause of course!), each level offers a new challenge to riot through. The streets are filled with obstacles, such as laser beams that block your way or explosive mines that can devastate your group of protesters (or you can use them to your advantage) for example. You’ll face off against packs of police, shielded special forces, snipers, helicopters dispatched to break up the crowd, and you’ll even encounter some heart stopping boss battles against a few monstrous robotic creatures, which can be quite tough at times! Don’t let the cute cartoonish graphics fool you, Anarcute can be very challenging with the difficulty level considerably ramping up as the game progresses; however, despite having different objectives in each level, I felt that the game was a bit repetitive at times as gathering protesters and fighting gets a tad boring after a few levels.

One rioter or seventy, they all move as one, using the left stick on the controller. As you guide them through the city they pretty much destroy everything in their path, picking up objects such as fences, bushes, and signs to use as projectiles in the midst of battle. Even cars and trucks can be lifted and thrown to cause a large explosion, which can be quite helpful when faced with a large group of fast approaching enemies. The right stick controls the camera, and I found the angles were a bit problematic, nothing that really ruined the experience though, but it was a bit frustrating at times, especially in the midst of a boss battle.

There is strength in numbers, and as your group of rioters increases they have access to new abilities, such as stomping to knock down barriers, a fast dash to quickly maneuver out of harm's way, and the ability to smash buildings to strategically make your way through the city or take out a sniper up high on a rooftop. These skills can be upgraded thanks to the coins rewarded after completing a level. These upgrades include such things as a faster march or the ability to throw infinite projectiles once the crowd reaches a certain level. However, as your group is harmed and you lose protesters in the heat of the riot, you no longer have access to these skills, so extra care must be taken to protect the rioters from attacks such a tear gas and sniper fire.

You are graded after completing a stage based on how fast you finished the level, how large your group was, and how many Border Patrol were destroyed in your riot. It adds a bit of replay value to Anarcute, as you’ll strive to get the coveted S (Smashing) rank and earn more coins for upgrades.

You can customize the look of your group, and unlock new animal heads as your progress through cities. Want a group entirely consisting of shiba inus and pugs? An army of nothing but cats to march through Reykjavik? You can do that and you may just unlock an achievement while you’re at it. It should be noted though that the different heads are aesthetic only, and do not add any special abilities to the group.

The graphics are what really make Anarcute so special. Think cute Japanese style cel-shaded characters, with bright and happy colours. The cities themselves look a bit too similar though, as the buildings and streets looking very much the same level to level, with the exception of a few signs and a famous landmark here and there. This lack of variety added to the repetitiveness. The soundtrack was very catchy and upbeat, perfectly matching the tone of the game and the locations, such as hints of an accordion in the track when rioting through Paris.

While it can feel repetitive at times, I enjoyed my experience playing Anarcute. The developers have taken a very dark subject matter and turned it into one of the most adorable games I have ever played. The grading and customizations add some replay value, and the cute characters and upbeat soundtrack make this riot simulator a pleasure to play. I think the price is a bit steep for what is offered, but Anarcute stands out as a unique addition to the ID@Xbox program, and is certainly worth checking out for those looking for something different.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II

This is not my first time playing Hungarian indie developer Neocore Games’ The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II. I’ve spent quite of time playing the series on PC, having previously reviewed the first two games in the trilogy. Any opportunity I have to go back to the fictional land of Borgovia is always welcome, as the Van Helsing franchise is a fantastic action role playing game with a great story, strange and mystical creatures, weird and fantastic gadgets and gizmos, and epic quests rivaling many in the genre. While many are quick to compare it to other popular ARPG’s, particularly Diablo 3, the Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II stands out on its own in the genre, and like its prequel, it has made its much anticipated debut on Xbox One via the ID@Xbox program.

You play as the son of Abraham Van Helsing, the famous vampire hunter well known from Dracula mythology. Along with his companion, the lovely and sarcastic spectre Lady Katarina, and a cast very mysterious and odd characters. Van Helsing leads the Resistance against General Harker, the commander of the Borgovian army and cohort of the mad scientist Professor Fulmigati, who has unleashed an army of horrific creatures and mechanical monstrosities in his wake.

Staying true to the genre, the top-down gameplay in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II centers around exploration and completing quests while fighting off mobs of enemies. Having previously played it on PC, I feel like some will find that it is best played with a mouse and keyboard, considering the numerous skills, tricks and power-ups available. I felt that I struggled at times using the Xbox One controller. It felt strange and slightly awkward using the left trigger button to open chests and interact with items, I fumbled with the menu screens a bit, and I found it somewhat difficult to use the skill power-ups by clicking on the right stick in the midst of a frantic battle. That’s not to say the controls are unmanageable, just hard to get used to after playing the PC version, however, those playing the game for the first time should settle right in with them.

There are three different character classes to choose from when you start your adventure. You can play as the hunter class, which returns from the original Van Helsing game. It is a standard melee class that uses a variety of weapons and pistols. The second class is the Thamaturge class for those who enjoy playing a magic focused character. Finally, the third class is the Arcane Mechanic, an engineer type class that relies heavily on gadgets and bombs to fight off the creatures of Borgovia.

With an extensive skill tree for both Van Helsing and Lady Katarina, along with numerous perks, tricks and auras to unlock, the character customization is quite impressive. Should you find yourself wanting to reset your character, you can do so in Van Helsing’s secret hideout, The Hunter’s Lair, which acts as a central hub for the hunter and his resistance fighters. A safe haven, within the Lair you’ll find numerous NPC’s to interact with, trophies to collect and modify your gameplay with, merchants to trade with, resistance generals to aid in your fight and provide quests, and portals to whisk you away to the far regions of Borgovia. It also houses your pet Chimera, which can be summoned into battle or sent off to find gold, potions or other useful items.

The story in the Van Helsing series is incredibly well written, a tale that will captivate you throughout the game. Along with the witty banter between Van Helsing and Lady Katarina, the best thing about the Van Helsing games are the Easter Eggs, a very welcome comic relief in a sometimes dark game. Van Helsing II certainly did not disappoint with numerous references to geek and pop culture. I had a chuckle when I was given a quest to find and save “Private Bryan”, and came across a fallen gray wizard with a sword named Glamdring, paying tribute to Gandalf the Gray in Lord of the Rings.

The bestiary is filled with strange and weird monsters. Odd creatures, the result of a mad scientist's experiments gone wrong, and ancient monsters pulled directly from the pages of Eastern European folklore, there is never any lack of enemies to face, and battling them never really felt repetitive. It feels like the difficulty level has drastically changed from PC to console, and Van Helsing II on the Xbox One seems quite a bit tougher. Despite being equipped with great weapons, and properly leveling my character, I found myself encountering huge mobs and was easily overwhelmed even when checking out the ‘casual’ skill level, and though Lady Katarina is a great ally and attacks alongside Van Helsing in the midst of battle, I still found myself dying frequently. Thankfully, respawning is rather cheap (you can spend gold to respawn at various locations) and once the Second Chance perk is unlocked, dying isn’t so much of a chore, but it still can be quite a nuisance.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II looks fantastic on the Xbox One. Unfortunately, on my last playthrough when I reviewed the game on PC I was cursed with a low end laptop and did not have the opportunity to fully enjoy the graphics. From damp caverns, dark and dreary tunnels to icy forests, Van Helsing’s environments perfectly capture gothic Europe, look good on the Xbox One, and are a delight to explore. Much like any ARPG there is lots of loot to collect, powerful weapons to reveal, and you’ll find yourself exploring every inch of the map with hopes of finding chests filled with treasure. The soundtrack is filled with hauntingly beautiful tones, perfectly suiting the dark and gothic setting, with hints of folk and classical music. The voice acting, particularly Prisoner Seven, is downright laughable at times, with the exception of Van Helsing and Lady Kataria whose hilarious banter adds a nice touch to the game.

For my review, I did not have the opportunity to play multiplayer, but The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II offers co-op, scenario and PvP modes. If given the opportunity, you may want to partner up with a friend, especially considering the difficulty level and the swarms of monsters you’ll encounter. And with numerous achievements to unlock, the extra hand in battle will be welcome.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II should not be dismissed as yet another Diablo clone, as it truly does stand out on its own. While I struggled with the controls a bit, and the change of difficulty was a bit frustrating, I was not left disappointed by my return to Borgovia. With a great story, a quirky cast of characters, tons of quests, and awesome Easter eggs, there is much fun to be had with high replay value. For the low cost of $15 The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II is great addition to any ARPG fan’s collection and a welcome addition to the ID@Xbox Collection.

Overall Score: 7.6 / 10 In Between

Terminal lung cancer isn’t a theme that one would typically associate with a video game. Actually, it’s a rather odd choice as it is not a topic that wouldn’t be considered fun by any means. German indie developer Gently Mad has crafted a rather unique 2D story driven puzzle game about this difficult subject as they bring us their recently released game In Between, an emotional, stylish platformer about a cancer patient at the end of his journey. Launching first on PC in 2015, it recently made its debut on the Xbox One as part of the ID@Xbox program and we here at XBA had the chance to play and review it.

In Between revolves around a young man coming to terms with his impending death. We first meet him in an interactive cutscene where he is very weak in a wheelchair and in palliative care. Playing through 60 platforming levels, you traverse through the man’s alternate reality, as he reflects on his life remembering important moments from his past, and copes with the five stages of grief. These stages of grief add a unique touch to In Between, and it stands out from the typical platformer, adding a new game mechanic with each chapter. For example, the stages that represent denial adds an encroaching darkness that threatens to swallow the man alive, but recedes when he turns to face it. Anger on the other hand is represented as threatening, pulsating red orbs that are scattered throughout a level.

The game is a very emotional tale indeed. The plot unfolds by solving puzzles as you traverse through extremely challenging platforming levels using gravity defying movements. Using the right stick on the controller, you can move your character in four different directions, allowing him to walk on walls and the ceiling if need be, to avoid a variety of static and dynamic obstacles, such as rows of deadly spikes, and you can access moving blocks and switches as well.

Unfortunately, I felt the controls were not as responsive as they should have been at times, which led to some very frustrating moments. I feel as though it may play better with a mouse and keyboard, as I often found myself fumbling with the controller when trying to complete a level. While I will note that the level design is very clever, the difficulty level of the platforming segments, and the precision needed to complete each level, really took away from some of my enjoyment of the game at times. There were times that I died repeatedly and other times where I almost finished a level after solving a puzzle and I would often meet an untimely death because of mistimed jump as a result of the control.

I found In Between a bit difficult and that I did not want to continue playing with issues like this, which is a shame because it’s such a story driven game. To have it interrupted by constantly dying in these manners is a bit disappointing. And without a leaderboard, timed runs, unlocks or collectibles, there is very little replay value to be had. The levels, once played, are available in the menu to play through again, but to be perfectly honest, I had absolutely no desire to as there isn’t any incentive. It’s a tough game to play through, as not only does the gameplay leave you feeling extremely frustrated at times, but the theme itself, a young man dying of lung cancer, can be a bit challenging to deal with.

While characters and the interactive cutscenes are colourful and beautifully hand painted, the backgrounds seemed to be extremely dull, with drab hues of beige and brown. Perhaps this is due to the theme of death and the stages of grief, but the uninteresting backgrounds further added to my frustration with the game. The music was well suited for the experience, and the voice acting is quite exceptional with the dying man’s narration adding to the heartbreak and the emotion of the story.

In Between offers a unique twist on the puzzle platforming genre, but the precision needed to complete each level, and the extreme difficulty, takes away from the enjoyment. It’s an emotional story that deserves to be told and experienced by gamers, but perhaps not through the frustrating and challenging platforming levels that partially result from the control issues. Fans of extreme puzzle platformers may feel right at home, but others not as skilled in the genre may be left frustrated. At the end of the day Gently Mad should be commended for crafting a beautiful and emotional story, but given some of the weak points of the game it’s hard to recommend it to everyone out there.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Steredenn

First released on Steam in Fall 2015, Steredenn, the 2D shoot ‘em up game developed by indie developer Pixelnest Studio, has recently made its debut on Xbox One. With beautiful pixelated graphics and insane boss battles, this frenetic space shooter offers never ending combat and unforgiving and challenging gameplay with randomly generated environments to enjoy as you try to survive wave after wave of deadly attacks from swarms of space pirates.

With the focus primarily on the gameplay, there really isn’t much of a story for you to follow. You simply play as a lone ship, left to fend for yourself against multiple waves of space pirates spewing projectiles at you as you race through space at a breakneck pace. Constantly moving forward, you cannot turn back, and you must blast your way through each level, avoiding stray asteroids and enemy ships as you make your way to an epic boss battle.

Staying true to the genre, Steredenn is difficult to say the least. Health does not regenerate, there are no save points, and when you die you start right back at the beginning, giving it that old school feel of games of yesteryear. As the waves of enemies and the boss battles grow increasingly difficult, Steredenn quickly becomes very chaotic, although not in a bad way.

Despite struggling right from the get-go, as admittedly I am terrible at shoot ‘em ups, I never felt that Steredenn was unfairly tough, although I must admit I did have a few moments of anger when I was stupidly hit with a stray bullet or crashed into an asteroid. Starting over never felt like a chore, thanks to the randomly generated waves of enemies, environments and weapons. The endless gameplay is rather addictive and with online leaderboards and daily modes, Steredenn offers great replay value.

Much like any shoot ‘em up game, the key to success in Steredenn is dodging the numerous enemies and their relentless attacks. Thankfully the controls in Steredenn are tight and responsive, allowing you to gracefully dodge and maneuver around the ever flowing stream of bullets hurtling towards your ship. Equipped with a basic yet effective blaster to start, you can pick up one of 35 different secondary weapons, randomly dropped within a level. Epic weapons such as a huge laser that disintegrates enemies in seconds, bots that assist you in your fight, and even a huge drill that you can attach the front of your ship to plow through enemies. Some of these weapons seemed ridiculously overpowered, allowing you to breeze through a boss within seconds, while others felt rather ineffective, particularly the melee type weapons. While these melee weapons look really bad ass, they don’t really deal much damage, and I found it tough to come in for a melee attack in the midst of the space pirate’s attack. I found that I much preferred to use a ranged weapon, but that’s just a personal preference.

The highlight of Steredenn are the insane and epic boss battles with 13 different bosses to defeat. Heart pounding and chaotic fights, each boss has their own special bullet attack and you will quickly need to figure out their attack patterns before you meet an untimely death. Should you find yourself unsuccessful during these fights, as I did on numerous occasions, there is an arena mode to play through which is quite helpful to practice against bosses you may have already encountered. And if you’re lucky enough to make it through one of these intense boss battles, you get the opportunity to not only heal your ship before you move on to the next level, but you can pick from five different upgrades to change up your gameplay a bit, such as +20% score or +50% chance that a certain weapon will drop.

Presentation wise, the beautiful pixelated graphics add a nice retro touch to Steredenn, with 20 different environments to play through. While the ships aren’t really much to look at, the backgrounds are spectacularly done with colourful galaxies and twinkling stars to gaze upon as you fight space pirates. That being said, I have a rather minor complaint as there are only a few enemy types in Steredenn, and at times it felt a bit repetitive, as though you are fighting the same bad guys over and over. Even the bosses themselves looked similar, lacking variety in their appearance. In terms of the audio, the heavy metal music filled with strains of electric guitar perfectly accompany the heart racing, chaotic gameplay, creating a fantastic soundtrack for an epic space battle.

If you're a fan of extremely tough shoot ‘em up games that not only has that old school feel, but also look such as some classic pixelated graphics, then look no further then the indie title Steredenn, as it is a must play for fans of the genre. With online leaderboards, endless gameplay, and insane boss battles, it’s addictive and challenging gameplay offers high replay value and will challenge you for a long time. For a mere $12.99, I highly recommend adding Steredenn to your ever growing library of ID@Xbox titles to your Xbox One game collection.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 The Flame in the Flood

Last year veteran staffers from development studios Irrational, Bungie, and Harmonix, joined forces to form indie developer The Molasses Flood, and launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring their vision to life. As described on their campaign page, their game, The Flame in the Flood, is “…a rogue-lite river journey through the backwaters of post-societal America.” With over 7,400 backers and $250K raised, they far exceeded their fundraising goal and released their highly anticipated game earlier this year for PC, Mac, and Xbox One.

The Flame in the Flood centres on the survival of the young heroine Scout, who we first meet shivering alone beside a fire in the midst of post-apocalyptic flood. Alongside her is her only companion, a dog named Aesop. The two set forth on a treacherous journey through the raging waters on a rickety raft. Through the flooded backwaters of America, they travel in search of food, shelter, and hope, desperately trying to find the source of a faint radio signal in the distance.

During this adventure, careful attention must be paid to Scout’s basic needs via four meters that must constantly be monitored. Hunger, thirst, temperature, and shelter must always be tended to, or Scout will quickly perish. As she begins her journey, she is equipped with a few basic items to help her make it through the first few miles, but those supplies run out quickly, and Scout (with the help of Aesop), must scavenge and scour through the remnants of society if there is any hope of survival.

You take control of Scout’s raft as she makes her way through the flood. Using the left stick to steer and the X button to paddle, you can dock at islands sparsely scattered throughout the raging flood waters. Littered with rusty old school buses, abandoned farms, dilapidated churches and marinas, these islands provide the perfect opportunity to find nourishment, find a source of clean water, sleep a couple hours, or warm up by a fire. There are plants to be picked, old lumber to be claimed, and numerous resources to be found to aid her in her travels. Most of these items, thanks to schematics and recipes found in old chests and abandoned buildings, can be concocted into new items, such as potent medicine to heal nasty infections, traps to capture rabbits for food and clothing, and other food that’s a bit more substantial than cattails or berries.

Unfortunately, Scout has very limited room in her storage bag, and gameplay quickly becomes a game of juggling inventory and micromanaging items. Anticipating her needs and leaving items behind can be downright catastrophic at times, as she not only becomes thirsty and hungry quickly, but can be stricken with an injury, become extremely ill, even encounter a wild animal who will leave poor Scout with an infected laceration or broken bone.

The flood is seemingly an entity itself, working against young Scout as she desperately tries to dock on an island. Calm waters will suddenly change, with choppy rapids, swift currents and a river filled with debris making travel a very perilous task. Combined with drenching rains and horrendous thunderstorms, if you’re not careful your raft will be sent crashing into an obstacle, leaving it in dire need of repair or the current will pull you away from docking on an island so heartbreakingly close when Scout is in great need of food and water.

Your raft itself is repairable at the few marinas remaining after the apocalypse by using nuts and bolts, old lumber and raft schematics found scattered throughout the rubble, and Scout eventually will have the option to add a motor that makes the journey somewhat easier. The raft also has a meter that must be monitored, as too many crashes will destroy it, leaving poor Scout and Aesop to drown in the flood waters.

There really isn’t much of a narrative to speak of. We know that Scout is trying to find a radio signal, but other than a few snippets of dialogue here and there when you encounter other survivors, there isn’t really a storyline to follow. Personally, I felt it didn't really need one though. Scout’s adventures in a post-apocalyptic world was captivating enough to hold my interest. This poor young girl, cold and alone, left to fend for herself, you’ll find that you’ll desperately want her to survive. You can’t help but to feel pity as she hobbles onto her raft with a broken bone after an encounter with a wild boar. You feel terrible that she is cold and wet without any warm clothes because you dropped that one item needed to make her a jacket. You wince as her poor little raft breaks apart because you accidentally let it crash into an old bus and she’s sent her flying into the water. Her attempt to survive makes for a very compelling and sometimes emotional experience.

The Flame in the Flood is not an easy game. You are meant to die, and you will die quite frequently. It’s also a permadeath game, and you will lose most of the precious items you worked so hard to gather and start right back at the beginning; however, the randomly generated maps make the game feel like a different experience every time you play, so starting over doesn't feel too repetitive. It’s rather addictive, crafting new items, and looting caches; I often found myself frequently returning for just one more try to get further down the flooded river.

There are two different game modes to play, campaign mode, where you travel through 10 different regions, and endless mode, which is self-explanatory. Considering the nature of the adventure/survival genre, it’s meant to be extremely challenging, and at times I felt it was unfairly tough, particularly the wildlife encounters. It’s extremely frustrating when you have full health, Scout is happy, your inventory is well managed, and you’ve seemingly done everything right, only to be cornered by wolves who lash out and quickly kill you before you can make it back to the raft, or be bitten by a snake with no possible cure.

Alt-country artist Chuck Ragan provides a very fitting soundtrack for Scout’s journey down the river, hauntingly beautiful at times with strains of a lonely harmonica or the twangs of a banjo. The beautifully drawn visuals perfectly capture the decaying remnants of America, with environments inspired by the Florida Everglades and the Louisiana Bayous, filled with colourful hues despite the post-apocalyptic setting. Scout and Aesop, and the other survivors, are rather odd looking characters, looking as though they’ve been plucked directly from Corpse Bride or Nightmare Before Christmas. All in all the presentation is good and adds to the to the feel of the gameplay.

While frustratingly challenging at times, The Flame in the Flood was an absolute delight to play. With addictive gameplay, a fantastic soundtrack, and lovely visuals, the adventures of a young girl left to fend for herself in post-apocalyptic America should not be missed. It is a welcome addition to the ID@Xbox collection.

Overall Score: 7.7 / 10

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