MEMBER PROFILE FOR Variation-XBA

Total Reviews: 571
Average Overall Score Given: 7.35657 / 10
Total Forum Posts: 14181

Reviews
Control: Ultimate Edition

The Summer of 2019 was great, as the long wait for Control was over and gamers got to experience a unique world crafted by one of my favorite developers, Remedy, best known for Max Payne, Quantum Break and Alan Wake. I ended up reviewing it and scored it quite well as I really enjoyed its narrative, combat and unique gameplay. For how much I enjoyed it, I did have a laundry list of issues with the game, such as map problems, major slowdown and screen tearing just to name a few.

Having released a year shy of the new consoles, many were wondering if Control would eventually get the X|S treatment to improve the game in numerous ways. The answer wasn’t so simple though. Many games will simply download the Xbox Series X version/update of a game if the developer and publisher has made it a free upgrade, of which the vast majority of games have done so free of charge if you previously purchased the Xbox One version already. While there are a few games that force you to rebuy the Series X version if you want the upgraded game, this isn’t common overall. Unfortunately, 505 has gone the route of making original Xbox One purchasers rebuy the newer Control: Ultimate Edition if they want access to the Series X version of the game. That’s right. If you’ve already purchased Control at its original launch but now want to replay the much better version, you’re going to have to pay for the Ultimate Edition to get access to it. There’s a whole bunch of PR speak of why this route was chosen, which I won’t delve into, and I have my own personal thoughts on this practice, but regardless of how I feel about the situation, Control: Ultimate Edition on Xbox Series X is the version I wish I could have played originally.

Full disclosure; we were provided a code for Control at its initial launch and one for Control: Ultimate Edition. Also, much of this Control: Ultimate Edition review will have content from my original review that pertains to the base game and its DLC.

Narrative has always been Remedy’s strong suit, even if it can get a little crazy at times with its supernatural elements; Control is no different. The Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) is a government agency, much like our real world FBI, but they focus on paranormal events and phenomena. You are Jesse Faden, searching not only for answers at the FBC but also your brother, only to be greeted by the Janitor upon entering. Even finding the FBC headquarters isn’t possible by normal means, so it’s clear that Jesse has some sort of deep connection to what’s taking place.

Jesse’s mainly looking for her lost brother Dylan, but she’s being guided by someone, or something, that she can converse with in her head. There’s also a major threat from an invading enemy known as The Hiss within the FBC walls, known as the Oldest House. The Hiss can corrupt nearly everyone it comes into contact with, as the vast majority of FBC workers have been possessed and turned into hostiles with super abilities. Jesse is special though, and regaining control is a job that she’s thrust into as the new Director of the FBC. I’d love to go into more narrative detail, but the story, lore and how it plays out really is Control’s greatest strength, and I won’t want to spoil much else. It’s also at times absolutely crazy, so trying to explain it in simple terms would also take a dozen more paragraphs.

Played in third person, much like their other games, you’ll feel at home if you’ve previously played Quantum Break, but you’ll also have access to supernatural abilities as you progress. You’re able to freely search the Oldest House, but certain pathways will not allow access until you find specific keycards. So while it’s somewhat an open adventure, you’re confined to a linear progression that’s narrative based, though there are a few branching paths with more than enough collectibles to seek.

Normally I’m not one to hunt and find out collectibles, but there’s an absolute truck load of them within the FBC walls. You’ll find memo’s, posters, notes, recordings and more, each of which expands the lore of Control’s world, almost to a point of being overwhelming. While I don’t want to spoil anything, there are ties to other Remedy games like Alan Wake, and more than a simple Easter Egg as well. Find enough of the collectibles and you might figure out how Control’s world is actually related to the one in Alan Wake as well. This alone excited me enough to seek out more of the hidden items and was foreshadowing, as eventually we got a second DLC: AWE, which tied the two worlds together in a really interesting way.

Because the FBC deals in the supernatural and paranormal, the building itself is also very deceiving. From the outside it looks like a standard building you’d see in any downtown core, but once you start exploring it within, you’ll realize that the innards are much larger than its walls. Walls will shape shift, move, extend and more as you progress, adding some very cool sequences along the way. Speaking of, one of the absolute best sequences actually occurred during my playthrough near the final chapter of Control. I won’t spoil what happens, or how, but make sure you make it through the Ashtray Maze at some point. Enough said.

Much like any government building, there are signs everywhere that show arrows of how to get to certain areas, rooms, sectors and more. This is how you’ll generally navigate your way from objective to objective. Since there is no breadcrumb trail leading to you where you need to go, you need to rely on this map heavily at times, it became quite frustrating, leaving me lost at times trying to figure out where I had to go, even on my second and third playthrough. The somewhat saving grace of this frustration was the inclusion of waypoints, cleverly referred to as control points. The main areas and hubs of the Oldest House need to be cleansed of all Hiss infecting it, and once done Jesse can revert the area into a safe zone, also allowing it to be used as a fast travel point, helping with exploration as you’ll need to backtrack many times to reach newly unlocked areas as you gain more clearance levels as the Director.

Jesse is chosen as the new Director, proven by wielding the Service Weapon. This paranormal gun may seem like an ordinary pistol at first, but there’s much more to it that you’ll uncover during your adventure. The first few firefights will feel like any other third person shooter, but eventually Jesse will come across Objects of Power, granting her new abilities like flying, telekinesis and more. Once you start to blend in abilities with the shooting mechanics, Control really starts to feel like its own experience, one that I enjoyed more as it progressed.

Your Service Weapon starts out as a basic pistol, but will eventually be able to be morphed and changed into having other properties, like a charge up shot or rapid fire like an SMG. Interestingly, Jesse can equip two forms of the gun at once, able to freely swap between their forms, but they share the same ammo source, one that refills automatically when not being used or shortly after its clip being emptied. This took me a while to get used to, as pressing ‘X’ switches your gun’s form, not reloading, as that’s done automatically. Eventually you’ll become accustomed to it, but it’s certainly not the norm. Also, your health doesn’t replenish automatically, so you’ll need to pick up glowing sprites from defeated Hiss to refill your health; something that can be quite dangerous during a massive battle.

Because of this shared ammo resource, you’ll also need to rely on your abilities to take out Hiss as well. I heavily relied on my telekinesis throw ability, allowing you to pick up nearly any object, or even debris, launching it at great velocity at enemies. Your abilities also share a resource as well, so you can’t freely dash everywhere or launch items without needing a rest period, so you’ll need to balance their usage. Enemies vary as well, so some will be nearly immune to bullets, yet can be killed easily with a thrown object, others will fly around, making it nearly impossible to hit with objects, so gunfire is your better option. While there’s not a vast variety of enemies, knowing how to defeat them individually and how to prioritize targets is how Jesse will survive large battles. Once you see these orb-like Hiss, you’ll need to make those priority number one, as they can heal enemies, but they move incredibly fast, so it’s a cat and mouse game of being mobile and interchanging weapon fire and abilities. This becomes quite chaotic later on, especially in the last few battles, but it’s also what makes Control shine and feel unique.

There’s also an upgrade system in place for Jesse to improve her Service Weapon and abilities. You’ll be able to craft a handful of different forms for the weapon, and even be able to upgrade them much later on, adding more mod slots. Defeated Hiss will drop random mods now and then, which can either be for your weapons, some for specific forms, or for Jesse herself as a personal mod, like more health, energy, quicker dashing, etc. You’ll gather numerous types of resources from enemies and hidden secrets, eventually unlocking all the way up to tier 5 mods which cost an extreme amount to craft, but add some huge bonuses. These upgrades really open up Control to play how you want, as you can boost headshot damage, reload speed, less ammo when floating and a ton of other mods to suit your playstyle.

Visually, Control is beyond impressive on Xbox Series X. One of the best improvements it made was adding a Performance or Graphics Mode. Graphics mode targets 30fps but on Series X it also adds ray tracing which gives the world reflections in many places. Graphics mode is absolutely beautiful to take in, especially with the newly added Photo Mode, as the reflections you see in the glass and shiny floors really adds to the realism, but the 30fps makes it perform just like its original release when I played on an Xbox One X. Performance mode is what I stuck with for my whole playthrough once I realized how smooth 60fps was. This mode does 1440p render resolution and 4K output, but the smoothness you get from the 60fps makes it feel like a completely new game. As for its audio, the voice acting is flawless due to Courtney Hope’s portrayal (whom you’ll recognize as Beth from Quantum Break), weapons and explosions explode with power and the soundtrack is very fitting for the setting, especially the sequence I alluded to above.

Control: Ultimate Edition not only includes the better looking and performing version of the core game, but also the two DLC packs as well (which are simply built into the game and not as separate DLC downloads, something that wasn’t explained clearly); The Foundation and AWE. So the first thing you’ll need to know about The Foundation is that it takes place directly after the main campaign, meaning you’ll need a completed game save from the base game, but for good reason, as you won’t have any idea what’s going on otherwise. Once installed, you’ll have a quest for The Foundation that begins in Central Executive then heading to the Hotline Chamber. As usual, the phone will ring, this time sending Jesse underneath the FBC only to learn that the Astral Plane is starting to bleed into reality.

So what’s new in The Foundation? Obviously the story continuation is its main draw but there’s new missions, mods, abilities and a new enemy you’ll encounter here as well. While the core gameplay is essentially unchanged from the base game, your new abilities are quite interesting. One allows you to use your telepathy and create crystal platforms to use as ledges, essentially pulling them out of specific spots on certain walls. The other allows you destroy specific crystals that obstruct you from venturing any further until you have said power. Using your powers on specific traps can be used to your advantage in combat as well, lifting a row of spikes to damage enemies or create a wall to block enemy projectiles. Keep in mind that these abilities are only used in The Foundation, but they fit fluidly into Control’s flow and combat quite nicely.

While only introducing one new enemy was a little bit of a letdown, these Hiss seemed to have been workers in the Foundation at some point is my guess, as they will charge at you with their pickaxes at great speed, even using some minor teleportation to avoid attacks and dodge your projectiles. While they are simply grunt enemies, they can quickly overwhelm you in combat when also having to deal with other Hiss types, ones that you’re more than used to by now from the main campaign.

As for the AWE expansion, I was really excited to play this, as Alan Wake is one of my all time favorite games, so I couldn't want to get back to its world in some form. Given that Alan Wake had a light and dark element to it, it is the same here, as you'll need to use your telekinesis to hold lights at certain black goo that stops you from progressing. There's a constant boss creature that you're following throughout a new wing in the Old House, and these were quite challenging, usually forcing you to turn on some lights so you can defeat it; if only it was that simple. If you aren't a huge Alan Wake fan you'll probably be annoyed with the constant darkness and these boss arenas as you progress, but for fans, the integration of Alan Wake into Control's shared world opens up a ton of possibilities, especially when you see AWE's conclusion.

More so than the 60fps addition, I really enjoyed the quality of life improvements that have been added and included since I originally played at launch. While I was able to get through the game initially without too much trouble, there were some very difficult firefights and sections that took a few attempts. Since then, some quality of life improvements and assist mode options have been included for those that want them. For someone going on their third playthrough, this was very welcomed as I wanted to simply get through the game as quickly as I could since I’ve already experienced the narrative already. The main options that you can toggle are some very severe auto locking on enemies, quicker energy and ammunition regeneration and even single hit kills on enemies, including the harder enemies and bosses. For someone that would want to experience Control for its setting and narrative and doesn’t want to have a hassle with combat, these accessibility options are an amazing addition for those that want it.

While Control didn’t always run very well on an Xbox One X, it was at least mostly consistent. I actually lost count how many times Control: Ultimate Edition crashed to the dashboard on my Series X, much more than any other game I’ve played on the new console since its launch. Yes, the game is rendering higher output along with 60fps, there’s heavy physic based combat and explosions are plenty, but it crashed on me way more than is allowable. Thankfully the autosave is often, so there wasn’t much backtracking I had to do, but still, it’s unacceptable, more so if you’ve purchased the game for a second time to get the Series X version.

Control has that signature Remedy feel to it, from its unique combat to its completely out there narrative, something only Sam Lake could be a part of. Although the story is Control’s strongest asset, it will take a lot of concentration to piece it all together. While I’m not a fan of forcing a rebuy to get the Series X|S version if you bought the base game at launch, Control: Ultimate Edition is without a doubt the definitive edition you want to experience, even if it’s for the second time, as the 60fps Performance Mode makes it feel like a completely new and better game. Welcome to the FBC Director.

** Control: Ultimate Edition was reviewed on an Xbox Series X **

Overall Score: 9.3 / 10 Redout: Space Assault

The original Redout may not have set the world on fire, but it was a fun and competent high octane racer, a serious competitor to Wipeout, which was always a good time for some frantic racing. Now, generally when a sequel is announced, you’d most likely expect generally the same game, or at least within the same genre as its predecessor. Redout: Space Assault looks and plays absolutely nothing like the original Redout, so fans expecting another fast paced racer is going to wonder why the gameplay is now essentially an on-rails shooter, much like a Panzer Dragoon or Star Fox.

Redout: Space Assault lives up to its name; putting you in a space ship and having you shoot tons of baddies in third person combat. You’re going to have to be quick with your reflexes to avoid the incoming fire and quicker if you want to take down all of your enemies before it’s too late in space combat. What first intrigued me about Redout: Space Assault was its visuals, as the space backdrop seemed quite impressive for a smaller studio, so I thought I had an idea of what I was getting myself into. What I got though was something different, not that it’s a bad thing.

Tehcnically a prequel to the original Redout, Space Assault actually is quite narrative heavy in the sense that there’s a lot going on with the lore, numerous characters and their motives, much more than I was expecting to be honest. Set far in the future, the narrative revolves around you, Leon Barret, a pilot that is simply following orders but eventually becomes entangled in a conflict that is much larger and has some serious implications.

Mankind is struggling to survive and must colonize elsewhere as Earth is slowly dying and losing its resources. As you’re trying to pave the way for safe passage to Mars, you’re tasked with keeping your crew safe from space pirates and rebels looking to do what they can to take you out and survive as well. The narrative eventually turns into a typical rebels versus governments, but there are some interesting turns later on in the story, even if a little predictable. Leon of course is an amazing pilot, so everything will fall onto your shoulders as you become the leader you were born to be when you take a stand against atrocities you witness.

Again, don’t expect any quick paced racing you experienced in the original game, as the bulk of Space Assault’s gameplay is an on-rails shooter, though there are a few other sections that break up the monotony but are easily the weakest parts of the whole experience. Gameplay is very quick paced and the backdrops are quite enjoyable to take in, but the gameplay itself is quite basic once you learn its intricacies.

Since the majority of the gameplay is on-rails, that means your ship is flying on a determined path on its own. Yes, in the vastness of space, you’re confined to your set path without any control of where to go freely aside from a handful of missions. Since your ship automatically is on its set course, you will simply be maneuvering your ship to move your reticule that will be used to shoot down any enemies on sight.

This is where I start to question some of the game design choices. First off, your ship automatically shoots when an enemy gets within your crosshairs (by default). That’s right, you don’t fly your ship for the most part and it shoots for itself. All you need to do is aim slightly near them and your weapons will take them out. You do have access to missiles that require hitting the trigger, and can be helpful, as you can lock onto three targets at a time in the beginning before any upgrades that allow for more. The odd thing too about these is that you don’t even have to hover over the enemies with your reticule, simply hold down the missile button and it will lock onto any enemy or destructible objects currently on screen.

You’d think that for a game revolving around space combat it would be quite quick paced, but it’s almost as if you’re always stuck in first or second gear. You never feel that speed rush like in the original game, which would have made for some interesting gameplay given that it’s mostly on-rails. There aren’t many types of enemies and most are destroyed with a single shot, but there are some that take a few hits, and even boss-like that require some serious firepower and avoidance to destroy.

Even though much of it is on-rails, there are some very cool sections when you’re barrel rolling through narrow spaces, zig zagging through an asteroid field or generally doing some cool looking space maneuvers. You do have buttons to allow for a quick roll left or right, but this is generally meant to simply avoid oncoming missile locks, though you’re not able to fire during as you wait for the animation to finish. You can also utilize a quick boost or brake, though it’s only for a short duration and not generally needed aside from a few of the race sections. Just like the rolls, you can’t stop the boost once you start it, simply having to let it play out for a few seconds before you resume back to normal speed, which can be a pain during the race missions, but more on that shortly.

Each chapter is broken into a handful of different missions, each with its own objectives. You have a main objective to complete the level, but also will have secondary optional ones as well, like destroy a certain amount of enemies or collect an amount of items. These are optional, but will greatly help you with your upgrade costs if you can manage to do so. Now, this is where I again question some of the design choices again.

Since you’re on rails, many of the missions simply require you to get to the end. That means you can basically put down the controller and it will play itself as you’re on a set path. Yeah, you’ll die, but you’ll still complete the levels. Now where the challenge comes into play is that all of your collected coins, which are used for upgrades, are reset to zero when you are destroyed, so naturally you don’t want to die so you can get the most from each mission. Also, there’s no checkpoints or amount of lives, so you simply just respawn if you die, negating the need to really do much if you don’t care about the upgrades. The problem though is that if you die at the very end, the whole level's work has been for naught as you won't get many coins.

While the vast majority of the gameplay is on-rails, there are a couple of other types of missions that break up the monotonous gameplay, though these are the weakest parts of the whole experience. Now and then you’ll be given freedom to fly wherever you like, generally looking for a specific beacon or NPC to continue the story. You can spend this time to find hidden coins should you wish, but these missions are generally quite short and usually a narrative segway.

Ironically, the absolute worst parts to Redout: Space Assault are its race missions, which was kind of surprising given its pedigree. In these missions you’re pitted against another pilot for one reason or another, and have to beat them to the finish to complete the level. Problem is that since you’re in space, you’d expect it to be a freeform race from point A to B however you see fit. That’s not the case though. Instead, you’re set on an invisible race track, but have to navigate it around walls and through tight spaces, but can’t actually see the barriers or what ‘corners’ are coming up next. This means a lot of trial and error, as usually a few crashes means it’s impossible to win and will cause for a restart when you fail.

Sad to say, I’ve actually become stuck near the very end of the game, unable to progress because I can’t finish and win a specific race. This race forces you to be absolutely perfect, and of course after hours of retrying over and over, I’ve become so frustrated and want to give up. These races eventually become a task in memorization, knowing when to speed up, where to turn, etc. There are even rings you can fly though that will give a speed boost, but miss one and you’ll likely not win. The balance for these races is completely off and needs some serious balancing.

I thought that maybe I should focus on redoing some old missions to upgrade my ship since it might help me progress, but this isn’t the case, as you can upgrade your Hull, Shield, Weapons and Missiles. No upgrades pertain to speed or handling, so even when I pumped up my shields hoping it would help when I messed up, it didn’t make a difference in the races. For the regular missions, upgrading my weapons to a certain level allowed me to equip more weapons and types (tied to story progression), making me easily kill any enemies in my way. Upgrading your missiles will allow you to prime more than the starter three, so it’s a matter of how you want to play, though you can grind and fully upgrade everything should you wish.

After each mission you’ll also get three separate cards at random, of which you can choose to equip one at a time. These will range from one of the four upgrade categories, usually giving it a percentage boost. As you play the harder levels you’ll receive better tiered cards, and the unchosen ones get turned into more coins to be spent for your upgrades.

I admit, the impressive visuals from the trailer and store page fooled me into thinking Redout: Space Assault was something completely different than I was expecting. While not the most visually impressive space based game out there, the backdrops are wondrous to take in when possible, but that’s not too often given its gameplay mechanics. Truth be told, Panzer Dragoon is one of my all-time favorite games, so the on-rails gameplay didn’t bother me at all, though I could see how some might find it unsatisfying. There’s not many games in that genre released these days for whatever reason, but it brought me back to a different era in gaming.

As for its audio, the shooting of different weapons all have their own effects, the whizzing of your ship is noticeable when doing rolls and avoiding enemy fire and the soundtrack is decent, but boy, the voice acting is quite atrocious. Now, it’s hard to fully blame the actors when the writing is as bland as it is, and I get it’s a smaller studio, but it really was cringe worthy at the best of times.

While fans of the original Redout might be wondering why Space Assault isn’t a lightning speed racer like its predecessor, it’s a competent on-rails shooter, but doesn’t really stand out either. The visuals will most likely impress you at first, but once you start to get into the core gameplay, you might start to question some of its design decisions like I did. I didn’t hate my time with it by any means, but I can’t seeing myself hopping back into the pilot seat any time soon.

** Redout: Space Assault was reviewed on an Xbox Series X **

Overall Score: 5.5 / 10 Disjunction

Ever since the classics of Metal Gear, Thief and Deus Ex, I’ve been a fan of stealth games. If there’s a way to be sneaky and backstab my enemies without being seen, I generally try and take that route whenever possible. The cyberpunk genre has been picking up some momentum in the past few years, even without the recent massive release, and Disjunction is the latest 16-bit entry into the category, developed by Ape Tribe Games.

A completely solo affair, Disjunction is set in the not too distant future of 2048 in the seedy underbelly of New York City with a narrative that revolves around three playable characters. The main hook to Disjunction is that it offers you a choice of how to play. Do you want to try and be as stealthy as possible and knock out all your enemies, or go guns blazing, killing anyone in your way to solve a constantly unraveling mystery?

There’s a new synthetic drug circulating the streets of New York called “Shard”, and while finding out the origin of this deadly drug is a concern, there are many more events occurring simultaneously that will have the three different playable characters’ stories intertwine in interesting ways. While the story is a bit text heavy at times without any voice acting, it is an interesting plot, especially when you try and factor in the rationalization for your choices and actions. Your choices will have consequences and interestingly, I played the characters completely different based on who I was, as you’re going to be given the choice to arrest, kill or let certain NPC’s go when interrogating them. Also, the campaign was quite lengthier than I expected, which should last you between eight to twelve hours depending on your patience and reliance on stealth.

Disjunction utilizes stealth-action based on how you want to play, but also has some RPG elements as well. Each character has their own unique abilities as well, so they will approach certain situations in completely different ways. You can choose to utilize non-lethal takedowns should you wish, but killing everyone in your path is also a completely viable option if that’s how you want to play.

I chose to mostly play a stealthy run when possible, staying in the shadows, watching enemy pathing patterns and figuring out the most opportune moment to knock out everyone in my way. Sometimes I would hide the bodies, other times I would leave them in open view so that the guards saw them, interrupting their regular pathing, opening up new opportunities for me to pass or attack them I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Oddly enough, running is your default speed, but it’s also loud. There are times where you’ll need to run to get out of a security camera’s view or to pass by a floor trap in time, but the majority of your time will be spent crouched, as it’s silent but also much slower. Much like in Metal Gear Solid, as you’re crouched you’ll see enemies’ exact cone of vision. While this makes it easy to see where you can and can’t go without alerting them, this also devolves much of the gameplay into simply avoiding the vision cones, usually getting as close as possible but still out of range. If you can’t avoid their vision, then what ability do you have to bypass or distract them? Or you know, just shoot and kill them, as that works too.

This is also where you’ll see how abysmal the enemy AI can really be. All that matters is what they see, or don’t see, in their cone of vision. This means you can literally take down an enemy within inches of them, but as long as you’re not in their sight, they won’t notice the enemy that just got taken down at their feet or directly behind them. Keeping bodies in plain sight is a tactic at times, as when they become alerted they’ll never end searching for you, which means they won’t reset to their original spots or pathing either.

Each of the three characters plays unique, as they have their own styles and abilities, which is where the light RPG elements come into play. During each stage you’re generally looking for a key to access to the next section but hidden throughout each stage are upgrade kits. This is a cyberpunk game remember, so you can upgrade your augments between stages if you find them, also improving your talents. While you won’t gain any new abilities, you’ll simply improve the ones you have and rely on the most. Since I like to use my stun baton the most to take out enemies quietly without killing them, I opted to boost the damage and speed of my melee attacks. Maybe you prefer the weapon approach, which is completely viable, so you could upgrade that instead if you wanted.

Generally though you’re simply reducing the time to use or refresh an ability, sometimes you’ll also make an ability cost less energy to use as well. You have a set amount of energy, which your abilities require to be used, so you have to decide when is the best time to use them as you can’t overly rely on your abilities. I opted to only use them in a sticky situation or when I couldn’t find a way to get passed a roaming security bot, but again, there are multiple solutions to every problem. And this is where Disjunction starts to shine, as when it comes to its gameplay, it’s essentially a puzzle game, trying to figure out the best way forward but with multiple solutions based on how you want to play. Yes, this means you’ll sometimes sit around to watch and learn pathing patterns from enemies, but once you execute what you exactly wanted to without being noticed, it’s a great feeling of accomplishment.

Level design is generally pretty basic, starting out as simple rooms with just a guard here and there, but eventually become more involved, throwing more in your way to make it harder to proceed without being noticed. You’ll have more enemies, then security cameras, eventually security bots, floor traps and more. Eventually you’ll have to learn how best to hide behind objects, following moving boxes on conveyors and more. Some of the robots that roam around also have a rotating camera that needs to be avoided, adding another layer of challenge. Again though, most of the gameplay simply boils down to simply avoiding all of the vision cones more than anything else.

My biggest complaint though comes from its camera. Disjunction is played in a mostly top down view, though at a slight angle. While that’s not an issue, because you’re generally indoors, you’re having to use items and corners for cover, but because of the odd angle it’s sometimes hard to determine if you’re against a corner or wall until you see the vision cones get close. I’ve had numerous deaths because I thought I was hidden behind a corner, only to find out I was standing out in the open because of the camera angle. Yes, you eventually become accustomed to it and will compensate, but it’s frustrating early on. This is where the single checkpoints per level come into play. When you die you’ll respawn at your last checkpoint, but with only one per stage, it can sometimes mean some long backtracking and reattempting half of a level all over again. Oh you saved with low health, energy and ammo? Gooduluck then.

Aesthetically, Disjunction utilizes classic 16-bit style pixels artwork, but plays very smooth and has a lot of detail and animations to it. By far though, the cyberpunk influenced soundtrack was the most enjoyable part of Disjunction with its brooding yet somber synthwave style, scored by composer Dan Farley.

Taking clear inspiration from Deus Ex and Metal Gear Solid, Disjunction rewards you for being patient if you’re going to play a stealth run. While the game simply devolves into avoiding vision cones more than anything else, the three playable characters are not only are for narrative purposes, but showcases different ways you can play based on your playstyle. Cyberpunk enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy their time in 2048 New York, as will fans of stealth games, though casual fans will probably enjoy Disjunction best in bite sized sessions rather than a longer playthrough.

** Disjunction was reviewed on an Xbox Series X **

Overall Score: 7.3 / 10 Olija

Every now and then a game falls in my lap to review, usually something that was not even on my radar but is a pleasant surprise. Olija is one of these occurrences, as I never saw about it aside from what was listed on the digital store, but never really paid much attention to it either. That turned out to be a mistake, as by the time the credits for Olija rolled, I was really glad that I got to experience it, even if it wasn’t the longest experience.

Developed at Skeleton Crew Studio, more specially one developer at the studio, Thomas Olsson, Olija gave me some serious vibes from old classic games like Secret of Monkey Island, Prince of Persia and Another World in terms of its classic pixel visuals and ‘gibberish’ voiced dialogue, yet the quick pace of the combat felt very modern.

Olija tells a tale about Faraday, a Lord of a small fishing village who not only becomes shipwrecked, but has his people and crew captured. He manages to survive when he’s saved by an old man, brought to a small remote island. Now stranded in the lands of Terraphage, Faraday is going to have to sail to different islands to explore and find magical keys that lock a mysterious door, hopefully that will lead to back home. The old man agrees to take you by boat from island to island to help you on your quest, and thus Faraday’s adventure begins. There’s a bit more to the narrative, involving a royal-like woman named Olija, but I don’t want to give much more else away as the whole game only took about four hours or so to complete, and any spoilers would take away from the experience.

At its core, Olija is a 2D platformer adventure title with some light puzzles and combat. While not overly difficult, there’s plenty of secrets to find, enemies to battle and bosses to overcome, even if its runtime isn’t terribly long. You begin on an island that acts as your home base and hub, eventually expanding as you rescue people during your journey.

Faraday will find a mystical Harpoon early in his journey that is somehow linked to him, allowing him to not only throw it like a weapon, but will be used as a tool to maneuver through levels, as he’s able to teleport to it when thrown into specific anchor points. This is how you’ll traverse around the levels, and even used in combat as you can stick enemies with your harpoon and use it as an instant dash to them, a tactic you’ll need to master against bosses.

Combat is fluid, fun and surprisingly brutal. You have options from a handful of weapons, but your main will most likely be your rapier, a quick stabbing device that will kill almost any enemy quite quickly with its rapid hits. You’ll also have access to a few other weapons that require ammo, but I never really had to rely on using them outside of a situation or two. While Faraday does have a dodge button to get out of harm’s way, I found it to be somewhat useless, as if you dodge into a wall or barrier, you fall down, taking a moment to get back up. I’m sure some players will rely on it, but I didn’t use it once after half way through.

As you hop on the old man’s boat and show him a map you’ve found, you’ll be able to sail to any of the destinations uncovered thus far. Olija is generally progressed linearly, so you’ll play most levels in a designed order, but your goal is to find a gold key or two after beating a mini boss to gain access to that island’s boss to obtain a blue master key. These master keys will be needed to gain access to the final area and boss, and thankfully Olija slowly teaches you every skill you’ll need to master by the time you reach these doors.

Each level is hand crafted and a joy to explore. While most paths are going to be linear, there are secrets hidden throughout for those that want to take the time to find them and materials for crafting hats. That’s right, there is hat crafting included. Gather specific materials along your journey and you’ll be able to craft a variety of different head ornaments that each have their own bonuses and uses. Some are better than others, but there should be one that suits your playstyle, even if there only a couple choices to craft. You’re able to select any of your crafted hats before you enter any level, so feel free to experiment, though I basically stuck with my favorite almost the whole playthrough.

There are some light puzzle solving elements included as well, nothing terribly challenging, usually revolving around utilizing your harpoon teleport to get around blocked areas or to electrify switch panels. Eventually you’ll have a second way to teleport to one of your weapons, adding another layer of puzzle complexity, but again, nothing too challenging. Truth be told, there was really only one section, a boss fight near the end, which took me a few tries to complete. Outside of that I breezed through Olija, which I appreciated, as it wasn’t purposely trying to be difficult just for the sake of it which is honestly what I expected.

Olija’s pixel art is fantastic. As I mentioned above, it has a classic feel that looks as if it’s from the same era as the classic Another World and Prince of Persia. If you’re a fan of this retro style you’ll be smiling throughout, as the animations are fantastic and smooth, and the backgrounds are varied and detailed even being crafted from pixels. The audio is fitting for its oriental themes with its melodic soundtrack, almost always putting you at ease.

Olija feels unique, original and has a lot of charm to it. It’s abundantly clear it was created with a lot of love and care, and while the journey didn’t last as long as I’d hoped, I enjoyed every minute in the lands of Terraphage with Faraday.

** Olija was reviewed on an Xbox Series X **

Overall Score: 8.3 / 10 Bonkies

I’m always on the lookout for a game I can enjoy side by side with my daughter, as there’s not many that we can both get into easily. The latest co-op party game is now here, Bonkies, challenging you to build side by side. Sounds boring? What if I told you Bonkies is set in space, you utilize a banana-fuelled jetpack and have a robotic arm to lift all of the heavy pieces? Oh, and you’re a monkey too. Yup, I couldn’t make this up. So get up to 3 of your closest housemates and slap on those jetpacks, but get ready to swear and cuss at one another once they screw up and knock over all the hard work!

So what is the narrative behind a team of monkeys that cooperate to construct objects out of smaller pieces and parts? I assume something about colonizing the planets as you go from one to the next, but the story and narrative isn’t why you generally play games like these. You play these to have a few drinks with some buddies, or some quality family gaming time with the kids and hopefully have some fun doing so.

While you can play solo, only do so if you must, as it’s nowhere near as exciting or entertaining to do so, but alongside a friend or three you’ll have a blast. You’re tasked with creating objects within a set outline but only given a set amount of pieces and blocks, so it’s up to you to figure out how you’re going to stack and place each piece. These trials will begin out simple enough, but the difficulty ramps up quite quickly, even more so if you’re playing solo, as there’s always a looming time limit you have to contend with as well.

Your best chance at success is to have a local co-op friend or three help you. It seems as though the puzzles for each stage scale based on how many players are currently alongside you, but I know I certainly struggled when I tried to progress on my own. Clearing these stages though will require not only a steady hand and concentration, but lots of communication, which will ultimately be the reason you succeed or fail. Each planet has a set amount of stages, that once complete will move you onto the next planet for even a bigger challenge.

Bonkies’ premise is quite simple: simply stack blocks and pieces so that they remain within the outlined area, filling a silhouette. Once all of the area is full, you’ll have to make sure it stays there for a full three seconds before getting the completion and moving onto the next stage. Most levels are broken into two or three stages, with each becoming more challenging by tasking you to stack even higher or more awkwardly.

For such a simple premise, the controls on the other hand are going to take some getting used to. You can fly around seamlessly with the ‘Left Stick’, boosting with the ‘Left Trigger’ and your robo arm is controlled with the face buttons ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’. How you want to move your arm is based on the orientation of the buttons. For example, if you want to move your arm upwards, then hold the ‘Y’ button since that’s the top button. Want your arm to maneuver left? Hold ‘X’. Given that Bonkies utilizes physics based gameplay (yet somehow in space), you’re going to have to be quick when reacting to falling pieces or trying to rotate a block a certain way.

Because of the physics, it’s not terribly difficult to get the hang of this, but it will take practice as you need to hold ‘Right Trigger’ to grab onto an object, then use the different face buttons based on how you want to move it with your robotic arm while also flying around with the Left Stick. Much of the time you’ll also need to hold the arm direction you want, to stabilize your arm as you fit a piece into a specific spot nicely without causing your stack to fall. My main complaint with this is that I don’t see an option where you can actually choose left or right for your robotic arm, so I assume it’s randomized. Not that puzzles can’t be completed regardless of which robo arm you’re given, but I found it quite easier to grab and hold things on the corresponding side of my robo arm as opposed to the opposite.

Monkeys in space building objects would be too simple, so of course Bonkies also utilizes a handful of different blocks to make things much more challenging. Blocks will come in different sizes, shapes and properties, forcing you to think quick and how best to utilize each one. You’re never given extra pieces, so you always have to figure out the perfect way to solve each puzzle.

My favorite are the glass bricks. These will break if they take enough falling damage, forming into smaller pieces. This is sometimes a benefit, but will take more time to place more blocks. For example, I once had a large round glass circle. I dropped it and it split into two semi circles. I broke it again and it turned into quarters, which are the pieces I needed at that given moment. You’ll have scaffolding pieces that are used for placing blocks at certain heights or using for counterweights (but don’t count towards filling the objective outline) or gravity cubes that can float in one spot but only hold a certain amount of weight before giving out and having everything come crashing down.

Rocket blocks act as a normal block until you grab it, which then turns on the booster and will start to fly upwards (or whatever direction it’s facing). This is usually used for lifting a base higher, as some objective outlines won’t always be on the ground, so you’re going to have to get creative through trial and error. The explosion blocks though are the bane of my existence, as if they get bumped too much too quickly, they’ll explode, sending any blocks nearly outwards, basically wrecking your stack and forcing you to start over. There’s just enough variety to keep things constantly challenging, almost too much at times, and will require a lot of communication and thought to be successful.

Levels all have a set time limit that need to be completed in, but have target times that if beaten, will earn you a banana. These are then used to unlock new characters, all of which are simply visual changes, but you can eventually unlock other animal species like dogs, cats, koalas and more. Good luck making these times though, as I usually struggled just to complete levels in the time limit, not even factoring the banana time. Again, for that you’re going to need some good co-op friends or family alongside you.

Certain blocks are much heavier than others, which is where the co-op and communication comes into play. If I’m unable to lift a block on my own, either from its weight or awkwardness of placement, I’m going to have to explain to you what I need you to do, and quickly. While I was only able to test multiplayer with two players, Bonkies supports up to four.

Now, the main problem with the console version for Xbox is that the multiplayer is only local with no online option at all. Normally I wouldn’t hold this against it for being a smaller studio, but in the world we live in currently where we can’t have friends come over, the lack of online co-op is quite a detriment, as you’re only able then to play with those in your household. Don’t have anyone in the home that wants to play? You’re not going to have as great a time playing the single player compared to co-op. Those that purchase Bonkies on Steam can play online via “Remote Play”, so there’s a workaround there at least, but console players are left without the option sadly.

I gave my eight your old daughter a controller and invited her to play alongside me, unsure how it would work out. As expected, the controls at first were difficult for her to grasp, with the arm controls being mapped to the face buttons, but she eventually got the hang of it. Before too long we were passing levels, albeit after a handful of tries. Not that it’s any fault of hers, but it was apparently your Bonkies co-op success is going to come down to the weakest player. Everyone has to pull their weight, not just with communication but execution, and if you have someone that keeps knocking over your stacks or place something wrong, good luck beating the clock. With some friends and a few drinks, I could absolutely see quite a bit of swearing thrown at one another when you have to start all over again because they screwed up, again.

Bonkies is very challenging, not just in its gameplay, but design. You’re given a bunch of oddly shaped blocks or special ones and have to simply figure out how they all connect, placing them perfectly within the time limit that’s not always very forgiving. My daughter was good at placing blocks, but we sometimes struggled simply figuring out how they all connected and how they should be placed to progress. The hardest part of Bonkies was figuring out where and how to place the blocks, not actually physically doing so. For a game that I expected to be a breeze, Bonkies was much more challenging than I anticipated. The difficulty ramps up quite steeply early on, making it a frustrating affair if playing alone.

Co-op is needed to get the most enjoyment from these space monkeys’ construction workers, but the lack of online co-op for console was a major drawback and disappointment. If you have some local friends or family to play alongside with, Bonkies can be quite an entertaining night of gaming, but if you’re planning on playing alone, you may want to wait for a deep sale before blasting off.

** Bonkies was reviewed on an Xbox Series X **

Overall Score: 7.7 / 10 SYNTHETIK: Ultimate

I’m a fan of roguelikes when done right, and enjoy twin stick shooters even more so, so every time a new one releases I’m intrigued and need to check them out. The latest in the genre is SYNTHETIK: Ultimate from Flow Fire Games. SYNTHETIK: Ultimate is incredibly challenging, quick paced, confusing, yet rewarding all at the same time. SYNTHETIK originally released for PC a few years ago, but has since been improving the game and adding content, eventually announcing the Ultimate edition along with coming to consoles, so here we are.

Set in a future where you’re doing what you can to survive from a robot uprising, you’re going to need to put your twin stick shooter skills to the test if you want any chance in surviving, though thankfully there’s plenty of options to toggle on or off to customize your experience. Primarily played like your typical top down shooter, there’s some unique mechanics that really make SYNTHETIK: Ultimate stand out amongst the crowd, for better and worse.

Instead of being quick paced like most twin stick shooters, SYNTHETIK: Ultimate instead wants you to take a slower pace, as you’re going to have to be cautious and deliberate where and when you decide to reload your guns when your clips run out of ammunition. For those that can master this reload mechanic, you’ll do well, but struggle with it and you’re going to have a very difficult time.

So if you’ve played the core SYNTHETIK game previously on PC, you’re probably wondering what’s new in this Ultimate version other than it being available on console as well. This major update brought some new story elements, new rare enemy squads, new music, new shop items, balance changes and more. It was a pretty major update, so it made sense that the console release happened afterwards, making SYNTHETIK: Ultimate the best game it can be.

The world has utilized some extremely advanced AI to further technology, but after a few short years this backfired when the robots started an uprising against mankind. These machines started building more machines, which is now causing humanity to be hunted down and eradicated. This is where you come in, to prevent a Skynet situation from occurring before it’s too late to be completely stopped. Now, normally in games like these you play them for their gameplay, not necessarily its narrative, and SYNTHETIK: Ultimate is no different. Basically, you’re going to be shooting bad guys and robots nonstop with a huge arsenal of guns, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Played in a top down view, SYNTHETIK: Ultimate plays much like any other twin stick shooter for the most part, with the Left Stick being for movement and the Right for aiming. Some things are a little different than your typical game though, as your reticule will expand or shrink, depending on your movement speed and motion. Standing still you’ll be quite accurate, though try to run and gun and the reticule will be quite large, causing you to miss many shots, so you’ll need to find that ‘sweet spot’ for movement speed for each gun to be as efficient as possible as you don’t have unlimited ammunition like most other games.

First you’ll choose from one of eight classes to play as: Breacher, Sniper, Engineer, Assassin, Raider, Riot Guard, Heavy Gunner or Demolisher, each with their own specializations, play styles, weapons, perks and more. Each class has their own individual levels and persist through each death. Some classes seem to be better and more unique than others, but there’s many different ways to play based on your preferences. Do you prefer to be up and close and sneak, taking out enemies with melee? Do you want to snipe from afar? How about using explosives with a not so subtle approach or turrets to do the job for you? SYNTHETIK: Ultimate encourages experimentation, as it’ll take a few games of each class to really find which one you like best.

Your overall goal is to reach the top of the Citadel so that you can save humanity, but it won’t be easy to do so, and you’re going to die, a lot and repeatedly. Thankfully you’ll have access to an arsenal that continually grows as you progress, as your unlocks will persist through each death even though you’ll have to start over each time. Each class also has access to special abilities that play into their strengths and specific playstyle, so there’s a little more substance here than most simple twin stick shooters. It’s all about finding what class, items and equipment work best for your preferred playstyle and preferences.

Most levels will start the same way, placing you in a rectangular map where you’ll need to find the exit to head to the next area, but you won’t know where the exit is, and the map is filled with enemies that will shoot you on sight. Throughout each level you’ll find items, upgrades, equipment and a wide variety of weaponry if you take the time to explore. This is a roguelike though, so keep in mind that every time you play, the map, enemies, item placements and even bosses will all be completely randomized with each run after a death. After a handful of stages you’ll take on a boss that will give you some great rewards if you can destroy them, though I absolutely detest the conveyor level and would rather stop playing when this one appears (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get to it).

Now, for a game that’s all about running and gunning, you have a wide variety of weapons you can equip you find along the way. You’re actually cable to carry three weapons, but the problem is tapping the ‘Y’ button switches only between two of them. You need to use the D-Pad if you want to swap to the third which is a bit cumbersome and hard to remember when things become chaotic in the heat of battle and you realize your out of ammo. I’m not sure if this was an issue on the PC version or if it’s solely a controller mapping oversight. Factor in you have lots of abilities and equipment you can also use on the fly, and you’ll constantly have to manage and monitor what you have available at any given point.

Something unexpected that I really appreciated though was the modifications you could make to tailor the gameplay to how you want. Do you actually prefer a much harder challenge? Then turn up the difficulty by toggling certain options that make the game much harder, but will reward you better as well. Or if you’re like me and simply want to try and survive, you can turn down the difficulties but have less rewards as well, it’s up to you.

I mentioned above that SYNTHETIK: Ultimate does something that makes itself stand out amongst others in the genre, and that’s because you’re going to have to not only utilize an active reload like Gears of War if you want the quickest reloads, but you also need to eject each magazine before a reload. That’s right, you need to press one button to eject your clip, then another to reload and again if you want the quickest active reload. At first I couldn’t really understand why this was a deliberate mechanic, but I eventually came to understand that it forces you to not blindly shoot and waste ammo, because reloading takes time and you can become overwhelmed quite quickly if you’re not strategic when you decide to reload. Do I like the mechanic? Not particularly, but I understand its purpose. Since you can eject a magazine at any time, this also means you can waste a lot of ammo if you eject and reload before the clip is empty.

Not only do you have to deal with the reload mechanics, but your weapons can also randomly overheat or jam, causing you to take more time to fix it in the heat of battle. Of course this is completely random, but it seemed to always happen to me at the most inopportune moments, sometimes resulting in a death.

SYNTHETIK: Ultimate has that old school aesthetic, blending 3D and 2D together, resulting in a game that looks retro yet modern at the same time with its smooth animations. Damage numbers can fill the screen when you’re shooting lots of enemies at once, and you can at times get lost in the chaos that fills the screen in the later stages. The camera angle can also make it a little awkward at times to figure out when an enemy is hiding behind an object or not, but you’ll start to figure it out after a handful of runs. Weapons sound great and impactful but I really enjoyed the EDM music that seemed completely appropriate for overthrowing a robotic threat to mankind.

You’ll want to play quickly like other twin stick shooters out of habit, but need to take a more slower and purposeful approach as you handle your inventory and active reloads. You’re going to die quite often and be challenged with its long grind, but it can be rewarding if you sink the time into it. Roguelikes are a dime a dozen, but SYNTHETIK: Ultimate does differentiate itself in a number of ways, though I found I would have stuck with it much longer if online co-op was an option on the console version.

If you like extremely difficult rougelikes then you might want to take a look at SYNTHETIK: Ultimate. It’s not hard just for the sake of it, but you need to be very deliberate and methodical in your approach to every level, as it’s quite easy to become overwhelmed. It’s also going to take many hours to put in the work to become proficient, but there is a decent reward at the end of the tunnel for those that make the commitment to learn all of its intricacies. While I wouldn’t suggest it for the casual fan, it does make for a unique one, even if it’s frustrating at times.

** SYNTHETIK: Ultimate was reviewed on an Xbox Series X **

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Medium, The

While they’ve only started recently hitting their stride in the past few years, Polish developer Bloober Team has a few notable titles under their belt; The Layers of Fear games, Observer and most recently, Blair Witch. While these may not have set the world on fire, I’ve come to quite enjoy their releases, so when their latest was announced, I sat back and patiently waited. The time has come and The Medium is now released, and the wait has been more than worth it.

A PC and Next-Gen only release for Xbox Series X|S, The Medium is easily Bloober Team’s most ambitious title to date, though having played their previous games, it’s quite a treat seeing not only Easter Eggs hidden throughout, but recognizing mechanics or things that were in their previous games but now vastly improved. For example, there’s one section where you need to follow a dog through the woods for a short time, clearly a nod to their Blair Witch game.

I can watch the scariest or bloodiest movies without any problems, but put a scary game in front of me and a controller in my hand and I’ll usually have a hard time getting through it. This is most likely due to being in control of the actions of the characters instead of a linear experience like watching a movie, so I was a little apprehensive to start The Medium, knowing it was going to have some unsettling and mature undertones. I did manage to get through it until the credits rolled, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it, but I was quite tense at certain points due to its audio design, visuals and amazingly voiced antagonist.

“It all starts with a dead girl.” This is how The Medium sets its deeply unsettling tone from the very beginning. Set in Krakow, Poland, in the late 1990’s, you start out playing as Marianne, a young woman that seems to have a special gift in the form of being a medium. She’s able to not just be able to communicate with spirits, but actually enter and explore the spirit world, a world that is almost a reflection of our reality, but as you’d expect, a much darker and more sinister representation, almost barren and desolate. Thing is, she lives in both of these worlds simultaneously, which in its self is used as a game mechanic at times, but more on that shortly.

Marianne is haunted by a vision of a child’s murder, though she’s unsure if this is simply a reoccurring nightmare, a long lost memory or even something that hasn’t happened yet. Nothing is quite as it seems, as Marianne is having to go through one of the most difficult days in her life, putting her father to rest, when she receives a mysterious call from someone claiming to know her, what she is and that he has the answers she’s looking for. Only giving his name, Thomas, he tells her he’s out of time, but to meet her at the Niwa Hotel, a long abandoned communist retreat.

Upon arriving, you quickly start to understand that something isn’t right. Seemingly no one is at Niwa, so you’re going to have to use Marianne’s unique abilities to uncover what happened and why Thomas brought you here. I really don’t want to delve into much more of the story, as it’s quite a thrill ride from beginning to end, best experienced for yourself without any spoilers, but I was completely hooked from that initial phone call from Thomas all the way until the end, not wanting to put the controller down.

I normally have a hard time getting through thriller games like these, but I had to keep continuing to find out what happened, who Thomas was, what her visions meant and how it all came together. It’s a hell of a ride until its final moments, full of terror, anxiousness, puzzle solving, stealth sections, simultaneous realities and some serious mature topics with plenty of symbolism. As Marianne progresses further into Niwa, everything won’t be what you initially thought and expected, as there are plenty of revelations, twist and turns to keep you constantly on your toes. The story is fantastic and the writing extremely well done, constantly slow feeding you just enough to keep you engaged but always making your situation tense, unsure what could happen next.

If I had to make a quick comparison to other games, The Medium takes the best parts from Alan Wake, Resident Evil and Silent Hill, tosses them in a blender and adds its own unique flair to the mix. I kept getting vibes of Alan Wake when I was exploring the spirit world or having to survive chase sequences. It takes classic Resident Evil queues from its fixed camera angles and old school tank controls. This does feel a little archaic at times, but you do get used to it quite quickly, and having these fixed cameras means they can have you experience exactly what they want to you to see at any given moment, so you never really miss anything. As for its Silent Hill comparison, there’s not many games that set the constant tenseness and creepiness much better, especially on its audio front, and The Medium absolutely nailed this, even more so once you’re introduced to The Maw.

“How your perspective changes your perception” is the underlying theme that Bloober Team was going for with all aspects of The Medium, not just from its gameplay, but narrative, aesthetic and even soundtrack. This is even truer once you see the credits roll and need a minute to take it all in, reflecting on the whole experience. This is most prevalent in The Medium’s main gameplay mechanic, the dual reality sections where you control Marianne in both the real and spirit world simultaneously. This allows you to see literally two sides to situations or events that occurred. As they say, there’s always two sides to a story.

Being in two different worlds at the same time give you two completely different perspectives to not only your surroundings, but events and characters that you need to interact with. These worlds are somewhat shared as well. For example, in the spirit world when Marianne gives a mysterious young girl, Sadness, a ball to play with, you’ll notice the ball floating in the real world when she’s tossing it around. The same goes for Marianne though, where if she is thrown around by a sinister creature out to get you in the spirit world, she’ll also get tossed in the real world as well. Remember, the spirit world is almost like a reflection of the real world, but a much darker and unsettling version, yet coexists.

While you won’t always be traversing both worlds simultaneously at all times, when you are, this is easily The Medium’s most unique moments. This is literally two games being played at once, which is why it’s a next-gen only title, as it simply wouldn’t be possible on older hardware. This dual reality isn’t just for narrative purposes though, as some puzzles must be solved across both to progress. For example, maybe a fuse box isn’t working because it’s not worked in many years in the real world, but in the spirit world, a discharge from Marianne’s Spirit Blast ability will give it power back in reality.

This is how you’ll uncover new areas, unlock doors and more, and is just one of Marianne’s unique abilities as a Medium. She’s also able to utilize a Spirit Shield to protect her from dangerous insects that can block her way otherwise. Normally any movement she makes happens in exactly the same way in both worlds, but there are times where you’ll need to utilize her Out of Body experience, allowing her to simply go into a trance in the real world but freely explore in the spirit one. This is very taxing on her though, so it can only be done for a short period of time, usually just enough to hit a specific switch or interact with something needed to progress. For example, maybe a door is locked in the real world, but in the spirit world she can go through, but since her physical body can’t go through walls and objects, this is when she would use her Out of Body ability.

Gameplay is broken into roughly thirds. One third has you controlling Marianne in reality, another third in the spirit world, and the final with the dual reality gameplay explained above. This makes the pacing quite constant and almost as if you’re playing detective on two different fronts. Remember, perspective is going to change your perception, and this is true throughout the whole experience. Learning what happened in the real world might make certain events occur or manifest in the spirit world, usually with some serious symbolism and morality that will tug on your heartstrings.

I was fully expecting my time with The Medium to be filled with cheap jump scares, which would get me, but are often thought of as a cheap tactic to instill fear in the short term. Instead, The Medium doesn’t utilize this at all, instead using its atmosphere to create a constant tenseness and uneasy feeling. This is masterfully done not just with its visuals, of which the fixed cameras help on this front, but I’d argue that the audio was much more important for setting the tone. Legendary composer Akira Yamaoka, best known for the Silent Hill series, creates a brooding soundscape that is filled with not just a fantastic score that sets an uneasy tone, but is also filled with so many minor sounds that makes you wonder what could have made it or if something is behind you. Arkadiusz Reikowski co-composed the other half of The Medium, setting the tone for Marianne’s reality world, also setting a specific tone that matches the scenery and background of your surroundings. Having a soundtrack co-made by these two greats couldn’t be any more fitting for a game that’s all about duality.

Furthering the immersion is a masterful performance from every voice actor, bringing life to the characters in a completely believable way. The great performance from Troy Baker as The Maw will most likely get the most mentions due to his notoriety and popularity, but everyone else involved deserves just as equal credit, as there wasn’t a single poor performance from any of the voice overs. Kelly Burke did a masterful performance as Marianne, not just with delivering lines, but putting emotions into the bigger scenes and subtlety into the smaller narration parts. Graham Vick and Angeli Wall also need to be recognized for their performances for Thomas and Sadness as well, as they portrayed their characters perfectly, adding to the overall experience and immersion.

As for its aesthetic and visual style, inspiration from Zdzislaw Beksinski, a famous Polish artist who did surrealist paintings before his death, was used for the spirit world. After checking out his portfolio online, it’s easy to see the similarities from his disturbing and ominous flair. With 4K visuals, 60 FPS, HDR lighting, Ray tracing, VRR and more, The Medium looks and plays absolutely fantastic, even when controlling the Marianne in the dual worlds simultaneously. Not once was there any slowdown, stuttering or screen tear. The only negatives that I had noted down was that because of the fixed cameras and classic Resident Evil tank controls, sometimes your character can move a little janky at times. You’ll be completely engrossed into The Medium’s world, only to now and then be taken out of the immersion when you’re running in place at a corner, or turning Marianne around in a robotic manner. It’s only a minor gripe, but one that’s constant due to its controls.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make from The Medium before playing even though I was quite excited for it to release, but came away more than impressed. Bloober Team may not be the biggest studio out there but they are consistent, and The Medium proves not only that they’re improving and making better games, but creating experiences that are unique, engaging and one of those titles that stand out. The dual worlds is not only utilized as a storytelling device, but also works brilliantly as a gameplay mechanic as well. The fact that The Medium is also available on Xbox Game Pass means it's available now for you to experience if you're a subscriber with basically no barrier, and I'd argue is still worth the purchase even if you do have Game Pass.

There’s always two sides to a story, and you only know half until you see The Medium to its conclusion. Rather than winning, The Medium is meant to be an experience, which it more than succeeds in. With a deeply immersive narrative and symbolism throughout, it never wore out its welcome with its 8-10 hour length and will be one of those games that I’ve been thinking about long after its credits rolled. The Medium truly is something unique and special.

**The Medium was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 9.5 / 10 Override 2: Super Mech League

While I never got around to playing the original Override: Mech City Brawl from 2018, its sequel is now here with Override 2: Super Mech League. For those looking for an arena brawler full of massive and wacky robots, look for further. While it might seem like a niche, many mechanics have changed since its original outing, so fans of the original are going to want to do some research before jumping straight in blindly.

From the first moments of starting my mech battling career, I began confused, trying to figure out where the single player or career mode was. Apparently this is now called Leagues. This is where you’ll try and climb the Mech Leagues rankings to be the best pilot there is. Apparently there’s some sort of background story that encompasses why you’re fighting, but none of this is really explained. You simply are fighting one another because...? To be fair, you usually don’t play arena battlers like this for its story, so it’s forgivable.

League mode is where you’ll most likely be spending most of your time, trying to rise up through the ranks to become a legendary pilot. Mech Leagues matches will vary in a handful of different match types, from 1 versus 1, duos, tournaments, Control (King of the Hill), four player free-for-all’s and even a pseudo horde-like PvE mode. Interestingly, nearly all the modes are playable online against other players or versus AI bots, which I’ll delve into shortly.

As you duke it out against other robots, you’ll work towards earning reputation and collecting coins to spend on unlocking new mechs and customization options. Your first few matches in League will give you a choice of a few different mechs until you earn enough coins to purchase your own and favorite. Each of these costs 1000 coins, which isn’t terribly difficult to get, but will require some dedication if you want to unlock them all. While this really isn’t an issue, this is assuming you already know what characters you want to play the most. Say you pick a robot that you simply don’t enjoy or can’t get the hang of. Well, too bad. You’re stuck with it until you can save up another 1000 and purchase another, so playing a few versus matches beforehand to learn what mech suits your playstyle best is going to be paramount in the beginning.

The way the Career Mode, er... League Mode is structured is a little odd. You’re given a few choices of match types that you can battle in, but these are completely randomized. Maybe you’ll have a choice from 1v1, Duos, or a free-for-all, but after each match this is randomized again. Say you’re like me and you heavily prefer to play the 1v1 matches. That’s great when it’s one of the choices for a match, but when it’s not, you’re forced to battle in the other modes until it randomly refreshes again. This in turn will at points force you to play in match types that you don’t enjoy, like the tournament ones that take much longer to complete, so you’re forced to try out all the modes eventually.

Each match type also has its own ranking system, starting at F grade and going up from there. The problem is that because you can’t simply always play the match types you like, you’re going to have to spend time in the others. To raise your overall rank and titles you’re going to need a certain rank across different modes as well. For example, for me to become Veteran, I had to go up to B rank across three different match types, half of which I didn’t really enjoy and felt forced to participate in. Another odd design decision is that sometimes you’ll also have an entry fee to join specific matches, I assume to tempt you to play one of the other types, yet the match winnings weren’t all that much more to make up for the cost. I get that developers want players to try out all the modes, but it feels so forced that half the time I was having to participate in match types I didn’t really want to or enjoy as much.

Another odd decision is that these League matches aren’t strictly a solo affair either. As a match is about to begin it will look online for other players also trying to get into a specific match type, potentially matching you up together or against one another, or you can press ‘Y’ to cancel the search and fight against abysmal AI bots for easy wins. This is fine, but when you’re playing a tournament match type with a handful of battles back to back, between each it forces you to wait as it searches for more players, even if you chose to play against AI bots in the first match, slowing down the whole process.

Of the 20 mechs available to fight as, each are designed quite well and are vastly unique from one another. Fans of the original will be happy to see that many of the classic characters return, each with their own unique abilities, special and ultimate moves. Some look like they’ve been ripped straight out of Gundam, while others are quite wacky and much lighter hearted. There’s a quick load at the beginning of matches as you drop into battle, but load times were basically nonexistent on an Xbox Series X outside of looking for players online.

Combat was not quite what I expected, as each arm, right and left, are assigned to the Bumpers, while your legs, the Triggers. So this is how you perform your basic punches and kicks. Special moves are generally combinations of these buttons and don’t require difficult movement inputs like in most other fighters. There are some combos, but nothing too lengthy or difficult to do, though most matches will essentially boil down to spamming your special attacks. Want to know how to do your special moves, then simply check the menu after pausing the game. This is where a major issue appeared though, because as I was doing the commands it said to press, it wasn’t working. Turns out, for some of the characters and their listed moves, some of the inputs are wrong. That’s right. Some of the menus that show you how to do certain moves are simply labelled wrong, but only for some characters and moves, which you wouldn’t know without trial and error.

Fans that played the original are going to be quite confused with the changes to the combat system, as there’s no longer and overheating system or stamina gauge of any sorts. That means you can simply spam any of your moves constantly as much as you want. That’s right, you can spam your best or cheapest moves non-stop without any recourse really. Have a mech that you’re fighting that you don’t want to get close, then spam away your projectile attacks. Surrounded by a few enemies at once, then spam your AOE attacks. As you can imagine, things get chaotic with up to four mechs all spamming their attacks constantly, and because there’s no stamina gauge or anything of the sorts, there’s no reason not to sadly. Of course there are counters to handle players like that, but it still goes without saying.

The levels and arenas seem to be smaller than the original game, forcing you to almost always be within a dash distance of one another. Almost every stage also has hazardous areas, such as lava, electrified water, lasers, rockets and more. There’s usually also environmental items that can be picked up and thrown at your enemies such as containers, buildings and other items, like giant strawberries. Yes, you read that right. You’re also able to grab your opponents and toss them as well, but this is really broken at the best of times. When you grab someone, there’s literally nothing they can do to escape unless you basically don’t throw them within a set amount of time, so you can imagine how overpowered this can be if you can get your hands on them.

Ultimate moves return as well, but honestly, they don’t feel all that ultimate. During a match a certain section of the arena will have a small radius that if you stand in, will fill up your Ultimate gauge. Once full you can click in the Stick to unleash your Ultimate, but they feel quite weak for how long it takes to charge up fully.

As you win matches and go up the ranks you’ll also be able to spend your coins on not only new mechs, but also customizing them with some interesting and wacky accessories. Once you progress to a certain point in League, the Garage menu opens, which is where you’ll do your customizing, from icons, titles, colors and accessories. Sadly there’s only a couple colors to choose from for each limb and section of your mech, and there’s no cool skins that drastically change your look. Instead, you’ll be able to get items like hats, belts, glasses, bowties and other odd items, but because the action is so frantic you’ll never really get to show these off.

It seems as though the game was built with a large online player base in mind, hence the option to fight against other players even in League mode, but I can count the matches that I was able to find anyone to play with or against, so I generally just opted to play versus the AI bots instead. This is where issues with the online play started to show though, as there’s not really a simple way to play with your friends. In theory you’re supposed to be able to have private versus battles, as there’s even a button to invite friends, but it simply doesn’t do anything when my friend took the invite no matter what we tried. The only way we were able to fight against another was coordinating starting the same League match at the same time, hoping it put us together.

Remember what I said above though about not always getting the specific mode you want to play? That’s right, if you want to coordinate a 1v1 but don’t have that option in your match lineup currently, you won’t be able to. Also, if you want to team up with a friend to do Duo’s against others, there’s no way to do this either, as sometimes it put us together, and other times paired each of us with an AI bot. For a game banking on a heavy multiplayer base, it’s lacking a ton of things to set this up properly. What I will say I was impressed with though is that when a player drops due to quitting or connection issues, the match doesn’t quit out, their character simply gets taken over instantly with a bot, basically instantly, allowing you to finish the match.

Visually there seems to be a big improvement from the original, not just in the overall graphics, but designs of the robots as well. Environments, mechs and moves look great, it’s just that battles are so chaotic that you can’t really sit back and really enjoy any of it, as all you’ll see is special attacks being spammed over and over. What was cool is the inclusion of Ultraman if you drop some extra cash for the DLC or Season Pass, so I’m hoping for other cool additions that would make sense in Override’s universe.

While fans of the original might be turned off from the drastic combat changes, what I will say is that it feels much more accessible, as my daughter was able to easily jump in and start doing cool moves without having to memorize a bunch of inputs. While this opens it up to a larger audience, it by no way feels even remotely balanced and usually degrades into who’s spammed special moves can outperform the others spammed move sets.

** Override 2: Super Mech League was reviewed on an Xbox Series X **

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Call of the Sea

If you told me that Call of the Sea was the first game from studio Out of the Blue, I’m not sure I would have believed you if I didn’t do the research beforehand. For a debut game and a small indie studio, Call of the Sea impresses in a number of ways. Set in the 1930’s, this first person adventure is filled with an engrossing story about love and mystery, set on an island in the South Pacific with heavy Polynesian influences. A story focused affair filled with puzzles, you play Norah, a woman searching for her husband on a mysterious island, full of surprises and unknown.

Norah’s husband, Harry, went on an expedition but has since gone missing, so she has set sail to go find out where he is and what has happened. She is sent a package from someone unknown, filled with a picture of her husband and a peculiar looking ritualistic knife. Norah has a unique illness and incredibly rare condition, causing marks to form on her skin and the source of her pain and nightmares, seemingly visions at times.

Left to her own devices on this mysterious island, she quickly learns that even the locals are deathly afraid of this place. As you search the island you’ll come across remnants of Harry’s camp and expedition along the way. He originally came to this island to find a cure for Norah, but what you know to be the truth in the beginning is vastly different from what occurs near its conclusion. Furthermore to add to the mystery, it seems the island you’re on matches what she envisions in her dreams. Following Harry’s trail, you’ll slowly unravel what events took place via photographs, notes, recordings and more.

The writing is done quite well, and given that Norah is voiced by the one and only Cissy Jones (Darksiders III, The Walking Dead Telltale Series), you end up caring not only for Norah and her condition, but and the relationship with Harry as well. The more I uncovered, the more I wanted to know and figure out what exactly happened to Harry. I wasn’t prepared for the ending I got, of which there are two different ones, and I won’t spoil anything, but it wasn’t exactly what I initially thought was going to be the outcome I had guessed.

As you begin your adventure on this mysterious island, you’ll be taken back by its sheer beauty. Again, simply looking at Call of the Sea, you would never guess that it was made by a small team and their first game, but it impresses with its colorful and bright visuals of densely packed forest, filled with pathways and secrets. You won’t know where to even begin looking for Harry, so you’ll need to keep an eye out for clues. Usually these come in the form of notes and photographs left behind at camps along the way, but why were there so many, and why do they seem they were abandoned so quickly?

This means you’ll need to investigate everything you can interact with. Most clues can be rotated, sometimes holding another clue on the backside of a picture or note. Anything that seems very important, Norah will jot it down in her journal, able to be referenced later and almost like a clue system to tell you what you need to be looking for. These notes and clues will be what you use to solve the puzzles laid out in front of you. Most of the time you’ll be unable to progress without solving some elaborate native puzzle of some sorts, so you’ll need a keen eye and sharp mind to crack the codes.

Thankfully you won’t have to worry about any inventory management or combining objects together, you’ll simply use them if they are appropriate for what you’re interacting with. As for the puzzles themselves, the smaller ones are quick and simple to figure out without much work, but before moving into a new area and chapter you’ll generally have to solve a much more elaborate and involved puzzle, usually in multiple steps and stages. The puzzles themselves are quite clever and varied, eventually giving quite a challenge in the last two chapters. I’d liked to say that I was able to breeze through each puzzle laid before me without any assistance, but I did have to refer to a guide for two of the more intricate ones at the end when I became perplexed on how to proceed when brute force didn't work.

There’s no combat whatsoever to speak of, thankfully, and also no real timed puzzles where you need to be quick. This makes for a much more relaxed experience, able to take in the setting and environment much more than I normally would in a puzzle focused game. With six chapters to get through, it should take you anywhere from 6-10 hours or so, depending on your puzzle solving abilities, though Norah tends to walk quite slowly, even when ‘running’, and there’s usually a bit of backtracking, adding to the playtime.

The narrative is done excellently, slowly drip feeding you just enough information to stay interesting yet always hinting at what could come next. The only time the pacing of the campaign is slowed down is when you’re stuck on a certain puzzle for an hour at a time and become frustrated. The voice acting is done to perfection and the background ambiance and soundtrack is very fitting for a 1930’s adventure. Visually, Call of the Sea really impresses with its lush forests and island setting. The color pallet is bright and varied, differing based on what area you’re in on the island and what type of puzzle you’re currently working on solving. Again, for a small studio, it’s beyond impressive.

My only real complaint is that there’s very little replay value outside of getting the second ending (though it’s just a final choice you make, so you could just play the final chapter again), searching for hidden collectables and cleaning up missing achievements. The setting and narrative are fantastic and it’s an adventure I’m glad to have been a part of. You can tell that Call of the Sea was made with much care and love as it’s one of those games that simply has a lot of character and heart.

**Call of the Sea was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 John Wick Hex

I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant to play John Wick Hex, as we all know the reputation that licensed movie based games tend to have. While there have been a few decent games based on movies, they are far and few in between and usually disappoint, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from John Wick Hex. Truth be told, I had only watched the original movie, so I had to do some “research” and catch up on the trilogy before playing. After three John Wick movies under my belt in a single day, I was ready to dive in and become The Baba Yaga.

The John Wick movies was brilliantly performed by Keanu Reeves, giving us a glimpse of what the life of a former assassin is like. Not just any assassin either, one of the most feared from anyone that knows his name and pedigree. If you were on his list to eliminate, there’s really nothing you could do, regardless of the size of your gang. If you’ve not seen the movies, they surprised me with not just your typical action, but how brutal Mr. Wick could be with direct headshots and his fighting abilities. John Wick Hex looks to recreate this action, trying to have you think strategically, not simply going in guns-a-blazing like most action games, but instead using precise and methodical decisions and actions.

Set prior to the events of the movies, this adventure has John on a mission long before meeting Helen, trying to rescue Winston and Charon from a new villain, Hex. While I didn’t expect Keanu to reprise his role for John in a game, which he didn’t, the infamous Troy Baker does voice the antagonist, Hex. Shockingly though, Ian McShane reprises his role as Winston and Lance Reddick as Charon, adding some true authenticity to the John Wick experience.

John Wick is a professional hitman, taking out his enemies with complete precision and brutality. If you’ve seen the movies you’ll know what I’m talking about. John Wick Hex tries to recreate the action from the films, giving you control of Wick’s signature ability to take out anyone, regardless of the odds or how outnumbered he may be. Every move you make has consequences though and takes time, so you’re going to have to think and plan ahead, as John Wick Hex isn’t your typical action shooter game.

I fully expected a typical action game where I was going to be John, blasting his way through countless enemies to get to his target, like in the movies, but Hex is nothing as I expected. Instead, the gameplay revolves around time-based actions and movements where you need to plan ahead nearly every action beforehand, almost like a game of chess, but filled with guns and death. As you progress through the 6ish hour campaign, you’ll come across new locations and unlocks, but you’ll always have to be deliberate in every action you take, as you can’t play this like other shooters.

Movement is done on a hex-like grid, showing where you can move, though most of the locations are interior hallways and buildings, so the decision for hex-based instead of a regular grid feels odd at times, with an isometric view. Ammunition is also limited, which is realistic, but will cause a lot of frustration when you run out of ammo mid-fight. This also means you’ll need to take out your enemies and use their weapons against them, but even picking up guns and shooting takes time, which is what Hex is all about; managing your time.

Now, in the movies John is basically unstoppable, not invincible, but can take out nearly an infinite amount of enemies regardless of the odds or what’s at his disposal. In Hex though, I don’t feel quite as badass as Wick should, as you can become quickly overwhelmed if you become surrounded by more than a few enemies at a time. You have limited ammo and even in close quarters, John doesn’t feel quite like he should when compared to the movies. I fully expected that I would be able to combo from gunfire to strikes to takedowns, but it’s not really laid out as such. Instead, you need to make numerous smaller movements, all while trying to survive and make your way to your objective, killing anyone that gets in your way.

As you begin your journey, you’re given a light tutorial that shows you the basics of how to fire, move and melee, but not much effort went into teaching you how to strategize your actions. Because every action and movement costs a certain amount of time, represented by a bar at the top of the screen, you’ll see how long it takes to move John to a specific hex position, reload, strike, takedowns, throwing guns and every other action. You don’t gain any new moves or abilities as you progress, so all of the move sets you learn in the beginning is all you’ll be able to do throughout the rest of Wick’s quest to save his colleagues.

Now, regardless of being able to become overwhelmed quickly by swarms of enemies and the lack of being able to combo and chain actions together, it still feels like I’m John Wick when things go right. That being said, it’s going to take a lot of trial and error to really understand how to properly play Hex, more specifically, how to manipulate the poor AI once you learn how it works. When you start to plan your moves with precision and purpose, Hex starts to come together as the Wick simulator that I expected, even if it’s not quite as badass as Keanu in the films.

Learning how to best utilize the time for every action is how you’ll be successful with John. Enemies have the same time constraints that John abides by as well. Even though it’s played with a top down isometric view, John can only see enemies that are within his visual range. If you’re hiding behind a corner or wall, you won’t know what’s on the other side, as the same goes for doorways. Once an enemy is in sight, time stops and goes into a pseudo turn based combat which is where you need to watch the timeline at the top to see when John and enemies are going to perform their actions. It definitely takes some getting used to, and I can’t think of another game that does something quite as similar, but totally fits the John Wick combat persona.

One feature I really enjoyed was watching your graceful performance after a level is complete. Once you reach the exit you can watch a replay of every action you did but in real time, as if it was a scene from one of the movies. Now if this was a smooth and fluid replay it would look great, but remember, it’s just replaying all the actions you just performed, so if you ran in spot back and forth, or did weird actions, it shows this as well. Sometimes instead of a scene ripped straight from one of the movies, it’s almost as if I was controlling John like he forgot how to be the infamous Baba Yaga and instead should have Yakety Sax as his soundtrack.

The replays also showcase how janky the animations can be, which I started to notice the more I played. For example, when picking up a new gun, John makes the animation as if he’s already holding it before actually picking it up. The same goes for the melee combat, as it’s clear that specific animations are tied to moves like strikes and takedowns, but it’s all very janky instead of a singular fluid motion going from one enemy to the next. That being said, John has his iconic stance and aim that Keanu performs in the film as he’s moving forward and scanning rooms for any targets.

John Wick Hex utilizes a cel-shaded type of visual aesthetic that feels like it could have come straight out of a stylish comic. You mostly resemble a younger Keanu, but it does look just a little off from a complete resemblance. The audio is done quite well though, with the voice acting done by talented actors across the board, though John not having any lines or voiced by Keanu feels a little empty. By far, the gunplay is the best of the audio experience, as each shot sounds impactful, complimented by that signature Wick brutality with headshots and no mercy.

When it comes to being a John Wick simulator, Hex feels great... eventually. It takes some time to get the hang of the unique timeline mechanics but once you wrap your head around it, you somewhat start to feel like John Wick, even with his limited move set. It has its flaws, but it was still an interesting experience throughout, as I wasn’t expecting an almost puzzle-like experience instead of a straight up shooter.

While not the best movie based game out there, John Wick Hex is far from the worst as well. It’s got an interesting story that is cannon within the movies’ timeline, and some of the actual actors, aside from Keanu, reprising their roles adds some authenticity to its commitment of being more than just a simple cash grab most movie based games tend to be. While you might not feel completely like the deadly Baba Yaga from the movies, you’ll still feel like quite a badass hitman once you learn John Wick Hex’s intricacies.

**John Wick Hex was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Chronos: Before the Ashes

Remnant: From the Ashes really took me by surprise when it released back in 2019. At first I didn’t get it and was about to give up on it, but then a random stranger online took a buddy and I under his wing and taught us the ropes, which in turn had us really enjoy the game and its expansions, making us fans of the series. So naturally, when Chronos: Before the Ashes was announced to be coming to Xbox, I instantly jumped on the opportunity to cover it, as I figured it would be more Remnant-like goodness that we’ve come to love. I don’t want to say it’s a bait and switch, but Chronos is absolutely nothing like the Remnant we all know.

Technically a prequel to Remnant, Chronos was actually originally a VR only game but has been since 'console-fied', and while it may play absolutely nothing like Remnant, it does dip its toes into a different genre that Dark Souls helped propel into the spotlight. While Chronos may play much like a Souls-like, it does make some mechanical changes for the better that I did enjoy, but it’s definitely a ‘lite’ version and not quite as hardcore in certain respects.

Given that Chronos isn’t a terribly long game, I don’t want to delve too much into the story, as the lore is quite interesting if you’re a Remnant fan and know the basics of what’s going on in its world. Chronos takes place about a month before Remnant, and when you manage to complete the game, it makes for a very interesting setup to Remnant, as you’ll recognize certain locations, enemies and characters. Essentially you’re tasked with stopping a Dragon by venturing into what’s known as the Labyrinth, but the interesting part is that when you die you are cast out from the world, unable to return and try again for a full year, adding age to your character which makes gameplay differences as well. When you die, and you will, you lose a year of your life.

As you begin your journey you’ll first choose between three difficulty levels: Casual, Adventure and Heroic. Casual is for those that simply want to experience the game and lore without having to worry too much about difficult combat. Adventure is your balanced and ideal experience, and of course Heroic is more Souls-like and much more unforgiving.

After choosing your difficulty you’ll decide if you want to play Male or Female. Unfortunately there’s absolutely no character customization at all, so if you’re looking for a personalized character here, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Next is deciding what type of weapon you want to use, based on if you’d rather block and parry your attacks, or dodge like in most Souls-likes. There are new weapons to find along the way, and can upgrade, but there’s not a whole lot, so I generally stuck with the same weapon or so throughout my game. This also meant I was just using a weapon because I had to, rather than really enjoying it or changing my playstyle a certain way. Even though Chronos is a Remnant prequel, there’s absolutely no guns included, making for a strictly melee affair. There is some magic thrown in, but it’s more for enhancing your weapons and attacks rather than spell slinging.

As you level up you’ll be able to improve your stats, though only Vitality, Agility, Strength and Arcane. Each one will cater to a specific playstyle, though I opted for a Vitality and Agility based run to allow for more health and forgiving dodges, though this changes as you age.

Being a Remnant fan, it was awesome seeing those iconic glowing red World Stones return, acting as waypoints and checkpoints just like in Remnant, along with having to use Dragon Hearts to replenish your health. Aside from some other tie-ins though, Chronos is vastly different from the original game I really enjoyed. I’m usually quite terrible at Souls-like games but always willing to give them a chance to see what they have to offer. I really appreciated the easier difficulty options, as I simply wanted to experience the game without having too much frustration from constantly dying like most in the genre. While I did get that, what I didn’t expect was becoming even more frustrated with its very heavy puzzle reliance in its later stages.

Combat isn’t as refined or robust as other Souls games, as it’s quite easy to funnel the AI where you want and to dodge attacks coming your way. Normally in games like these you need to manage your stamina, as balancing the risk versus reward of attacking and dodging without leaving yourself open to attacks is half the strategy. In Chronos though there’s no stamina use from attacking, so you can spam away as long as you know when to dodge appropriately. Health is done quite differently as well, as you have Dragon Hearts to heal yourself like in Remnant, but the main difference here is that they don’t replenish even when you get to a new World Stone. The only way to get your Dragon Hearts back after use is when you die. Yes, you have to die if you want to heal yourself after running out, or be lucky and level up. Dying will also reset enemies that you’ve previously killed, so be prepared for that as well.

As for the level design, the Labyrinth is a great analogy, as the path to take isn’t always clear and linear as you may expect. As with any Souls-like, you’ll have a series of interconnected pathways, some that will only open up and offer shortcuts once you’ve made it to a certain point or beaten a boss. Of course behind nearly every corner are going to be enemies trying to stop you. You’ll learn most of their attack patterns quite quickly, able to block, dodge or parry many of them, while others are quite a nuisance and I dreaded running into them every time.

The most unique and interesting feature in Chronos though has to be its aging mechanic. You begin at the tender age of 18, and every time you die you age a full year. You start to look older as you age as well, eventually having your hair whiten your skin get wrinkled, but your stats will change, favoring strength as you’re young, changing to arcane as you get older. If you do struggle and start to age with each death, you do gain new traits every 10 levels, adding passive bonuses to your character, but as you age you also get closer to death.

What took me the most by surprise aside from the gameplay shift to be Soulslike, is how puzzle heavy Chronos was. Many times you’ll be stumped where to go with a handful of random items in your inventory, unsure where to go or how to use them. Sometimes you also just need to be extra observant and notice certain symbols or sequences so you know how to use a certain object to progress. When I got stuck multiple times, it wasn’t dying that frustrated me, it was the countless time wasted trying to figure where to go as there’s no map, so you need to have a good memory to figure out where you’ve been and how rooms interconnect.

Chronos: Before the Ashes is a capable Soulslike that isn’t terrible by any means, but when comparing to it to Remnant, the lack of guns and complete genre shift simply doesn’t feel as satisfying or stand out. Maybe this is partly due to its VR roots, and while it makes some interesting changes to the typical Souls template, Chronos: Before the Ashes is a much simpler experience overall, not just with its combat, but overall design.

**Chronos: Before the Ashes was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 6.8 / 10 Mars Horizon

While there’s a slew of management and space sim games on PC, there’s not nearly as many for console players. Some games like Kerbal Space Program did eventually make its way to console, but it was a poor console port at launch, didn’t run well and was very unintuitive with its controller use. So, when a decent space management sim makes its way to console, I’m excited to check it out, as was the case with the recent Mars Horizon.

While the screenshots may make it look simplistic, there’s a somewhat deep management game underneath that has you leading a space program in the hopes to not only take man beyond Earth’s orbit, but eventually a Mars landing as your ultimate goal. To give some legitimacy to their game, developers Auroch Digital actually teamed up with the European Space Agency (ESA) to bring some authenticity to their simulation game. While it is a short experience overall, it took me by surprise with its addictive gameplay once you start to get the hang of all of its mechanics.

While there’s not really a campaign in the traditional sense, you’ll begin with a few tutorials but then be left on your own to figure out how you want to manage your space agency in a race to reach Mars on a manned mission against other nations. While you have your ultimate goal, you begin further in the past, so you’ll need to make smaller steps at first, like launching a satellite into orbit, reaching and landing on the moon, and eventually further and more distant planets.

You begin with a modest budget, but your budget comes under review each year, resulting in a larger payroll the more progress you make. Every new mission and mechanic is slowly introduced, giving you new things to learn little by little until you start to get the hang of it. You’ll only be able to afford and send one mission into space at a time, though eventually you’ll be handling a half dozen simultaneously with some well thought out planning.

You’ll be sending small unmanned rockets into orbit at first, and it will be a long road until you’re sending astronauts to the moon and beyond, but every action you take will determine your success or failure. Do you take some shortcuts to try and be the first to land on the moon, or delay a launch because of poor weather? It may seem quite basic at first, but it becomes much more robust and involved once you start to reach the final era of missions.

You begin by making your space agency, choosing from one of five different agencies, and while each has their own bases, rockets and traits, they all essentially play the same for the most part. You’ll create a base, design rockets and manage nearly every aspect of your space agency as you make every decision to further your journey to Mars. You’re going to need to make many strategic decisions, such as which astronauts to hire, which rocket components to use and when to plan every launch. Every choice will matter, and even if you make all the ‘right’ decisions and precautions, there’s always a random chance that a critical failure can occur, setting you back crew, time and money.

How you decide to pursue the space race is completely up to you, such as focusing on researching spaceship parts, improving your base or what missions you can partake, but in essence you’re going to have to work on all facets to be successful. You’ll also need to handle the diplomacy aspect of your relationships with each of the other agencies and press as well, though you’ll eventually be able to do cooperative joint missions if your relationship reaches a certain friendliness. That being said, the lack of a multiplayer mode was disappointing as I would have really enjoyed to ‘race’ against a friend to see who could reach certain space milestones first.

You’ll begin with just missions for Earth, eventually opening up the Moon and other planets. Each planet is basically a hub for missions, some campaign based and other ‘extra’ missions that will give you bonus rewards when successful that will help with your bank roll, experience and even perks for your rockets. Each mission has different lengths, distances and how long it will take to complete, so when you start to have multiple missions happening simultaneously, you’ll need to balance many things at once. Even though missions occur turn-based, month by month, you’ll still need to keep an eye on many facets at once to plan accordingly. Thankfully you’re able to make time move forward a month at a time at any point, or directly to the completion of your next mission or event.

There’s research trees that doesn’t cost anything to start enabling, but each one takes a certain amount of time to complete. There are three trees: Missions, Buildings and Vehicles. Missions are how you’ll eventually ‘unlock’ planets’ missions to orbit and other special missions once you’ve done enough research.

Sometimes though to actually go on that mission you’re going to need certain buildings on your base, which is where the second tree comes into play. The Buildings research is where you’ll unlock larger launch pads and other bonuses. You only have a certain amount of grid space to place all your buildings though, and you’ll also want to layout your base with strategy though, as certain buildings will get bonuses for being attached to other specific structures.

All of this costs money though, which you’ll earn from completing missions. Certain missions will require specific payloads or rockets, which also cost money, so there’s a balancing game you constantly need to play until funds start to roll in. With no real cost to research things aside from time, you’ll eventually unlock everything with enough time and patience.

With each mission you’ll have a specific payload that’s going to be sent into space, and to do so you’ll need to make sure you build a proper rocket that can not only hold the weight of your payload and reach its destination, but that you can also afford it. You’ll actually get to design your own rockets, with better and larger components costing more money and taking longer to build. You’ll eventually find pairings that work well for most missions and you’ll want to constantly use, as those parts will level up and become better in time once they reach the maximum level of five.

There’s a lot more that goes into launching a rocket into space though aside from the hardware itself. You’ll also need to consider many other facets, like launch reliability, weather and more. Once your payload and rocket has been built over the course of a few months you’ll then choose a crew, if any, the strategy you want to take like bonus reliability or extra currency, then you'll choose a launch date. This will open a calendar, showing ideal and not so ideal launch dates. Again, you’re in a space race, so do you delay a launch by a month or two for better weather, or risk possibly having a disastrous launch?

Once you’ve researched the whole components tree, you’ll have plenty of different rocket parts to choose from, some historical as well. In the beginning you won’t have many money issues, but eventually the costs for everything will start to skyrocket, so you’ll need to be pickier in what components and missions you choose. Eventually money and other resources won’t become an issue, but it takes quite some time to get to that point.

Visually, Mars Horizon is simple and clean, and given that it’s mainly a management game it’s very menu based, so there’s usually not a lot to look at. That being said, the UI is designed very well as it is simplistic and has been console-fied. You’re generally always only one button away from doing what you want to do, so a lot of work has gone into making it very accessible and easy use with a controller, which I appreciate. Even though there’s a slew of menus you’re constantly going through, it’s quick and simple to navigate. As for the audio, there’s some background ambient music that plays, but there’s absolutely nothing memorable otherwise. The countdown for launch and the rockets blasting off is fun to watch and listen to for the first few times, but eventually you’ll skip these scenes after a repeated launches into space.

With multiple factions and difficulties, there’s technically some reason(s) to play through the campaign again once completed, especially if you missed any achievements the first time around, but honestly, there’s so little replay value as there’s simply not enough variation with the different factions. So, once you’re done with the campaign, there’s really not much reason to start it all over again unless you want to challenge yourself on a harder or custom difficulty.

I honestly was expecting to be quite bored with a management game that is quite menu heavy; however, once I started getting the hang of how to prioritize my research and start to make enough cash, I became hooked at trying to win the space race to Mars and furthering my reach into our solar system. It might not have much replayability, but Mars Horizon might just be something that you'll be positively surprised with if you give it a chance.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Exit the Gungeon

Back in 2016, a little indie roguelike amassed quite a following with the release of Enter the Gungeon for its addictive and challenging gameplay. Here we are four years later with its pseudo sequel, aptly titled Exit the Gungeon. While some might not consider it a true sequel, and more of a spin off because of a drastic change in its gameplay, its cannon does take place directly after the concluding events of the first game. If you’re yearning for a challenging rougelike bullet hell, Exit the Gungeon might just be the spinoff you’ve been looking for, though fans of the original should be aware that the gameplay has shifted from its classic top down view to something drastically different, but there’s also plenty of fan service and details you’ll recognize from the first game.

Remember that time you entered the Gungeon and got a gun that could kill time? Well, turns out that in doing so the Gunslinger caused a paradox, fracturing time, so naturally the Gungeon is starting to collapse on itself. This is the setup and smart way to setup the change in gameplay, as you’ll be trying to exit the Gungeon via elevators. Of course the enemies won’t let you do so easily, so prepare to shoot your way out while you try and survive.

Enter the Gungeon was a top down adventure, exploring and surviving a series of interconnected rooms. Exit the Gungeon on the other hand has you trying to escape on seemingly never ending elevators, making this a sidescrolling roguelike shooter instead. While some purists may not enjoy the drastic shift in gameplay, it works well and obviously makes sense narratively speaking. This also means that most levels are quite basic, as there are different types of elevators with plenty of varying enemies and traps, but there’s not much else in terms of variety for level design. This singe room approach will at times make you feel claustrophobic and cramped, especially when bullets really start to fly, as there are traps to avoid and lots of pits that can kill you as well.

The other major change is what they tout as your blessed weapon. At the beginning of each run the Sorceress will bless your gun causing your weapon to change randomly into another type of gun after dealing a certain amount of damage, a set amount of time, killing a certain amount of enemies or running out of ammo. That’s right, your gun is going to constantly be changing on you, and because this is a roguelike, it’s completely random. This sometimes works out in your favor, but can also severely hinder you at times as well if you get a terrible gun in the middle of a big battle or boss fight. There’s apparently some sort of system where you get better weapons based on combos, but this isn’t explained all too well, and honestly, there’s way too much going on screen at one time to even pay attention to details like that anyway. Simply just be prepare to have your weapon swap on you at the most inopportune moments.

There’s another optional mechanic where you can toggle specific weapon drops, but these guns will require ammo, whereas your blessed randomized weapon(s) do not. You’re going to always start with a lame simple pistol, but then it gets weird when you start getting really odd weapons, such as one that shoots bubbles, leaves, a tentacle or even one that shoots “bullets”, yes, the letters that make the word “bullets”. Some weapons are vastly superior to others, but the problem lies in its randomness. Sometimes you’ll get surrounded by a ton of enemies and you get swapped to a weapon that only fires one bullet at a time. Or maybe you’re fighting a boss, needing to keep distance, but you get randomly swapped to a shotgun.

The Pilot, Marine, Convict and Hunter return, allowing you to choose from either, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and play styles. Not only will who you choose slightly change how you play, but the elevators you experience will slightly differ as well for each run. You’re able to freely swap, so you’re not totally locked into a specific character. Each character will need to roll and dodge to survive, a skill you’ll need to master if you don’t want to die and have to start all over again. As you roll or jump, you have a moment of invulnerability, so this is how you escape seemingly impossible spots when bullets are coming towards you from every direction. While there’s a brief tutorial in the beginning about these skills, it took quite some time to react with it naturally and become much more proficient with staying alive longer than a few floors.

Some stages themselves can be inherently much more difficult than others just based on how its elevator is setup. Some for example have a large gap in the middle, and if you fall down you take damage, effectively cutting off a good portion of moving and breathing room to dodge. Some platform sections move, others are pressure buttons that will shoot at you if you don’t step on them after a short period of time, and even one elevator is made up of platforms that sit atop of balloons that randomly pop.

As you kill enemies and survive, each elevator will result in a boss fight if you’re able to survive that long. I don’t want to spoil any of these, as they were quite fun to battle, and challenging, but fans of the original game will surely smile when they see some of their favorites return but in new forms and attack patterns.

In between each section and taking the elevator up a level, you’ll enter an area where you can purchase items at the shop with the currency you’ve collected, or partake in optional challenge rooms with a few enemies to earn some extra cash or items. This can work for or against you though, as you might leave these rooms with less health than you began with, so choose wisely. The shop will be your best friend, as this is where you’ll be able to purchase health refills, armor and more, should you have enough of course. Remember Resourceful Rat from the first game? He’s back but will now sell you keys to save your imprisoned friends, adding new NPC’s that can change a variety of different things, like stores to purchase special items and more in subsequent Gungeon runs. Spending money on keys means less to refill health and purchase other weapons though, so again, choose wisely.

I’m all for a challenging roguelike if it’s fair, and while Exit the Gungeon is absolutely beatable, it’s quite a journey to get to that skill level to actually do so. The small elevator level design feels cramped and claustrophobic at the best of times, and the bullet hell on screen at certain times can be overwhelming with all the chaos happening simultaneously. While Exit the Gungeon might be a drastic change in its gameplay from the first game, it still has all the charm and essence that you fell in love with in the first place.

**Exit the Gungeon was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 7.2 / 10 Serious Sam Collection

Back when the Serious Sam games originally released, I remember thinking how amazing and mind blowing it looked and played. Nostalgia is a funny thing though, as you sometimes remember things quite differently from how they actually are. Case in point, revisiting Serious Sam after all these years made me realize just how primitive it actually was by design, especially compared to today’s gaming standards. Serious Sam has a simple concept: Give you guns and a near endless amount of aliens and enemies to shoot, rinse and repeat. Serious Sam will never be known for its story or cutscenes, and that’s fine, as it’s simply meant to be a mindless shooter where you blast anything that moves. Like I said, my nostalgia made me remember so much more, but playing through again I realized how utterly basic its gameplay really is.

Back in ‘the day’, shooters were very simple affairs. Many didn’t have elaborate set pieces, lengthy cutscenes or even much of a story, and Serious Sam is the epitome of this classic and simple game design. Harkening back to a simpler time, the Serious Sam Collection will give you a glimpse into the past of early 2000 shooters, for better and worse.

There’s really not much of a plotline when it comes to the Serious Sam games generally. This was improved in part 3, but for the most part, Sam is fighting against a never ending onslaught of aliens and machines that serve an alien overlord that humans call “Mental”. You never see this overlord though, and the “story” is paper thin at best, but that’s not why you play a Serious Sam game. You play to blast aliens in the face nonstop, of which Serious Sam knows how to deliver. Combat is constantly chaotic and frantic, with enemies coming at you almost endlessly, so you need to constantly be moving, finding health, shield and ammo pickups as you try and navigate towards the confusing land of Egyptian pyramids and relics. Combat is as simple as it gets, simply point and aim at the enemies constantly rushing towards you with your pistols, rifles, rocket launchers, cannons, alien guns, shotguns, minigun and more. It’s as basic and brainless as it comes.

So what’s included with this latest collection? The Serious Sam Collection includes all content from Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter, Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter and Serious Sam 3: BFE, including The Legend of the Beast and Jewel of the Nile expansions. Oddly enough, the latest Serious Sam 4 isn’t included, though it hasn’t been released on console yet so I can see why, I guess to get you ready for it next year. I also expected the awesome spin-off Serious Sam Double D XXL to be included, as it was with an older collection, but sadly it’s not here, just the main core games.

So what’s been improved and updated since the last time we played as Sam? It really doesn’t seem like a lot. Yeah it’s got its resolution upped to 4K, but its ancient textures still make it hideous at the best of times. Multiplayer has been added for cooperative and competitive 16 players, but throughout my days of reviewing, I was only able to find a handful of other players to join every time I tried. Aside from that, it’s a pretty bare-boned collection without much in terms for extras.

The first two Serious Sam games are very similar and quite basic in design, sadly also showing their age and not much content within. You need to make it from area to area in Egypt, but as you reach a locked door you either need to defeat every enemy that spawns over a set amount of time, or find special relics that will then unlock said door. Enemies spawn almost constantly, so you need to always be moving and strafing to survive as you blast everything in your way. You can quickly become overrun, so don’t back yourself into a corner. Game design is as basic as it comes in these first two games, but such was the time in that era, so it’s hard to hold it against it.

Serious Sam 3 is where the series started to take a more modern approach to game design, with more intricate levels, cutscenes and even ADS (aim down sights) for your weaponry. It’s still very rough and basic compared to other games, but the graphics were much improved, especially the lighting and water effects, and actually had some minor dialogue thrown in for good measure. You were also able to reload weapons in this one as well, so you can see just how basic the original games were in comparison.

What makes Serious Sam so unique is its odd and unique enemies that barely change throughout the whole series, the most iconic being the headless men that run at you with bombs strapped to their hands screaming (somehow). You’ll fight undead skeleton horses that toss bolas at you, robots, one eyed monsters that look like a ringer for Gossamer and more. There’s really not much change or additions in the series from the first game to the latest aside from the visuals being improved slightly as time went on. Firefights will become quite repetitive over time, as it’s always the same setup with being trapped in an area with enemies rushing you, especially if you play the games and DLC back to back.

Being a game series from back in the early 2000’s, its mechanics are also from that era as well. You don’t have regenerating health and shields, so you must search the map for pickups as you blast all enemies you see. Level design in this era was also quite basic, and to be honest, really quite poor when compared to anything even remotely modern. Even though I’ve played through the Serious Sam games a number of times in the past, I still found myself lost now and then, unsure where to go or what I was missing.

One big bonus that I wasn’t expecting was its multiplayer addition. Yes, the series has had online components before, but now it allows up to 16 players at a time, even co-op campaign as well. As noted above though, it seems there’s a very small community playing this currently, as I was only able to find a handful of people playing every time I tried to do so since reviewing the collection. Sure you can play solo, but it’s always better with friends.

Graphically speaking, Serious Sam hasn’t aged very well. Yes, it’s got 4K support and framerates are very smooth in Performance mode, but the textures don’t seem as though they’ve been updated or improved, so you simply are looking at a 4K version of ugly at the best of times. Serious Sam 3 improves the visuals quite dramatically compared to the original games, but still looks quite dated. The audio is basically the same, as it is filled with repetitive gun sounds and enemy groans and screams. The small amount of voice acting included is cringe worthy at best, and the music is fitting for the massive gunfights, but is forgettable overall.

For newcomers to the series, the Serious Sam Collection is basically the best entry point, as you get all of the core games in one place with arguably the ‘best looking’ and performing versions of each. There’s a decent amount of content within, but it’s very repetitive and barely evolves from game to game. That being said, there are a handful of customization options included to make the game more accessible, easier or harder, depending on your preferences, of which don’t affect achievements either surprisingly, something I really appreciated. Playing with infinite ammo was quite a blast and fed into that Serious Sam mindset of shooting anything that moved.

Sometimes you want to simply turn off your brain and shoot a bunch of aliens, and this is where Serious Sam excels, as not many brain cells are required to play or enjoy this collection. Like a movie that has a cult following, most won’t see what makes Serious Sam so special, but to those fans that do love the series, the nostalgia should be worth the price of admission, even if it’s priced a little high for little to no extra care or content added.

**Serious Sam Collection was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 YesterMorrow

While 2D platformers are commonplace these days, sometimes there’s one that stands out amongst the crowd for a number of reasons. While YesterMorrow isn’t the best of the genre, it sure did catch my attention with its gorgeous retro visuals and interesting time travel mechanics. A 2D platformer at its core, you’ll also be solving puzzles across two different timelines, making for some serious challenge at times. You’ll also need have quick reflexes, as some jumps will need to be timed perfectly, and boss fights will take all the skill you have to defeat.

If you’re like me, you have at least some sort of regret in life that you wish you could take back or do-over in some sense, fixing something that went terribly awry or righting some sort of wrong. This is the premise for our hero, Yui, who is on a quest to save everything, and everyone, that she loved when it was all destroyed.

Yui lives with her family in a small village, when one fateful night an evil shadowy figure invades their world, plunging the world into eternal darkness. Everyone scurries for shelter to hide, including her family, but they are kidnapped and taken somewhere unknown. Yui manages to survive, vowing to take revenge and fight against the darkness to save her family, though unsure how to do so. She’s going to have to travel back to the past to save the future, making for a really interesting story and timeline meshing. Hence the title, as she’s going to have to return to Yesterday and Tomorrow, simultaneously.

I’m not sure why, but I expected YesterMorrow to be a short and quick game I could breeze through, but I was completely wrong. The world is quite expansive, taking you to a number of different areas within Yui’s world, each with their own setting, puzzles and enemies, complete with a day and night cycle that isn’t simply just for visual looks. Remember, bad things happen and enemies appear when darkness falls.

Yui will need to learn to harness the power of time travel, going into the past and future, to solve many puzzles. For example, maybe you can’t access an area or get past something because its pathway is blocked. Most times this means you’ll need to travel back in time to hit a switch or cause something to happen, which in turn changes the world in the future. This is a really interesting way to keep things engaing, as even though you’re constantly backtracking and going through areas twice, it can play out drastically different based on which timeline you’re in. My only complaint with this mechanic is that it’s relied on quite heavily, and almost any new area can be expected to be ran through twice because of it.

This also causes enemies to change based on which timeline you’re in, either before the cataclysmic event or afterwards. In the darkness filled world, enemies will harm you when touched, whereas most regular enemies in the past can be jumped on without issue. Yui’s physical form changes based on the timeline you’re in as well, either her younger self as a kid, or as a dark and badass ninja in present day. You’d think that someone in the village would listen or believe her when she tries to warn them in the past, knowing what she knows now, but alas no one does, so she’s on her own to save everyone.

Doing so won’t be easy though, and along your journey you’ll uncover and learn new abilities as needed. You begin with only being able to jump and roll, as combat isn’t a big focus early on, but the platforming aspect takes the main stage instead. As you explore and progress you’ll learn new abilities, like being able to attack dark enemies with light bombs. This will cause the shadows that have taken them over to be expelled, meaning you’ll have to toss another bomb to finally dispatch them for good. You’ll eventually unlock double jumping as well, allowing you to traverse to new areas, and each new ability is introduced at a steady pace to make sure you don’t become too overwhelmed at once, though this frustration will happen regardless as you need to usually be pixel perfect and time your jumps flawlessly to progress as you venture forth.

This is where I started to take issue with YesterMorrow the more I played. The level design is great overall, and the controls work, but you have to be absolutely perfect at times or else you’ll fall or fail. Checkpoints aren’t always close together either, and I can’t even count the times I’ve had to replay lengthy sections numerous times because I kept failing a specific jump, or worse, not grabbing onto a rope or spider web. This took some getting used to, as if you want to grab onto a vine or anything of the sort, you need to simply press ‘UP’ alone on the D-pad, not diagonally like in most games. With practice you’ll get used to it, but it felt very frustrating in the beginning.

As you explore and adventure across the different worlds and timelines, you’ll face many different enemies and a handful of unique and challenging bosses. These bosses were easily the highlight of my time with YesterMorrow, usually taking a few tries to defeat as you learn the patters and work on your jump and bomb timing.

Visually speaking, YesterMorrow utilizes some amazing and gorgeous retro aesthetics. Yes, retro pixel graphics are nothing new, but it’s done surprisingly well, has lots of little details in each character and area, like the water effects, and the animations are quite fluid and smooth, plus, there’s adorable animals you can find and pet just because (and for achievements). Each timeline has its own mood and feel, being bright and cheery in the past and dark and ominous in the future. The audio is also fitting, based on what’s happening on screen at the time, varying based on your timeline and area you’re exploring. While the soundtrack is decent and melodic, there’s also subtle detail layered in as well, like chains clanging when hanging onto them or the clacking of an enemy centipede’s feet boss as it travels around the screen.

While not the most difficult platformer out there like others, more than once I felt like quitting due to frustration of having to redo large sections over again due to inconsistent checkpoints. More than a handful of times it felt like a slog to get through the same sections all over again, or backtracking to get somewhere I needed now that I had a new power. The time travel mechanic is interesting but slightly overused, as you’ll come to expect having to explore each area in both timelines. Even with all the issues and frustration that I had, YesterMorrow was one that I’m glad to have played. It’s not perfect by any means, but you can tell it has a lot of heart and charm to it.

**YesterMorrow was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 6.7 / 10 DRAGON QUEST XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition

JRPG’s are one of my most favorite genres. While it’s very difficult for myself to find the time to sink dozens of hours into an expansive game like most JRG’s, I make sure to find a way somehow if the experience and journey is worth it. I don’t have a lot of spare time, meaning I can’t generally play through a game twice unless it’s something special. I previously played Dragon Quest XI back when it released on Playstation a few years ago and absolutely loved it. Here we are a few years later with an updated version, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition, and I’ve purposely made the time to sink another 50-100 hours into one of the better JRPG’s I’ve played in recent memory, extremely excited to see what’s been added in this Definitive Edition, but also the improvements on an Xbox Series X.

The Dragon Quest series has been around since the original NES, so over the course of over three decades, it’s amassed quite a following with quite a few games and spinoffs over the years and console generations. While I’ve played the odd one here and there, I never really got around to sinking a large amount of time into any of the previous games until this one, but now that I’ve done so twice, it still ranks up there in one of my favorites, even before the great Definitive Edition treatment.

So if you’re like me and have already sunk in countless hours into its original release, you’re probably wondering if this Definitive Edition is worth the upgrade, what’s new and if you should set aside another hundred hours all over again. Obviously the full Dragon Quest XI game is included, but with a slew of additions, quality of life improvements, new character-specific scenarios, new soundtrack, a 16-bit 2D mode and much more that made it a joy to play all over again while also feeling fresh.

That’s right, if you yearn for those classic days of 16-bit sprites but don’t want to dust off your Super Nintendo, you’re able to play the game from beginning to end in this classic mode. Not just the visuals can be changed though, as you can choose from the original soundtrack or an orchestral version. On top of that, you can also decide to have the voicework in English or Japanese. These may not seem like a big deal, but there are very few games that have gone through this much rework to add a completely different way to experience the game.

The original game was a bit slow paced, and because of this feedback, a X2 and X4 battle speed multiplier has been added if you wish to utilize it. This allows you to complete battles much quicker, especially if you set your tactics for your team to automatically fight. For those that have already done everything in the game preciously, there are completely new Draconian Quest settings, allowing you to alter certain elements in the game itself, making for a much more challenging experience. And lastly, a photo mode was finally added, and while not the most robust one out there, is sufficient enough to snap some gorgeous landscapes and make poses with your party.

Set in the land of Erdrea, it’s said that the Luminary is the one who will save the world from its darkest hour from an evil unlike any other seen before. You, the hero of this tale, is the reincarnation of the Luminary, as you bear the mark on your skin. Many of the world don’t see him as a savior, but instead a threat, as if he exists, it means that the presence of the opposing evil does as well.

The Luminary ends up being thrown in jail after informing the King of his true self, as he wants to try and stop the prophecy from coming true. You meet a fellow cellmate named Erik who helps you escape, seemingly tied into your own fate. I don’t want to say much more about the narrative to avoid any spoilers, but it’s an epic journey that will see the Luminary and his group of memorable friends embark on an unforgettable adventure to uncover the mystery of his own fate while all intertwining in different ways. The main campaign will take you a few dozens of hours alone to beat, but with all the sidequests and extra things to do, you can easily spend more than a hundred hours in the world of Erdrea.

The world itself is quite vast, as each area has its own map, some large enough that you’ll want to utilize your horse for quicker travel. What makes Dragon Quest XI interesting is that battles with monsters aren’t simply random after a certain amount of steps, but instead, you see them visible as you explore, for most areas. Run into them, or them into you, and you’ll begin combat, or completely avoid them if you’re trying to get quickly from one point to the next. It should be noted that in 2D mode though, battles are randomized, due to not showing enemies on the map.

Like most JRPG’s, you’ll be adventuring, leveling up, learning new skills and gaining new gear along the way. Towns are vibrant, full of characters, shops, inns, hidden chests, collectables and quests from residents. Generally you’ll come to a town, get a few quests that send you to the next area and town, rinse and repeat until the credits roll. As you learn more about the main plot, you’ll eventually be able to sail the open seas and even fast travel to and from any campsite and town you’ve been to along the way, drastically reducing wasted time.

While you can purchase new armor, weapons and accessories from the shops, you’re also able to craft your own once you find the necessary blueprints and have the materials to do so. This forging of gear is like a mini-game though, as it’s not simply pressing a button and you magically have the item. Instead, you actually need to craft the item in a forge-like game, filling out bars to determine its quality with a set amount of action points. Become proficient enough at this and you’ll be able to create gear up to +3, adding some extra bonuses to their stats. Or if you just spent a ton of gold on a new item, you can use the forge to improve it to +3, as you can only purchase base items.

While I opted to not utilize any, there are a handful of Draconian Quests you can alter your gameplay with if you want a much more challenging experience. Turn on game changing options like No Fleeing From Battle, No Shopping, Much Stronger Enemies, and more. If you enable these and find it too annoying or challenging, you can turn them off at a save point, but won’t be able to re-enable them without starting a new game, so decide wisely and plan ahead.

Combat is done well and allows for some customization. You can enable traditional style combat with turn based battles, easy enough to learn and get the hand of, but can also utilize a pseudo real-time combat system where you can move your team around the battlefield as well. Defeat monsters and enemies and you’ll earn experience points to level up. Level up and you’ll earn Skill Points to unlock new abilities and bonuses stats. Luckily there really wasn’t all that much grinding that was needed for me to progress through, though if you get lucky and defeat metal slimes and bosses, you’ll net a ton of experience and usually gain a level each time.

The skill tree is basic in design, allowing you to see a grid of different abilities, choosing the ones you want to unlock as you save up enough points. These new skills are different for each character, allowing you to specialize in different ways based on your playstyle. For example, the Luminary can attack with swords or great swords, so if you prefer one over the other, then choose to spend skill points into the corresponding tree to improve those abilities more. Some also offer passive bonuses like extra stats, MP, and more. If you happen to end up not liking your build, you are able to respect your skill points, but for a gold cost.

Dragon Quest XI looked great at its initial launch, but Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition looks absolutely stunning in 4K 60fps on an Xbox Series X. The world is so bright and colorful, the characters designed with that signature Japanese style, and of course it’s Dragon Quest, so plenty of adorable slimes throughout as well. Changing zones and going in and out of battle was near instantaneous playing on an Xbox Series X installed on the internal drive, something that was a hinderance with its initial release on last generation consoles. Some of the vistas are absolutely amazing, and I made good use of the Photo Mode to capture some of these beautiful backdrops.

Nearly every line of dialogue is voiced as well, and the main characters are very memorable. The voice acting is done quite well, though the Luminary himself doesn’t speak that you ever hear, which can be a little jarring at first. The soundtrack is epic as you’d expect from a massive JRPG, especially the newly added orchestral version, and each track fits the mood and setting of what’s happening on screen perfectly.

Regardless if you’re new to the series or a longtime fan, Dragon Quest XI is the perfect game to experience what Dragon Quest is all about. Not only is Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition one of the best JRPG’s you’ll find on Xbox, but it’s actually in my top 5 of all time. Easy enough for new fans to get into but enough optional challenge for those that crave it, this Definitive Edition really does live up to its name and is the version I wish I originally played two years ago.

** Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 9.3 / 10 Yes, Your Grace

Most games that take place in kingdoms are generally open world adventures that has you fulfilling some magical or world saving quest. Yes, Your Grace does things completely differently. Instead of some grandiose adventure, you, King Eryk of the land of Davern, will perform your daily kingly duties, listening to petitioners, deciding courses of action that benefit your subjects, your livelihood and kingdom. Yes, Your Grace plays more like a kingdom management game than anything else, which isn’t what I was expecting, but surely made me think differently about the daily duties of a King.

Developed by a small indie studio, Brave At Night, you’ll be faced with making some very difficult situations, some of which you won’t realize the repercussions until much later. Do you decide to help your subjects short term, or think long term and do what’s better for the kingdom as a whole? Do you turn away starving people to better bolster your defenses? How do you even know if the person asking for help or a handout is even telling the truth? Much of the game will be weighing your decisions, trying to decide what the best course of action is, but it’s not always so black and white.

While he may be a King, Eryk seemingly doesn’t have the wealthiest of kingdoms, so you can’t simply throw gold at every problem, as you’ll quickly run out. The same goes for your supplies and men, so you need to constantly balance how and whom you want to help. Decide to help no one and your subjects will turn against you, so you have to constantly be watching your gold, supplies, men and morale. Ideally you want to keep everyone happy, but it simply isn’t possible.

Every new day you’ll have a line of villagers and messengers asking for your assistance. Some request assistance with monsters attacking their village, whereas others might want a helping hand to open a tavern. You have no idea who is telling the truth, or if they’ll simply run away with your gold instead of doing what they said they would. Then there are some very difficult choices, like marrying off your daughters in return for protection and an alliance from other Lords and Kings. I don’t want to delve into the main plot points, as that’s what the gameplay revolves around, but it was interesting enough that I wanted to see it through.

Much of Yes, Your Grace is designed to make you believe your choices matter, and while they do to an extent, there’s many events that occur that take place regardless of your choices, which forces the narrative in a specified direction. The major plot points are going to play out generally the same way regardless of how and whom you choose to help, which is fine, but once you understand how to manage your resources, that’s what most of your decision making will come down to. If any of your resources like gold, supplies or following dips to zero or below, it’s game over. I’ve reached a ‘Game Over’ screen at least a half dozen times before figuring this out, then I was able to finally reach one of the endings.

A management game at its core, the main emphasis is keeping your subjects content, though you’ll have numerous other issues to deal with, like your youngest daughter who keeps finding random animals to keep as pets, or another daughter that is taking up sword fighting against your better judgement. While the crux of the gameplay will be listening to all your petitioners each week, you are able to move around your castle and explore the other areas, talking to NPC’s (though generally if it’s only relevant for a quest), gathering evidence or sending your General and other special servants to explore areas outside the walls for you.

As you listen to everyone and do everything you can in the given week, you’ll then finish your week with a summary of your gains, losses and costs. This will all be a direct result of the decisions you make. If you spent gold to help repair buildings, then maybe that will pay you returns in the future. Maybe giving some peasants supplies pays off in different ways in the following weeks. All it comes down to though is that you can’t hit zero or negative on your gold, supplies, army or following. This weekly screen is where you can decide to invent more into certain projects, pay the weekly payroll for certain subjects or even slowly pay off your debt from loans. It’s not explained all that well in the beginning, but after a few ‘Game Over’ screens you’ll start to catch on.

As you get further into the story, certain quests will appear, allowing you to send your General, Witch or Hunter, if you wish. Choosing to do so will send them out for a week or two, but what happens if two people require the help of your General? You need to make tough decisions. Do you try and give them supplies or gold instead? That’s difficult because your army needs to be fed as well, so there’s a constant pull from every direction, trying to figure out the best course of action short and long term. You can’t keep everyone happy, which was hard for me to accept at first. You’re also only allowed one game save at a time as well, so no choosing one option and reloading a different save to see what the outcome is. You’ll have to live with your decisions, for better and worse.

You’ll also be able to invite Lords to your castle via pigeon carrier, so it will take a week for them to arrive. Do you invite a guest that could potentially join under your banner when the time comes for battle, or would you give into their sometimes unfair demands for their protection? Maybe one Lord wants to turn you against another though. These are the decisions you won’t see the outcomes until much later, which can help or harm your efforts into surviving the ever looming battle. You interact with your family enough and learn about their backstory that you actually start to care about some of them as you progress, which speaks volumes about the quality of the writing and narrative.

Yes, Your Grace utilizes retro pixel based graphics, something akin to a classic King’s Quest or from that era. Even with its retro aesthetic, the artwork and animations are done exceptionally well for its style. Characters look distinct, animation is smooth and even the opening title screen is wonderful to look at. The same goes for its audio and setting, as it utilizes that classic retro music that sounds like it came directly out of the 80’s or 90’s. While there’s no voice acting, they do use that distinct Sims-like gibberish instead of actual lines of dialogue. The audio and visuals blend together so well, making for a wonderful overall experience that felt modern yet retro simultaneously.

Yes, Your Grace does make you feel like a King, but that comes with making difficult decisions where you won’t always know the exact repercussions until much later. While it may be a kingdom management game at its core, it does have a certain charm, personality and feels like a completely unique experience, plus it’s on GamePass, so there’s no reason to not check it out Your Grace.

**Yes, Your Grace was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Shoot 1UP DX

I’ve played my fair share of shmups (shoot-em-ups) over the years, and one of my favorite games of all time is one of the best in the genre, so there’s a high bar a game needs to hit to stand out amongst the crowd for me to take notice. Somehow, Mommy’s Best Games has managed to remaster one of their games from about a decade ago and bring it to console, and here we are with Shoot 1UP DX. I actually never even heard of the original, so I went into this completely blind, unsure what to expect. If I’m being completely honest, from the screenshots alone, I simply expected another run of the mill indie shmup, which is fine, but was actually impressed by its main mechanic.

Most shmups have you controlling a singular ship at a time, but that wasn’t good enough for Shoot 1UP DX, as its main hook is that you’re controlling all of your ships at once, up to thirty at a time! More so than simply adding more ships to fire from, you can also expand and contract your fleet, changing your offensive and defensive abilities. It’s a very simple premise but works very well.

Now, there is a semblance of a story within, something about your home world being destroyed and you leading the charge to extract revenge and stop them, but let’s be honest here, you don’t play shmups for their narrative. Even with my favorite shmump of all time, I really don’t care about its narrative; it’s all about the gameplay, and that’s no different here. You’ll be shooting across eight unique stages, filled with near endless enemies and screen filling bosses, choosing paths to take and expanding your fleet. While each run won’t take you long, well under a half hour, there’s some replayability to be had, including online leaderboards to always strive towards.

At certain points you’ll be given the option to take an easier path where the screen orientation doesn’t change and you simply keep shooting upwards to the top of the screen, though if you want to mix things up, you can choose the harder path. This will generally change the orientation of the gameplay for a short while, so instead of shooting upwards, it might get rotated so that you’re shooting to the right, or maybe even in weird angles. It’s a little jarring at first but once you know what to expect you can adjust on the fly quite quickly.

While controlling a fleet of thirty ships would be interesting on its own, Shoot 1UP DX ups the ante even further, allowing you to freely expand and contract your ships. This means you can expand your ships into a large circle, changing their formation and attack patterns. This allows you to fill nearly the whole screen with bullets and even forms a massive laser in the middle of your ships, but also means you’re easier to be hit as you're spread out. Contracting your ships to overlap one another makes you smaller and easier to dodge, concentrating your fire in a single line. This means there’s a lot of balance between trying to be offensive and defensive on the fly.

Each time you get hit you lose one your ships, and when you reach zero left it’s game over. To counter this, collecting any of the floating 1UP’s adds one more ship to your count, to the maximum of thirty. It’s a really simple premise but works quite well and something I can’t really recall in any other shump recently.

The campaign’s eight stages won’t take too long to complete, so there’s another mode to try where you only have one life to see how far you make it and survive. This mode though instead doesn’t allow you to gain any new ships, but instead will upgrade your firepower whenever you grab a 1UP. It’s a much more challenging mode but one that skilled shmup fans will enjoy. Both modes also allow you to alter certain settings like the game speed and more, though some will disable achievements. Even changing the difficulty will make for new enemies and bullet patterns.

If you have a friend to play alongside on the couch, you can also play cooperatively, with each player controlling their own ships. That’s right, you can have up to 60 ships on screen at once in two player mode. This of course causes the already chaotic gameplay to go up a notch, almost being way too much on the screen to discern what’s going on.

While I quite enjoyed Shoot 1UP DX’s gameplay and mechanics, it looks quite dated, probably because of its age. There’s a lot of repeated enemies and not much in terms of animations, but for a smaller game, it does the job. The audio is pretty much as generic as well, but again, the gameplay is actually quite good and allows for a pass.

Shoot 1UP DX took me by surprise, as I really wasn’t expecting much from it initially, but its unique mechanics really made for a great experience. It’s also fairly priced at a couple bucks so even though there isn’t much content wise, there’s just enough replayability with its online leaderboards for those that want to challenge themselves. While it won’t catch the world on fire, it’s a decent shmup none the less.

**Shoot 1UP DX was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 PHOGS!

I guess I should come clean and admit that I’m a cat person. I’ve actually never owned a dog until recently, yet somehow a game about a two headed dog fell into my lap, so here we are. That’s right, I said two headed dog, and actually, they are conjoined by their stretchy belly too. If you couldn’t tell already, PHOGS! is clearly a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is better for it. I can’t think of any other games off the top of my head that lets you control a two headed doggo set in whimsical and very colorful worlds, complete with numerous puzzles and minigames, so there isn't much direct competition.

PHOGS! is from the teams at Bit Loom and Coatsink, and it’s clear that it was a labor of love over the years. From its opening minutes of seeing the cutest game doggos in recent memory, you’ll constantly have a smile on your face from start to finish along its 8-10 hour journey, depending on how you choose to play; solo or alongside a friend. It’s not without its issues, but at its core it was a fun experience I’m glad to have had.

Man’s best friend, named Red and Blue, are linked doggies that also happen to have a stretchy belly, so they are inseparable. Across three distinct worlds you’ll solve puzzles and navigate across 24 different levels. The worlds themselves are all quite varied, as you’ll go through Sleep World, filled with pillows, teddy bears, dim lights and annoying alarm clocks. Food World has you traversing across mountains of tasty treats and food, complete with massive chocolate rivers. Lastly, and my favorite, was Play World. Here you’ll go to the beach, an amusement park and even an old school arcade that brings me back to my youth, complete with tons of minigames Red and Blue will have to complete and solve.

Every world is very distinct and unique, each with their own themes and puzzle types. In Sleep World you’ll have to utilize light to get passed some puzzles, while Food World has you using fountains of chocolate quite often to progress. While there’s a brief tutorial to teach you the basics, new mechanics and puzzle types are slowly introduced, letting you get a grasp on how to solve them going forward. While there is the odd spike of difficulty that had me stumped for a while, the difficulty curve is quite steady throughout for the most part, meaning almost anyone could play alongside you and still progress.

While you’re generally getting from point A to point B, or more specifically, from the worm you entered and heading to the next worm to slide down, there are plenty of extras to find, such as golden bones that can be used to purchase unlockable headwear for the companions, and other collectables for those wanting to get more out of their purchase.

As for the puzzles themselves, most of them are quite cleverly designed, and since much of the gameplay utilizes physics and momentum, it’s always fun to swing Red and Blue from grapple point to the next, or stretching to wrap around a ball to maneuver it where you want it to go. Better yet, some of the minigames in Play World has the doggos playing air hockey, fishing and other interesting games that I quite enjoyed.

While there’s no direct narrative or dialogue, some NPC’s will have a thought bubble above their head, showing you an item they want, usually rewarding you with a secret golden dog bone. Some of these are mandatory, others are not. Each world is broken into six different levels and a boss. Some stages can be longer than others, but on average, it took me around two hours or so to beat each world and move onto the next. You’re able to freely start in any of the worlds you like and go back and forth, but you won’t know what happens when you complete all three worlds until you do, and no, I won’t spoil it for you.

So how does one control a two headed dog? Quite simply actually, depending on your control scheme. If you’re playing alone you’ll control both heads with one controller. If you’re playing local co-op, each player can use their own controller and control their own head, or you can play online with a friend, each controlling Red or Blue. Surprisingly, even playing solo wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be for the most part, save for a few certain puzzles and timed sections.

Red and Blue are conjoined, but move independently. The Left side of the controller controls Blue, and the Right, Red. The sticks move the head, the Bumpers grab onto objects and the Triggers make your body stretch, allowing them to reach further objects. It takes a little getting used to in the beginning, especially solo, but once you learn what side is Red and which is Blue, it almost becomes second nature eventually. The Bumpers will get the most use, as they are how you latch onto objects. For example, to get across a gap you might have to bite onto an anchor point with Blue, stretch and swing your body over a gap with Red and grab on, then letting go of Blue and shrinking back to regular size. It’s interesting puzzles like this that you’ll utilize throughout your adventure.

The doggos even have emotes that they can use with a press of the face buttons. This allows you to communicate with your partner if you’re happy, sad, confused or want to look for the objective. There’s no real necessity to utilize these, but they are cute to have, plus, using the sad emote when your co-op friend constantly screws up is always good for a laugh.

As you collect golden bones that are hidden, you’ll come across shops along your way, allowing you to spend them and decorate Red and Blue however you see fit. These hats add no gameplay variations of any sorts, but make some of the cutest dogs in gaming even cuter somehow. Some of these are quite well hidden, so you’re going to have to be quite thorough if you want to find them all, of which a handful of achievements are tied to.

At the end of each world you’ll come across a boss ‘fight’. I use that term loosely, as it’s still mostly just platforming and puzzle solving, but they are done quite well. I don’t want to spoil any of them, as there are only a handful, but they were easily one of the highlights with my time in PHOGS!.

Normally with small indie games like these, online play is something you can’t really expect, so when I saw that this was actually included with PHOGS!, I was quite surprised. Given the way that the state of the world is in right now, couch co-op simply isn’t an option, yet I was still able to play with a friend in online co-op, so kudos to Bit Loom and Coatsink for putting in the time and effort to do so.

Now the only real issue I had with the online component is that it’s only co-op with people on your friends list. You choose to make an online game and then invite a friend, meaning there’s no matchmaking or lobbies if you wanted to play with someone unknown. I get it though, as you need a lot of communication, so doing so with a stranger might not be the best idea, but if you have no friends that also have the game, then it might be an issue and you'll have to play solo. That being said, PHOGS! is on GamePass, so there’s really no reason you shouldn’t be able to convince a friend to go for a walk beside you.

This of course isn’t without its issues though. More than a few times a friend and I that played together had random issues where she couldn’t see what was going on, or things that were happening on her screen totally differed from mine. Whenever we ran into oddities like this we either simply respawned back at the last worm or simply re-invited to the game again. Thankfully there’s really not that much time lost even doing so, as checkpoints are plentiful.

PHOGS! has a certain charm to it. From its opening moments you’re thrust into a vibrant and colorful world that just makes you want to smile. The doggos are absolutely adorable, and even though I’m not a dog guy at heart, I’d adopt Red and Blue in a heartbeat. Level design is done quite well and the only real issues I ran into were weird physics that would sometimes fling my doggos in weird directions or not control as smoothly as I anticipated. Each of the three worlds are very distinct and was a blast to explore and solve. Audio is just as fitting, with light tunes that suit the worlds and backdrops, and the woof’s that Red and Blue give every time you press the bumpers never gets old. Also, those damn alarm clocks are utterly annoying with their ringing, but designed to be, so it’s hard to hold it against it.

There’s a laundry list of small little bugs I ran into, to the point where I actually stopped taking notes, and while I was initially going to list them all out, I realized that by the time the credits rolled, it didn’t matter because I had a smile on my face nearly the whole time. PHOGS! doesn’t take itself seriously (I’m not sure how it could with a two headed dog anwyay) and works well as a single or co-op experience. Yes you can play solo, but it’s a much better experience alongside or online with a friend, even though you’ll probably curse at each other at least a few times when they screw up.

I wish Red and Blue actually existed, as they are utterly adorable and would no doubt be the goodest boys you could ask for. PHOGS! puts a smile on your face, is utterly weird yet charming, and unique. Give a two headed dog a bone, or two, and download PHOGS! on GamePass if you’re looking for a unique puzzler that is simple yet entertaining.

**PHOGS! was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 GONNER2

While I’ve seen it in passing, I never actually played the first GoNNER. I’ve played my fair share of difficult roguelikes, though usually only when they fall in my lap for review. So here we are today, with GONNER 2, the sequel to the well-received original from 2016. Going into GONNER2 as a completely new player, I didn’t know what to expect aside from the description of the store page: “a messy, cute, fast-paced procedurally-generated platformer” and “Intense platformer shooter action”. Intense doesn’t even begin to describe its extreme difficultly at all. If you’ve played the original GoNNER you’ll know what exactly to expect, but if you’re new like I was, you’re in for a rude awakening. GONNER2 is a procedurally generated platformer-shooter roguelike that is very colorful and whimsical in its aesthetic, but don’t let its cute and basic visuals fool you, you’re going to be dying often and repeatedly.

This is where I’d normally delve into the narrative and explain the setting, but there’s absolutely nothing in explained within GONNER2 in any way. No tutorial, no dialogue, no hints, no direction, nothing; just go and figure it out. To figure out what was actually going on I again had to reference its store page to find a description: “In GONNER2, our altruistic and unexpected hero Ikk is back! And this time Death needs his help. Her lair has been taken over by a mysterious presence and she needs Ikk to take it down. Journey your way through deep dark chaotic places with sparks of unimaginable colour and crazy bosses, all while trying to literally keep your head!!”.

Now, I’m not sure how you’d actually figure any of this out as none of the above is actually said or explained in any way, but none of this will matter as you start playing, dying and starting all over again as Ikk delves further into the world to help Death.

Levels are generally small in size, squeezing you out the end of these worm-like creatures, with your goal to make it to the other end and go down the next worm, rinse and repeat. Sounds simple yet it’s anything but, and because every level is procedurally generated every time you play, there’s no memorization to be had, as it’s random. Between the start and end of each stage are tons of enemies, though thankfully the controls are tight and feel quite responsive on a controller.

As you fight your way through each stage, you’ll also want to be mindful of your combo meter once you start to get a grasp on the gameplay and don’t have to focus on simply surviving so heavily. After a certain amount of stages you’ll be able to spend your earned coins on extra hearts and other items before you head into a massive boss fight. Beat the boss and continue on your journey. Die and start over. Pretty run of the mill stuff for more roguelikes.

What makes GONNER2 stand out though is how Ikk can find and equip firearms, but also different heads as well. Ikk starts off as basically a simple blob with legs, but can get a head, backpack and a weapon. You’ll start out with a simple rifle, but can find more weapons hidden along the way. From what I can gather, Ikk’s head makes it so you don’t simply die in one hit, akin to Sonic having at least one ring. When you do get hit you have to go pick up your weapon, head and backpack, as you’re much too squishy and will die without them quite quickly.

If you’ve played the original, you might have to get some used to the fact that you can now aim in any direction, not just the basic four directions. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s going to make GONNER2 a cakewalk though, quite the opposite. As you traverse in the stages, the whole world is essentially blacked out aside from the small area around Ikk, almost like having a spotlight constantly on you.

Ikk can move and shoot in any direction, jump, double jump (eventually), dash to damage enemies if you run out of bullets and fire weapons. You have limited ammo though, so you need to be deliberate with your shots and aim well so you don’t be wasteful. Killing enemies will sometimes drop ammo, as will running over sunflowers. Again, something that isn’t explained and I had to figure out on my own. Your combo meter is how you’ll rack up the high scores, needing to kill enemies in rapid succession or else the meter will stop, but this isn’t something you’ll need to worry and focus on until many hours in when you can survive more than a few rooms and bosses at a time.

With a bunch of unlockable secrets, heads, weapons and more, there’s plenty of gameplay to be had, but it’ll simply be determined by your patience of dying dozens and dozens of times. There’s even a local co-op mode if you happen to have someone within the same household to play with, though sadly with the state of the world is in currently, I was unable to test this mode out to its fullest, as I wish an online mode was included.

While I enjoyed my time with GONNER2 even though I was constantly frustrated at dying repeatedly, my biggest issue comes from the fact that there’s no real overall progression. Yes, you get to keep your unlocked weapons, heads and such, but you’re never really working towards much else aside from a highscore and leaderboard bragging rights. Great roguelikes always have that carrot dangling in front of you to entice you to continue playing, and if trying to become a highscore chaser doesn’t appeal to you, there’s not much else here for longevity. I wish there was something else to work towards, like more health or unlocks to make each subsequent run that much easier to survive.

The other issue I constantly had to fight against was its randomness. Yes, it’s procedurally generated levels are one of its features, but I can’t even tell you the times I’ve respawned right into bullets, enemies or unfair spots. Even a handful of times I’ve had it where I was coming out of a worm right into some enemies that were unavoidable. Also, when things get crazy and chaotic, you can get lost in the pandemonium quite easily, which usually ends up in a swift death.

Now, what I did enjoy most was GONNER2’s visual and audio aesthetic. While the graphics are quite basic, it’s colorful, bright and beautiful in a minimalistic manner that screams indie. The audio cues like the different weapons all sound unique and the soundtrack never once grated on me, even after hours of dying. I also never once had any slowdown of any kind and gameplay was smooth throughout on an Xbox Series X.

Difficulty is one thing, unfair is something completely else. GONNER2 fits somewhere right in the middle, though leaning slightly towards unfair and almost out of spite. If you enjoy brutally difficult roguelikes then GONNER2 is exactly what you’re looking for. GONNER2 is also on GamePass, so there’s no reason to not check it out and see if you can handle its challenge.

**GONNER2 was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Gears Tactics

As a long time Gears of War fan, I’m always excited when anything related releases, be it a toy, board game, novel or obviously, a game. I have quite the collection too, including two full sized lancers among a ton of other figures and such, so I know my Gears. What I wasn’t expecting though was such a drastic departure from its signature third person cover based shooters with the latest in the series, Gears Tactics. I previously reviewed Gears Tactics back at its PC launch in April, and while I enjoyed it, I, among many others, were waiting for the console version. Thankfully they waited, as the new Xbox Series X and S are here, and Gears Tactics looks absolutely fantastic on the new hardware.

Gears is synonymous with Xbox. When you think gears you most likely picture huge buff dudes that spend way too much time in the gym and shoot Locust from behind perfectly placed waist-height cover. Gears has always had the same gameplay throughout its series for the most part, but Gears Tactics completely changes all of this.

Instead of the typical Gears formula of third person cover based shooting, instead, Gears Tactics is more like an X-COM style of game. I know, quite a drastic change, and I wasn’t sure how the gameplay would translate or if it would even still feel like a Gears game at its core. Once I took the time to figure out its mechanics and start to develop strategies, I’m happy to report that it still feels very much like a Gears game, just obviously controlled in a different manner. Even better, Gears Tactics takes from some of the best games in the genre and not only utilizes what makes them great, but even improves in a few aspects as well.

Gears lore is massively robust. Not even including the games, there are at least a half dozen novels and a comic series as well that go into the history of the characters, settings and of course, the war between mankind and the Locust. Set a dozen years before the first game, Sera is under attack from a Locust Horde that’s starting to rise to the surface. You play as Gabe Diaz, which should sound familiar if you’ve played Gears 5, as he is Kait’s father, the protagonist of Gears 5. Gabe was a decorated Lieutenant Colonel for the COG, but after a mission with huge sacrifices, he demoted himself to Sergeant and and refused to work for the COG any further. This is of course when COG comes calling, essentially forcing him back into action begrudgingly.

Gabe’s mission is to find the leader of the Lucust army: Ukkon. It’s said that he’s the one behind the creation of some of the biggest Lucust Sera has ever seen, like the Brumak, so he must be stopped at any cost. Major Sid Redburn will fight alongside Gabe, a veteran who’s been on numerous top secret missions, as will other characters you meet along the way. Gabe can’t fight this fight alone, so he’s going to have to convince others along the way to help save Sera, something only a true leader could manage.

Regardless of everyone’s reason to joining and helping Gabe in their mission, they all agree to Ukkon must be stopped, regardless of the cost. While Ukkon may not be quite as memorable as Skorge or General RAAM as the main antagonist, once his background is revealed, he’s just as important to the overall Gears lore as any other main character, which is incredibly exciting for hardcore fans like myself that are enthralled into its narrative. Luckily, Gears Tactics’ narrative is very self-contained, so if you’re not completely up to par on Gears lore to this point, you can still enjoy an interesting story, though fans are going to get the most out of it when major plot points are revealed. I won’t lie, I had more than one jaw dropping moment watching the beautiful cutscenes play out between missions.

The biggest change is obviously the drastic shift in genre and gameplay, swapping third person shooting for top down strategy. Now you’ll need to think very strategically with its turn based gameplay as you’re given numerous goals and objectives in your missions. If I’m being honest, I was somewhat expecting Gears Tactics to essentially be a reskin of popular games like X-COM and the like. Thankfully I was wrong and they didn’t simply copy other games, but added and tweaked a few features that I would argue is much better for the genre overall.

Instead of simply defeating all enemies on the battlefield, you’ll almost always have some sort of secondary objective you’ll need to meet before finishing a mission, such as destroying something or reaching an extraction point with all your team members. Most missions allow up to four squad mates, though some are designed for less. Even though the camera view and gameplay has drastically changed from what Gears fans are used to, the levels and environments still feel like a Gears game with its semi destroyed landscapes and rubble strewn areas.

Even with its isometric view, it’s easy to appreciate the level design and even the verticality when having to deal with a Locust sniper in a perch locking you down from advancing. While the camera isn’t always perfect, as it was sometimes a little confusing to figure out specific pathways your squad can maneuver without trial and error, there’s enough complexity to add variety to the gameplay where there’s not simply one way to defeat enemy Locust. Some players may opt for a more aggressive flank, while others setup overwatch areas to prevent enemy advancement like I did often.

The campaign flows very well and fluidly in the beginning, that is, until you hit the required side missions. At first I was fine with having these added in, but it eventually started to feel like filler between campaign missions. As a huge Gears fan, I wanted to experience the campaign for its narrative quickly, but was arbitrarily slowed down with these side missions that can’t be skipped. These missions aren’t bad per-se, but have simple objectives compared to the core campaign missions when I simply wanted to progress the narrative more than anything else.

Gears Tactics plays very aggressive. You rarely get to take a breather and relax, as reinforcements are almost always a turn or two behind any Locust clearings you manage. Even if you manage to clear the battlefield, there’s almost always an emergence hole or new swarms of enemies en-route to your position, so you must always be maneuvering with purpose and deliberately thinking of your next move.

Most games in the genre give you one maneuver turn and one for actions like shooting or setting up overwatch. Gears Tactics changes this up and not only adds three actions per character a turn, before any extra bonus actions which can be augmented with gear and abilities, but they can be used for any action. If you want to use three action points (AP) to move your squad further ahead or away, you can do so, as you’re not restricted to a move action then combat separately. Conversely, if you’re in position, you can take utilize 3 AP to fire at enemies each time as well if you wish. This adds a ton of utility, and it wasn’t until the first major boss fight where I realized I could swap between characters between AP use as well, which is substantial when it comes to strategy.

For example, you may become trapped behind cover with enemies using the overwatch ability in your direction. You could flank with one character, disrupt their overwatch, then change back to your hunkered down squad mate and return fire before going back to your flanker for more AP moves. I also fell in love with the overwatch system as you can essentially setup kill areas for any Locust crossing your watched path, but keep in mind, each attack utilized one of your rounds, as reloading takes one AP as well. Factor in that there’s other ways to add more actions and abilities that open a variety of different gameplay options, and you can start to see how robust the tactical side of Gears Tactics truly is. In true Gears fashion, executing a downed enemy will reward you with a bonus action, so there’s always a risk versus reward in your battle strategies. Do you jump out of cover to try and get that execution for special bonuses, or play it safe and try for one more shot for the kill?

Gears is also known for its epic and intense boss battles. Hell, I still remember the General RAAM boss fight after all these years. Gears Tactics is no different, as at the end of each act you’re going to face off against a massive boss. I won’t spoil what you’ll face off against after your first Brumak encounter, but you’re in for some surprises. Boss battles not only has you utilize different strategies from regular missions, but you’re going to have to constantly adapt and adjust based on what the boss is doing or what reinforcement Locust arrive to the battlefield.

While these boss battles are much more drawn own than regular Gears gameplay, they almost feel like they have a puzzle element to their strategies. For example, the Brumak can launch rockets which will explode on the marked areas on the next turn, so you need to balance not only moving out of rocket range, but being in position to attack the Brumak itself but still in cover from regular enemies. Just like most videogame bosses, you’ll need to generally deplete the major segments of health to trigger each battle phase, forcing you to adjust, usually quite drastically. Factor in that Locust reinforcements constantly arrive and emergence holes can appear at any time, and you’ll have to constantly adjust your strategies, not only for your current turn, but thinking ahead as well.

An unexpected surprise was how much customization Gears Tactics allows for your squad. Not only can you change and customize your gear (pun intended) visually, but you’ll also earn statistical mod upgrades for your weapons and armor as well. If you want Gabe to rock an all pink suit of armor, go ahead. When you start to earn new armor pieces with different stats and abilities you can really start to customize your squads to suit your preferred play style. Each character has a set role and abilities, so some missions will favor more sniper ranged characters, where other missions will be much tougher and require Gabe to use his med grenades to heal the squad.

With a decently robust skill tree, you can customize each character how you like, and even respec if needed. While I’m glad tons of work went into the customization, it’s a little monotonous to constantly check and rebalance my teams between each mission. Missions will grant loot chests, and if you’re able to grab chests strewn around the missions, you can earn bonus packs. Thankfully there is no microtransactions, so these loot boxes are all earned by simply playing, even if their rewards seem completely random at times.

You may have noticed that I’ve not mentioned any sort of co-op, skirmishes or multiplayer at all, and that’s because Gears Tactics is solely a single player experience. While there are multiple difficulty options ranging from Beginner to Insane, there’s even an Ironman Mode for those that want an extreme challenge where no deaths are allowed throughout. With no multiplayer component, some may complete it and never touch it again, even though its campaign is a decent length if not padded with side missions.

I was curious how the controls would transition over to console with a controller, and even though I already played through previously on PC with a controller, you just never know what might change since then. Thankfully the controls are tight and intuitive and feels like it’s at home with a controller in your hand. Sometimes games like these must be played with a keyboard and mouse to play properly, but Gears Tactics feels at home on an Xbox controller. Also, some cool bonuses has been included as well since the PC release, like being able to have the awesome Jack robot from Gears 5 join your team with his own unique skill tree, and of course, 4K/60fps on a Series X.

Even though Gears Tactics is a shock to the franchise’s core gameplay, the new strategic take still works for its unique setting. It may not play like any Gears that you’re used to, but it still fits and feels like a true entry into the series without feeling forced. While I could have done without the padded side missions, Gears Tactics still has amazing visuals, writing, gameplay and everything else that fans have come to love about the series. Super fans will obviously get the most from its narrative as it has deep ties into the series’ overall narrative, though strategy game fans can jump in and still enjoy the experience without being a Gear-head.

**Gears Tactics was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars

Back in February I got to get my hands on with an early version of Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars in Game Preview and came away intrigued, as it blended card based gameplay with an almost board game-like overworld and turn based strategic combat. I was curious to see what coming back to its world would be like and what changes and improvements have been made since I last played months ago. Set in a world where a vampiric war is breaking out, you’ll spend the bulk of your time with its lengthy campaign but also have options for Sandbox and Skirmish modes as well if you’re looking for a bit more once the narrative is complete.

For a game with “Vampire Wars” in its title, it lives up to its name. Three vampiric bloodlines are at war with one another, with regular mortals caught in the crossfire. The clans of Dracul, Moria and Nosfernus are all vying for power in their own way. The Dracul rule over its land with humans in a unique way, that at long as the humans allow them to be feasted upon when needed, then there will be a ‘peace’ of sorts with lovers Vlad and Cecilia protecting them from outsiders. The Moroia is led by Elizabeth and lays in the outskirts in solitude, with a focus on magic. Lastly, the Nosfernus don’t follow as many rules, feasting whenever they please, waiting for an opportunity to take control of the land of the living.

Each clan has its own leader, playstyle and mechanics. The campaign is split into a dozen intricately crafted missions that took much longer than I was expecting, as each mission can sometimes take well over an hour or two if you take your time and fight each battle manually. While a dozen missions might not sound like much, it’ll last you longer than you expect. Throughout the campaign you’ll see different perspectives and get a glimpse of their motivation and agendas.

Gameplay is essentially broken into two different halves and styles. First is the overview map, titled Kingdom Mode, which plays much like a top-down view of a board game. Here you’ll control your units and leader within a set amount of moves and actions per turn. You can choose to move further into the map to uncover more of the fog, or utilize actions on special panels like villages and such where you can feast, draw new cards, upgrade buildings, recruit troops and more.

There is also a deck building element you need to be mindful about as well, that if used properly, can completely change the outcome of your mission. Some cards will heal your armies, recruit units, give buffs and more. To use your cards though, each has a set amount of blood that’s needed to play per card, so the better and more powerful the card, the more blood it will take to use. To get blood you’ll need to be in control of certain land and villages, as you’ll need to feast on its population to gain blood, sacrificing population for the points. There’s a lot of strategy in knowing what cards to play and when, but more importantly, when to utilize your blood and sacrifice when needed.

As you venture across the overview map you’ll eventually run into enemies, usually blocking the single space needed to progress further, and so comes the other main half of the gameplay, the battles. Played upon a grid based map, you’ll fight against your enemies, be it humans, beasts or other vampires in a turn based strategy. While minor battles will give you the option to auto complete if you don’t want to sit through it, based on your army’s strength versus theirs, the main and story battles need to be manually controlled. There are a handful of different unit types, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, but there are also objects like trees and buildings on the grid based map too, so you need to be mindful of not blocking your own units’ access to move or others. Battles will take a lot of trial and error to get some decent strategies, but once you start to figure out the best ways to play each, it becomes much more rewarding.

Each unit is meant to be played in a specific way, like archers raining down arrows from afar, and they all have their own abilities as well that can be utilized. Just like on the overview map, you have a card deck for battles as well. These cards again can change the outcome quite dramatically if played properly, allowing you to buff your troops, place shields, heal, deal extra damage and many more. While much of the combat is melee based, there seems to not be many restrictions with line of sight for your ranged units, something that changed many outcomes in my favor once I learned how to block the enemy with my healthier tanks or Lord. You’re going to lose a lot of battles early on until you start to get a hang of some successful strategies, but once you turn that corner and can plan accordingly, it again becomes much more rewarding.

For those wanting a completely custom challenge, Sandbox mode allows you to tweak basically every setting you could think of, even the win objective. Maybe you want to try a two versus one match for more challenge? Go ahead. Skirmish Mode on the other hand allows for one versus one where you pick the clans, their levels, equipment, armies, items, map and more. This mode is where I got to test out all of the clans and their abilities before progressing that far into the campaign. While these are great ideas, there’s absolutely no online multiplayer, so the longevity simply isn’t there.

One of my biggest complaints from the earlier version I played was how overwhelming it can feel in the early stages. Yes there’s a tutorial, but it really only teaches you the basics and the controls, not so much about all of the cards, best times to use them and strategies. Many lost matches with trial and error is how you’re going to learn best, and honestly, jumping back in after not playing a few months was quite difficult, and I had to relearn how to play. This isn’t to say that the controls were ‘bad’, but it’s also not the most intuitive either. Also, my other main complaint was the small font size, as reading the text on the cards can sometimes be difficult, even on my 65” TV.

On and Xbox Series X the load times were incredibly fast, though likely from the hardware and SSD itself more than anything else. Visually, nothing is going to impress you. The models are quite dated, jagged and the voice acting is notably terrible at times.

I really enjoyed the tonality and setting, but it’s hard to justify the asking price of $47.99 CAD for a single player only affair, though a decent sale at half price would be more in line with a solid recommendation. Somehow the different gameplay elements do blend together well, making for a very strategic experience, though it will take a lot of trial and error to fully understand it. Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars may not be the most robust strategy game out there, but has a unique setting with an interesting narrative if you’re starved for a new strategy game.

**Immortal Realms: Vampire Wars was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 DIRT 5

While I’ve played a few of the DIRT series entries here and there, I never really spent much substantial time with any of the iterations over the years. Now that the Xbox Series X has launched, I was looking for some Xbox Series X|S specific games to test out the new console and TV with, to see what all the hype was about. Luckily, DIRT 5 released just before the Series X launch and had Smart Delivery, meaning I got to get the upgraded version for my Series X, which this review is based on.

Codemasters has been around for quite some time and I’ve been a fan of their other racing games for years, so I was excited to finally dig my feet into DIRT 5 for the first time, unsure what to really expect other than some pretty visuals. On paper there’s plenty to do here, from a decently sized career across many different race types and weather patterns, split-screen and online races, and even a track editor where you can race endless maps made by the community.

The career is where you’ll spend the majority of your time, rising from a no-body to a star within the sport, under the coaching from another icon. I was also quite surprised to learn that voice over icons Nolan North and Troy Baker lent their talents to part of the campaign as well, adding a professional touch to the whole experience in the world of off-road racing.

Your racing career will span the globe across ten different locations, from Brazil, Greece, Nepal, Norway, China, Italy, Morocco, South Africa, Arizona and Roosevelt Island. Across these locations are multiple routes for each area, plus a handful of different race types as well. Each area has its own distinct look and feel, but my favorites were the uphill one-way races where the terrain is your biggest competition. Even more impressive was the dynamic weather where you can be racing in clear conditions one moment, then be in a near whiteout blizzard or a dust storm that makes it near impossible to see.

While DIRT 5 doesn’t have an extensive car list, each category has a handful of different makes and models to choose from, and while you can add stickers and paintjobs with the livery editor, it’s nowhere near as expansive that we’ve become accustomed to in other pinnacle racers. Vehicles will range in types from trucks, buggies, GT, rally and even 900bhp sprint cars.

What I will say about the career mode is that it’s quite short and not all that challenging overall. Having to restart the odd race here and there because of a mess up on my part, I breezed through the campaign without much worry, even in the last handful of events. What I did enjoy is the option of what pathway you want to go through the campaign. For example, once you finish the opening race there are two choices of race you want to do next. Maybe one is an uphill race and the other a gymkhana. Complete that race and then that branches out further to other selections, so you can aim your career in a way for the events you want to partake in, or avoid others (like how I generally avoided the Gymkana events). There’s nothing stopping you from going back and racing the other choices should you wish, and you might actually do so once you win the final race. I really appreciated being able to focus on the events I enjoyed and avoid the ones I didn’t.

As you win races and move onto the finals of circuits, you’ll earn new sponsors, experience, money and fans. Each race will also have a few optional objectives to strive towards as well. Given that DIRT 5 is primarily an arcade racer, many of these goals are ‘get X seconds of air”, “trade paint while drifting” alongside the typical “stay in first place for X seconds, “overtake X opponents”, etc. These aren’t mandatory, but will give you a slight bonus upon race completion for doing so. You’ll also choose sponsors, of which each will also have their own objective list to be met if you want to rank up and earn new rewards like stickers and decals for popular brands.

I was kind of surprised to see DIRT 5 cater more towards the arcade experience this time around, which is fine, but if you’re looking for an authentic rally experience, realistic driving or even tuning or visual upgrades for the vehicles, you won’t find those here. There’s not even any qualifying races, you simply need to start in last each time and manage to win each race in first. Most racing games take time to learn how its handling and drifting works, and I never really had any issues here, even in my first few races. The controls feel well done and drifting isn’t too complicated to perform exactly how you intend, other than the ice track races of course.

Money comes so quickly that you won’t ever have an issue affording any car you want in each class. This poses a small problem though, as you can basically buy all of the best cars for each class quite early on, and since there’s nothing else to upgrade or purchase, once you’ve done so, money becomes essentially worthless.

The dynamic weather system in DIRT 5 is what really impressed the most. You’ll be racing no problem, then all of a sudden things can change almost instantly. Maybe the clouds open up and a downpour drenches the tracks, or a whiteout blizzard comes out of nowhere and makes it near impossible to see. In particular, the mud in DIRT 5 is absolutely astounding. Zooming through a mud patch will leave your bumper and back of the vehicle dirty, but looks completely realistic.

When you’re done with the campaign and done all you can do, this is where Playgrounds comes in. Here is where you can create any track you could possibly come up with, share it with everyone else and of course, race on other people’s creations. Not only can you make standard race courses, but Gymkhana events, Time Attacks and Smash Attack’s as well. People have some amazing creativity, as I’ve played some completely wild tracks people have created, so be sure to check them out as there’s endless creations, complete with leaderboards.

There is also of course online multiplayer as well for those that want to race the competition online or with friends. Up to 12 players can compete but there’s also four player split screen, which is somewhat of a rarity these days. If you want something different, there are even a handful of different objective based modes as well, so there’s plenty of variety for your friends to enjoy.

For those that want even more content for DIRT 5, there’s an Amplified Edition that gets you a few extras: All of the post-launch DLC, 3 exclusive vehicles (Ariel Nomad Tactical, Audi TT Safari and VW Beetle Rallycross), 3 sponsors with objectives, rewards and liveries on top of some currency and XP boosts. The difference between this and the base game is about $17, but you’ll need to determine if the cost difference is worth it to you for those cars.

While I was able to play DIRT 5 on my Xbox One, I waited until I had my Series X in hand to start my racing career, which this review is based upon. There are multiple visual options, allowing for fidelity, resolution or framerate. Having tried them all, I absolutely stuck with the framerate mode as it was incredibly impressive. Having just got a new TV as well that supports 120hz, framerate mode makes DIRT 5 feel silky smooth if you are able to enable the 120fps and I encountered no hiccups, even when the weather got crazy. As for the game’s aesthetic, it’s bright and colorful and has a simple joyous feeling to it.

The audio is done quite well also. Yes, it’s going to get bonus points for having Nolan North and Troy Baker included for voicing in the game, though it would have been cool if they had a larger role to play. Each vehicle class sounds unique as you rev their engines and drift corners, you can hear mud slinging up the side of your car and rain hitting the windshield if you race in cockpit view. The soundtrack is serviceable and has a few decent tracks, thankfully I never had to mute it or put my own playlist on out of annoyance.

While previous DIRT fans might not be so sure about its arcade direction this time around, for everyone else, it’s an accessible and fun racing game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you happened to get one of the new consoles, playing DIRT 5 in framerate mode is how you can showcase what your new TV can or can’t do. While there’s not much length to the career mode, Playgrounds allows you to create or play anyone else’s track, adding longevity, even if the overall package is a little light on substance.

**DIRT 5 was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 8.1 / 10 WARSAW

While originally released on PC about a little over a year ago, WARSAW Console Edition is finally here for, well, console players. While there’s dozens of games set in the World War II era, you mostly like think of your typical Call of Duty or Battlefield shooters, but every so often a different game in the genre comes in, like WARSAW. Instead of your WWII shooter variety, WARSAW instead is a turn based tactical RPG set in the historically accurate streets of Warsaw when it was occupied by German forces. War is brutal, and it’s no different here, so prepare for a hard fought road ahead, not to win the war itself, but to simply survive.

Set in 1944 near the end of the War, the whole backdrop takes place in the ruined city of Warsaw. To fight for your freedom, you’ll need to recruit everyone that you can in the fight against the uprising. Kill your enemies, loot what you can and save all the salvage, as it will help you survive another day. While it’s a historical setting, it’s not too heavy on the history lessons, but instead chooses to focus on its characters with their backstories and minor events that occur doing your missions.

The city is divided into a handful of different districts, each of which needs their morale and supplies to be maintained. If these get too low enemy forces will overtake the district, but you completing missions for the resistance will help keep all of these as high as possible, if you’re successful.

There are essentially three different sections to WARSAW’s gameplay. The first is the map and missions. Here is where you’ll chose a mission in a specific district, each with its own win conditions. You’ll encounter enemies, traps and even historical events that actually took place within the iconic city. The camera is viewed from top down, showing you as a simple round icon navigating the ruined city streets, with arrow icons indicating nearby objectives. As you find supplies or enemies, you can choose to engage or loot, but it all feels very basic, as if you’re playing a board game.

Enemies are indicated by their icons, some of which can be avoided and don’t have an alert radius, and others that have a wide range alert radius that forces you into combat if you step within its boundaries. Supply crates will be littered through the city, but sometimes they are placed by nearby enemy forces, so you’ll need to weigh the risk versus reward for gathering some ammo and supplies. There will also be event icons, which if activated, will usually have some sort of quick narrative and a choice to make. Some of these choices are basic while others will need a skill check to be successful. Some of these are gut wrenching decisions you must make and there’s not always a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ morale option, just a muddy grey area.

You also need to be deliberate with every movement across the map, as you’re only given a certain amount of movement points, and if you don’t succeed in your mission before running out, then it’s a mission fail. While I understand the idea, as you don’t want to be wandering around an enemy occupied city longer than needed, if you get some bad luck and don’t get your objectives randomly placed somewhat nearby or happen to choose the right directions by luck, you might fail.

The second main mechanic of WARSAW is its combat. When you do engage in battle, you’ll be placed in some challenging firefights against the enemy. Not only turn based, you also need to keep tabs on your resource management as well, like ammo, as every move costs something to do; usually your ammo to fire. Every character will have their own weapons and abilities, and being able to make a team of four for each mission means you’ll need to be strategic on whom to take. Do you make a well-rounded team with a medic, heavy bazooka, rifles and machine guns, or do you prefer a more aggressive approach? Be careful though, as death is permanent, and if you lose one of your better characters you’re going to have a much more difficult time going forward.

Viewed in 2D, each side of the screen is broken into a top and bottom lane of four grid spots each. The left side of the screen are your allies, and the right the Nazi’s. You have a certain amount of Action Points that can be used per turn on movement, melee or abilities like firing or buffing. Each turn allows you to use AP for your squad, and interestingly, this means you can choose to use one character multiple times for damage output, but there are downsides to doing so, as this will deplete your stamina, causing you to take more damage and lower your accuracy. Also, most of your attack abilities have specific range requirements, so you’ll have to know where to position yourself to attack the enemy best.

Cover plays a big role as well, as you’ll take decreased damage if standing behind cover, but the enemy will do the same. Some characters will have special abilities to drop cover as well, so it’s a balance of figuring out the best tactics for the battle at hand. There’s a surprising amount of strategy that needs to be figured out, and sadly the game doesn’t teach you much, so your first couple playthroughs are going to end poorly, but once you start to figure out how to best utilize your squad’s abilities it becomes much more enjoyable. Combat is quite difficult, and seemingly randomized for hits and misses, though you can see the exact percentage before committing to an attack.

The last part of WARSAW’s gameplay is within your Hideout. Here’s where your team will hide in secret, able to recruit new members, plan your next move and take a breather for a moment. While you are able to recruit new members, it’s quite costly to do so and they are very generic skill wise, so you best take care of your main characters or you’re almost surely going to lose battles going forward. You can decide what missions to undertake, trying to focus on research gathering or taking down the enemy. There’s a lot of long-term planning you’ll need to assess as well, as to survive the War, you’ll need to be managing multiple different facets of your resistance.

While I had a hard time with WARSAW, what I did enjoy the most was its visual aesthetic with its hand drawn characters and backgrounds. Character design is fitting for the time period, as is the atmosphere and has that brown and grey hue to it that would encapsulate a war torn city in shambles. While the background audio is decent and adds to the atmosphere, there’s not much else of note as it does become a little repetitive.

I always appreciate games with such important historical importance like this and was thankful it wasn’t just a dry history lesson. At the same time, it was quite challenging to keep on top of everything needed to survive, especially when much of my success felt luck based at times. While it has its moments of enjoyment when everything goes according to plan, having to restart numerous times because you lose an important squad member like your medic becomes quite frustrating. There’s a lot of depth and strategy to be had within WARSAW, but surviving will be the priority and fun being a distant second.

Overall Score: 6.3 / 10 FUSER

I absolutely adore music based games, so when a new one comes along you can bet that I’m all in. From developers HARMONIX, best known for Rock Band and Dance Central, their latest hit is a DJ based game titled FUSER. I played DJ Hero before and expected a similar experience, but got something completely different instead, and thankfully, a much more rewarding experience.

Rock Band has a special place in my heart, as a group of my friends would get together every weekend whenever possible and play for hours without fail. Obviously the gaming landscape became too oversaturated with the plastic instruments over the years, and I can’t remember the last time a group of friends got together for a Rock Band night (not that that’s even an option these days), so HARMONIX had to come up with something different. Thankfully this wasn’t too hard, as they basically had already done it previously with their release of Dropmix, a physical card based DJ game that, while may not have done well sales wise, has been translated into videogame form and what we’re talking about today; FUSER.

Described as a nonstop virtual music festival, FUSER has you controlling the music for the masses as a DJ. Not only will you be crafting unique and interesting mixes, but you can combine multiple parts of over 100 songs or work alongside friends online to create some really unique and awesome tracks. Thankfully with HARMONIX behind the wheel, their track record proves that once again that they’re the masters of the musical genre, as I haven’t been able to stop playing since headlining the stage.

After creating your DJ to look just how you want, complete with that signature HAMRONIX character art style, you’ll begin your DJ career as a nobody and obviously work your way up to the main stage the biggest music festival. The campaign will start out simple and with very basic mechanics. As you complete sets and move up the stages, you’ll learn new mechanics that adds another layer of difficulty, but also the creativity opens up fully by the end.

Each set gives you a certain amount of songs you can utilize however you wish, and you’re obviously tasked with not only making a great sounding mix, but trying to appease the audience requests and scoring as high as possible. The requests can come in different forms, such as a specific song, instrument, genre or year. Doing so properly and in the short time given will earn you extra points and make you a better DJ overall, allowing you to freely switch on the fly, not only purposely, but awesomely. You’ll work your way across six different venues, each with its own style and crowd, becoming progressively more difficult.

If you just want to mess around without the pressure of much else, then Freestyle mode is where you’ll want to hang out and mix, though I highly suggest playing completely through the campaign as it’s going to teach you all the nuances and how to create a better sounding mix overall. Simply jumping into Freestyle will allow you to mix songs no problem, but without knowing how to change key, pitch, modes, loops and more it won’t be as possibly good as it could be.

A music based game is only going to be as good as its content; the music. Thankfully HARMONIX knows what they are doing when it comes to musical content and has included more than 100 tracks across a variety of genres, decades and artists. There’s something special about being able to create a mix with 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ beat with Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gunna Give You Up’ vocals then fade it into some ‘Old Town Road’ mixed with some Salt-N-Pepa ‘Push It’. The options are limitless and can really show your creative side. While listing every track would be far too long, here’s a handful of the notables that I really enjoyed and constantly put in my crate (usable songs on a set):

50 Cent - "In da Club"
A-ha - "Take On Me"
Ace of Base - "The Sign"
Benny Benassi presents The Biz - "Satisfaction"
Blue Öyster Cult - "(Don't Fear) The Reaper"
Carly Rae Jepsen - "Call Me Maybe"
DMX - "X Gon' Give It to Ya”
Labelle - "Lady Marmalade"
Lady Gaga - "Born This Way"
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Wanz - "Thrift Shop"
Megadeth - "Symphony of Destruction"
Rick Astley - "Never Gonna Give You Up"
Salt-N-Pepa - "Push It"

Being that this is a music game, and if you ever played Rock Band, you most likely also purchased a handful of extra songs here and there. There are also another 25 songs that will be in the first batch of DLC, but is also included in the slightly pricier VIP Edition. I am curious to see what new additions will come in the future, as the store was not live or populated as of the time of this writing pre-launch.

So before you start to set the stage on fire with your mixes, you need to pick the right look for your DJ. While not a ton of options, you can customize them to look almost exactly however you wish. There’s a decent amount of options for clothing and accessories, but I did expect a lot more for some reason. Not only will you customize your character, but everything that goes into your stage as well, including lighting, fireworks, pyrotechnics, video screens and more. Again, while not a ton of options, at least it’s there to add some personality to your stages.

Your main mixing will come from the four different colored turntables that sit in front of you on stage. This is where you can easily choose any song and drop it on your table, deciding if you want the beat, instruments or vocals. Somehow FUSER makes the majority of even the oddest song mashups work. It’s not perfect, as there’s the odd times where certain mixes don’t sound all that great mashed up together, but for the most part, they have some sort of magic that makes it flow and sync together nicely. Blend any pairings from any song in your current crate to make a totally neat and rocking beat for the crowd.

While the core gameplay comes from mixing in this way, there’s a lot more you can do to really amp up your mixes as well. You’ll eventually gain access to instruments, many of which are unlockable, and can be played on top of your current mix or even have loops crated than placed on one of your turntables to fit right in with the rest of the music naturally.

You can also eject discs at any time if you abruptly want to drop a beat, instrument or vocals, mute any layer, or even have any disc solo if you want to focus on one component of the mix at any time. There’s also a bunch of effects you can lay over your individual tracks, or have them play over the whole mix. There’s so many options here at your disposal that it really just comes down to your creativity and style. Yes, the controls for it all takes some time to get accustomed to becoming proficient at doing exactly what you want quickly and when you want, but once you learn how to queue tracks, blend in and out and more, your mixes start to become elevated the better you get. There are even colored markers on the moving timeline that indicates the best time to drop a part of a track for extra points. Again, the timing takes getting used to, but eventually it becomes second nature to drop and swap tracks on a downbeat for a natural flow.

As you complete sets you’ll earn XP, leveling up as you fill the bar each time. A level gives you access to new customization options and will also give you a handful of points that you can spend to unlock new songs. Yes, not all songs are unlocked from the beginning, but they can all be unlocked by simply playing FUSER, the only issue with this is that the rate for XP growth is so slow that it’s going to take quite a while to get enough points to unlock each song and instrument over time.

Given that I was reviewing FUSER before its official launch, I wasn’t able to test its online capabilities, even though I tried numerous times, but no one joined. There is cooperative and competitive DJ modes, depending on your preference. With online freeplay, 4 DJ’s can work together on a set, each having their own time in the spotlight, able to cheer one another on when waiting for your turn. The Battle Mode is the competitive side where you go one on one versus another DJ, attempting to deplete their health by making a good mix, matching audience requests and forcing tracks to drop form your opponent. The best part about the online and social aspect is that you’re able to save your mixes and share them out to the community, or even enter weekly challenges with unique prizes for the top DJ’s.

There’s just enough musical variety that FUSER can appeal to nearly everyone from any musical taste or genre. No matter what mix I was trying to attempt, my head was constantly bobbing and my foot was tapping along to the beat. While I don’t fully understand the scoring system, as getting 5 stars on songs seems quite difficult, I still have fun every time I play and try out some new combinations of songs, always having a smile on my face and grooving to my own beat before sharing it online for everyone else to hopefully listen to. FUSER has recaptured that something special that Rock Band did years ago.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Commandos 2 & Praetorians: HD Remaster Double Pack

It seems the last few years has had a major focus on gaming remakes and remasters. Some of these are long awaited and done very well, while others have simply some upped HD-like textures and call it a day. Commandos 2 & Praetorians HD Remaster Double Pack brings Xbox players two classic PC strategy games from the early 2000’s that I didn’t know had so much of a following that it warranted the HD Remaster treatment. Truth be told, I’ve seen the game covers before but have never played either one. While they’ve been ‘console-fied’ for a new audience, they absolutely show their age and makes for an odd console experience.

Originally developed by Pyro Studios, this double pack includes two different RTS games, but each is wildly different from the other. Commandos 2 is set in World War II and has you behind enemy lines whereas Praetorians is set further back in the Roman Empire. Both have had updated graphics, though you wouldn’t know it unless you’ve seen how dated the original releases appear. While textures and resolution seemed to have been improved, it seems as if the animations didn’t get the same upgrades, as movement is very stuff in both games, especially Praetorians. Both games are played in the angled top-down isometric view, and while the controls do work, it’s not refined by any means; a problem many RTS games have on console.

Commandos 2 – HD Remaster:

Commandos 2 places you behind enemy lines in World War II where a group of, well, commandos, must stealthily complete their missions and turn the tide of the war. War is unforgiving, and it’s no different in Commandos 2. The difficulty spikes quite early and there will be a lot of trial and error as each mission becomes more challenging and involved.

Most games ease you into its controls and gameplay, giving you tiny tidbits of information and having you master one thing at a time before introducing the next. Not with Commandos 2. The moment you’re given the reigns after the opening cutscene your screen fills with a wall of text showcasing what every single button and command is for. That’s it for the tutorial; read it and figure it out. This of course results in you failing and dying numerous times before figuring out things slowly on your own. I understand that games back in that era was difficult by design, but there’s no reason a small tutorial couldn’t have been added to ease you into the gameplay.

The first few missions are actually labeled as training missions, but again, you’re simply thrown in and have to figure it out. What I did like most about Commandos 2 though is that each mission feels like a puzzle that you need to solve. Each unit you can control has their own uses and abilities, so some are better in certain situations. Need to get over some powerlines or scale some walls? Then you’ll want to utilize the Thief. Want to knock out enemies and tie them up so they can’t eventually wake up and alarm other guards? Then you’ll want the Green Beret. While missions can be tackled a variety of different ways technically, I found stealth is really your only option for the most part, as you’ll lose firefights very quickly if it escalates to that point. As I said, missions feel like puzzles, and while you’re technically given the freedom to ‘solve’ them however you wish, most missions felt pretty linear in the sense of object placement and objectives.

Thankfully the way around all this trial and error is the save system. You’re able to save whenever you wish, so this resulted in me saving like a mad man anytime I successfully took out a guard or objective. This allowed me to try something I thought might work, and when it failed, I just reloaded my last save from a few moments earlier. Don’t do this and you’ll need to restart the mission all over again, which is where you can see the frustration was starting to set in. Did killing that guard with your rifle alert everyone? Restart. Did the tank steamroll your squad? Restart. Did you putting on an enemy uniform allow you to sneak past unnoticed? Oh, it did? Then continue on and save.

I can see why Commandos 2 was popular and revolutionary back at its initial release. Maps could be rotated in 3D, you can peek into windows and plan out your next moves, you had multiple unit types with different abilities, and while the constant failures do frustrate, it does feel satisfying to finally solve each mission and progress. With a handful of missions, Commandos 2 should keep you busy for a few hours at least, it just won’t be pretty to look at while you do.

Praetorians – HD Remaster

The second game in this double pack is Praetorians – HD Remaster, set within the Roman Empire. Here you’re on a journey that lasts around twenty missions or so, becoming progressively more challenging as you get closer to the Emperor. You’ll have to prove yourself in battle across Egypt, Gaul and eventually Italy on your crusade. To become victorious though, you’ll need to learn how to manage your troops and come up with strategies for the challenges ahead; Easier said than done with a controller.

While an RTS, the main focus is on its combat and unit management. There is some minor civilization building aspects, but only to make new troops and weapons like catapults, battering rams and such. There are a number of different units, from auxiliary soldiers that need to be used to create things, archers, spearmen and more, all of which are strong against a certain enemy type but weak against another, so you’ll need to be strategic when sending troops headfirst into battle. Of course, doing so easily on a controller isn’t the greatest experience, and while you can hotkey certain groups of troops, I basically just powered my way through each battle by sending the whole army at once to steamroll anything in front of me.

You can employ some strategy, like having units face a certain way, set stationary stances for more defense and more, but doing so quickly and easily with the controller can be inconsistent at the best of times. There’s a submenu that can be accessed with the ‘Y’ button as well, where you can use your special abilities, combine squads, split them evenly, change their stance and more. The same problems with Commandos 2 are present here as well, with an ugly-at-best game to look at with very stiff and dated animations and even poorer voice acting. I’m aware this is basically just a fidelity bump for its visuals, but it has not aged well at all.

While I was unable to find a single other player online, there is the option for Skirmishes, though thankfully you’re able to at least setup matches with CPU opponents should you want to get a little more time out of your purchase with anyone choosing any of the factions. Maps vary in size, and even on the easier difficulties the CPU can be quite challenging.

I really appreciate that old classic games like these are being ported over for console players to enjoy that may have never known of them previously. While you can purchase each game separately for $25.99, this double pack comes in at $51.99 CAD, so I’m kind of surprised there was no incentive or cost savings to do so unless you were a fan of both games. While each game has their own achievements, they are simply tied to campaign progression, which can be a slog to get through.

I’m not sure if anyone was really clamoring for this double pack on console, but here we are. While not a bad pairing, the main issue is that both games, Commandos 2 and Praetorians, suffer from showing their age. Time has not been kind to them, and while they’ve been given the “HD Remaster” treatment, it’s still quite a rough go visually and mechanically. I actually ended up enjoying Praetorians moreso than Commandos 2, but time has not been kind to both games.

Overall Score: 4.5 / 10 Watch Dogs: Legion

I was a big fan of the original Watch Dogs when it released back in 2014. There was something so cool about being able to hack nearly anything and everyone with just a press of your phone. It laid the groundwork for its gameplay and sequel, and now we have the third in the series, Watch Dogs: Legion. With a new sequel comes a new gimmick, though I hate to label it that, as it’s actually quite game changing; allowing you to recruit and play as basically any NPC you come across in the game, from the homeless, beekeepers, grandmothers, adult film stars, street performers to your average person. I initially didn’t think this feature would be as big of a deal as it turned out to be, but I can admit when I was wrong, as it really impresses and changed how I thought about basic NPC’s and their virtual lives.

We first met the hacktivist group DedSec in the original Watch Dogs, set on fighting injustice and corporations like Blume that clearly have nefarious roots and schemes. DedSec operates all over the globe, and the setting for Legion is in good old London, abeit in the slight future where autonomous cars and drones are commonplace. Albion has taken over nearly every facet of the city after a massive bombing that left London in pieces that DedSec wrongfully has been blamed for. Not only has DedSec now hated by the public, but they’ve all but been exterminated or away in hiding for fear of being found.

You won’t stand for this though, and after choosing your first recruit, you aim to not only build DedSec back up to its former glory, but to take down those responsible for framing you as well. Doing so will be much easier said than done. You’re just one person though, so you’re going to have a long road ahead of you, attempting to recruit more to the cause and taking the fight to Albion and any others involved. Albion is a private security company that has taken over policing, has state of the art tech, drones, and is watching every one of London’s citizens, as well as searching for your group.

It would be too easy to simply blame Albion though, and as your uncover more information and find out who’s behind the bigger picture, the narrative becomes quite interesting. You’ll have to not only deal with Albion around every corner, but Clan Kelley, Blume and a mysterious hacking group that seemingly knows everything about you, Zero Day. Nearly every corner unveils a new threat and there’s a rollercoaster of events and twists that occur that keep you guessing right until the credits roll. The writing is done very well and actually makes you hate each of the antagonists, though beware, some of the events and themes can get quite dark in nature.

Interestingly, there’s not a set protagonist. Yes, you the player are the ‘hero’ per-se, but because you can be and choose anyone you come across in London and recruit them to DedSec, there’s no one centralized and focused character you’re forced to be at any time. I wasn’t sure how this would work, but surprisingly, it blended into the narrative so seamlessly that I really didn’t notice. Yes, I played my favorite character every chance I could and viewed them as the ‘leader’, but your game will be completely different based on who and how you play. Also, if you’re new to the Watch Dogs series, you don’t necessarily have to have played the previous two to understand what’s going on or to enjoy it, though you’ll obviously get a little more out of it if you are a fan and have played the prior entries.

Legion's main new draw is the play as anyone gimmick, and it works. Literally anyone you see can be recruited for DedSec, though some will need some more coaxing if they aren’t a sympathizer. Each player is unique not only in their backstory and daily schedule, but could have unique abilities, weapons and vehicles as well. If you see someone you’d like to convert you can tag them as a potential recruit and they’ll give you a mission when they are able to join your team. These missions are usually quite basic, such as getting information for them or a fetch quest of some sort, but completing it will then bring them into your team as a playable character. There are some unique characters you can get from doing special missions as well, so always keep an eye out for special NPC’s. A construction worker for example can enter an off-limits construction site and have a less chance at being noticed. The same goes for an Albion security guard, as they can wander around special restricted areas and will be harder to be noticed.

If you really want to care about your team, there’s even a mode where you can toggle on permadeath. With this enabled, any team member that is injured or dies is gone forever. That’s right, all that time and effort you took to get them on your team is now for naught because of a careless mission or bad car crash. Permadeath really makes you take care about your team much more and are more careful with your actions. Should you find that one of your characters simply aren’t that useful anymore, you can also remove them from DedSec just as easily to make room for better characters.

Being that Watch Dogs is about hackers, naturally a bulk of its gameplay also centers around this as well. If you’ve played the previous games you’ll have an idea what to expect, as you’ll be hacking countless CCTV cameras, drones, arming traps, controlling spider-bots and more. Many areas are enemy territory, so if you step foot within these buildings you’ll be spotted and attacked. Naturally, the answer to this is to remotely hack into their camera system, tag your enemies, set up traps and even have your spider-bot do the dirty work for you with its silent takedowns, as long as you’re within range of course.

I initially wasn’t using my Spider-bot ability very much other than when needed to unlock doors remotely, but once I figured out I was able to takedown enemies easily with it, I barely step foot in dangerous areas until nearly every enemy is cleared out. You’re able to pick up certain collectibles and interact with most panels with your spider-bot, so it’s an easy way to do many objectives while you stay outside the building in safety.

Drones are another way to scout or clear out enemies as well. Some are your standard mobile cameras, but others like the riot or counter terrorist drones also have weaponry included as well. If you’ve spend enough tech points into these (which I’ll delve into shortly), you’ll not only be able to hack and take them over, but you can even simply set them to betray your enemies, doing much of the work for you.

Every so often there will also be puzzles you need to solve. While not inherently challenging, you’re simply trying to make the whole network flow from the beginning to the end by rotating pipes in certain sections. These begin out easy enough, but eventually the puzzles will wrap around buildings, pillars and even take place during a boss fight where enemies are constantly surrounding you as well. Some of these will need to be done with the surrounding cameras or your spider-bot and drones, adding another challenging layer.

As you complete missions and explore every inch of London, you’ll earn two types of currency: ETO and Tech Points. ETO is basically the bitcoin of the Watch Dogs realm, allowing you to earn or steal it in a variety of different ways. ETO can be used to purchase new cosmetic items from numerous stores around the city, ranging from outfits, jackets, shirts, pants, backpacks, shoes, hats, glasses and more. There’s plenty of different clothing to choose from, but it was annoying that each store had its own variety (which I know makes sense realistically), but I’m sure I didn’t notice a bunch of different clothing cause I’d bypass many storefronts.

The other, and more important currency, is Tech Points. You earn these by completing missions or finding them hidden throughout the city, usually in dangerous areas. These are how you purchase and upgrade new abilities and weapons. It’ll cost a certain amount to unlock a new ability, like being able to disable riot drones for a short time, but spend more points into its tier two and three abilities and you’ll also be able to turn it against your enemies as well, or be able to AR cloak yourself. The best part is that all your unlocked and upgraded abilities are shared across your whole team, so while individual characters don’t progress or level, you’re constantly making overall progress.

The mission variety was a welcome change as well. While most will have you infiltrating an off limits building to hack into a server or download some information, there are some unique missions that broke up the monotony. Some have you needing to use a spider-bot to get through vents to access rooms you aren’t able to, others have you tailing enemies, and one mission has you controlling a nano-bot, but it’s so cool that you can play each mission in a variety of different ways. I stayed true to the hacking methods by floating above the area I needed on a service drone and using my spider-bot, but another friend went in guns blazing instead. Both are completely viable.

For as much as I enjoyed Watch Dogs: Legion, it did have some issues that need to be addressed. First off, I’ve had numerous crashes, even post day-one patch; not a ton, but enough that I had to note it down and include it in this review. I also had the game turn my Xbox One X completely off and said it overheated (it didn’t) after dropping to single digit frames in a specific mission that you may have read elsewhere, oddly enough on a mission called 404. Visually everything looks fantastic, especially the London night life, and this is simply on an Xbox One X, so I’m excited to see the improvements on an Xbox Series X shortly. My only complaint is that the lip syncing can be quite off, to the point of being a distraction. The writing and voice acting is great, it just doesn’t always match what the mouth is doing.

While multiplayer hasn’t yet been implemented, it’s due to come out next month in early December, and from the sounds of Ubisoft’s promises, sounds like I might be making a return to London once it does as I want to experience some four player co-op and pvp in the Watch Dogs setting.

Watch Dogs: Legion really impressed me with its ‘recruit anyone’ mechanic. While I wasn’t initially sure what to make a the non-central main character, it really didn’t affect things as a whole expected it to. The city of London is visually impressive and I’m constantly deep scanning NPC’s I come across to see if they’d make a worthy DedSec member. If you’re a fan of the series, Legion improves many facets of its gameplay, has a great campaign with clever writing and had me wanting to hack the planet by the time the credits rolled, even if the odd crash here and there frustrated.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Necromunda: Underhive Wars

While Warhammer 40,000 has had numerous games release under its banner, the Hive World, Necromunda, is finally getting its time in the limelight with the latest release, Necromunda: Underhive Wars. Being the first adaptation of the popular tabletop game, there were some high expectations, and while I wasn’t quite sure what to expect given I’ve not played the tabletop version before or into the Warhammer lore, but came away intrigued with its design choices, as I was expecting another typical turn based tactical RPG, but got something a little different.

Far below the surface of the hive cities of Necromunda is what’s called the Underhive. This is the deep and brooding underground where gangs run rampant and are in constant battle against one another for survival. 'Dog eat dog' is a great way to put the constant power struggle in the Underhive, as only the strongest will survive.

Numerous gangs flood belly of the Underhive, each acting under a certain House/Banner. Underhive Wars focuses on three of the Houses: Escher, Goliath and Orlok, each with their own personalities, unique leaders and motivations. Necromunda’s narrative begins with you controlling the Escher’s, comprised of an all-female gang that is the definition of badass that tends to rely on stealth and strategy rather than brute strength. Orlock are the ones you’ll enjoy playing if you want a team full of meathead brutes that would rather bust through the front door guns blazing. Lastly, the Orlock House is somewhat of a middle ground, calculating their actions. Each faction has their own leader which by the end of the campaign, I really started to understand them and like them as time went on.

DeVos, a scavenger that doesn’t affiliate himself with any faction, has found information pertaining to a new power source located in the bowels of the Underhive, the Archeotech. This power source is obviously what every House is going to start to fight over once the word gets out, so it’s up to you to recover it for yourself while fending off all of your rival gangs. The campaign is actually quite lengthy and will have you controlling all three of the different houses, seeing their side of an event or reasoning behind their actions. While typical tropes are used, such as each leader fighting for power and will do anything to stop the others, near the end when they need to start working together it becomes much more entertaining from a narrative standpoint. You don’t own something if someone else can take it away from you.

Given that Necromunda is a tactical based RPG, I was expecting an experience much like X-COM. While it does utilize some of the elements and mechanics the genre is known for, it also does a few things different that helps differentiate itself as well. There’s a tutorial in the beginning that will teach you the basics of using your movement points, action points and tactics, but after the brief walkthrough you’ll be on your own to figure out strategy and the rest for yourself. If you’re a veteran in the genre you’ll feel right at home, but even then, the unique movement system in Necromunda will take a little getting used to.

Normally games like these are played on a gridded system where you can see how many squares you’re able to move and act within. Necromunda changes this up and I’m still unsure how to feel about it. Here you’re able to freely move around with the Left Stick as you would in any other third person game, but you constantly drain your movement points as you do so. So this means you’re able to maneuver and place your units exactly where you want. This is great in theory, but I ended up getting stuck a couple times in odd places or corners when I ran out of movement points. There’s a few issues with this movement system though, as you don’t see a barrier of how far you could potentially move to, so you might run out of movement points, unable to reach the spot you wanted because you wasted some of your points by running back or forth for whatever reason. The same goes for setting up ambushes and overwatch, as you’re unable to see how far an enemy is going to be able to reach on their turn as well. I’m also unsure if enemy AI has the same movement constraints, as I’ve had them move nearly across the whole map on certain turns, much further than I could ever traverse in one move.

Each mission is unique in the sense of its goals. While many will have you defeating the opposing team(s), you’re also going to be given a handful of secondary objectives as well, some of which will be optional. This is where some frustration starts to seep in. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve failed a mission because of a secondary objective fail or simply got overwhelmed and defeated, but unsure as of why. Some characters can spend all of their action points and defeat you in a single round, others seem incredibly weak if not utilized properly. Problem is, none of the abilities are really taught to you, you simply got to read each one and figure it out with trial and error, though usually more error than naught.

While the maps aren’t huge per-se, they are usually very vertical and intricate, with many walkways and pathways to flank or setup ambushes and traps to set. Some characters can do some serious damage if you use a Death From Above skill, seemingly dive bombing an enemy below if you’re on higher ground, while others are more area based on their attacks. You’re able to check the map in 3D view and move it around to figure out where enemies and objectives are, and you’ll actually have to do this quite often, as the regular HUD in-game doesn’t give much assistance in that area.

With each mission taking at least a half hour, though usually bordering on over an hour, a fail can become quite frustrating as you have to restart the whole thing from the beginning. The difficulty spikes randomly out of nowhere too, as I was a handful of missions in, holding my own, then got absolutely decimated and lost an hour of progress and had to redo the mission all over again. The AI also seemed inconsistent at times, as one mission they were near impossible to defeat, but on others seemed completely useless by not really doing much other then moving around a bit then kneeling and waiting for their next turn. What I did enjoy though was that each mission and map almost felt like a puzzle I had to solve, as you always have to be cognitive of your mission objectives other than killing the enemies.

Once you figure out the nuances to combat, it can be fun if you learn how to use your team properly. Attacks and actions cost AP (action points) to use, so you need to be mindful of what you want to do and plan accordingly. Want to call and elevator so you can go up a floor and flank? That’ll cost AP. Want to jump down from a ledge? That’ll be AP as well. Want to use a zip line to quickly get to the other side of a gap? You got it, more AP to spend. Sometimes you’ll get to where you want but barely have any AP left to actually attack your enemies, especially when some of your abilities can be quite costly to use. Once you figure out how to properly use your team and their abilities, you can create some interesting tactics but it will take some time to get to that point. Even after a dozen hours or so I was still struggling to figure out how to best use some of my abilities strategically.

Combat can be interesting, but man, is it boring at the same time. Everything is so slow, and given that it’s all turn based, you’re going to be spending a lot of time just waiting for the enemies to finish their turns or figuring out where you should go. A single round can take quite some time, and I’ve had matches that took well over an hour to complete, so don’t expect to get a quick match in here and there. Once you start getting two teams of two facing each other, the wait only becomes even more excruciating. This means you can easily lose track of where everyone is at one time, meaning you’ll need to reference the map once again which adds even more time. Games like X-COM are turn based, but has a constant flow, whereas Necromunda felt like it had much more stop-and-go downtime.

Combat is also in the same bag, meaning at times it can be cool to see your flamethrower damage a group of enemies standing together, but others only hitting for small damage numbers without any ‘ommph’ to them feels weak. You’ll need to learn how to best use your weapons too, as having a melee character with two chainsaw swords can deal some serious damage, or a sniper giving cover with overwatch up above can turn the tide of a match. At the same time, taking the time to flank an enemy and whiffing on an attack which in turn then gets you killed is completely deflating.

When you’ve either completed or had your fill with the lengthy campaign, you have Operations to partake in. Here you actually get to customize and build your gang from scratch, completely customizing their looks and with the loot you get from completing missions. You can also level up and fully customize each crew member here, so for those that want to prove they have the baddest House in all of the Underhive, take your gang online and challenge others to see who reigns supreme. In my time reviewing Necromunda though, I was unable to find a single match, so sadly I’m unable to comment on how the progression here works, if any.

Warhammer 40K fans will feel at home with the dark and brooding aesthetic, and I’m sure Necromunda fans specifically will be ecstatic to see familiar faces and places. The atmosphere is very fitting of the Underhive setting and gritty gang wars constantly taking place. Cutscenes are quite decently presented, as is the voice acting across the board, but the audio for in-game is simply ‘okay’, with nothing really standing out.

Put in the time to learn its nuances and you’ll come away with a game that rewards you for the time you put into it, it just takes a very long time to get to that point. There’s a lot of potential to be had, but I found missions to be much too lengthy and tedious to keep my attention with its excruciating slow pacing, especially when losing an hour’s worth of gameplay and having to redo it all over again. Necromunda: Underhive Wars is going to mainly appeal to diehard Warhammer 40K fans and those that want to play anything similar to X-COM with its tactical gameplay, but it’s a hard sell for the casual fan that will mostly likely feel it’s a little too clunky.

Overall Score: 6.6 / 10 Monster Truck Championship

I remember my first Monster Truck event I went to as a kid. I remember distinctly standing beside the tires that towered over me, the smell of the gasoline, the deafening of the engines as they floored the gas to do their tricks and the excitement I got watching a Monster Truck crush some cars. The tricks Monster Trucks can do now these days is absolutely insane, and I can’t even imagine having the power of nearly 2000 horses at your disposal to crush anything in front of you. Monster Trucks, before the world is in the situation it’s in these days, were so popular that they were able to fill arenas full of fans wanting to watch these machines do what they do best; crushing cars.

What initially intrigued me about Monster Truck Championship, developed by NACON and TEYON, touts itself on being the first Monster Truck “simulator”. While there’s been a handful of Monster Truck games in the past, they were usually always very arcade like, so I was curious to see what a simulation take would be. Now on one hand, if a game is being touted as a simulator, I would expect it to reflect the sport as accurately as possible, which meant I was excited to see the classic and best known monster trucks there are, namely Bigfoot and Gravedigger. Sadly Monster Truck Championship isn’t licensed at all, so don’t expect to see any real life counterparts in the game.

The majority of your time is going to be spent in the Career Mode, and while there is an online component, there’s little to no reason to play it, which I’ll get into shortly. You start your Monster Truck career with a basic truck with practically no stats in the lowest League possible. As you win events you’ll earn points and money, allowing you to eventually move up the ranks and into the bigger leagues. There are over 25 arenas for the different event types, some indoors and others out, but they all blend together, none really standing out from the others.

Each of the three leagues are broken into different events, with each event then consisting of two to five individual races or destruction modes. You have your typical races, drag races and then destruction and freestyle events. It’s important to differentiate these two main types of events, as the physics are completely different in both, which takes some getting used to, but more on that shortly.

The early events won’t cost anything to enter, but the closer events get to the finals the more the entry costs becomes, though so does the rewards you can earn for winning. As you earn points from winning events you’ll eventually be able to participate in the Finals of the league, where a win allows you to move up into the next bracket of competition. You’ll begin in the National League, eventually moving up to Professional and then Major.

As you earn certain amounts of points in the leagues, you’ll also unlock parts for your monster truck, though there are other ways to do so as well. You’ll have access to sponsorships, choosing who you want to work with. These are essentially small challenges and objectives that if you complete them within the allotted events, you’ll earn money and parts for your trucks. You’re also able to hire staff for your team, each of which have a small cost, but will give bonuses to specific components like extra cash earned, lower entry costs, better torque for your engine and much more.

Now, since this is a ‘simulation’, don’t expect your typical driving game. Actually, Monster Trucks don’t control anything like a regular vehicle, which should be obvious given their power, height, weight and stature. The biggest initial shock was that you are able to steer both the front and rear axles independently. That’s right, one stick will move your front wheels and the other the rear. This takes some serious getting used to and is touched on within the tutorial. The tutorial will go over the basics and how to do all of the tricks you’ll need to master within the Freestyle and Demolition events as well.

All of the events take place across the United States and will range from race and trick types. Races are your typical lap style races where the first across the finish line wins. I actually really enjoyed the Drag Races though. Here you go one on one with another driver in separate identical lanes where the first driver across the line advances to the next round in a knockout setup.

When you think Monster Trucks, you most likely think of them launching into the air and crushing dozens of cars, and this is where the Freestyle and Destruction events come into play. Freestyle has you chaining tricks together, like donuts, flips, high jumps and a bunch of other tricks to net a high score. Destruction is basically the same, but more objects like cars, outhouses, trailers and others are placed around that will give point boosts and can be used to combo between tricks. Where the issue comes in is that these modes where you focus on tricks utilizes a completely different physics than the racing, so going back and forth in-between event types can be a little confusing as to why flooring the gas makes you go on two wheels in one mode but not the other.

As you win events and earn money you’ll get to customize your trucks in a variety of different ways. Most of your options will be cosmetic only, changing the body type, wheels, flags and other visual flairs. There are only a handful of upgrades you can purchase to improve your truck stats like engine, brakes and more, but these are earned from progressing in the career. I was excited to add a Canadian flag to the back of my truck, hoping to see it flap in the wind as I take jumps, but sadly it’s a static flag that doesn’t move at all. That being said, it’s quite entertaining to see your truck body be a dog or a massive toaster.

While I didn’t expect there to be a robust online mode, and is included, it’s incredibly bare and disappointing. You’re able to create a lobby for your friends to join and race, but that’s really it. You can choose Race or Drag Race. That’s it. Why is there no option for multiplayer Freestyle or Destruction? This is a monster truck simulator and you’re unable to crush cars with your friends online. Even worse, there’s absolutely no progression to be made online. You don’t earn cash to be used in single player, there’s no ranking system and no real reason to play online since there’s no progression in any way, and the lack of any lobbies every time I’ve checked proves this community is going to be quite bare.

Visually, Monster Truck Championship won’t impress. Yes, the mud that splatters over your wheels and truck’s body looks cool, and the truck damage when panels break off will make you smile, but everything else looks simply bland. Textures look dated, and if you stop and look at the crowd when you’re not moving, you’ll be shocked at how badly these models look, some of the worst crowd models I can remember in recent memory. Frame rate also dips quite regularly, even on an Xbox One X. The packed starts of races with eight trucks all at once can slow to a crawl and the draw distance of objects, trees and shadows is incredibly close and a constant distraction. That being said, being able to drive your massive monster truck in first person view makes it feel much more authentic and I have a feeling most won’t even experience this since it’s not set by default.

Campaign is where you’ll spend the majority of your monster truck time, and while there’s a decent amount of variety, it won’t take long to complete all of the events and purchase all of the upgrades for your truck. Sadly, when you complete this portion, there’s nothing really left to do unless you care about trying to climb the online leaderboards. While touted as a ‘simulator’, that’s more of a loose description.

If Monster Truck Championship was a budget title for $20 to $30 or so, I’d have no problem recommending it for a fun weekend that is much like a guilty pleasure. Sadly, it’s priced at basically double that, and while it has some good ideas, its execution feels sloppy and comes across more arcade than simulation, even with having to use both sticks to control your monster truck. Like your favorite fast food you know isn't great for you, you still enjoy it every time you pull up to that drive through window, though you may have to crush a few cars in the way with your monster truck.

Overall Score: 6.7 / 10 Torchlight III

It’s crazy to think that it’s been just a little under a decade since Torchlight II was released. A lot of games in the action RPG (ARPG) genre have released since then, with some able to hold their own against the undeniable king of ARPGs, Diablo. While I never got into the Torchlight series before for the most part, Torchlight III kind of took me by surprise, as even after a dozen hours I still wanted to play continuously with my friends online to grind and improve my character. Even though the gameplay is repetitive by design, that carrot on the stick dangling in front of you with new abilities and gear is what makes you keep playing, even after maxing out your level and finishing the campaign.

While there’s a narrative to Torchlight III, it’s told in small tidbits, cutscenes at the end of each of the three chapters. Novastraia is in danger, as a looming threat and invasion is on the horizon, so you must save the world. Yes, it’s a tired trope, and while I would have enjoyed having a deep story with in-game cutscenes, at least there’s some semblance of a story, even if it’s not very original or gripping. Thankfully in ARPG’s like this, most enjoy them for its gameplay rather than a strong narrative, and Torchlight III is no different, as the excellent gameplay will be your primary focus throughout.

Like most ARPG’s, you’ll be exploring the world, grinding away, leveling up, gathering gear, crafting, defeating massive bosses and repeating it over and over. There’s no shortage of activities to do, not even including grinding for new gear after reaching the max level of sixty. Oddly enough, there’s only four tiers of loot; grey, green, blue and orange. Even after maxing level and grinding, it feels like there should be one higher tier of ultimate loot, but alas, there is none. Thankfully there is an endgame and a hardcore mode for those that want a bigger challenge later on.

To begin your adventure you first choose one of four classes and a choice of five relics, which is essentially an element, all of which have their own skills, abilities and bonuses. With a bunch of combinations, you can spend your skill points freely as you level up to improve and customize your class in any way you wish, but be aware that you’re caped at 70 skill points by the time you reach max level, so you won’t be able to max and utilize every skill at once.

While the four classes fall into the typical roles of dps or tank, they are quite unique in their playstyles and abilities. The Dusk Mage is your ranged magician, acting like a glass cannon. The Forged is an adorable robot that uses his heat meter to unleash attacks and can become quite a beefy tank. The sharpshooter is your typical ranger and can destroy enemies from quite a distance. Lastly, and my personal favorite that I stuck with throughout, was the Railmaster. This is your dps class that can utilize a massive two-hander for big hits, but also has a train that follows you around, allowing you to outfit it with different cars like mortars, shields, turrets, or flamethrowers.

Each class plays quite differently, and while I had my favorite with the Railmaster, there’s reasons you’ll want to try and level them all, aside from the achievements of course. Interestingly, each class has two different skill trees you can spec into, choosing to become a powerhouse with one and focusing on one playstyle, or spreading out your abilities across both to be more rounded. For example, on my Railmaster, one tree allows me to focus on my train and its bonuses and abilities, while the other is more based on two handed hammer skills. What I really liked was focusing on just a few abilities that I made really strong rather than a handful of different ones in a rotation.

To further customize your character, you’ll also choose one of five relics, unable to be changed though, so choose wisely and determine what would best suit your class and playstyle. These relics add not only another skill tree full of bonuses and abilities, but can drastically change how you play as well. Choose between Bane (Poison), Blood Drinker, Coldheart, Electrode, and Flaming Destroyer. These essentially act like a subclass, and since I focused my Railmaster on his train abilities, almost like a pet, I chose Bane so that I could summon more spiders and minions to fight alongside me, almost turning it into a Necromancer-like class. Even playing the same class with a different relic and make for a completely different experience, so make sure to try them all out, as they are quite unique and have some really interesting abilities that pair well with certain classes. Should you spend points into your class or relic skills and simply don’t enjoy it or want to swap them, you can refund points with Respectacles, which you’ll earn throughout your adventure in a variety of different ways. This allows you to try out even more abilities or combinations to see what works best for your playstyle without having to save a bunch of points and spend hours researching beforehand.

Returning from Torchlight II is the fame system, though it’s been altered this time. Now you’re given three different categories you’d like to work towards. Some give cosmetics, fort items, loot and other bonus items. Fame is basically a specialized experience you get for defeating the harder and more unique monsters you’ll find throughout your adventure. These fame bonuses are nothing really substantial, but at least give another layer of progression you can focus on in endgame.

An ARPG just wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t focus on its gear flow and progression, and Torchlight does this fantastically. You’ll find a variety of different armor and weapons basically nonstop as you play, almost always upgrading, even if minor at times. Not only will each item change the look of your character, but there’s a ton of variety in the stats and bonuses, so you’ll be looking quite some time for that perfect set of gear.

Pets also return to Torchlight III, fighting alongside you and can be used to hold your extra gear pickups or even be sent back to town to sell your items for you. You’ll earn new pets as random as you defeat certain bosses, ranging from Alpacas, Cats, Dogs, Birds and more. These range in rarity as well and can equip a few pet only items to improve their abilities and stats.

Early on you’ll unlock your Fort, your home away from home. This Fort, which is account based, can be fully customized with items you earn from your Fame levels, allowing you to decorate it however you wish. You’re able to access your account stash here to swap gear with your other characters and sacrifice items to increase your gold percentage drops and more. While I didn’t really spend much time in the decoration side of the Forts, my friends did and they had some really cool looking homes that I was able to visit and see for myself.

Once I completed the campaign, I was around level 45 or so. With a max of 60, I was unsure how I was going to grind until then. Thankfully, once you complete the game, the real endgame begins with challenges. You’ll get a genie you can place in your Fort that allows you to challenge yourself with progressively harder levels, allowing you to grind for experience, gold and items. The catch though is that each rank of challenge has you choosing from three different randomized cards, each with a positive and negative to that outcome. Maybe one card will give you bonus loot change or fame, but it’ll probably also have a serious negative like double monster health and speed. There’s some variety and will keep you playing long after you reach level sixty. Also a post-game addition is the ability to improve your gear that has enchantment slots, which is a whole other grind and money sink as well.

For how much I loved playing Torchlight III, there’s a laundry list of bugs and issues with it as well. Firstly, I’ve lost count how many bugs and crashes I’ve encountered. I’ve been stuck in areas unable to move, my train wouldn’t spawn or follow me, I’ve had the game freeze for 30 seconds at a time, and numerous crashes to the Xbox dashboard. It got to a point where my friends and I were simply expecting one of us to crash or get kicked sooner rather than later. There’s so many issues and bugs that I’m sure will be fixed in time with updates and patches, and I could forgive the odd crash or issue here and there, but it was a substantial issue we had to constantly deal with from beginning to end, even on an Xbox One X. Truth be told, I've actually held off playing until a substantial patch fixes these issues.

Even after a dozen hours and more, I still want to log on every night with my friends and grind some genie challenges out to try and get a new piece of gear and upgrades. Best enjoyed with friends, visually it can become quite chaotic when four players are all casting their spells and abilities, filling the screen with particles, explosions and damage numbers. I don’t normally get hooked on ARPG’s like this, but Torchlight III is addictive, beautiful to look at and sounds great, it’s just a shame that there’s so many issues and crashes that are a constant frustration. With a patch or two that fixes its main problems Torchlight III could easily hang with the bigger names in the genre, but until then it’s still an entertaining game to enjoy, but you’ll constantly have to battle against the game itself.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Bartlow's Dread Machine

Old-timey: “old-fashioned or reminiscent of the past.” This is the first word that came to mind when trying to come up with the best way to describe the latest twin-stick shooter by Beep Games. Bartlow’s Dread Machine is a reminder of how far technology has come, not just in our electronics, but toys as well. My grandma would tell me stories about some of her classic toys, made of tin and metal, full of gears, sprockets and cogs, as many electronics that we take for granted today were just in its infancy. Times were simpler back then, as were the things you played with growing up.

Growing up, there used to be this one old classic game in the arcade I used to frequent where you put in your money and you could move the helicopter up and down with the joystick. This was an old-timey game though, so the helicopter was actually attached to a metal rod and your joystick moved and rotated gears, which in turn maneuvered the helicopter. This is the basis of Bartlow’s Dread Machine, a game with the same classic type of design, crafted of metal and gears that was clearly created with love and care.

You play a secret service agent that’s in charge of protecting President Theodore Roosevelt. The president is kidnapped, so it falls upon you to save him and return him safely back home. This isn’t your typical presidential kidnapping though, as you’ll be facing off against a slew of monsters and the terror group known as the Anarcho-Satanists. You’ll start your rescue mission in New York but will end up travelling across the United States and other worldly places spanning six chapters, broken into a handful of levels each. Oh, and you’ll also come across other famous historical figures along your journey as well. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

Silly plot aside, the core gameplay is essentially a twin-stick shooter. You know the drill, moving with the Left Stick and aiming with the Right. Rather than your standard twin-stick though, there’s an interesting twist on the gameplay that makes it somewhat on rails. Because Bartlow’s Dread Machine is actually based on one of those classic old-timey arcade games described above, your character is actually bound to specific predetermined lanes and path that they can traverse. Think of the pathways that Pac-Man can go down and across, and it’s much the same.

As you maneuver through each lane and 90 degree turn, you’re able to freely aim in any direction and shoot the onslaught of enemies trying to stop you. I’m unsure if there is any aim assist though, as many times I’ve wasted tons of bullets trying to shoot someone quite close to me, unable to hit them at the desired angle I intended. Even in the later stages with lots of experience under my belt, I still had issues now and then hitting exactly what I was trying to, seemingly missing by a hair nearly every time. Of course though the enemies don’t have the same problem, so be prepared to get shot at many times, as you can dodge bullets, but only on the predetermined tracks you’re stuck to. While there’s some sort of deflect or dodge-like move that you can use, it never really worked reliably for me and I ended up forgetting I even had the ability to do so.

As you progress from the left of the screen to the right, the stages you play on usually conforms or changes right in front of your eyes, but in the same old-timey style that the rest of the game adheres to. Sometimes tiles will rearrange, flip or rotate and really culminates in the unique boss fights, where sometimes the perspective changes, but you still always shoot on a 2D plane. There are a few sections that have some puzzle elements to them as well. For example, you might be blocked by a locked door, so you’ll have to shoot through a window to an angled metal plate to ricochet your bullet off of to hit a lever. These puzzle sections can be a little confusing at first, as they aren’t slowly introduced, and one level you’ve suddenly got a handful of these to deal with out of nowhere.

There are checkpoints strewn throughout the stages, resetting you there should you die. Lose all your lives and it’s obviously game over. You’ll also come across ammo crates that refill your primary gun and health to restore your hitpoints. All of these need to be passed by or through to flick the lever as you go through the lane they are situated on; another neat touch that adds to the genuineness of the old-timey machine backdrop.

As you kill enemies, they will drop money bags where they died, so you must make sure to collect them as quickly as you can, as they will disappear after a short time. This collected money goes into your stash that can be used to purchase new clothing, weapons and items between stages. Different clothing items will give you bonuses to ammunition, defense, speed, offence and more, so you can build your character however you like provided you can save up enough cash to purchase the items. The items become extremely expensive later on for the top-tier gear and will require a lot of saving up. Once I was confident in not dying as much, I swapped to a different set of gear that allowed me to carry more ammo and fared much better overall.

There are multiple characters to choose from in the beginning and you’ll find secret ones along your way, but the problem is that you’re locked into that character you chose in the beginning unless you start a new game completely. These hidden characters add some bonuses and try to give some replayability, but once the credits ran for me once, I was done with my time in Bartlow’s Dread Machine.

The visuals in Bartlow’s Dread Machine is absolutely fantastic. The classic old-timey theme is done to perfection, as everything looks and feels authentic to those classic machine games from the era. Animations are subtle but also add a lot of flair, such as levels reorganizing, the long metal rod moving your car up and down the chase sequence, or even your character’s arms or legs slightly whipping back and forth with the sudden jerk in movement as you maneuver the laneways. The audio is just as fitting, having that classic player piano soundtrack; you know the style, with the piano that plays itself based on the roll of paper that has specific holes cut out of it to determine what key plays and when.

Once you’ve completed a few levels, not much changes aside from a few new enemies and the odd puzzle here and there. The boss fights can be fun and challenging, but there’s really no replayability unless you really want to do it all over again with another character. While it has its flaws and is not your typical twin-stick shooter, Bartlow’s Dread Machine is utterly charming with its old-timey aesthetic design, regardless of how often I may have become frustrated with it.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Gleamlight

I’m a sucker for games with a gorgeous or unique visual aesthetics, which is what initially intrigued me with Gleamlight. Immersed in a beautiful stained glass world, Gleamlight will certainly impress you with its visuals and its opening moments, but it’s not often that I start to dislike a game the more I play it.

You play as an unnamed protagonist who doesn’t talk or emote in any way. Your adventure starts out with taking a sword in the ground for yourself, seemingly turning you from a colorless being to full of vibrant and stained glass with a glowing light inside. I’d love to explain what the narrative is, but there is none, at all. There’s no dialogue, no text or even interactions with other characters other than some mysterious being you’re trying to follow from the opening moments, aside from all the ones you swipe at and destroy with your sword. There’s also no UI either, the game simply starts and goes from there without any indication of where to go or why.

Normally I wouldn’t spoil the ending, or in this case, lack thereof, but it’s an important factor in deciding if you want to purchase Gleamlight or not. The game is short, as in your first playthrough should only take thirty to sixty minutes, tops. When you do finally reach the end and defeat the final ‘boss’, credits just roll out of nowhere. That’s it. I normally don’t start games over once I’m finished with them, but I was in disbelief that the game could be that short. There’s no indication telling you you’re supposed to start the game again, and it’s more than a simple New Game+.

Starting again has you begin where you just finished the final battle, working all your way back to the original start point, though with much harder and denser enemies this time. I suffered through this backtracking, complete with repeated bosses, only to be met with a completely unfair and unbalanced ‘final’ boss. I persevered and beat it, again, just to be met with a short ending and then credits. Again, I thought this was it, and with just over an hour of gameplay and two different endings, it wouldn’t let me start my game for another New Game+, that is until I read online that I actually had to delete my game save to start again and continue progress. That’s right, with zero indication anywhere telling you this, you’re instinctively supposed to know to delete your game save once you’ve gone through twice already to progress even further.

Again, the world you’re put into is gorgeous, and the lack of any UI elements at all also further this, but at the same time it makes the final product feel rushed or unfinished. A clever mechanic that wasn’t explained in any way (nothing is) is that your health is actually indicated with how bright your character is. If you appear very colorful and bright, you have an abundance of health, though if you’re basically purely grey in color, you’re most likely a hit or two from dying. Cool mechanic, but it would have been nice to have had that explained, among other things, like how the enemies have the same health indicator. The same goes for the combat, as you gain health for hits you land on enemies. This means that most fights you can simple spam your way through, especially some of the bosses, making for a shallow experience.

It’s no secret that developers Dico took inspiration from games like Hollow Knight, which is all well and good, but don’t expect an experience anywhere near that caliber. Truth be told, the controls are kind of a mess and not nearly as responsive as they should be. Combat sometimes registers your hits, though you can sometimes hit enemies through walls, as they can do the same as well, so be prepared for a lot of cheap deaths. The same goes for the platforming, as more often than not the game tends to decide which way you want to face, regardless of what way you were aiming beforehand. Countless times I would land a jump, but be facing the wrong way for some unexplained reason when I landed.

Level design is another aspect that frustrates quite often as well. The camera is fixed on your character, which is all well and good, but there are times where you need to traverse downwards, or into a pit, and you’re unable to see the spikes and enemies below. There’s no way to pan the camera either, so you have to go into many areas blindly, usually resulting in a few hits or getting ping-ponged until you land. While the level design is very linear, each room acts as its own checkpoint, so when you die you begin at the start of that room to try again. There’s no secret paths, no branching areas to explore, simply get from one end of a room to the other and ultimately a boss fight. Eventually room exits become locked until you find a red orb hidden somewhere and smash it first. Usually this is guarded by a few annoying enemies or nearby some spikes though, naturally.

Speaking of boss fights. These weren’t terribly difficult aside from the flying jet-like one and the horribly unfair “final” one that took me about twenty tries to finish. When you do finally defeat a boss, you gain a new ability. You know how I know that? The achievement that pops up says so. Yup, that’s right, the game itself doesn’t tell you or inform you at all that you just learned a new ability. This also means that you have no idea what it does or how to even perform it. I by chance went and looked at the control mapping screen and each new ability I gained was shown there, like double jumping, dashing and more. This is simply poor design, not letting the player know they now have to use a new ability to progress nor showing them how to do so.

If I was simply basing Gleamlight on its visual aesthetic it would pass with flying colours. The stained glass effect is gorgeous, and even though the level design is quite basic and bland, with it all being so colorful and bright, it’s always pretty to look at. As for the audio, the basic sounds like slashing enemies is passable, and the ambient music fits the dark yet colorful tonality of the gameplay, but there’s nothing memorable with no dialogue or anything else to note.

While not a terrible game, Gleamlight simply has way too many flaws to overlook, not even including the $21.99 CAD price tag for one to two hours of gameplay that frustrates more than it gives enjoyment. At half the price it would still be a hard sell, but bearable for those that wanted a quick game to finish on a lazy weekend, but even with its colorful aesthetic, there’s little to see here.

Overall Score: 4.0 / 10 Pathfinder: Kingmaker - Definitive Edition

While I’m a massive RPG fan, I never really got into the cRPG genre for games. The biggest names in this genre are your Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights, Pillars of Eternity and Planescape Torment, which have a massive following. Developed by Owlcat Games, Pathfinder: Kingmaker was originally released just over two years ago on PC, now finally making its console debut, complete with all of its DLC, hence the Definitive Edition label.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition took me by surprise. Not only did it have some massive length to its gameplay, it was incredibly deep and in-depth with many of its mechanics and character customization, though is borderline too complex and deep for casual fans, as even I found myself a little overwhelmed with everything you can do.

While I’ve never played Pathfinder, after doing so research I had no idea that it was essentially one of the main competition when it comes to classic pen and paper Dungeons and Dragons. So if you’ve played Pathfinder before, you’ll definitely recognize some familiar names and places. Set in the Stolen Lands, your adventure starts out in the castle of Restov who are offered title and land if they are able to dispatch of a nefarious bandit, The Stag Lord. Just before you’re set to set off on your bounty hunt, the castle is ambushed, attacking and killing nearly everyone inside.

You find other survivors in the castle and band together to fight your way out. As you finally make your way out, you are accused of leading the ambush by one of your teammates. Given that this is an RPG, you’re able to respond in different ways, choosing how you want to react and reply. If you have more charisma and knowledge you might be able to talk your way out of situations, or maybe you prefer the brute strength approach, it’s completely up to you. The Stag Lord questline is only the beginning of your adventure, as many more plotlines branch further, leading you down different paths and escapades. I initially thought that the Stag Lord plot was going to encapsulate the whole adventure, but turned out to be only a minor part of the overarching storyline. The plot is quite in depth, well written and is carried by some great voice acting from a large ensemble of characters throughout.

You’ll start out by making your character, and to say there’s a bevy of options is putting it mildly. You could spent quite a lot of time creating your character just how you want, as there’s a lot of classes and subclasses that allow for some very unique gameplay. Much like D&D, you’ll put points into different stats depending on how you want to play your character. I opted for a classic Paladin build that uses sword and board but you can choose many other classes, skills and styles to suit what you want.

If you’ve played the classics like Baldur’s Gate or Planescape Torment before, then you’ll already be accustomed to the isometric view these games used. It’s clear that the developers were inspired by these games as many other mechanics are also borrowed and will feel very familiar, yet has made some quality of life improvements and looks modern, especially with the inclusion of being nearly fully voice acted.

During your journey you’ll come across numerous companions, making for a party of six at a time. These characters all have unique personalities and traits that can make for a well rounded out team. Do you make a team full of melee based characters that can take more hits, fill it with hard hitting magic casters or create a balanced team of tanks, casters and ranged? It’s up to you.

Combat takes some getting used to, but you’re actually given an option of classic turn-based or in real time, able to switch on the fly with a single click of the stick. You’re able to issue commands to all of your team members whenever you wish, or go through the options and toggle many different choices based on how you want to them to perform. While you can’t setup scripts like in other games, you can automate different abilities and options should you wish. Combat success and failure is based on typical D&D dice rolls, determining if you hit or get hit, how much damage you take and other saves when exploring and conversing with NPC’s.

Outside of exploring a quite vast map and constant combat, there’s also a whole Kingdom building aspect as well. This is where I started to feel a bit overwhelmed, as I wanted to focus on the narrative and lengthy campaign, but constantly had to keep tabs and handle on the Kingdom as well, deciding on what to build and invest in.

While I’m glad Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition has made its way to console for more gamers to enjoy and experience, the controls need a lot of work and feel quite clunky and cumbersome. One trigger allows you to switch characters and swap to them for battle commands or inventory management, while the other trigger is how you open the menu system. It’s clear that the original controls were built for keyboard and mouse, and the transition to controller, while functional, requires a lot of effort and thought to press the correct buttons and get to the menus you’re wanting.

While I really enjoyed my overall time with Pathfinder: Kingmaker, there were a few issues that frustrated my time with it, aside from the aforementioned control problems. It felt like much of my time was doing very little, making no progress. When I got new items, weapons and armor, it’s a daunting task to have to go through each item, seeing if it’s equippable by whom and if it’s an upgrade. Leveling up allows you to improve your characters in many ways as well, but none of this is really explained, so you can accidently waste these points and specializations for skills that aren’t really that useful if you’re not careful. Also, there’s a ton of loading screens. While each doesn’t take terribly long on an Xbox One X, they add up since every zone and area needs to be loaded each time you enter or leave. Also factor in that movement itself on the map and in areas is quite slow and you’ll start to see how much of your playtime is being padded by housekeeping and waiting.

While not without its list of issues, the length of Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition is deceptively long, the voice acting is quite well done, the dialogue is written well and the world has more than enough lore to get lost in. While its console port could have used a little more care and work, it’s still a great gaming experience if you crave those classic cRPG’s from the late 90’s – early 2000’s and want a classic D&D-like experience.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Port Royale 4

I’ll get this out of the way first; I’ve never played a Port Royale game before, so needless to say I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I started its inaugural voyage on Xbox One with Port Royale 4. A completely unique and interesting game, Port Royale 4, and the previous entries in the series, has never been on console before, and sometimes a PC port to console isn’t always as smooth as it could be. Some games have a problem transitioning from the standard keyboard and mouse controls and mapping those to a controller with limited inputs. I’m happy to report that this isn’t the case with Port Royale 4, as the control scheme works well, is logical and eventually becomes second nature with a little practice.

I initially expected Port Royale 4 to be a game about sailing the open seas, swashbuckling and full of pirates, and while it has those elements, it’s much more focused on the sailing and the trading aspect of the times more than anything else. Once I accepted this and learned its intricacies, I started to enjoy my time with it much more, trying to amass my wealth to epic proportions and become a prosperous trading city hub.

Taking place during the 17th century, you’ll choose from one of the colonial powers of France, Spain, England or Netherlands as they try and compete for control over the seas and lands of the Caribbean. While there’s no story or narrative in the traditional sense, you’re simply tasked with amassing a wealth and fulfilling certain objectives your Viceroy appoints to you. Each faction has its own strengths, weaknesses and playstyles, so make sure to try out each one to see what you prefer, but be aware you’re unable to change your faction once a decision has been made.

Once you choose your faction you’ll then select the character you want, essentially a class. Do you want to be a Merchant that focuses on trading alone, a Buccaneer, an Explorer or maybe be a ruthless Pirate and plunder what you can? You'll get to choose your own flag, though there’s only a handful of options for icon and colors which was a bit of a letdown. You’re also unable to edit how your character looks as well, though this doesn’t really matter in the long run since you don’t really have any interactions with other players or characters in any meaningful way. There’s no stats for your chosen character, but they too have different playstyles; for example, I wanted to focus on trading, so the Merchant was an obvious choice, as they don’t require a costly trade license at each city.

Before delving right into the Campaign or Free Play, I highly suggest going through the dozen or so tutorial missions. These are broken up into bite-sized pieces, each one teaching you a small portion of Port Royale 4’s unique gameplay which you then piece all together for the whole experience. The collection of tutorials will take you a little under and hour, but they are well done and I was able to start my adventure and trading quite smoothly from that point on. There’s also a guide that can be referenced at any time should you need, though it’s a lot of information to sift through so make sure you pay attention and take it in.

While the Campaign has four separate chapters you can play, one for each of the factions, I actually quite preferred to play the Free Play mode much more, as it wasn’t as strict on objectives and winning guidelines. Regardless of which mode you play, they all begin the same, with you in your hometown free to start sailing and trading wherever you wish in the hopes of supreme wealth and prosperity. You’ll have a Viceroy who will send you objectives every so often, guiding you, and if you fulfil these you’re rewarded with bonuses and skill points that can be used in different ways.

The bulk of your time with Port Royale 4 will revolve around its trading mechanics. Here you need to focus on your city’s prosperity by trading goods from one city to another. Every city produces some sort of commodity, be it grain, fruit, metal or many more items. Earning money is simple enough, as you buy items that are being produced for a low price, sail to another city that has those in demand and sell them for a higher cost; rinse and repeat. With dozens of different cities to sail to, you can create a complex trade route once you get a handle of how to do so.

The menu for determining what you should buy and sell is simple enough to understand with bar graphs and prices for every commodity a city has or needs. If a city has an abundance of an item they will sell it for cheap, and if another is completely of out of that product, they’ll buy for much higher to meet demand. You can sell any commodity anywhere, but it’s figuring out the best places to do so for the most profit that will net you the most gains in the long term.

At first I was simply sailing from one city to another, checking prices, then checking the other cities to see where the most profit would come from. This become quite tedious and time consuming, and even though I did a tutorial on trade routes, once I started using them it was a complete game changer and really excited me more to play.

Instead of manually checking each city, sailing there and figuring out what to purchase and sell, you can setup automated trade routes, designating what to buy and sell automatically and even have it sail from city to city for you. This automates much of the tedious work and you can set individual fleets on different or multiple routes. These routes can be as small or complex as you want. Do you find two cities that have corresponding wants and needs, or sail to dozens of cities at a time to offload what you can where you can?

Creating the routes is simple enough, choosing what cities you want to visit, but to really optimize it you’ll also need to factor in your sail paths. The Caribbean houses a stormy sea and there are winds that blow in certain directions. Sail with the wind and you’ll gain precious time and trade even quicker, sail into the wind and it’ll take you twice as long. You can customize these paths and it’s quite satisfying to see your money start to skyrocket once you have a few good trade routes setup properly. Some may feel that this automates the game too much and almost plays itself in a way, but there’s always some tweaking you can do to make it more profitable or efficient. Yes, with some great trade routes setup you can sit back and start to earn money without doing anything, but your Viceroy will give you other tasks now and then as well. When the money really starts to flow it feels very rewarding, but when your routes are costing you instead it can be a hard hole to dig out of.

While sailing and trading is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time in Port Royale 4, there’s a whole city building aspect as well that needs to be maintained. As you complete objectives for your Viceroy you’ll gain access to new buildings, ships and more. There are a few dozen buildings that can be erected in the hex grid of your city, each having their own use. Some are simply production nodes, others help your production, some are residential housing, churches and more that will be needed to balance and fulfil your citizen’s satisfactions. My problem that I learned the hard way was trying to expand much too quickly, so when I placed a dozen buildings at once, all of a sudden the demand for materials spiked, so I started hemorrhaging money very quickly; lesson learned.

What would a ship-based game be without naval battles though? These too are included in Port Royale 4, though are drastically different if you’ve played the previous entries. Naval battles are now turn based and are played on a hex grid with numerous ships. Every ship has a certain amount of action points that can be used to maneuver, attack or use your special tactic ability during their turn. Different ship types have their own abilities and each will have a captain of your choosing, which also have their own skills and bonuses. These battles are quite strategic, and even though you may be outnumbered by a pack of pirates, you can survive and win if you’re strategic. While I tended to focus much more on the trading aspect, having naval battles was a must for a game like this where pirates became famous.

Visually Port Royale 4 is very bright and colorful, fitting of the Caribbean in the century. Able to zoom all the way out to cloud level or all the way into nearly on your ship’s deck, there’s the odd slowdown but nothing game breaking. As for the audio, it’s there but nothing memorable. Zooming in allows you to hear your ship cutting across the waves or the torrential rain sailing through a storm. The soundtrack is simple ambient music in the background, so I ended up playing my own Spotify playlist (full of sea shanties of course).

I really wasn’t sure what to expect with Port Royale 4 being a newcomer to the series, but came away with an appreciation for the simulation and management aspects of its gameplay. While it may seem a little steep being fully priced the same as a ‘AAA’ game, there’s plenty of value within if you’re a fan of these strategic and management type games. It’s very overwhelming to get the hang of initially with the slew of menus, but once you setup some trade routes and figure out how to best trade, you’ll soon be the new conqueror of the Caribbean.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Heroes of Hammerwatch - Ultimate Edition

I’m no stranger to games with a huge grind, as I used to play the same MMO for many years. I used to think MMO’s were grindy, then I played Heroes of Hammerwatch: Ultimate Edition. Even if only the base game was included, there’d be more than enough content within for you to basically play endlessly. But that wasn’t good enough for developers CrackShell, so in this Ultimate Edition they’ve also included all of the available DLC also, adding whole new areas, classes, modes and tons more. It’s a LOT to take in and learn, but once you wrap your head around it all and figure it out, I’ve been unable to put it down. Truth be told, this very review is a few days late because I wanted to progress further and further every night when I got home with my friends online.

As you begin your adventure, you’ll start out by choosing your starter class, each having their own playstyle, strengths, weaknesses and bonuses. You’re actually going to want to play every class eventually for various reasons I’ll delve into shortly, but everyone has their favorite. If you prefer your ranged attacks, then Ranger will be your choice. If you like to have a little more survivability, then Paladin will be your melee powerhouse. There’s a handful of other classes, so make sure to try them all out, as I ended up making a Warlock my main, which is not the style of class I generally gravitate towards. Some classes can also be unlocked through various means, so there’s always something to work towards.

Once you chose your class you’re thrust into your quaint and quiet little village called The Outlook. This has a few empty and tattered buildings along with a few people to chat to. This is your new home and you’ll be building it up and improving it as you progress. Your little town will grow over time, adding new vendors, new items to buy, new shops and more. You’re here so often between runs that it does start to feel like home after a few dozen hours.

The bulk of your time in Heroes of Hammerwatch (simply referred to as Hammerwatch from here on) will be within its randomly generated dungeons as you try and survive as long as possible each time. Did I mention that Hammerwatch is an action based rougelike as well? That’s right, you’re going to be dying, a LOT, and losing much of your progress when you do. That doesn’t mean there’s no constant progression to be made though, as you’re always working towards something, even if you die. The beginning mine dungeon accessed at your town will be your first foray into many runs to come. You’ll need to squash bugs, avoid traps, collect gold and ore, and most importantly, survive.

Combat is handled the way most twin-stick shooters control, with the Left Stick used to move and the Right to aim. Right Trigger is your main attack and will be how you do the bulk of your damage, and every character uses their mana tied to their Left Trigger and abilities you unlock later on. Every class performs quite differently and needs to be played a specific way if you want to survive, so keep an eye on your health and mana.

I struggled quite badly in the beginning, as nothing is really taught to you at all, not even really the basics. You’re simply thrown into this world and left to figure it out for yourself. Truth be told, I’m still learning new things even today the more I delve into it and play with more veterans. The main thing to keep in mind is that Hammerwatch is a roguelike, so when you die, you’re going to lose everything in your possession. There are two ways to keep your spoils though; finish a complete run and defeat the final boss, or find lifts that you can send your gold and ore back up to your town, though this comes with a hefty tax cut, but anything is better than nothing right?

Do you risk going to another floor of a dungeon to find more ore and gold, both of which is incredibly important for long term progression, or send up what you can when you can, little by little? It’s a small price to pay, but progression in Hammerwatch is slow and gradual. Don’t expect to max everything out in a day or two. Actually, don’t expect to max anything out, as there’s not really an endpoint per-se, hence the crazy grind. Every enemy you kill nets you experience, eventually leveling you up and making you stronger overall. This in turn makes your next run a little bit easier every time as well. All the gold and ore you were able to send up to town can also be used to purchase new items, buildings and more, also adding to your progression in numerous ways.

This constant grind of being slightly better than before is where Hammerwatch really shines. Your skills will level up, you can purchase new passive bonuses and your village is also shared across all of your characters, which is why you’ll want to eventually play all of the classes. When you complete harder runs, you earn stat bonuses that apply to all of your characters. For example, after being New Game+(2) with my Thief I earned some great gold gain for my subsequent runs. Doing the same with my Paladin earned me defensive bonuses. None of this is explained to you, so it’s a lot of playing around and figuring out things for yourself, or be lucky as I was and have a high level player explain much of it.

Another mechanic that took some getting used to and figuring out was that you don’t equip items and gear on your character in a normal way like most games. Instead, in each run you’ll find items in random chests, from boss drops and other ways, and these stay in your inventory and give a ton of bonuses and perks, but only for that run; you don’t keep this gear. Also, there’s a fountain in your town where you can make each run easier or harder, based on what you want to accomplish. So if you’re wanting to grind experience, money and ore, you’ll want to turn the dungeons to much larger, fill it with way more enemies and make them harder as well. There’s actually a ton of options so you can really customize and save presets for different run types based on what you and your friends want to focus on.

Once you do finally beat the final boss you might think you’re done, but you’ve only begun. From here you can start playing New Game+ (NG+). This makes enemies harder but the rewards are greater. Oh, you managed to finish NG+ finally? Great, now you’re ready for NG+2. This keeps going, and as far as I know I don’t believe there’s a limit, so the grind technically never ends. Getting to about NG+10, runs become much harder, so you have to be very good at your class and know how to play well once you start farming NG+. If that wasn’t enough for you, there’s also a Mercenary Mode that can be accessed once you reach level twenty. This is basically a Hardcore mode where death is final and permanent, but the rewards are well worth it and unique if you can handle it.

While I was enjoying Hammerwatch on my own, once I started playing with friends, it become an addiction. Up to 4 players can join together and there’s plenty of reasons you’ll want to. While the village will only be the Host’s for what is unlocked and accessible, any progression you make with experience, items, gold and ore are saved to your character as well. While you’ll have to go back to your own game’s village to do any upgrades, you can use their vendors for any other purchasing for the most part. Also, you can get carried through the game with some good friends, allowing for some quick powerleveling if you want, but keep in mind the game scales based on how many players are in as well, so it also adds a handicap if doing so. I was surprised the online worked as well as it did and was user friendly, allowing you to keep your own progression in someone elses game, which is probably why I’ve been logging on every night to play.

I really enjoyed the retro pixed based aesthetic, looking like it was a game from many years ago, yet has enough flair, details and lighting to be modern. The coloring and tones are great, and while the pixel art is fantastic, my only complaint is that there’s usually way too much going on screen at one time to really appreciate much of it. Runs eventually turn into speed runs, so you won’t be looking at much aside from the map and spamming attack, trying to get to the end as fast as possible. Also, everything is quite small, even text, so it can be hard to focus on one thing at a time.

Heroes of Hammerwatch: Ultimate Edition ended up surprising me in the best way possible. While I normally uninstall games once I’m done playing and reviewing them, this one has stayed in my nightly rotation when my friends are on to do a few runs. There’s so much depth and value here with near infinite gameplay that it becomes addictive, as you want to make your characters that much better with every run, even if it borders on being an arduous grind later on. It’s a lot to take in and figure out, and it will feel daunting at first, but put the time in and find some friends to play with and you’ll easily get your gold's worth with Heroes of Hammerwatch: Ultimate Edition.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Relicta

Puzzle games are always a conundrum for myself. On one hand I like the break from the typical shooters and racing games I usually play, but on the other, getting stuck in a puzzle game is one of the most frustrating gaming experiences I experience. Some people have great intuition when it comes to puzzle games, being able to find solutions as naturally as breathing, while others are stumped at nearly every turn, almost citing that it’s impossible. I fall somewhere in the middle. I’m usually decent at puzzle games like Relicta, but man, this one was quite challenge at times with its physics and magnetic based puzzles. Relicta is more than a simple puzzle game though, adding a narrative with an interesting backdrop and lore based on the moon. While at its core you’re simple moving boxes to solve puzzles and progress, there’s quite a bit of challenge within that had me look up a walkthrough more than once.

Relicta starts out with you, Doctor Angelica Patel, dealing with a collapsing containment field while your boss Doctor Laia Alami yells at you to not approach the Relicta chamber. Of course you don’t listen and approach, trying to shut everything down with an emergency override. The screen goes dark and you begin your gameplay two years prior when you arrived to the De Gerlache Dome, one of the terraformed areas on the moon that humanity is planning to inhabit. There’s an odd alien artifact, known as the Relicta, which has propelled humankind’s technology massively in a short amount of time. Case in point, Patel is able to use specialized gloves that allow her to manipulate certain objects in the environment, adding positive or negative magnetic charges, or even allow a small gravitational field on an object.

Patel is seemingly left to her own on the base, tasked with investigating the Relicta. The narrative within is actually quite intriguing at times, and while you only get snippets of story here and there between gameplay sections, the backdrop was captivating and as you find out more clues hidden via collectibles and emails, a larger more sinister plot is unveiled. If you’re able to power through the complex and challenging puzzles, the narrative is interesting enough that it made me want to constantly progress to find out what happened next before those opening moments. While not its main focus, at least there’s been some work put into a story other than simple throwing puzzle after puzzle at you for no real reason.

Even though the backdrop is a moon base, it has been terraformed and has created some beautiful environments to explore, though it will take a backseat as you wrack your brain trying to solve each puzzle put before you, as you’ll solely be focusing on that instead. You’re also confined to a very specific and narrow path with invisible walls and barriers, so there’s really no exploration to be had in these beautiful and lush environments.

Between each main section of the areas you’ll be able to explore the lifeless moon base you’re stationed in. These areas have a very futuristic sci-fi feel to it, but are completely devoid of any other life, which makes sense in regards to the story, but also makes for some of the most boring sections of Relicta, though there are some extra collectibles to find for those that want to flesh out the lore further.

The majority of your time in Relicta will be attempting to solve its complex and confusing puzzles by manipulating cubes that can be picked up, polarity changed and even gravitated. These elements add a challenging layer to each puzzle that will no doubt stump you at times. This is done by specialized gloves that you wear, each of which can add a red or blue polarity (positive and negative). Place two boxes beside one another of the same color and they will fling away from one another, and if the colors are opposites, they attract and will stick together, just like magnets.

Puzzles start out simple enough, simply having you place boxes on pressure plates to open and disable specific barrier doors so that you can pass through. There are a number of different barriers though, some of which you can walk through but boxes can’t pass, and others that block you as well until a certain amount of pressure plates have boxes on them simultaneously to trigger it to open. It sounds easy in theory, but in reality it’s anything but.

Eventually you’ll have puzzles where you’ll need to utilize the red or blue polarities to navigate them into specific areas, or even adding a gravity field to the boxes, allowing them to float. Combine with this polarity switching on the fly and precise timing, and you can start to see where puzzles become challenging real quick. While the earlier puzzles have some leeway to how precise you need to be with your aim and timing, the last half of Relicta will require much more perfection. There will also be special plates where you can teleport cubes to other areas as well, so there’s a lot of trial and error (usually more error) before you start to figure out the puzzles.

There are a handful of different terraformed areas you’ll travel to, each of which has its own handful of puzzles before heading back to the main moonbase hub area to find the next level. Every area becomes more challenging, throwing more tricks your way, but the problem is that there’s not really a great tutorial outside of the basics. Sometimes new mechanics are introduced but barely teach you how to utilize those new skills to solve what’s to come ahead. Once you get a few hours in you’ll start to become accustomed to the solutions, but you’ll have to think logically step by step on your plan of attack. The problem with this trial and error is that you can sometimes become completely get stuck, unable to progress. There is a button you can hold to completely reset the area and puzzle, but this sometimes has you backtracking a little bit and having to redo a previous portion of a puzzle which can be frustrating.

Relicta looks gorgeous though. The sci-fi setting of a terraformed moonbase is beautiful, something you’d expect to see on a distant and flourishing planet. Each area is distinct and has its own visual theme and tone, and while pretty to admire, they simply are backdrops, as you’re forced to stay on a linear path and are only given the puzzles in front of you one after another, without any way to explore elsewhere. The audio is adequate as well, with some light ambience in the background, though there’s really not all that much to note aside from the decent voice over work from the actors. There’s only a handful of characters you’ll encounter, decently voiced, though nothing amazing, but that’s most likely due to the script and dialogue.

I’m always down for a good challenging puzzle game, and having a physics based one adds another layer of complexity, but nearly every puzzle felt similar in nature. This became a little tiresome over time and after I finished one level with a handful of puzzles, I honestly wanted to take a break for a while before heading off to the next. While I appreciate the interesting narrative, it made the gameplay felt very stop-and-go, not even factoring when you get stuck on a puzzle for well over a half an hour, unable to figure out how to progress. Those moments when you finally solve a puzzle that you’ve been stumped on for the last thirty minutes and progress is what puzzle games are all about, that "ah-ha" moment, but then you simply get stuck again and become frustrated.

The idea and gameplay behind Relicta is interesting, as is the story, but the puzzles become quite challenging in certain sections, sure to frustrate some. While it’s quite a lengthy game for its genre, it does feel like it wears out its welcome near the end, as I just really wanted to finish it and be done. While there’s no reason to replay once you’ve completed the story aside from any missed collectables, I’m still glad I got to experience Relicta and Doctor Patel’s journey across the moon.

Overall Score: 7.2 / 10 Lair of the Clockwork God

"Jack of all trades, master of none" is a saying when you create or do something and dabble in a bit of everything, but not being an expert since the sole focus isn’t on one creation or task. This is normally true, even for gaming. Some games will try and blend different mechanics and even genres together to create something new and unique, but it doesn’t always pay off as it’s usually not as satisfying or refined as a focused experience.

That being said, there are times where the rule gets broken and proven wrong, as is the case with Lair of the Clockwork God. Creating an odd mix of classic point-and-click adventure gameplay with an indie platformer is the main premise behind this game developed by Size Five Games, best known for their Time Gentlemen, Please! and Ben There, Dan That! Why play one game genre when you can play two? Better yet, both at the same time! I wasn’t sure how these two completely opposite genres would blend together, but came away more than impressed.

If you’ve played their games previously, you’re probably already acquainted and met Ben and Dan, the protagonists to Lair of the Clockwork God. The opening tutorial level doesn’t just serve as a gameplay and mechanic introduction, but also starts the narrative off with you searching for a mystical flower that apparently cures cancer, so you can save your friend, Matt C., from colon cancer (specifically this Matt though, obviously). As you delve a bit further into their quest, the narrative changes to something completely else, like teaching a master computer about feelings, as you’re now stuck in a world with multiple apocalyptic events happening simultaneously. That’s right. What’s worse than an apocalypse? Multiple apocalypse’s of course! You can start to get a feel for the humor within from this point on.

The main hook for Lair of the Clockwork God is the duality of both playing a point-and-click adventure and an indie platformer, sometimes simultaneously. You’ll constantly be switching between Ben and Dan, using their unique gaming abilities to solve puzzles and progress. Normally having to control one character to reach a checkpoint before switching to the next to catch up would be tedious, but somehow they’ve blended the genres together so well that you don’t really notice the back and forth as much as you would expect.

I can’t even start to express how much humor is within Lair of the Clockwork God. The writing is so cleverly written and hilarious that I actually snort-laughed on more than one occasion. It doesn’t take itself seriously and parodies other games and genres, sometimes breaking the fourth wall, but all in a very clever way. If you take the time to talk to everyone and read every line, you’ll surely laugh too if you have any sense of humor. Even the ‘free game’ that’s included, “Devil’s Kiss”, serves as a visual novel prequel to Ben and Dan’s story and is equally as humorous.

My favorite, Ben, is your old school die-hard point-and-click adventure fan, harking back to the old days of LucasArts games, Monkey Island and the like. Ben is stuck in that old 90’s gaming mindset, so he refuses to exert himself in any way, including jumping or climbing, regardless of the height big or small. Funny enough, pushing an indie dev onto a bed of spikes so that Dan could jump across a pit is fully acceptable though.

Much like those old school games, Ben will be the one to talk to NPC’s, gather items and combine the oddest ones together in obtuse solutions to progress your journey forwards. Sometimes you’re solving puzzles for yourself, other times you’re doing so to make Dan a new pair of shoes, or a battery acid energy drink so that he can learn to run quicker. It’s this ebb and flow that somehow meshes the two genres together in a logical way. The conversations Ben can have with people are outright hilarious, so be sure to check out every dialogue option available (some are tied to achievements as well), as it’s some of the best clever writing in recent memory I’ve experienced. Some jokes will be dumb, some silly, others outright walk the line of crude and obscene, but I knew I was in for a good joke or two when Ben had to talk to people.

The other half to the core gameplay is when you’re controlling Dan. Dan is your classic indie sidescrolling platformer, akin to a Sonic. Dan likes to run, jump, push/pull objects, shoot guns, double jump and more. Sometimes you need to reach a new area with Dan for Ben to proceed, or vice versa, able to instantly swap between the two with a button press. Dan will test your reflexes, and seeing him in a knock-off Green Hill zone from Sonic early on was awesome and hilarious. While the platforming sections can be a tad frustrating with its accuracy being a little loose and its reversed gravity sections, it’s functional and shouldn’t take you more than a few tries at each section to proceed. Thankfully there are plenty of checkpoints strewn throughout the stages, so you’ll never have to backtrack very far when you do accidently drop Dan down a pit.

On paper, Lair of the Clockwork God shouldn’t work. Blending point-and-click with an indie platformer just shouldn’t work; but it does, and brilliantly, thanks to the amazing writing and dialogue that had me constantly chuckling or outright laughing. While it’s a satire on the genres, it also executes them near perfectly, and simultaneously. I legit had a wonderful time with my adventure alongside Ben and Dan and haven’t laughed this much at a game in quite some time. Two games in one; half point-and-click, half platformer, all hilarious.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Darkestville Castle

Some of my fondest gaming memories growing up were with classic point and click adventure games like Maniac Mansion and Secret of Monkey Island. While the genre isn’t as popular as it once was back in its heyday, there’s been the odd point and click adventure game released in the last few years, which always excites me. Darkestville Castle, developed by Epic Llama, is the latest in the genre and surprised me with its incredibly clever writing, dialogue and joke filled adventure.

If you yearn for classic point and click adventures from the 90’s like I do, you’ll be happy to know that Darkestville Castle has that Monkey Island feel to it with its gameplay and overall hilarious tone. Fully voice acted, hand drawn and complete with extremely odd and obtuse puzzles, you’ll feel right at home if you’re a fan of the genre and made me want more once the credits rolled.

You play Cid, the evil demon that inhabits the solitary castle in Darkestville. Cid is a simple demon, as he likes to prank and commit evil deeds on the town’s residents whenever he gets a chance. As he wakes up and checks his evil to-do list, he tries to leave his castle so that he can go be malicious and, you know, do evil demon stuff obviously. Problem is it seems that Dan Teapot, a local that’s always trying to stop Cid, has barricaded Cid inside his castle so that he can’t go torment the village any longer.

As Cid and Dan talk, it’s made very apparent that Dan is standing on a trapdoor outside the castle gate that seems to be malfunctioning. This of course sets Cid on a journey to fix said trap door so that he can escape his castle and go about his evil day. It’s an obviously lighthearted tone on demons and such, very fitting for the humor and gameplay. It seems that Dan though has written a letter to the Romero Brothers, the most famous demon hunters in all the land, and they are on their way to come capture Cid and rid the town of his annoyance.

Of course, things don’t go exactly to plan, so Dan gets trapped inside Cid’s castle and the Romero Brothers ended up capturing Cid’s giant pet fish and best friend, Domingo. Cid won’t let that slide and sets out to save his beloved pet. This being a hilarious point and click adventure, you’re sure to set out on a silly and obscure quest that changes as new events happen, which I don’t want to spoil. Set across a handful of chapters, the campaign length was just perfect, though play time will vary based on how well you are at puzzles and figuring out obscure and obtuse solutions to wacky situations Cid finds himself in.

Like any good point and click adventure, Cid will be able to interact with NPC’s and objects, able to look, grab and talk to. As with any game in the genre, you’re going to have to be quite diligent at exhausting all your options with everything that you’re able to interact with. Yes, that means event attempting to talk to inanimate objects at times. A perfect example of this that stumped me and had me searching a guide was trying to pick up a crab on the beach, but Cid refused because he didn’t want to get pinched. Turns out I needed to look at the crab first to deduce that it wasn’t a real live crab, which then meant it was safe to pick up afterwards, so you’re going to have to think outside the box at times, as is the case with games like these.

There’s tons of dialogue as well, all of which from every character is fully voiced and done quite well. Cid has a certain malicious yet innocent evilness in his tone where you know he’s more of a prankster than pure evil, for a demon. While not every joke lands, I was laughing more than a few times at some of the dialogue and the humor is filled from its opening scenes until the credits rolled.

Like other games in the genre, you’ll be collecting seemingly random objects across your journey, of which will have a use at some point, though you’re really going to have to think outside the box for some of them. You’re also able to combine items, and will have to every so often, so if you’re unable to progress or don’t know what to do, keep trying to see what items may go together, even if it’s not obvious at first. Dialogue trees have a handful of different options as well, and just like searching and gathering everything you can, you’ll need to exhaust all your talking options as well whenever possible, as this may also lead to new clues or items.

The main hook of games like these are its puzzles, and while there are some difficult to find objects in some of the scenes, I found the puzzles in Darkestville Castle to be quite illogical at times. While I’m not an expert in the genre, I’ve played enough to have a general idea of their ‘logic’ when it comes to solutions. I admit though, more than a few times I had to reference a guide to solve some of the puzzles within, as they seemed completely out of left field for their solutions. This is where your gameplay length will vary, depending on how clever you are at the constant flow of puzzles. Not every puzzle has a logical solution, so you’ll need to really think within the game’s humorous logic many times.

Being completely hand drawn, all of the characters feel unique and have big personalities, even your pet fish Domingo. Animation for Cid’s movement is generally fluid and the backgrounds and each scene is varied and colorful. Never once did I have any framerate issues and everything felt smooth overall. The voice over cast is fantastic as well, as each NPC and demon sounded unique and had a completely believable performance, bringing them further to life.

Darkestville Castle took me a little by surprise, not because of its quality and great humor, both of which I expected, but how authentic it comes across as. It’s as if Darkestville Castle was hiding away all these years, taken straight from the 90’s and only unearthed now for fans to enjoy. It nailed the comedic aspect and gameplay just right, and although I found many of the puzzles a little too obtuse, I was smiling all the way until the credits rolled and should be played by any classic point and click adventure fan.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Coma 2: Vicious Sisters, The

I was new to the Coma series when I reviewed the original, The Coma: Recut. Building upon its predecessor, The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters has now arrived, adding more characters, areas, puzzles, mysteries and of course, danger and blood. Just like the first, The Coma 2 centers around a high school student that’s not only trapped in her school after dark, but must fight to survive the night while dealing with an alternate world.

A Korean based survival horror game, The Coma 2 appears to be ripped right out of a manga, not only with its interesting story but unique art style as well. Set in the Sehwa district, you play as Mina Park, a student of Sehwa High. A series of events happen that I don’t want to spoil, and Mina finds herself locked in her school after dark when there happens to be a Blood Moon in the sky, unable to escape. Things don’t appear to be normal though, as if she’s either in another dimension, or that something else is bleeding into her world, aptly called The Coma.

The Coma is full of horror and death around every corner, so Mina will have to do all she can to survive the night and find a way to escape back to her world. It doesn’t help that there’s constantly someone trying to hunt you down, someone that resembles her teacher. If you’ve played the first game, you’ll know exactly what to expect, if not, you’re in for quite a surprise and won’t have much time to rest.

Setup essentially identical to the first game; you explore The Coma 2 like any other 2D side-scroller, exploring areas and rooms, always on the lookout for clues and hiding places, but is larger in size and expands on different aspects. You’re simply a student though, so don’t expect to have any weapons to fight back with. Mina really only has the ability to carry a few items that replenish your health, stamina and a few others items, meaning you’ll need to run, escape and hide when the time comes to get away from your pursuing demon teacher.

You’ll be periodically checking your trusty map, trying to make sense of the school’s layout, as many pathways will be blocked or barricaded as the school has a handful of floors and secret pathways. Thankfully rooms that have a save point will be marked once found, and the place you’re supposed to go will usually have an exclamation point to indicate that’s your current objective. You’ll have to manually check every door to what what’s locked and how each area connects, but eventually it becomes second nature as you constantly backtrack.

As Mina explores the school, she’ll learn more about The Coma and what these demons are pursuing. As you explore the school you’ll come across a handful of enemies, though most are in set spots and are static. It’s the middle of the night though, so seeing anything other than right in front of you is quite difficult, though not impossible if you take your time. This is where you need to decide if you want to take your time slowly making sure you don't run into one of these enemy traps, though this allows your teacher to possibly find and catch you. You also have access to a trusty lighter to light up the area nearby, making it much easier to see enemies and collectibles, but this means that the enemies will find you much easier as well, so there’s a balance of risk versus reward you need to constantly weigh.

Basic enemies can be easily avoided if you wait and bide your time for a moment, but you constantly have to be on the lookout for ones on the floor that can grab your ankles, poisonous plants and hands that can scratch you from the ceiling, all while trying to be quick. If you get attacked by an enemy, you will start to bleed, where if not bandaged quickly, will cause you to lose a bar of health. Her teacher though can actually chase you, and can be quite frightening when you start to hear the sound of the clacking high heels get louder, closing in on you. This is where you need to hide under a table, bathroom stall or in a locker, hoping she will pass, but this starts a quicktime event that you need to succeed to hold Mina’s breath and stay hidden. Fail this or be caught in the open and it’s a certain death unless you managed to buy some mace to use as a second chance to escape.

The story will have you venturing further out than just our school, as you go from area to area, though each setting is setup very similar. You’ll search for a map of the place, then figure out how to get passed the locked or barred doors so that you can escape and move onto the next area. Sometimes you’ll need to find a secret passage or a key, other times you’ll have secondary objectives that, while optional, are highly recommended to complete. This is for a few reasons actually that I didn’t expect. For example, there’s a “crafting” system in place, which if you’re able to find certain items, will help you on your journey.

Yes it’s optional, but I decided to ignore this and move onto the next area, only to be bit or scratched on my escape, permanently losing a bar of health because I didn’t protect myself. It’s an interesting way to have you explore more without forcing you to do so, but once you realize the consequences, will make you want to complete these objectives before moving on. There are even dozens of notes scattered throughout on the walls that flesh out the game’s lore much deeper, but to collect these you need to use your lighter to light the room, so you’ll need to risk it to do so.

Just like the first game, The Coma 2 uses a manga artistic style. The cutscenes are hand drawn and is a nice change from the dark and gloomy gameplay. While the animation during gameplay is basic and a little janky, it oddly fits with the manga setting. Character design varies and each looks unique, as do the creepiness of the monsters that are trying to kill Mina, especially that sadistic smile of your constant pursuer.

Audio is just as good, as you start to feel tense when you hear footsteps closing in on your position. There’s a constant creepiness factor to the ambient background sounds and music, fitting of an abandoned school from another dimension where everything is trying to kill you. With English subtitles and the original Korean voice over work, The Coma 2 feels authentic, adding to the immersion like any good manga you can't put down.

More than a simple sequel, The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters improves nearly every aspect from the original game, yet still keeps the same authentic feel. While the horror aspect has the odd jump scare, there’s a surprisingly lengthy campaign for Mina to adventure in, even if it does become a little tiresome and repetitive by its conclusion.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 OkunoKA Madness

I’m supposed to write a bunch of paragraphs describing the game I review to entice you to either purchase or avoid said game. If I’m proficient enough in my writing ability, I can make you read from the opening words to the final sentence, so there’s always a trick to get you to ‘stay with me’ as I explain said game to the reader, always wanting to leave that punchline or final recommendation until last. Some games don’t need all of that though. Do you like super difficult and challenging games like Super Meat Boy? Then you’re going to love OkunoKA Madness.

OkunoKA Madness is absolutely not for the casual fans. While in the platforming genre, I’d further categorize it into the Masocore genre, not only meaning hardcore, but the difficulty is near masochistic at times, requiring the highest degree of skills and reflexes to complete. If you get frustrated dying over and over, OkunoKA Madness is absolutely not for you. If you enjoy having a serious challenge and want to prove yourself on the world leaderboards and showcase your skills, then OkunoKA Madness will be right up your alley.

Don’t let its colorful and fantastic visuals fool you either, as my daughter wanted to give it a go, and after a few minutes she declared she was done and couldn’t beat the level she was on. I have to admit, as a full grown adult, I had the same reaction by the time I got halfway through the 100+ levels and had to repeatedly tell myself to relax and that it IS possible to beat. Did I complete every level, get every secret, reach S rank on every stage and see the credits roll after the final boss? Absolutely not, and I’m ok with that, as I understood where I peaked with my platforming skills.

You play as KA, a small round blue creature that resembles Lolo (Adventures of Lolo from NES) that sets out to save the world of souls from the big bad guys, the Evil O’s. I know, I don’t really get it either, but alas, there is a small narrative to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, but you play these types of games for their brutally and unforgiving difficulty more than any thread of story. KA is on the search in each level to find some black fuzzy creature so that he can digest it and I guess cleanse its soul? Again, it’s not going to win awards for its writing, but that’s the general plot set forth for your journey.

Each world consists of a bunch of individual levels, and as you progress one by one, slowly, you unlock the next, eventually facing off against a big boss before moving onto the next world. Again, everything will look cute and cuddly, but it’s anything but. At some place in each stage is a black fuzz ball creature thing, and when you do finally make it to the end and reach it, you get a quick cutscene showing KA eating it before pooping it out, changing it from black to gold. This is how KA is going to save the world I suppose. It’ll be easy at first, but you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, believe me.

The premise is simplistic; get from point A to point B. Simple right? Hah! Okunoka Madness eases you into the mechanics of jumping, double jumping, dashing and eventually controlling different elements for various reasons, but eventually it makes you do this more and faster. As you make it from stage to stage, you’ll find a bunch of secrets if you have a keen eye, unlock new characters, fight bosses and hopefully beat the over 100 stages if you’re quite skilled.

Early on you’ll get to control an ice element. This will toggle any ice platforms, which is simple at first, but you’ll eventually need to toggle them on and off to either grab onto a wall where one is placed, or make it disappear so you can pass through unimpeded to the other side. Later you’ll also gain access to fire and lightning as well, so you’ll need to toggle back and forth on top of avoiding spikes, pits, enemies and more. Even though the learning curve is fair in the beginning, it eventually ramps up quite steeply about halfway through, putting your skills and patience to the test.

Okunoka Madness is meant to be a speedrunner’s heaven, so you’re constantly timed on every attempt. The better your time the better rank you’ll achieve, though good luck with the S-ranks and don’t even bother checking the world leaderboards, as they seem inhuman and unattainable. While there’s generally one path to your finish, there’s minor variations you can make in your gameplay to be just a little quicker and more efficient.

This is where the controls come in. In games like these, you need absolutely perfect controls or else the whole experience falls apart. I guarantee you’ve played a game at some point, died, and blamed it on the controls. Usually I wouldn’t agree with you, but it does happens when games don’t have precise controls. Luckily here the controls for Okunoka Madness are quite tight, though at times it can feel a little too overly sensitive, but that may just be me trying too hard. While I got frustrated when I died for a few dozen times in a row, I know it wasn’t because of the game, but my skill instead. If it was due to the game having poor controls, we’d be having a different conversation.

With over 100 levels to complete, there’s also three different types of speedrun modes as well; All Worlds, Single Level and Custom, so there’s plenty of content here to keep you entertained and more than challenged should you desire it. There’s even a Madness mode that kick the gameplay right up to eleven from the opening moments, so good luck.

While I’m really glad a leaderboard system is in place, and it’s great to see that my minute finish on a level doesn’t compare to someone else’s 7 second run, I really wish there was a way to download and race against people’s ghosts to see how they got these insane times, as some of them I simply don’t believe is legit possible.

Visually, Okunoka Madness is a delight to look at. The seemingly hand drawn aesthetic is super colorful, bright and simply pleasing to look at, it’s just a shame you can never stop for a moment to appreciate and take it all in. You’re able to distinguish spikes and traps you should avoid and looks beautiful overall, even with many thorny vines covering many of the pathways.

For a game that’s so gorgeous to look at, you wouldn’t assume that it’s one of the most challenging and anger inducing ones simultaneously. While it’s going to slap you across the face then kick your ass when it comes to its brutal difficulty, it’s also what makes Okunoka Madness so great for those that love the genre. Even though it’s deliberately designed to infuriate you, I still kept coming back for more and more. Yes, I eventually reached my limit and almost tossed a controller through a window, but I’m also not its intended audience.

Overall Score: 8.3 / 10 Bite the Bullet

Sometimes adding a small twist on familiar gameplay makes for an interesting and unique game, as is the case with Bite The Bullet. Growing up with the classic NES, I was raised on side scrolling run and gun side-scrollers, with the most famous of all being Contra. As years passed, others came along, with the other most notable series being Metal Slug. Developer Mega Cat Studios clearly had a love for the genre when developing Bite The Bullet, but came up with an interesting twist where you can also eat everything you see including your enemies and their bullets, turning the game into a run and gun and eat.

The silly premise is accompanied by an equally over the top story as well. Taking place in the far future on a dystopian world, the world as we know it today is long gone. There was a severe food shortage, so the natural solution to such a problem is to invent and create implants for humans that allow them to eat anything inorganic to sustain themselves. Of course this had undesired effects, resulting in mutations and these humans titled “ghouls”, being used as soldiers to eat and recycle any waste, or being, in their path. These ghouls took over Earth, forcing the rest of humanity to flee to other planets to inhabit. This is where mercenaries Chewie and Chewella come in. Against your will, you’ll choose either (or local co-op if you have a partner) hero and be sent back to Earth to eat these so-called “ghouls” so that the CEO of DarwinCorp can learn more about them. I told you it was silly.

With a handful of areas to explore and consume, each of which have three to five or so stages within, you’ll simply try to get from point A to point B, but there’s going to be a lot of enemies blocking your path, so it’s a good thing you can eat essentially any enemy or bullet that is thrown your way. Powered by Bawls, yes, the energy drink of yesteryear, Earth isn’t quite like you remember it, swarming in robots, zombies and near endless other enemies that will do everything they can to stop you.

Much like Metal Slug and Contra, you’ll be side-scrolling in this unique run and gun and eat adventure. You’ll chow down on food, enemies, bullets and nearly everything else in your path. You’ll be constantly shooting your weapons as you try to deplete their health low enough so that they can be eaten. While you don’t need to eat everyone and everything you see, you’ll want to as it’s also how you’re going to upgrade your skills, abilities, weapons and even transform into a near impenetrable Zombro to smash faces. While I’m still remembering I have access to a shield a few hours in, you can also use this to protect yourself when bullets are flying everywhere.

Moving with the Left Stick, you’ll also be able to aim in any direction and fire as well, though it can be quite difficult to get the exact aim and angle you want in the thick of battle. You’ll also have access to an air dash to quickly get you out of danger or to stun and damage enemies in your path. Each weapon also has their own style and uses, like the A-salt-rifle that is your default gun with infinite ammo, but you’ll pick up plenty of other food-pun weapons as well, like a rocket launcher with Meat-Seeking Missiles, most with a secondary fire as well. You’ll also find crafting stations at certain points of levels, allowing you to create and modify your favorites, for a price though. This adds another layer of personalization and I eventually rolled some great damage and mods on my rifle that I used until the end.

Obviously the main catch and gimmick of Bite The Bullet is your insatiable appetite and ability to eat enemies and bullets. This has many uses, as it’ll be the primary way you heal yourself but also gain proteins and fats, both of which have different uses. When I say you can eat nearly anything, I mean it. Took down an annoying flying robot that was firing at you? Not a problem. Slaughtered a ton of enemies in your path and need to refill your health? Looks like a buffet was just served. My only complaint with this mechanic is that it takes a moment for you to eat anything, so the constant forward flow you’re supposed to experience in games like this almost always has a constant stop-and-go to it.

Not everything is good for you to eat though. While yes, you CAN eat anything, should you though? Every food drop and enemy has their own nutritional information, and if you tend to eat more protein based food, you’ll start to get jacked and ripped, putting Rambo and any MMA fighter’s body to shame. The same goes for fast food and fat based edibles, as eating primarily these will make you balloon in size, becoming quite slow but more defensive as well. It’s an interesting mechanic to see your body size and type adapt to what you eat, but the main problem is that not only is the text so small and difficult to read even on a large TV, doing so in the heat of battle is almost pointless, especially when you really need to heal. It's not like you're going to calorie count when you're low on health.

Each world has secondary objectives for you to complete, and if you’re able to fulfil these and beat them quite quickly, you’ll earn yourself a badass looking bandana to wear, not only for aesthetic purposes, but will give you an awesome stat or ability bonus as well. These objectives are quite challenging to complete, so you’ll have to become quite proficient at running, gunning and eating, especially if you want to try and beat the levels in under ten minutes.

The highlight of the combat though had to be the crazy and massive boss fights. These monstrosities at the end of each world are quite challenging and have a great amount of detail within their design, but once you learn the attack patterns after a few tries, there’s not usually much to the fights other than shooting through their numerous health bars. Of course you’ll be rewarded with a ton of food for destroying them, so I hope you’re hungry.

Unexpectedly, there’s quite a massive skill tree that you’ll get to spend points in. I was simply expecting a simple run and gunner, but there’s a bit more RPG depth within that I didn’t fully expect. There are four main classes you can choose from, each with their own branching tree, perks and abilities. Choose from Herbivore, Carnivore, Omnivore or Robovore (yes, you can eat robots). The skill tree is deceptively large and has a lot of nodes for you to purchase between levels, though for how large the tree itself is, even a slight touch of the stick makes the screen fly in that direction for some odd reason.

I of course opted for the class that can eat anything and everything, but each plays slightly differently, giving you different perks and abilities based on what you can or shouldn’t eat. This will determine your playstyle slightly as well, as you’ll have to be conscious of what you’re eating, which is why I opted to eat everything, so I didn’t have to stop and read every enemy's nutritional information before gobbling down. While most of the nodes are simple stat increases or lowers the amount of calories you gain or lose, there’s a lot of options for you to try out each class.

Sticking with the retro theme of classic Metal Slug, visually it looks as if it came from the same era of gaming with great pixel aesthetics and modern lighting. Each enemy type looks distinct and the pixel work is top notch, as is the animations for the main characters and bosses. While I enjoyed the metal based soundtrack, the constant stop-and-go of the gameplay didn’t always feel as it was syncing up the flow.

Bite The Bullet doesn’t take itself seriously, even for a second. The writing and puns within are written well and quite funny if you take the time to read everything. The eating mechanic is an interesting take on the classic run and gun gameplay, and while it works and is completely unique and full of humor, I kept having to stop the flow of moving forward to eat everything I could. For classic Contra and Metal Slug fans, or someone that has always wanted to eat flying robots and bullets, you’ll find an entertaining few hours on your hands that’s satisfying like some fast food. You are what you eat; literally.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Hellpoint

I’ll admit, I wasn’t keen taking Hellpoint on before I started playing. For starters, I’m absolutely terrible at Souls-like games. I like them, but I eventually become so frustrated I give up after a while. Also, I incorrectly assumed this was going to simply be another knockoff Souls-like, as there has been many since Dark Souls defined the brutally difficult genre. Surprisingly, developers Cradle Games has crafted a fresh take on the genre, and while some may simply write it off as a sci-fi Dark Souls set in a derelict space station, there’s quite a few mechanics that they’ve changed and has more focused on exploration and secrets, arguably for the better and a smoother overall experience.

You are simply a vessel named Spawn, created by The Author who wants you to save the space station you are now on, Irid Novo. There’s been a catastrophic event labelled as The Merge, and now Irid Novo is orbiting around a massive Black Hole. Something happened to the ships inhabitants, as they’ve all been turned into monsters, so it’s up to you to explore and find as much data as you can to solve what went wrong and how to stop it.

The backdrop of Irid Novo is quite stunning once you’ve put in the hours and fully realize just how big this derelict space station actually is. With a dark sci-fi setting, Hellpoint is very atmospheric in its level design, though good luck following along with the main narrative, as there’s not really any traditional cutscenes to piece it all together, instead leaving it to you to find tidbits of information of its lore left behind from talking to NPC’s and computer logs, of which you may not come across in your journey. While I enjoyed the premise and backdrop of Hellpoint, you’ll be much more focused on exploration and its combat while the narrative takes a backseat of importance.

I can’t state enough how impressive the level design is in many ways. The Irid Novo space station is absolutely massive, broken into a handful of different districts, most of which are interconnected in different and secret ways. With a heavy emphasis on exploration, you’ll be spending hours wandering around since you’re never given a map, and will simply need to remember how it all connects. Yes, this becomes frustrating later on when you are looking for somewhere specific you’ve passed before, but any Souls fan should be accustomed to this by now.

The level design is also not linear at all. You’re free to go almost anywhere you want from the beginning, and at times you’re sometimes given a path choice. Eventually you’ll need to explore it all anyways, but a friend and I chose different paths, leading to very different areas, but eventually you’ll loop around and explore each district regardless of your earlier choices. For example, you might defeat a massive boss for it to be hiding a special access keycard that’s used in a different district, or maybe the elevator behind it is how you can now quickly travel from the Observatory hub to other places. The interconnectedness is quite impressive even if it’s maddening and confusing most of the time. There’s also a vast sense of verticality when it comes to the districts as well, full of tons of secrets for you to find. You’ll also find green and yellow handprints along walls and surfaces along your journey. Green are developer made hints or clues whereas yellow are player made messages, usually pointing out secret areas nearby.

Like Dark Souls, you start out as a basic character, and as you level up and collect experience (Axiom, the equivalent to souls), you can improve whatever stats you wish, based on how you want to play. I’m terrible at these games, so I opted to bump up my health and stamina so I could take more hits and dodge/attack more often. You’ll also have to think of what weapons and armor you want to use, as they have specific requirements as well. As I dumped a ton of points into health, I eventually found a massive shield I got from a boss, only to find out I needed to put 18 points into strength to use it, and from what I able to see, there’s no way to respec your characters, so I had to grind for a few hours to eventually spend those points to wield it.

Just below your health, energy and stamina meters in the top left of the screen, you’ll see an odd clock-like icon. This is the Black Hole Clock. Remember that Black Hole I mentioned above that the space station is orbiting around? At certain times of the ‘day’, this clock will start to glow red, which I call the Black Hole Hour. During this short period of time, different dynamic events can occur. Enemies may become harder, maybe a mini-boss will patrol an area or secret doors are suddenly usable. Some areas will also have a red-like haze blocking them, much like the fog walls for Dark Souls’ boss fights, letting you attempt certain bosses or even really challenging horde-like events that can earn you special items. It’s a really interesting mechanic but is not explained anywhere, as I had to do some research online for myself to try and make sense of it all.

As Hellpoint is more exploration based, there’s going to be many times you’ll need to put your platforming skills to the test. I’ll warn you now, the platforming is by far the absolute worst and more infuriating aspect of Hellpoint without a doubt. You can run and jump, but the controls simply aren’t precise, so you’re going to fall into many pits, losing your saved up Axiom unless you’re able to retrieve them where you last died without dying again before doing so. There’s a massive amount of secrets and items hidden on places you can only reach by jumping over pits and dangerous areas, so just prepare yourself for some abysmal platforming that made me want to quit more than once.

Just like Dark Souls’ bonfires, Hellpoint uses Breaches. These tears in space and time are where you rest up and spend your hard earned Axiom to level up. There are a few differences though with the Breaches in Hellpoint. For starters, while they will refill your health, using a breach does not refill your health pots and consumables. Also, it doesn’t reset the enemies, so freely use them as you find them. If you scavenge for secrets along your journey you might even find special items that allow you to raise or lower the difficulty, though be warned, if you bump up the difficulty early on, you’ll easily get one-shot by nearly everything you come across. There are even rare items that can make any breach a teleportation spot/hub for you to fast travel to, so it’s a good idea to use these items wisely once you know the areas and layout a bit more with experience.

There’s a slew of weapons and armor for you to choose from, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and styles of gameplay. Do you choose a very quick but weak dagger like myself with a shield and heavy armor, or instead opt for a ranged weapon and a heavy massive club? They all have their own stat requirements to use and can be upgraded in a unique way.

The more you use a weapon the more proficient with it you become, allowing you to unlock special abilities like weapon throwing, backstabbing and other unique traits. This encourages you to find a weapon you like and stick with it for the long haul. What makes the upgrading of weapons unique is that you don’t actually upgrade the weapon itself, but instead a conductor chip. Even better, these chips can be freely moved from weapon to weapon if you decide to change what you’re currently using. These chips are hard to come by and cost your Axiom to use, but not being afraid to committing to a specific weapon because of these upgrades was probably one of my favorite aspects of Hellpoint.

You also get an Omnicube, a little floating box that follow you and can be outfitted with different gadgets like a flashlight, heat warmer, breadcrumb trail or other uses. Using this drains your energy though, as does using projectile weapons. Thankfully, landing melee hits refills not only your energy, but also your heal ‘pots’ with enough hits. This encourages you to actually fight enemies along the way and not simply bypass and run away from everything.

Bosses are usually quite large and intimidating. They are obviously the more unique fights, though they can be infuriating and near impossible solo, most of which I probably wouldn’t have been able to do easily without the help of a co-op friend.

That’s right, Hellpoint allows for co-op, local splitsreen or online co-op. This reason alone is actually why I started to really enjoy my time with Hellpoint, as I was really struggling solo, but co-op made it a much more manageable experience overall. There are some quirks and caveats to this online experience though. Firstly, you can’t simply invite a friend through the normal Xbox menu and means. Instead, you need to communicate to them your unique online code, they punch it in and will eventually merge into your world. It’s an odd step that I don’t understand, but this also means no joining random people either, as you need a specific eight digit room code to join, much like a friend code.

Co-op also essentially breaks the game difficulty in many ways. It doesn’t seem like the game scales to co-op, and the AI doesn’t know how to handle two players. Essentially you’ll have one person pull an enemy, they’ll continually chase them, and the friend can simply follow and slash away until it’s dead. Yes, even for bosses. Another oddity is that only the host can interact with the main doors and elevators, and if they change districts, you’re swept away with them as well. There's also no indicator to show where your co-op friend currently is in the district, so if you separate, you'll have to communicate to find one another again.

If the co-op friend dies, the host can get to their death spot and use half their health to resurrect their friend, but should the host die, that’s it, you both go back to the last breach you visited. Once we figured all this out, I had my buddy do the exploring and taunting, as I killed things freely or revived him if needed, taking much of the risk away from myself. Even better, the friend never has to go back for their corpse and gets to keep all their items and Axiom even if they die or quit out to their own game, so it’s a great way to farm.

Graphically, I really enjoyed the level design of Hellpoint, but it’s very sterile and bland, though to be expected for the derelict spaceship backdrop. Some areas have different moods and feels to it, like the massive Egyptian-like district or the one that had more organic materials oozing from the walls. The design and enemies are great, but none of the visuals aside from the backdrops will wow you. Factor in that there are some major frame drops in the areas that are simply too big, yet smooth as butter in others, it can be a jarring experience at times.

Audio seems to be about the same. The background ambiance always keeps you on your toes as you hear creaking metal from the ship or enemies lurking nearby. Many times I’ve had issues with sound cutting in and out, and while there’s a background soundtrack, it’s not memorable. Weapons can sound impactful when they swing and hit, when the game detects it properly, though that seemed to really be more of an issue with the online co-op rather than in single player.

If you’re a Souls fan, you’ll most likely enjoy Hellpoint, as long as you can handle its lack of polish and extremely janky platforming. It would have been easy to write off Hellpoint as a simple Souls knock off, and I almost did until I found a friend to play alongside. It’s unforgiving in every aspect and doesn’t hold your hand in any way, something Souls fans will appreciate. The co-op feature makes it much more accessible for casual fans of the genre like myself, but there’s enough content within to really test yourself with for those accustomed to difficult challenges.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Spellbreak

The premise for most Battle Royale games is quite simple; place a bunch of players in an ever shrinking play arena where the last one, or team, standing wins. This simple premise has spawned many insanely popular games, not just limited to Fortnite, Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone and the latest Fall Guys. While I’m not normally a big fan of Battle Royale’s, there’s something great about being a battlemage, slinging all different types of elements at my enemies, even making lethal combinations as I hunt my enemies down across the Hollow Lands.

In this unique Battle Royale, you’ll weave your spells into different combinations as you try to vanquish your enemies and be the last battlemage standing. Very simple to pick up and play, it will take some time to master all of the smaller intricacies that really give Spellbreak some strategy depth to earn those wins. While Battle Royale is its only mode currently, there are plans to bring other types of modes in the future, so Spellbreak is going to evolve over time. The best part? It’s free to play, so there’s very little reason to give it a go and see if slinging spells is your forte.

Like most other Battle Royale’s, the map begins off quite large, but there’s an ever shrinking circle that you must stay within or you’ll start slowly taking damage. The circle starts to shrink quite quickly after the match begins too, so you’ll never know if you chose a good side of the map or not, where you’ll have to rush to reach the borders. As each new safe zone completes you’ll level up, earning you a new skill to fight your foes with. The final circle is so incredibly small and can create a frantic play area that usually ends in a matter of seconds with every player throwing whatever spells they can into the minimal space.

You queue up games as solo, duo or a squad (three players), aiming to defeat all other battlemages and be the last one standing. When playing in duo or a squad, if you manage to have your health depleted to nothing, you’ll turn into a lighted wisp, allowing 90 seconds for one of your teammates to revive you and get you back into the fight, though you’ll only revive with a portion of your health. Enemies can exile you as well, which means you’re completely out of the match, so make sure to work and communicate as a team if you’re not playing solo.

The basic gameplay is quite simple to understand, as you can jump and levitate around the stage, which is built suit vertical gameplay as well; you are all battlemages after all. You have a set amount of mana which can be used to shoot your spells and activate your abilities, but also levitate for a short period to reach higher areas as well, so there’s a balance of offence and defense as you wait a moment for your mana to recharge. Do you go on the offensive making it so you have no mana left to levitate or escape quickly, or not play as aggressive and leave yourself some mana to get to some high ground if needed?

Before you jump into your first match you’ll need to choose your class: Conduit, Pyromancer, Toxicologist, Frostborn, Stoneshaper or Tempest, each of which essentially starts you with one of the elements as your ‘main’ attack. You can freely swap your class before each match, but they all individually level and each have their own progression, and each has their own playstyle, so play around with each to find what suits you best.

You control the elements with powerful gauntlets. While you can’t change your main element/class, you can pick up a second gauntlet during the match and swap that one freely whenever you find another if you want. There are six different elements you can control: Frost Lightning, Stone, Toxic, Wind and Stone. So while you’ll begin with your match with your classes element gauntlet, you’ll get to pick up another gauntlet for your other hand, allowing you to combine elements for some crazy results.

For example, with my lightning abilities I can electrify any puddles or ice on the ground, make toxic clouds or even turn tornados that are filled with lightning. With the different elements there are a ton of different combinations that can create some unique strategies. Each element has its own strengths and weaknesses, allowing for different playstyles. Some are better for damage over time attacks, close range, long rage, burst firing and others, but it will take time to learn each’s intricacies and counters to one another.

While spell slinging takes the forefront of the gameplay, there’s a lot more that goes into winning a match of Spellbreak, such as equipment, runes and talents, adding another layer or strategy. Equipment is just that, pieces of gear you’ll pick up from downed enemies, scattered throughout the map and from chests. You can pick up Amulets (increases maximum mana), Belts (maximum armor), and Boots (run speed). Gear comes in different tiers of rarity as well, and it’s quite simple to quickly see if an item on the ground is an upgrade or not as you stand nearby to pick it up.

Runes are a special ability that can be activated after a cooldown that are meant for more mobility or strategic options. Runes will vary from abilities that allow you to dash, teleport, fly and more. Some like the Wolf’s Blood Rune are meant for more combat options, granting a temporary run speed boost and seeing enemy outlines through walls, or a rune that allows you temporary invisibility, allowing you to flank or escape quickly and setup a new attack. Runes also come in varying rarities, with the legendary version allowing you to fly, jump or stay invisible for much longer than common tier.

You also have a four slot inventory that can hold two potions in each, for a total of 8 consumables. Potions come in two types; health and armor regen but also in small or large versions. Health potions will regenerate your HP bar slowly, and armor ones your Armor bar, obviously. It took a while to get the hang of these being regen consumables and not instant, so it takes some strategy to know the best times to use these when in combat.

Talents are how you customize your build even further, beyond what runes and gauntlets you’re using. Divided into three categories of Mind, Body and Spirit, you’re given six points you can spend on one talent per category. So do you spend 3 points on one of the best abilities like an auto resurrection, leaving you with less points to spend in the other trees, or do you use others that give you a more well-rounded build? Your talents are usable and activate at the beginning of the match, but can be upgraded by finding and reading scrolls you find throughout the arena, improving that categories talent specifically to a third tier.

Chests are scattered throughout and one way you’ll find some of the best equipment, gauntlets, runes and more. There are different sizes of chests, with the bigger ones netting the higher tier gear. Mana chests appear on the map and are the best chests that will give you Legendary rarity gear, but they slowly open and takes twenty seconds for them to spill their treasures, leaving you open for an ambush as it is easily heard from nearby if someone is opening one of these loot boxes.

Your battlemage improves over time, earning experience points for matches completed and how well you performed. You’ll earn ranks for your current class you chose at the beginning of the match and your overall Mage Rank. At each new rank of class and mage, you’ll earn new bonuses or unlocks, usually gold for the store or new cosmetic items. Yes, as a free to play game there are microtransactions but it appears to be for cosmetic items like costumes, banners, icons and such for now.

The best part is that even in its early state, not only is Spellbreak Crossplay, but also Cross Progression. This means you can play anyone else on any other platform (and team up with), but also freely swap from one to another and keep your progression, stats, unlocks and more. Kudos to Proletariat for including these features so seamlessly this early on in its lifespan, as I never once had an issue populating a game with cross play enabled.

While the Battle Royale genre is oversaturated at the best of times, Spellbreak manages to carve its own niche with its wildly unique battlemage gameplay and extremely colorful visuals. With the promise of more modes to come, I’m excited to see how Spellbreak evolves over time, as it already feels decently balanced in its current state and a literal blast to play.

Overall Score: 8.2 / 10 Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2

There’s a few games that when you look back and reminisce they probably define your childhood or gaming career. I have a few of those games, of which were the first two Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games. I can’t even fathom how many hours a friend and I would play the Tony Hawk games all day, every day, whenever we had the chance growing up. When it came time for the weekend, we would load up on chips, snacks and energy drinks just so we could play for as long as possible; it was a simpler time back then and some of my best gaming memories.

Nostalgia is a funny thing, as it can sometimes make you remember things far better than they actually were. With a slew of remake and remastered games coming in recent years, it’s easy to get swept up in nostalgia. Sometimes playing an older game you loved when you’re much older can bring disappointment, as you realize it really wasn’t as great as you remember. Thankfully this isn’t the case with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, as much care went into recreating these two classic games, arguably the best in the series, and is now the defining experience for skateboarding games. Both games were popular back then, and if my friends list is any indication, then it seems many have been clamoring for the return of a great Tony Hawk game.

Rebuilt from the ground up, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 brings its classic gameplay into the modern age with a boost of graphics, updated mechanics and of course, online gameplay for you and all your friends to enjoy skating together. It wasn’t clear what the future of the franchise was going to be after the abysmal Pro Skater 5 back in 2015, as it seemed to have lost that magic touch of what made the series so great, so it’s great to see classic Tony Hawk gameplay make a return, even if it’s the original two games remade.

You begin your skate career by either choosing your skater or creating your own. The options for creating are somewhat limited though, allowing you to create your male or female skater, but many of the options are bland or only give you a couple choices. Much of the clothing and gear will be locked until you reach a certain level or have enough in-game cash to purchase them. If you choose to create your own skater you’ll have low stats and will need to collect the stat point icons across the stages if you want to improve your skater.

You can also choose to skate as the iconic and legendary Tony Hawk of course, but there’s a slew of returning pro skaters, as well as some new ones for this release. Some of the notable returning pros are Chad Muska, Eric Koston, Bob Burnquist, Elissa Steamer, Bucky Lasek and more. It’s been many years since these two games originally released though, and many new and upcoming skaters have been making headlines and are now included in the game as well. Skaters Nyjah Huston, Leo Baker, Leticia Bufoni, Aori Nishimura, Lizzie Armento, Shane O’Neill, Riley Hawk and Tyshawn Jones round out the new class of skaters and is a welcome addition to the series.

Across both games, you have a persistent skater level that ranks up as you complete more challenges, regardless of which skater you’re currently using. Leveling up will earn you access to new clothing, skate gear and trick slots for specials. The cosmetic store is quite expansive and it will take a lot of gameplay if you want to purchase everything that is offered. With an absolute ton of challenges to attempt to complete as well, you’ll have plenty to focus on even after you’ve unlocked every level.

If you’re new to the Tony Hawk series, the gameplay is simple enough to play but takes time and effort to master. You’re given two minute runs to get the highest score possible or complete certain objectives like finding the letters S-K-A-T-E, hidden video tapes, grinding a certain amount of tables and much more. This 2 minute piece-meal approach is an old mechanic, but still works and suits the gameplay quite well. The games were known for not only pulling off crazy tricks, but combo-ing them all together in a completely unrealistic way, like performing Tony’s iconic 900 spin off a building to grind a bus and pulling off a manual with a dozen tricks in-between. This arcade take on skateboarding is what made it so fun in the first place, and still holds up all these years later.

Skate Tours is where you’ll take on level by level, unlocking new ones as you complete certain amounts of objectives. The levels were just as iconic as the gameplay and soundtrack, so it was fantastic diving right back into familiar territory with levels I could probably recreate and draw from memory I put so much time into them when I was younger. The level designs are largely unchanged, but graphically improved in so many ways that they actually feel like an actual place somewhere in the real world now. The graffiti on the walls for example looks realistic, as does the night time lighting. It's wonderful to see old levels I remember in my head, but now realized in modern day graphics.

Everything simply feels authentic and just as you remember, which is impressive given how much new is included as well. The majority of all the content from the original games are in, save for a few of the songs for licensing reasons I could only assume, but is amped up with a new graphic engine, new models (that look more realistic than ever), HDR lighting and smooth 4K/60FPS that makes it a better experience than ever before. There are some fundamental changes though which took me a while to get used to, such as being able to revert, a move that wasn’t available in these first games (it was introduced in THPS3) but allows for more combo transitions from landing vert moves. While some purists may frown upon adding changes, I believe this one is for the better overall, even if it does change the original flow of the games, though there are options to have classic move-sets only should you really wish.

So you’re now a pro skater and have collected everything the game has to offer and unlocked every stage? Well, this is where Create-A-Park comes in. While not a new feature to the series, now that online gaming is the norm, you’re not only able to create any crazy skate park idea that you can imagine, but also upload it and share it for anyone else to try as well. The tools are quite simple to use and offer a lot more variety and options than ever before as well, so make sure to check online as there are some absolutely crazy park creations out there already.

Online simultaneous multiplayer is now an option as well, so gather your friends and challenge them to a variety of different challenges, like longest combo, highest score and more. There are casual and ranked sessions you can join, and although functional and lag free, having more robust options would be welcome.

Arguably, more iconic than the gameplay for the THPS series is its soundtrack. At the time, not many games used real world licensed soundtrack to this degree, and these games specifically opened me up to a ton of different musical genres. These games were actually the first gaming soundtrack I ever purchased on CD and defined a bunch of my musical tastes that still stands today. With a quick press of the Right Stick, you can instantly skip the song playing, or even completely disable certain songs you don’t like in the options. The developers knew that the soundtrack is a big deal with this remake, so they were able to get the majority of the original soundtrack included for this remaster, which is exciting, but also added 37 completely new tracks, most of which feel as if they blend into the original soundtrack seamlessly. What really matters though is that “Superman” by Goldfinger is still included and great as ever.

For the true Tony Hawk fans, if you can find the Collector’s Edition, it even comes with an actual full sized and completely usable Tony Hawk skateboard that looks sweet as hell, of which I’ve proudly mounted to my wall for display.

Remastering old games that gamers cherish is tricky, because if you put minimal effort into it you might ruin that classic feeling and nostalgia people have for said game, but change too much and you have the same results, so there’s a fine balance needed to preserve but improve at the same time. It’s abundantly clear that a lot of effort, time, thought and care went into this remaster, balancing classic gameplay but improving many aspects and quality of life options simultaneously.

More than a simple coat of paint, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 not only brings back that nostalgia and great memories growing up playing every chance I could, but modernizes many of its fundamentals without completely changing everything about the classics that made it so great in the first place. For fans of the classics like myself, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is a perfect example of how to preserve its original essence as to what made it so great in the first place but adding many improvements at the same time, and for newcomers, there’s no better arcade skate game out there on the market today.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 No Straight Roads

As soon as I watched the first trailer for No Straight Roads, I was instantly intrigued with its stylish and bright neon visuals, but its EDM versus Rock narrative as well. Plus, when you have the brilliant minds of Wan Hazmer (Final Fantasy XV) and Daim Dziauddin (Street Fighter V), you stop to take notice. After finally taking down the evil EDM Empire, NSR, I’m glad to have experienced No Straight Roads, even if parts of it aren’t anywhere near as perfect as its soundtrack.

You play as Mayday and Zuke, a duo rock group that call themselves Bunk Bed Junction (of which I’ll leave the origins of the name for you to find, because it’s quite an amusing cutscene). Mayday is the outgoing and fiery personality, which is probably why she’s the lead guitarist, whereas Zuke is the laid back and more level headed drummer. These two have polar opposite personalities, but work so well with one another that it’s near impossible not to become a fan instantly.

No Straight Roads opens with Mayday filming an interview, trying to get Zuke to play along and ham it up for the camera, giving you a first glimpse of their personalities and relationship. You are on your way to perform an audition for Lights Up, a reality show like America’s Got Talent, but specifically for bands to get signed onto the No Straight Roads record label, the same label who controls the whole city and governs nearly every aspect.

Bunk Bed Junction absolutely kill it in the audition, but they played Rock music, and Vinyl City is ruled by NSR who only will allow EDM to play. Tatiana, the CEO of NSR, dismisses you both regardless of your amazing performance and fan support. This of course forces the rock duo to set their sights on taking the evil NSR down and bring back Rock for the population to enjoy. Now it’s up to the two to initiate a musical revolution and take down the EDM Empire. While it may be a silly premise, given the gameplay and setting, it actually works quite well as you journey from boss to boss, getting closer to NSR headquarters to take Tatiana down, but more importantly, bringing Rock back to the masses.

My initial thoughts when seeing No Straight Roads for the first time was that its gameplay was going to be very heavily musical and rhythm based, much like a Space Channel 5. While it does incorporate some of those elements, as it is a musical game at its heart, it’s more a platform brawler than anything else. Half exploration, half boss battler, No Straight Roads is an interesting mixture of gameplay mechanics that works well in some sequences, but frustrates in others.

Half of your time with No Straight Roads will be exploring Vinyl City. Here you’ll be collecting energy and choosing to use it to restore power to the city at certain sections like lights, lamps, vending machines and more. NSR is hoarding energy for their own uses, so you’re a modern day Robin Hood, saving the general population from their tyranny. The platforming sections are functional but lack precision, as when you're exploring Vinyl City, you’ll get hung up on odd ledges and corners or hit invisible walls.

Like any good resistance group, you’ll make your base of operations underground in the sewers. Here is where you can relax and check out the collectables you find from defeating bosses, eventually adding more areas like a concert room, a tinkering room to add mods and stickers to your instruments, a radio room for interviews and even a dedicated place to feed your pet alligator. As you reach the end of each district, you’ll find the coolest and most rewarding part of No Straight Roads, the boss battles.

As you collect batteries in Vinyl City and restore power, you’ll gain fans, which levels your fan base, allowing you to unlock more in the skill trees to improve your combat and abilities. To be honest, these exploring sections, while relaxing, is the weakest part of No Straight Roads and feels more like padding to extend the gameplay more than anything else.

Combat is unique, as both Mayday and Zuke use their instruments as their weapons for attacking. Use the power of music to fight back their NSR enemies, trying to sync your attacks and dodges with the rhythm of the music. Robot enemies for example will jump slam on the beat, making it easy to time when they are going to attack if you pay attention to the rhythm. Interestingly, you never really learn new abilities and combos, but instead will have new enemy types thrown at you as you progress.

Flying enemies can only be attacked with the power of music, more specifically, musical notes you pick up during combat, and since you can freely swap between both characters, they each can only hold a certain amount of musical notes at a time. You’re also able to hold down a button to transform certain objects with your music to help you in battle. For example, a seemingly plain object can transform into a mini turret to help you in battles, specifically against bosses.

You’ll need to upgrade your abilities though if you want any chance at survival. As you defeat bosses and gain new fan base ranks, you’ll be able to upgrade certain aspects to both characters, such as Zuke being able to extend his combo, or transformations take shorter time to do. You’ll also find new sticks and mods along your journey to take down NSR, allowing you to improve base stats like melee damage, speed, health and more. Mods allow you to equip special abilities to your Triggers, and these vary from minor heals to different attack types, but these deplete your energy bar that slowly refills overtime and through combat.

The real crux of the gameplay is within the eight varying worlds that culminate in amazing, but frustrating, boss battles. Each world section of Vinyl City is defended by one of NSR’s henchmen, each with their own personality, design and musical genre. From DJ music, to concert piano, and even a pop boy band, each boss is really unique and the absolute best part of No Straight Roads. These battles make an interesting mash of their EDM versus your Rock music, but there’s one massively frustrating problem: dying.

Each boss fight has multiple stages or phases, each one adding some sort of new mechanic or enemy type. While this isn’t normally too big of an issue, the later bosses are quite lengthy, but when you die you start back at the beginning of the boss fight; not the beginning of the phase you’re on, the whole battle. On the final boss or two, this means you not only have to fight through 15 minutes or so all over again, but also watch unskippable cutscenes at times as well. While not a deal breaker, attempting a boss fight for the fifth or sixth time can take away from some of the ‘special sauce’ that makes the boss battles so great and really start to venture into frustration.

Couch co-op is an option, one that would make things much easier, but sadly there’s no online co-op, so if you don’t have someone come over to play you sadly won’t be able to experience it for an easier time as a Rock duo. Also, there’s no difficulty options, so if you’re struggling early on, it’s only going to become harder as you reach each new district and boss.

While the gameplay for No Straight Roads is decent at best, what really makes it stand out is its visual aesthetic and its absolutely amazing soundtrack and voice acting. All of the characters, not just Mayday and Zuke, are brilliantly unique and have a ton of personality. Each character has their own style and the world of Vinyl City of excitingly bright, neon and very pleasing to the eye. While there’s the odd graphical glitches, it was generally a smooth experience throughout and nothing major that was a deal breaker.

Where No Straight Roads excels is in its audio. The electronic-rock soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, from opening home screen to the credits and every boss battle in between. Each boss battle is unique in its musical genre and I’ve actually added the complete soundtrack to my favorited list on Spotify since. Artists like Falk Au Yeong, Andy Tunstall, Funk Fiction, Cliqtrack, Masahiro “Godspeed” Aoki, Az Samad, Clyde Rabatel, the Video Game Orchestra and more fill the soundtrack with amazing music from beginning to finish. Equally as impressive is all of the voice acting throughout, especially from Mayday and Zuke, as they truly bring life to the characters, heightening the clever writing, making me laugh on more than a handful of occasions.

No Straight Roads is far from perfect, but when it comes to everything related to its audio, from the soundtrack to the great voice acting, there’s really no better. It’s clear that No Straight Roads was made with passion and care, and it shows with its uniqueness and visual flair. While I wish the gameplay was equally as satisfying as its soundtrack which elevates the whole experience and more than makes up for its shortcomings, I’m glad to have been a part of Bunk Bed Junction’s fight at taking NSR down and restoring order to Vinyl City while rocking out.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Tell Me Why

Story and narrative is why I gravitate to specific games. Telltale really nailed this down with their The Walking Dead series, then seemingly out of nowhere a little studio named DONTNOD Entertainment brought us Life Is Strange, also a narrative driven series but with their own unique take and mechanics. Tell Me Why is the latest from DONTNOD, telling an intertwined story with many branches, revolving around twins Tyler and Alyson Ronan. Set in a small town in Alaska, Tell Me Why navigates some serious subject matter by bringing its characters to life in a believable and authentic way, and by the end, having you reflect on your own memories and beliefs.

Par the course for DONTNOD and similar games, Tell Me Why is releasing in three separate chapters. Normally we would review each chapter individually, but we were given access to all three right away and played from beginning to finish. This review covers the complete narrative across all three chapters, but will try to avoid as many major spoilers as possible, as these moments and revelations are really what makes Tell Me Why shine. Normally the wait between episodes in most series can take weeks or months, but thankfully DONTNOD is releasing them weekly. Chapter One is available now (and through Game Pass) with Chapter Two releasing September 3rd and the final chapter on September 10th.

Set in Delos Crossing, Alaska, twins Alyson and Tyler are finally being reunited after ten years apart as they return to their childhood home. A decade is a long time, so they must navigate learning how to interact with one another once again as they recall memories and discuss what life has been apart for each of them. Growing up together, they didn’t have an easy childhood, as their mother was apparently quite strict. In the opening chapter it seems as if they had very little fond memories of their mother, though this is to be expected, as the reason they’ve been apart for so long is because the situation surrounding their mother’s death. This is your fair warning for narrative SPOILERS ahead, as it’s hard to bring any context to the heaviness of the story without divulging some pertinent information;

For the last ten years, Tyler was sent away due to the fact that he killed his mother out of self-defense. Mary-Ann, their mother, was pointing a shotgun at Tyler when he showed her his new haircut, seemingly having lost her mind, though Tyler believes this is because she wasn’t supportive of him being transgender. The scene cuts to black and that’s what you currently remember.

As you and Alyson reminisce, they start to remember details about that life altering night, sometimes even doubting what they actually remember at times. Have you ever been in a situation with someone and when you discuss what happened or what was said, but you both have very different recollections of said event? There are situations like this that the twins will have to face, describing what each perceive as their own truth as you relive certain memories from different perspectives.

These flashback sequences are done in an interesting way, almost as a scene that plays out in front of the twins that only they can see simultaneously. As they reflect on their childhood, many emotions will come flooding out, such as Tyler seeing himself as a child before his transition, or Alyson when her best friend was her sibling. These flashbacks help piece together parts of the puzzle that led to the events of what actually happened that night with their mother. All is not as it seems though. In the opening Chapter, you really despise Mary-Ann for the way she treated the twins, but things aren’t that cut and dry sometimes. As you unravel plot twists and revelations, you may question what you initially judged about her, or not, it’s up to you to shape their story with new evidence and clues you uncover. With each chapter only taking a few hours to complete, its length was just perfect and the ending left me not only satisfied, but surprised.

While the main focus of Tell Me Why, and really all of DONTNOD's games, is the narrative, gameplay is very similar to Life Is Strange. You’re put into new scenes and areas you can walk around and explore, inspecting objects and finding collectibles, but the core gameplay will come from the dialogue choices and decisions you make. Given that Tyler and Alyson are twins, they share a unique bond that not only allows them to share their memories, but they also share a “voice”.

This is how the twins use a sort of telepathy to communicate with one another. This “voice” comes in handy when they are conversing with someone and want to figure out what their next best move is, but can’t openly talk for whatever reason. The choices you make, not only in dialogue, but in choosing specific memories, will play a role in the siblings’ relationship going forward as well. If the person you trusted more than anyone else in the world remembered the same situation drastically different, would you instantly believe them and cast doubt on your own memories? What if you were remembering a specific situation out of necessity to shield and protect yourself? This is some of the questions asked in Tell Me Why.

There are also some light puzzle elements within, though this aren’t done in a traditional sense, as they also tie into the narrative as well. You see, as kids, the twins wrote and illustrated stories they made up, even keeping a big book of all of them together. Have you ever read something very old you wrote and can read into it a bit deeper now that you’re older, wiser and have more experience? This is somewhat the same idea behind their fairy tales. These stories aren’t simply extra flair, but actually play an important role in the later chapters.

One puzzle for example is a unique lock on Mary-Ann’s bedroom door in your childhood house that has a bunch of unique symbols and icons. You’re clued into the fact that maybe they relate to one of your stories from your childhood fairy tales, though you aren’t directly told which story each puzzle is related to. These offer a change of pace to the gameplay, but can be quite challenging and frustrating, as you have to really pay attention to the stories and see which one relates to the puzzle at hand. For those that find this frustrating, there usually is an option to brute force your way past these puzzles, but it’s worth the time and effort to try and solve them.

When it was revealed that Tyler was transgender before release, this caught a lot of people’s attention. While some may take issues with this fact, I applaud DONTNOD for tackling the subject matter in a deliberate and very respectful way. Not only did the studio work with GLAAD to ensure an authentic representation, but even Tyler's voice actor, August Aiden Black, identifies as a trans male. Tyler’s birth name, or deadname, is actually never used to in the game as well in respect, only referring to himself as “Ollie” in the flashbacks, as he chose it because it sounded similar to Alyson’s nickname “Aly”. While Tyler being a trans man is part of the narrative, it’s not the sole focus and only a piece of the overall story. I have to admit, I’ve done a lot of research and asking questions after playing Tell Me Why about transitioning and people that have gone through it, as I wanted to learn more and be respectful, not only in this review, but in my personal life as well, so I’m glad playing has opened up dialogues for myself.

Just as informed and respectful the developers were in regards to Tyler’s character, they also took the same liberties with the cultural significance of being set in Alaska, as native Alaskan Tlingit also play an important role in Tell Me Why’s world. DONTNOD partnered with Huna Heritage Foundation to also portray all of the related elements to gameplay and setting to be respectful and authentic as well, not only ensuring proper Tlingit language pronunciations but artwork and more. Given that two prominent characters are Tlingit, this was an important component that they did so properly.

I don’t want to delve any further into many of the story elements and reveals that take place, but Chapter Two and Three are done just as well, if not better, than the opening episode. The final major reveal and decision actually quite surprised me, and while I guessed a few narrative elements early on, I struggled with my final choice, trying to weigh all my options before committing to my decision. While I will play through again in the future choosing differently next time, I was quite content with the ending I received and came away with a very memorable experience.

Visually similar in tone and style to Life Is Strange 2, Tell Me Why has that special DONTNOD flair to it. The Alaskan backdrop is an amazing sight to behold when given the chance, especially on the ferry ride to Delos Crossing early on, and the characters have smooth and realistic animations that had to have been motion captured, as they seem quite authentic and natural. The real star though is the performance that all of the voice actors portrayed for their characters, and not just Tyler and Alyson. The writing is done quite well and the performances are completely believable, bringing you right into their world, making you care about them even further. The ambiance too of the Alaskan wilderness doesn’t go unnoticed, and while there are some minor issues like clipping and the odd lip syncing, nothing really detracted from the overall experience.

While the overall experience is a handful of hours across the three episodes, it never wore out its welcome and felt like just the right length. There are some morally heavy decisions you have to make, and how you react to situations is actually quite telling on your own beliefs. I applaud DONTNOD for the careful and deliberate representation when it comes to Tyler, as it would have been too easy to write and develop his character full of tropes and stereotypes.

It’s abundantly obviously that Tell Me Why was made as a labor of love, and my time with Tyler and Alyson, while short, was very memorable. More importantly, it made me learn something new, ask questions and broadened my knowledge to other people’s plights that I’ve never had to personally experience. Not many other games have had the same lasting impact that Tell Me Why has.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Nowhere Prophet

While I never really got into many card based games, even in real life, ever since the popularity of Gwent in Witcher 3 I’ve really started to gravitate towards them more. Now, when a new card or board game gets the videogame treatment, I’m inherently intrigued. Enter Nowhere Prophet, the latest deck building game, but with a roguelike twist. As a Prophet, you need to lead your followers to safety and salvation, but your journey won’t be that easy. Your followers are cards, as are your abilities, so the journey is a fitting backdrop that fits naturally with the gameplay.

As the last hope to your followers, you’re tasked with leading your caravan across randomly generated wastelands each time you play. Do you try and avoid as many encounters with enemies as possible to save lives, or take your chances to defeat them and find more supplies and food along the way? Sometimes surviving will be the biggest challenge, not even factoring succeeding in your mission. Civilization is broken on a planet called Soma, and after a catastrophic event called the Crash, nearly everything has collapsed. Because of this harsh new world, nearly everyone you come across has gone mad or will try and steal what you have.

As a leader, you have special abilities, other than leading the faithful, based on which cards you’ve unlocked and are in your deck currently. With turn based card combat, it’ll be a long journey to reach not only the end of your current map with many points in between, but to reach the mysterious and fabled Crypt that is said to provide safety and salvation. Lead your followers and try and survive the harsh wasteland.

With randomized maps every time to you play, you’ll quickly get used to the very high difficulty and steep learning curve as you slowly gain new cards and build your deck to suit your playstyle. As you travel from node to node towards your destination, there will be branching paths that tempt you in different ways. Do you forgo the path with more combat to try and keep your food supplies in check for the journey, or do you take a longer side path with more rest points and chances to purchase new equipment, resulting in a longer journey which means more food and resources used?

It’s a fine balance of surviving versus thriving, and each game will differ given the procedurally generated maps every time. You’ll be put into different situations during your journey as well, such as given the option to give starving people you pass by food, but food is a precious commodity, so do you sacrifice your own following’s survival to help others? That’s up to you, and the answer will probably differ each game. Keep in mind though, some rewards come to those that help and succeed.

As you journey across the wastelands, you’ll gain new cards, which happen to be followers, and these are the units you’ll place into battle from your hand. These can be from special events, helping others or defeating enemies in combat. With hundreds of cards to collect, you’ll be searching for quite a while to fill out that ‘perfect’ deck. And as you retread across the wastelands over and over, when you die you start back at the beginning.

Reach certain milestones or fulfill specific objectives, and you can even unlock new Prophets as well. As you level up you can gain new abilities and access to new cards in combat as well. Keep in mind though, you’ll need to spend resources to level up, so there’s a balance you’ll need to be aware of here as well, and the leveling up bonuses are only for that specific playthrough.

Combat is the other main half of the core gameplay. Here the goal is to simply defeat the opposing leader, but sometimes you can’t directly damage them as you might need to take out their followers first. Each leader, including yourself, has a set amount of health, and when that reaches zero, game over if it’s your leader, or success if it’s theirs.

There are two different types of cards: Convoy or Action. Convoy are the main cards in your deck that relates to your followers, each with their own specific use, damage and health. Some followers have high damage and low health, or high health and low damage, whereas other ones have specific bonuses like gaining stats when any other follower card is destroyed. There’s actually quite a variety of cards and types, allowing for really unique strategies and playstyles.

You start with a certain amount of energy, three, and can play any combination of cards or moves that equal that amount. Each turn you gain one more energy, eventually allowing you to play higher value cards, which are obviously more powerful in some form or another and can easily change the tide of battle. An interesting mechanic is that your followers can’t actually attack until the next turn, so there’s some strategy of when to play your cards as you plan your moves ahead of time.

There’s an icon that indicates which cards can attack on your turn, and choosing what cards or leader to attack plays an integral part of your strategy. There are even cards or special abilities that place a Taunt on a card, meaning you are unable to attack the leader until that card is destroyed or nullified. Even where you place your cards on the grid plays an integral role, as followers are unable to attack if they are behind an obstacle, though you can play special Action cards that allow you to push or pull followers on opposite sides of said obstacles, adding yet another layer of strategy.

The AI, even on the easier difficulty, can be quite unfair at times, as they like to play a lot of monsters or shield buffs for their leader, making for prolonged or near impossible battles. At the same time, this allowed me to see different types of strategies that I tweaked to suit my own deck and playstyle. It will take quite a few games to really get the hang of all of the mechanics, especially when you realize that followers can permanently die or follower cards can get a special buff if they get the killing blow on the enemy leader.

With numerous Prophets to unlock and an absolute ton of cards to collect, there’s a surprising amount of content within Nowhere Prophet. While there are a ton of card and board based games out there, Nowhere Prophet really does feel unique and balanced. While there’s not much graphically to look at given its card based mechanics and background, the audio on the other hand is fantastic with its electronic soundtrack, though having the text-heavy be narrated would have added some more immersion.

Not only does Nowhere Prophet reward you for playing strategically, it feels awesome when you start to unfold your intended plan a move or two ahead of time and finish off the enemy leader. There are some really unique ideas and gameplay elements that actually meld together quite well, making for a unique experience that actually surprised me more than I expected and easily stands out amongst other decks of cards.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Rocket Arena

Are you a fan of Overwatch? How about Smash Bros? What if I told you there’s now a game that essentially combined these two, would that excite you? On paper this sounds like an amazing combination, and you’d think throwing in some rocket based gameplay would make it even cooler. The result is a little more muddled than that though. A 3v3 online shooter, Rocket Arena aims to gain its audience with its bright visuals, flashy gameplay, and if you happen to love rockets, even better.

What makes Rocket Arena stand out against the competition is mainly with its gameplay. The main twist is that instead of a standard health bar that needs to be depleted to kill someone, instead, you need to fill their meter and get a finishing shot or blow on them, much like Smash Bros, to knock them out of the arena. And just like said game, you can also recover if your enemies are unable to finish the job. This Blast Meter makes the gameplay unique, as you don’t necessarily have to be low on health either, simply reach out of bounds of the play area and you can get knocked out.

As for the shooting itself, it’s functional, but something feels lacking overall. Every character shoots, well, rockets, so if you were a fan of playing Soldier in Team Fortress 2 or Pharah in Overwatch, you’ll have an idea what to expect. The shooting is quite hard to get the hang of, as you need to lead your shots, but after a few hours you’ll start to get a feel for it. Not only will you need to learn the intricacies of combat, you’ll have to master dodging and using items as well. You can not only use your rockets to rocket jump, but using them along walls or pillars to ‘climb’ upwards. It takes some getting used to but you can easily maneuver around the handful of maps quickly in no time once you've got the skills down.

To be honest, I wasn’t utilizing the dodge much at first, but came to learn that it’s quite important, for more than the obvious reason. I tend to play slightly aggressive, so I usually forgo defense for more brute force. This wasn’t working too well, as I was constantly getting eliminated but unsure how to defend against it. Dodging not only allows you to, well, dodge incoming rockets, but it also is how you can free yourself from a stun and get back into the fight, provided you’re not knocked out of the arena first.

Scattered throughout the arena’s you’ll find items and gift boxes. These will give you bonus one-time usable items like a bomb that can be tossed, a ninja headband that enhances your dodging for a short time or a rocket magnet that traps any rockets that pass nearby. These can be useful and give a slight edge, but generally nothing that will change the tide of a match drastically.

Currently with eleven different characters to choose from, each with their own shot types and abilities, you’re bound to find one that suits your playstyle, though this took me a handful of hours to find the two or three I enjoyed more than others. Each character is unique in their playstyle, not just because of their shot types, but how they control and perform. You’ve got slower types of characters, ones that can snipe, some that are weak but has more rockets, and others. It will take some time to not only master the physics based shots, having to lead your rockets, but learn when best to use your abilities to earn those KO’s.

What I did enjoy was that each character leveled the more you used them, unlocking new skins to customize their look, banners, totems and more. You’ll also unlock artifacts. Think of these like specialized passive perks, and these can level up as well, becoming more powerful the more you equip them in matches. While I never found a character I fell in love with, as I usually find one I enjoy and main them 100% of the time, there were a few that stood out.

Amphora has a special ability that allows her turn into a water puddle that has quick movement then can launch them high out of the arena for massive damage or KO’s. Flux is entertaining because her rockets look like kitten rainbows and she can also warp into another dimension for a brief time to get out of danger quickly. Plink is fun as he has a large amount of rockets before needing to reload, but they don’t do much damage, so he’s a great support character or someone that can get that last KO hit in before enemies can recover since he can shoot so many before needing to reload. Izell is whom I’ve gravitated towards for my main though, as she is great at pressuring, is quite mobile, and can even load a charged dash to knock back or out enemies. Every character has their own unique quirk and style, so make sure to try out each to find what one works best for you.

Season One is now live, adding a new hero that will come in each (Flux was this season’s), new map, events, challenges and more. For those that really like Rocket Arena and want to get the most out of their time with it, there’s also a Blast Pass that can be purchased, much like a battlepass from other games. Of course, the Blast Pass is only purchased with real money, and while you’ll earn a few bonuses for leveling and such without it, you obviously earn many more items and unlocks if you purchase the pass.

Since there’s no campaign and this is strictly an online shooter, you can choose from Social or Ranked matches, and given that everything is Rocket Themed, so are the different modes. Knockout is 3v3 and basically your Team Deathmatch, scoring points for every enemy you knock out of the arena and finish. The King of the Hill mode is called Mega Rocket, but the more unique modes come from Treasure Hunt and Rocketball.

Treasure Hunt has you picking up a chest and keeping possession to earn points, but you can also collect random coins around the map as well. Rocketball is essentially basketball where you get points for scoring in the opponent’s goal. The problem though with Treasure Hunt and Rocketball is that some of the characters are so overpowered because the gameplay is more about speed and agility rather than shooting or KO’s, so a bad team makeup can spell disaster and a sure loss. I personally prefer RocketBot Attack which is a PvE mode of 3 players versus 3 bots.

Now this is where things become messy and awkward; Microtransactions. Now, I have no problem with microtransactions when they are done right, offering no gameplay advantage like skins, but sometimes you don’t hit the mark. Naturally, every character in Rocket Arena has a ton of different skins, unfortunately, many are gated with very high level progression or Rocket Fuel, the currency you purchase with real money. Factor in that Rocket Arena is NOT free to play, they try and tempt you with a Blast Pass when possible AND want to sell you skins as well, and it starts to put a bad taste in your mouth. Do you NEED the skins? Obviously not, and sadly there’s not even that many amazing special ones, as most are just slight variations or palette swaps. I never once felt compelled to purchase any of them but that’s also due to their high cost and general blandness of offerings.

Rocket Arena has an interesting concept and a great art direction with its Overwatch/Fortnite aesthetic and character design, but with a change to free-to-play, I could see Rocket Arena garnering a stronger following given that players are already being asked to purchase premium currency for skins and a Blast Pass to get the most out of it. While fun in short bursts, it took me quite a while to settle on a main, as many characters never clicked with my playstyle, and the poor matchmaking balancing was quite demoralizing as a new player, though bonus points for incorporating crossplay.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Dungeons 3 - Complete Collection

Dungeons 3 is a few years old now, but as they say, everything old is new again, right? Part real time strategy, part dungeon builder, Dungeons 3 – Complete Collection is now available for those that want a good challenge and dozens and dozens of hours of gameplay. With more than enough DLC that you can shake a stick at, Dungeons 3 has been popular for fans of the genre, and can finally get all of its content in one place. Build your dungeon, set traps, create monsters and destroy the do-gooders in the overworld. If you’re a fan of pop culture, breaking the fourth wall like Deadpool and parody, you’re going to have a great time with lots of laughs.

The core campaign is quite decently sized, which should take you at minimum 20-30ish hours to complete. Factor in another handful of DLC’s, seven to be exact, and you’ve got a lot more gameplay ahead of you, which should nearly double the campaign. Cleverly narrated, Dungeons 3 tells the tale of Thalya, a dark elf that’s raised by the noblest of Paladins. You though are an omnipotent evil being that simply wants to cause destruction and general debauchery, so clearly you’re going to take over Thalya’s body and use her as your vessel.

The campaign is actually quite good, though there are some major spikes in difficulty in random places where one mistake will cost you the match. There’s essentially two halves to the gameplay: the dungeon building and the overworld. Inside the dungeon you use your minions, lovely referred to as “snots” to carve tunnels, gather resources and build parts of your base, the RTS part of Dungeons 3. Your lifeblood comes from the massive crystal in the middle of your dungeon, called a dungeon heart, and should you get invaded and it becomes destroyed, you lose. The overworld is where things are happy and glee, until you destroy everyone and everything in your path of course, turning the world into dark and gloomy sections as you take them over.

While the campaign is filled with humerous parodies and memorable characters, all pale in comparison to the narrator; yes, the person that, well, narrates everything. With an unmistakable voice performed masterfully, the narrator will guide you along, giving you hints and probably make fun of you along the way, constantly breaking the fourth wall. While many will have played the base game itself, I’ll instead delve a little into each DLC, giving an idea of what type of content you can expect with this Complete Collection. I’d have hoped that many updates and patches would have happened since I last played, fixing some performance issues I previously had, but there’s still some major slowdown when action gets chaotic, even while playing on an Xbox One X.

Once Upon a Time:
This DLC has the Absolute Evil heading to the Good Fairy’s home, Fairyland. You’ll find 3 new campaign maps and evil hubs, new tile sets for your dungeon and of course a new boss, The Good Fairy. Seeing so many cute and good deeds makes Thalya sicks to her stomach, so it’s amusing to see their reactions.

Evil of the Caribbean:
With another 3 new campaign maps, evil hubs and dungeon tiles (most of the DLC’s add this many), here you’re sent to the island of Turtoga (can you guess the reference?) where you’ll have to get rum for someone, but stop the good guys from destroying it, as well as battling another new boss. It’s a fun parody and the setting fits, but even the initial mission was quite difficult.

Lord of the Kings:
With 3 more campaign maps, here you’re helping King Arcturus as he finds his city of Stormbreeze destroyed. This DLC actually has an interesting plot and twist, so I don’t want to spoil anything, but definitely play this one once you’ve got the hang of the whole dungeon building aspect.

Clash of Gods:
This was one of the first major DLC’s, as instead of three maps, you get eight, adding some more gameplay. You’ll face off against a whole new type of enemy set out to stop the Absolute Evil, the Goddess of Light. New traps will need to be used if you want to survive any invasions to your dungeon and this was the major update that also included co-op, though you’ll surely need to invite a friend, as I was unable to find any multiplayer matches at all, across all the DLC. This expansion had more emphasis on the overworld, adding the ability to utilize special outposts to stop invaders as you try to take down their bases.

An Unexpected DLC:
With a title like that, you know it’s full of parody and humor. You’ve already defeated the Goddess of Light in the last DLC, so what’s left to do? Taking on the Queen of the Forest across 3 new campaign maps of course!

Famous Last Words:
This DLC was the final campaign DLC and actually my favorite of the bunch, because of how asinine and out of the box it became. The premise is that since Thalya has done everything she can, the narrator is now bored, causing Thalya to get on his bad side. Big mistake. Since the narrator can do whatever he wants, as he’s the narrator, he turns himself into Narratus, conjuring anything he can think of to stop you. This campaign while hilarious, was also quite challenging. Stick with it though, as it was my favorite content of the bunch.

A Multitude of Maps:
This final DLC was actually the weakest of the bunch. Instead of any new campaign missions, you’re instead given a map pack for skirmishes. While these maps are unique and add even more challenge, like helping a golem find its resting place, I wouldn’t categorize 3 maps as a “multitude” and it will only appease the hardcore fans that want more co-op content.

Dungeons 3 is a unique game, with its tongue in cheek approach to humor, which works flawlessly, and dual plane gameplay that requires a lot of planning and concentration. One minute you could be building a great and efficient dungeon, only to get invaded and overrun in just a few minutes because you weren’t watching the overworld map for the heroes’ movements.

While it may not be perfect with its difficulty spikes, performance issues and awkward controls, it more than makes up for it with its clever writing and amazing narrator. With dozens and dozens of hours of content to be had, Dungeons 3 – Complete Collection is an absolutely hilarious RTS with equally unique DLC.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 PGA TOUR 2K21

Shortly ago we got a chance to preview the latest golf game, PGA Tour 2K21, and came away quite impressed. HB Studios, the developers behind the popular 'The Golf Club' series, having seemingly impressed the right people, as their latest game is now partnered with 2K and has directly licensed with the PGA as well, bringing us authentic and recreated courses, golfers, brands and tournaments. While the last few years have had the odd golf game release here and there, none has really stood out to the point where I even took notice. Taking two years to work on PGA Tour 2K21, HB Studios has done a great job at not only creating a great golf game for fans, but has made it accessible for nearly any skill level to play and enjoy.

MyPlayer:

Like most sports games, your career will have you starting out as an unknown, aiming to work your way into the PGA and eventually win the FedEx Cup Tournament. Before your journey to becoming a pro begins, you’ll have to create your MyPlayer golfer. While not the most robust character creator out there, it gives you just enough options to make them look almost exactly how you want. Start out with male or female (which is interesting since there’s no LPGA pros included) and then completely customize their appearance with sliders that can change facial features, weight, height, hair and more.

Pro golfers also need to look the part, so you’ll also choose their attire as well. Do you choose something more traditional with some slacks and a fitted polo shirt, or do you go old school with the poofy golf knicker bottoms and knee high socks? Better yet, you’ll get to choose from a handful of actual real world brands like Taylor Made, Under Armour, Sketchers, Ben Hogan, Bridgestone Golf, Puma, Ralph Lauren, Wilson, Callaway Golf and more. While you won’t be able to afford any of the best looking wardrobe in the beginning of your career, as you level up and earn coins (or purchase virtual currency – VC – which you’ll recognize from other 2K games) you’ll be able to as you start winning rounds and earning that prize money. Some gear, including clubs, are also only attainable from winning versus a rival as well, so some of the gear you’ll have to earn the hard way. You can even save presets of your wardrobes if you really want to play into it, allowing for a quick swap of shorts and hat for the courses that are in the desert or any style for certain courses.

Now that you’ve recreated your likeness, or any variant thereof, you’ll need to choose what clubs you’ll be bringing with you onto the course. An interesting development choice is that your golfer themselves don’t actually have any stats, but instead, the clubs you choose will have varying stats based on different attributes. For example, I choose a driver with the furthest power and distance stats for obvious reasons, but if you’re struggling to keep the ball straight without any slices or fades, then maybe you’ll forgo a club like that, sacrificing some distance for more control instead. There is no “best” set of clubs with all stats maxed out either, so there’s no need to worry about needing end-game clubs to win or stay competitive. It’s all about choosing clubs that either boosts your strengths or help make up for your weaknesses. The only club that has no stats at all are the putters, as the short game comes down to your pure skill instead.

Career:

Now that you’re ready to hit the links and work your way into the FedEx Cup playoffs, let’s quickly go over what’s been included from the sport’s real world counterparts, as the PGA license is a big deal when it comes golf. For the courses you’ll be playing, there are 15 licensed TPC courses which include:

Atlantic Beach Country Club;
Copperhead Course;
East Lake Golf Club;
Quail Hollow Club;
Riviera Country Club;
TPC Boston;
TPC Deere Run;
TPC Louisiana;
TPC River Highlands;
TPC San Antonio;
TPC Sawgrass;
TPC Scottsdale;
TPC Southwind;
TPC Summerlin;
TPC Twin Cities.

If by some miracle you’ve actually been fortunate enough to have played on these iconic courses, you’ll no doubt be impressed by the realistic recreation of each to provide an authentic experience. HB Studios actually used drones and laser scanning technology to capture every aspect of each course, to the point that the topography of each course is down to one centimeter of accuracy.

The PGA Tour wouldn’t be the same without the pro’s to play against as well. Most notably, the cover athlete for PGA Tour 2K21 is the surging Justin Thomas, but there’s a handful of others that you may recognize. Winning the FedEx Cup is no easy feat, and you’re going to have some stiff competition against the pro’s. While it’s only their likeness that was scanned into the game, and not their swings, movements and mannerisms, it’s a great start to have some recognizable names. The pro roster is as such:

Justin Thomas;
Cameron Champ;
Bryson DeChambeau aka “The Scientist”;
Matt Kuchar aka “Kuch”;
Kevin Kisner aka “Kiz”;
Gary Woodland aka “G-Dub”;
Billy Horschel aka “Billy Ho”;
Ian Poulter aka “The Postman”;
Tony Finau aka “Big Tone”;
Jim Furyk aka “Mr. 58”;
Sergio Garcia;
Patrick Cantlay.

Accessibility:

Do you choose to begin in the Korn Ferry Tour and earn your way up the ranks, earning that coveted PGA Tour card, or do you simply dive head first against the pros? More impressively, there’s a ton of work that’s gone into the accessibility so that nearly anyone can play while enjoying themselves and even be competitive. With six different difficulties to choose from, you’ll easily be able to birdie every shot on the easiest settings, but will probably struggle for double bogey’s on Legendary. The more assists you turn off, like putt preview, the more your earnings multiplier will go up, allowing you to net more based on your difficulty choices. Completely casual players can find enjoyment with little to no penalties and a ton of assists like not hooking or slicing your shots, whereas more skilled players can challenge themselves for higher risk versus reward.

While golf can be a solitary experience, you need great commentary for fans to follow along and call all the nuances and information that we amateurs might miss. To bring more authenticity to PGA Tour 2K21, Luke Elvy and Rich Beem were brought onboard for the play by play and witty banter. Having recorded thousands of lines, the duo performs amazingly, sounding completely authentic and reacts based on how your gameplay is unfolding. It’s clear that they have amazing insight into the sport with their in-depth knowledge, but even better, their chemistry works so well together that you’d swear at times their in the booth somewhere calling out your play in real time. Not once did it ever sound as if recorded lines were simply spliced together, but instead appeared to be an authentic commentary based on your gameplay in real time.

Sponsors and Rivals:

Pro athletes get paid and endorsed by sponsors, that’s no secret. It’s no different here either. Once you’ve earned your PGA Tour card you’ll be able to choose which sponsors you want to work with, giving you the chance to unlock exclusive clothing or clubs from many different brands. Some brands, like Adidas, will have special shirts, hats, shoes and more you can unlock if you fulfill certain objectives, whereas others offer unique and special clubs, which I always opted to work towards. You’ll get to choose if your objective are Easy, Medium or Hard, with each having varying different prerequisites before you earn the unlocks. Some challenges have you hitting a certain amount of birdies in a round, driving from the tee a certain distance, scoring no bogeys and many more trials. Each sponsor level you raise will unlock new items, though I didn’t find a way to tell what item of the bunch I was currently working towards unlocking.

Another way to earn special gear, usually clothing, is to beat your current pro rival. You’ll be given a pro that is your rival, and as you finish courses, you’ll earn rivalry points based on how well you performed on the course compared to them. Manage to best them on all of the set guidelines and you’ll ‘beat’ them in two or three courses, unlocking certain gear only obtainable by doing so. Eventually you’ll challenge all the way up to the big dog himself, Justin Thomas, though I do wish the unlocks were something more special other than some clothing that didn't really suit my style.

Course Builder:

While having official PGA courses is all well and good, what’s even better is an endless amount of player built courses with the Course Builder. If you’ve played any of their previous 'The Golf Club' titles before, you’ll have an idea what to expect, but now you’re able to do even more. If you’re like me and want to see what kind of crazy creations and holes you can come up with, you’re certainly able to do so. Start by choosing your theme, like Swiss, Desert, etc then dive straight into designing your course however you wish. You’re able to terraform as well, so you can really come up with almost anything you can think of.

I started by making a course where the hole was on top a crazy steep hill that you had to use a wedge from the tee to try and land it on the green. I’m sure people will create realistic and gorgeous courses, but I’m curious to see what more ‘unique’ holes are created, like the one I made where the pin was in the middle of a sand bunker and no green. Course builders will also be pleased to know that you’re no longer restricted to assets tied to a certain theme, so if you want to put an obstacle course of alligators on your Swiss course, you’re welcome to now. The best part about Course Builder is that once you create and publish your course, it will be available to everyone across all platforms (even though there’s no crossplay).

Gameplay:

While gameplay is familiar, it also feels more refined from what I’ve played previously. You’re able to choose your shots and change clubs obviously, but you can change the type of shot like chips and flops, also able to adjust the angle of the club face, allowing for more control of every shot. Doing so is quite easy, and once you get the hang of adapting your shots, you’ll be able to start sinking those birdies in no time. With the easier difficulties you won’t have to worry so much about the wind and other factors, but for the pro’s, you’re going to have to account for every possible factor that goes into each shot and adjust accordingly. I’ll tell you though, it’s an amazing feeling once you land that first hole in one or sink it in from the fairway from 200+ yards out.

Societies:

While golf can be solitary at times, it’s also social as well. There’s nothing quite like hitting the links with a few friends, and it’s no different in PGA Tour 2K21. This is where Societies come into play. Think of these like groups for friends and competition. You can create your own or join multiple different ones if you’re looking for more people to play with, even creating events that players can compete on. While I’d like to see more features built into the Societies, it’s a great starting point and should at least be able to find you like minded golfers that would like to compete in friendly or competitive matches.

Multiplayer:

And thus, here we are, talking about PGA Tour 2K21’s multiplayer offering, which is quite robust. Obviously you’ll be able to play Match Play versus another golf title, but there’s a handful of other modes that are worth noting, such as Alt-Shot, Stroke Play, Skins and 4-Player Scramble. Stroke Play counts the amount of strokes each player takes to finish the round, with the winner being the one who had the least amount. Stableford is where you score points based on the number of strokes taken per hole with the winner being the player with the most points at the end of the round. Four Ball is a 2v2 team format where the teammate with the lowest score on a hole earns their team a point and the winning team is the one with the most points. Alternate Shot is interesting, as it is also 2v2 teams based, but you take turns playing a shared ball with your partner until you sink the hole. Lastly, Scramble is also a 2v2 mode, but here each team decides which of their shots was better and then play from that location, for every shot. I’m glad there’s been some thought into adding more unique modes, which I can forsee being a blast with a group of friends, or rivals.

Final Thoughts:

Once you finally compete, and hopefully win, in the FedEx Cup, the season will end and you’ll simply start anew on your way to another hopeful win. Once you finally compete in every course and tournament, and beat every rival, it does lose a little of its appeal unless you’re working towards more course wins or saving up for more gear. It does take a while to ‘grind’ enough courses to earn some decent currency for the more expensive gear, but nothing obscene or that compelled me to spend actual money on VC instead, though the option is there for those that wish. Courses are impressive visually, as is the faux television broadcast style of replays and menus, though the crowd surrounding the greens are generally bland if you take the time to notice. Commentary is flawless from the great duo of Luke Elvy and Rich Beem and power hits from the tee sound like there's some real impact to the swings.

While it doesn’t have every official golfer, course and tournament, PGA Tour 2K21 a great start to the series that should no doubt keep your interest until the next iteration. The Golf Club series was a decent golf game in its own rights, but HB Studios and 2K’s new partnership seems to be off to a great start, laying solid groundwork for the series and creating an addictive and entertaining golf experience that anyone of any skill level can enjoy. It’s time to hit the links once again and win that FedEx Cup. Fore!


Suggestions: Thanks to 2K for providing early access. This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game and was reviewed using an Xbox One X.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 NASCAR Heat 5

I have to admit, I used to be one of those people that simply assumed NASCAR games were just turning left and trying to cross the finish line first. After a handful of hours into NASCAR Heat 5 under my belt, my first NASCAR game in quite some time, I fully concede to the fact that there’s quite a bit of strategy and nuance that goes into NASCASR racing, even if the majority of that time is indeed turning left. Pack racing is a completely different style of racing than I’m used to, so it took some time to change my mindset of how to properly race when merely inches from your opponents at all times.

Developed by 704Games, the studio has been the sole developer of NASCAR games for the past few years, thus the NASCAR Heat series is now into its fifth iteration less than a year from the previous offering. NASCAR Heat 5 puts you right into the 2020 season, including the official teams, drivers, cars and liveries that go along with the high adrenaline sport.

Before you delve head first into Career mode you’ll need to design your character, customizing them exactly how you want. Once you’ve done so, you begin your career as an unknown, so you’ll do what they call Hot Seating. This is where teams may need a driver for a specific weekend for one reason or another, so you’ll get an offer to drive for a team for a race. Do well and they might consider giving you an offer to be their permanent driver in the upcoming season. So your first few handful of races will be with different teams and cars, and come the start of the new season you’ll make a decision of whom you want to race for, though you can opt to create your own team, but I highly suggest doing that after your bank roll has a few million saved up, as it’s a very expensive venture, but more on that shortly.

You begin in the Xtreme Dirt Series, kind of like the minors, as you work your way up the ranks, eventually graduating to the Gander RV & Outdoor Truck series, the Xfinity Series and finally the NASCAR Cup Series. While you can dive head first into the NASCAR series from the get go, I enjoyed working from the bottom with the dirt and slower trucks and cars before getting into the big leagues.

Since NASCAR Heat 5 is officially endorsed, you’ll get to race alongside the official teams and drivers, so fans of the sport should be happy to see their favorites on the track alongside them. As for the tracks themselves, these are also officially licensed, so you’ll get 34 recreated tracks and events, including the iconic Talladega, Daytona, Indianapolis and a lot more. There are even a handful of fictional dirt tracks, boosting the course number to almost forty, which is quite impressive. Sure, most of them are ovals, but tis the nature of the sport.

If you choose to start at the Xtreme Dirt Series in career, it’s going to take quite some time to work your way up to the NASCAR level, as each season is quite lengthy. Work your way up the ranks and take those wins to hopefully earn not only the respect of your fellow driver and peers, but the championship cup as well. As you move up to the higher classes of series, you can choose to participate in the lower races too, but this will add a ton of additional time to each season.

Joining a team means you only get a cut of the winnings, as you’re simply the driver, but as you amass your earnings, you can eventually earn enough to start your own team should you desire. Here you can create your team however you wish, including hiring staff that have specialties. These staff are meant to increase your car’s abilities and performance, but I honestly found it a bit confusing. After dumping a LOT of cash into maxing out my staff to get a bonus in my next race, it didn’t help me at all, and I was doing worse than I did with a base car when I was part of someone else’s team. There’s some light management sim here for those that want it, but it’s an absolutely huge money sink and it didn’t feel all that rewarding compared to simply jumping into race after race.

If you want something other than Career Mode, there’s also Quick Race, Multiplayer (online and splitscreen) Test Session and Challenge Mode. Test Session simply allows you to practice tweaking your car’s setup and trying it out on the track without any opponents. This allows you to see what works and what doesn’t so you can adjust things before the actual race. I can see the hardcore crowd making use of this mode to find that perfect setup, and this is one of the ‘big’ new features in NASCAR Heat 5 oddly enough.

What I did appreciate though was the Challenge Mode. While we’ve seen modes like this before, this is where you can race in very specific scenarios, recreating or changing history. NASCAR has had some memorable moments in the history of the sport, so this is where you can race in the shoes of some of those drivers in the exact same scenario. Can you pull off a win from being last in the pack? Can you avoid a massive crash, weaving through the wreckage and pull off the win? Longtime fans will appreciate the work that’s gone into these scenarios, where newcomers like myself can simply enjoy the challenge of these very specific scenarios and win conditions.

NASCAR Heat 5 also allows anyone from any skill level to also jump in and enjoy themselves. You have a ton of accessibility options, more so than the standard difficulty levels. You can adjust a bunch of other options relating to how the AI controls and reacts, to how much drafting can give you a boost if done properly. This can make the game extremely forgiving, even making it difficult to hit the wall, as it can automatically brake for you should you wish. Obviously pro players will net faster lap times without as many assists, but it was great to get a handful of first place podium finished with the assists on to see how it feels.

As for the racing itself, pack racing is very different than your standard type of racing. You need to be mindful of who’s beside you at all times, as the smallest bump can send you or them flying into the wall. The AI, regardless of the different difficulties I tested, seemed to almost always run a perfect race, which was quite difficult to overcome. This is where drafting comes into play, as it’s one of the only ways you can pass people cleanly in the pack, which is also assuming the leaders haven’t pulled too far ahead for you to even catch up to. It takes some time to get a feel for the controls, but once you do, you’ll start to pull ahead of the pack in the corners heading towards the finish line.

Between every race, you’ll become very accustomed to the lengthy loading screens. While I wouldn’t normally mention something like this, what stood out more than anything else is that essentially every single loading screen was for Fanatec products like steering wheels and pedals. Of course this piqued my curiosity so I checked out their website, and was quite shocked to realize they make incredibly high end racing products, well into the thousands of dollars for a setup. Not that the advertising doesn’t fit the audience, it was simply overly used as you’ll see it every single loading screen throughout your career.

For those wanting some competition online, you’re able to race against 39 other drivers in real time. I wasn’t sure what to expect for the online play, but hosts can setup races however they wish, toggling a bunch of different options. I was quite surprised that I experienced no real lag, and while actual players race drastically different than the AI, especialyl when it comes to poor sportsmanship and shoving on the track, having 40 player races was impressive. There’s even an option to play in the eNASCAR Heat Pro League when certain events are currently ongoing.

While there’s an option for Performance or Graphical Mode on an Xbox One X, sadly the Performance Mode didn’t feel anywhere near 60 FPS. While not a deal breaker, it was quite noticeable when I’ve played other racing games that do offer it. As for the graphics themselves, they are passible, but won’t impress. While the liveries are realistic and accurate, and you can create your own, even the cars themselves look “ok” at best. That’s not to say things look bad, but again, nothing really impressed overall. Also, races never gave that sense of high speed. When I’m racing 200 MPH, it should ‘feel’ fast, yet doesn’t. Oh, and there’s (still) no photo mode for those wondering.

Audio is about the same; passable. While I had to almost instantly mute the music and soundtrack for its terrible song choices, (that’s obviously subjective) your mileage might vary, but there was way too many country songs for my liking. Engines make your standard car sounds and roars, but nothing sounds distinguishable from one another. What was great though are your spotters, telling you if you’re clear on the in or outside lanes, letting you know when it’s safe to make passes or block, especially if you’re utilizing the hood or cockpit view.

If you’ve played NASCAR Heat 4, you’ll know exactly what to expect from the latest sequel. I mean that almost literally, as the main complaints from the community is that it’s essentially the same game with the 2020 season liveries and driver updates. If you already own last year’s outing, there’s not much reason to upgrade unless you’re a die-hard fan, but if you’re new to the series or skipped a few of the last ones, NASCAR Heat 5 is a great starting point, even for amateurs to the sport.

Overall Score: 6.7 / 10 SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE

SUPER. HOT. If those two words mean anything to you, you most likely played and enjoyed the original SUPERHOT from back in 2016. There was nothing quite like it at the time, melding that sweet slow motions bullet time with Matrix-like moves that had you feeling like a super version of John Wick. SUPERHOT really stood out from the competition with its minimalistic aesthetics but super addictive gameplay. While there was a VR version, a full-ish sequel is now here with SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE, adding more moves, enemies, hacks and tricks up its sleeve to get you addicted all over again. It’s still the signature SUPERHOT that you enjoyed, but has improved in many ways without losing what made it great in the first place.

Do you crave more meaning? Do you want reasons for doing what you do in SUPERHOT? Do you wish you had purpose? With SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE has this by adding some narrative elements to the gameplay; kind of. There’s little snippets of story here and there, but it isn’t laid out in linear fashion like most games. Instead, you’re teased with story in an interesting way. Yes, I’m purposely being vague, as the narrative snippets are more like messages you find in a terminal that you’re hacking more so than grandiose cutscenes you might expect, teasing you with "meaning" behind what you're doing.

So if you’re like me, you may never had played the original SUPERHOT. It was always on my list but I just never got around to it for one reason or another, so I was quite excited to get into SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE. The premise is basically unchanged; you’re thrown into a level that is untextured and all white, and enemies you need to kill are the only thing with color, a bright red. The catch is that time only moves when you do, aside from an incredibly slow pace that’s always constant no matter what. The enemies aren’t terribly difficult to kill, but you’ll need to use any object you can find to throw at them or fire any weapons you might find lying around. Even if enemies have weapons, you can see the bullets coming at you very slowly, as if you’re in the matrix, so you always have time to move, just keep in mind time also resumes when you move.

Any object you can use will be black in color, so it’s easy to tell what’s usable, as the whole environment is a blank white. Where the coolness factor comes in is how you string together your kills. Do you grab a shuriken, throw it at an enemy, making him drop their gun, so you grab their weapon and shoot someone else in one fell swoop? Or maybe you rush at an enemy with a katana, slicing them in half, grabbing their pistol, shooting one enemy, throwing it at another to drop their knife, grabbing that knife and chucking at someone else? If all of this sound awesome, it’s because it is. Once you dispatch enough enemies, the level will end and it will show you a recording of how your level played out but in real time.

While the core gameplay hasn’t really changed much, there are quite a few new additions that are added with MIND CONTROL DELETE. The level structure is now done like most roguelite’s, where you’ll need to pass a handful of levels without dying (losing all your hearts) or else you’re sent right back to the beginning stage and need to try again to do it in one go. There’s an overworld ‘map’ of sorts, more like a pixel based ascii version, where you can choose which node you want to play in order. There are other nodes you can also choose if you unlock the path to them that also grants you new hacks (powers) or snippets of story elements described above. While I’m not usually a roguelike fan, given that levels are only a minute or two each, even having to restart a sequence over again doesn’t set you back very far.

The first bit of your adventure will have you trying to kill every red enemy you see, but eventually the enemies too get upgrades. At first you’ll be able to attack them anywhere on their bodies to kill them, but eventually some will have sections of their body whited out, meaning you can only hit them in their limbs that are red. This is where you’re going to have to be more accurate, as hitting an arm or head is much more difficult than a whole body or torso. Eventually you’ll start to get swarmed with more and more enemies at once and some will even have spikes on their bodies, meaning they’ll explode when killed, adding more projectiles to avoid.

So if the enemies get upgraded over time, you do too right? Yup. As you progress through the nodes, you’ll earn new abilities, known as hacks. At certain points between stages you’ll be able to choose one of two random hacks you've unlocked to aid you in your journey. These are randomized, but can make you incredibly powerful and help you along the way. Some hacks will offer more hearts, others will start you with a random gun or katana every level and later hacks allow bullets to ricochet, and a ton more that add some unique gameplay. These hacks allow you to change up your strategies on the fly, so you’ll need to be conscious of which hacks are activated. Two of my favorites that I always chose when given the option was charge, allowing me to use a short teleport towards and enemy to attack them and get out of harm’s way and make them drop their weapon, or an ability that allows me to recall my thrown katana back in my hands like a Jedi with their lightsaber.

Everything you do you will repeat over and over. Kill enemies, repeat. Shoot enemies, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The new mechanics and hacks keeps things interesting, even though you’re repeating your same actions over and over as you try and make your way to the ‘end’. Combat feels smooth and exciting, even when I’m retrying a level numerous times. The gameplay has been greatly lengthened from the original SUPERHOT, and should last you at least 5-6 hours or more.

For a game that utilizes such a minimalist artistic style, it still has that cool and smooth look to it. Movement is fluid, animations are slick and watching your replay and the end of a level in real time is always satisfying. Audio is just as great, as weapons sound powerful, punches and thrown objects have some oomph to them, and certain levels are absolutely kickass when the music kicks in and you are bullet dodging and stringing moves back to back.

Even with its new roguelike progression structure, you almost always get that ‘one more time’ feeling, wanting to progress just one more node before you turn it off. Combat is exciting and intense, especially once you have a string of good hacks installed. Even though it’s incredibly repetitive at its core, it doesn’t ever feel as if it wears on you. If you enjoyed the original fluid combat of SUPERHOT, you’re going to really be excited for what MIND CONTROL DELETE adds to the mix. While it feels more like a great expansion than a fully-fledged sequel, SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE really is super hot.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Those Who Remain

When I initially looked into Those Who Remain, I fully expected a horror game that would be full of jump scares and that creepy feeling that makes you nervous and want to play with the lights on. What I actually got was part walking simulator, part horror game. Those Who Remain is an interesting premise with some symbolic meaning and supernatural elements that impressed at times with its set pieces while also being dull and frustrating the majority of the time.

You play as Edward, someone that clearly is troubled and going through something dark when you see he’s been drinking quite heavily. As you begin his story, you come to realize that he’s off to some seedy motel to meet his mistress and call off their affair, feeling the deep guilt from cheating on his wife. As you pull into the motel that seems abandoned, all of the doors are locked except the office, but no one is there. You search around and find out what room she was staying by noticing her alias in the log book.

Once you find the key and finally gain access to the room, it too is completely empty, but Edward becomes instantly distracted when someone steals his car from the parking lot. Of course this sends you chasing them down a long dark road, only to come to a dead end that’s pitch black with a crowd of people seemingly watching you from the shadows, but they have blue glowing eyes. You are told to stay in the light, for if you venture into the darkness, you’ll die. Thus begins Edward’s journey to figure out what’s going on, being lured to the nearby town of Dormont, but remember, always stay in the light at all costs.

For a first person thriller, Those Who Remain had a lot of potential, but once you realize that the ominous blue-eyed beings simply act as barriers to guide you to the right direction, there’s not all that much horror elements included otherwise. While the story is interesting at first when you’re starting to piece it together of what has happened and how Edward is involved, you’ll eventually see the conclusion coming from a mile away, though there are multiple endings based on certain choices you make during the journey.

The opening area with the motel sets the tone for the next few hours of gameplay, simply having you stay within the light looking for green glowing clues like notes and newspapers to flesh out the narrative while searching every drawer and cupboard to find the objects you need to progress, such as a key, bolt cutters, fuse and other items. And so begins the gameplay loop of getting to a new area, searching for clues and the item you need to get to the next area without any ideas as to where, all while avoiding any darkness you see to stay alive.

The main hook is that you’re being watched by these entities, but they disappear in the light, so you need to constantly be on the lookout for light switches and other light sources. One part I enjoyed was figuring out a way to turn on some car headlights to light a path to my destination, or a basement where the lights didn’t work, so I needed to move some boxes blocking the basement window so the light could shine in, giving me a safe path. I initially expected these blue eyed entities to chase me or something, but they don’t. They simply act as barriers to guide and funnel you to the correct path, even though it may not be obvious at first. Get too close and you’ll instantly die, but eventually the horror element disappears completely once you know you’re completely safe in the light.

There are some minor puzzle elements where a second dimension comes into play. Sometimes you won’t be able to progress, having exhausted all of your options and searched every place you could think of. At times though, there are doorways that shine a pure white light, sometimes leading you to another dimension of the same place you’re already in, though seemingly a different timeline.

For example, the example above with having to turn on the car lights, I was unable to because there was some mysterious force blocking me from opening the driver door. Once I got to this other dimension I found the car was entwined in some thick weeds. I found some pesticide and cleared the vines, then the car door was able to be opened in the ‘real’ world, allowing me to turn on those headlights I needed. It’s an interesting mechanic, but isn’t used all too often throughout which is a shame, as it added to the supernatural element.

While the glowing blue eyed entities don’t really pose a real threat, there are moments when you’ll need to avoid a creature that’s searching and hunting for you. Obviously you don’t want to be seen, but this isn’t hard to do, as there’s no stealth elements, you simply just can’t be in front of them. There are even a few chase-like sequences, but these aren’t too challenging aside from one where you need to move objects out of your way with the clumsy physics based controls.

Eventually you’ll reach narrative sections where you’ve been given information about a person involved with what’s happened, and it’s up to you to judge them. Do you give them forgiveness or condemn them for their actions? These choices lead to different endings, but the evidence you’re given is pretty cut and dry, so there’s a clear “good” and “bad” decision to be made. These choices are supposed to weigh on your conscience, but never once did I feel bad for those involved given the information. For example, would you forgive someone that killed your family because they tried to save theirs? It’s dilemmas like that that don’t tend to make the decisions very difficult or weighty.

Those Who Remain won’t impress you with its visuals, and that’s not because of its models or textures, but the game is so immensely dark that it’s near impossible to see anything other than what’s directly in the light itself. I had to crank up the gamma, which works to see slightly better, but results in a washed out look to it. As for the audio, the ambient sounds are quite decent setting the mood, but the voice acting is passable at best, with nearly everyone having very monotone deliveries. The controls actually frustrated me more than anything else though, as they are so sluggish on the controller, taking a few seconds to turn 180 degrees. On top of that, the performance is quite poor at times as well. Even on an Xbox One X, the framerate dips quite often and there is notable screen tearing, even with turning so slowly.

While Those Who Remain will only last a handful of hours, depending on how much searching you need to do for the items to progress constantly, the gameplay loop is quite dull and never really changes. I did enjoy the narrative once I started to figure out what’s going on and what Edward’s involvement was, but I eventually just wanted it to end. Sure there are multiple endings to encourage multiple playthroughs to make different moral choices, but I was good once I the credits rolled the first time.

Overall Score: 5.5 / 10 Tannenberg

If you were asked to name a few WWII or Modern based shooters, you could probably think of at least a half dozen without trying too hard. Now, think of some World War I based shooters. Can you think of any off the top of your head? There’s the odd one here and there, but it’s an era that got largely ignored for whatever reason. Blackmill Games and M2H have noticed the lack of shooters in this genre and decided to create a series of WWI Games. Their first outing a few years ago was with Verdun, and while it was authentic, we reviewed it quite poorly due to many bugs, design issues and a messy launch.

Since then they’ve fixed and improved the game quite drastically with its remaster, but I mention it because it made me nervous when Tannenberg was due to release, as I was unsure if history would repeat itself or if they took feedback and improved many aspects. I’m happy to report that feedback was apparently taken very seriously, so much so that all the console versions were now being handled in-house, built from the ground up. This is no easy feat, but shows the heart and dedication to wanting to craft a much better experience for their player base.

Games set in the World Wars have near endless history and documentation to derive from, and it's obvious they've done so as they’ve recreated a very authentic WWI shooter experience. Now, keep in mind, WWI was over a century ago, so weaponry and tactics were drastically different from modern times, but it’s obvious that the developers have a deep understanding and passion for the era. Tannenberg is a squad based first person shooter set on the Eastern Front, and you can expect an online experience with up to forty players in matches, though bots can fill those spaces if needed while waiting for more. Get your rifle, pistol, sword and gas mask ready, because trench warfare is brutal and unforgiving.

Don’t go into Tannenberg expecting some lengthy and epic campaign. Actually, don’t go in expecting a campaign at all, as there is none. This is an online multiplayer squad based shooter at its core. They decided to focus on that, and while some might find that disappointing, this also allowed them to focus on creating a more refined experience.

I’m no history buff, but of course I had to do my homework and read up on what and why Tannenberg was so significant in the War. I won’t delve into the details here, but it was a major battle within the first month of the War between the Russians and Germans that had quite an interesting series of events, and an even more shocking outcome; if you have the time and interest, it’s a fascinating read.

Authenticity is paramount in Tannenberg, so you can expect accurately recreated weaponry, uniforms down to the details, battlefields and squads. You’ll be able to fight as the Russians, Germans, Bulgarians, Latvians and more. For those history buffs out there, I know this is already exciting you.

As there’s no campaign, you can expect three different game modes to delve into the trenches with. If you’re a fan of Team Deathmatch, the Attrition Mode is where you’ll want to be. Here you pick a main rifle and a secondary pistol or equipment and try and defeat the other team. If you want to go solo, then Rifle Deathmatch is the mode you’re looking for, having every solider on their own versus everyone else.

The main, and most exciting, mode for Tannenberg is its Maneuver matches. Here is where 40 players can join battle across a massive battlefield (the Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch modes are quite small in size in comparison) that looks to emulate actual battles that happened on the Eastern Front during the War. While you’re fighting for the Russians or Germans, you actually pick smaller factions and allies, each comprised of four person squads. The large map is broken into a handful of smaller areas, much like you’d see in a Battlefield game, and if you can claim the landmarks for your team, you’ll slowly drain the enemies’ tickets. Do you try and go on the offensive and capture as many as you can quickly, or defend the ones you own hoping to make a push forwards once the barrage subsides? Deplete the enemy resources and you win; simple, right? No, this is War.

The map is broken into different sections, so if you’re not careful, the enemy could easily flank you and conquer your landmark for themselves. This constant tug-of-war can be exciting when things are going your way and you’re advancing, but frustrating when you get killed from stray bullets from who knows where, but that’s how War was; brutal and unforgiving.

You’ll never need to fight alone or wait for a lobby to fill, as you can load up to twenty bots in a Maneuver Match that players can replace as they join, something that’s always a welcome bonus. Your squad of four consists of different roles, though I tended to gravitate towards the leader role, as I can tell my squad what objective to go for or defend, gaining myself bonus points if they follow orders. I can also call in air support like mortars, mustard gas and recon fly overs should I capture a base and use its phone. While there’s not all that much variety between the roles, it won’t matter that much when you’re in the thick of battle.

Again, the historical detail is top notch, from the smallest details to the uniforms and weaponry, authentic battlefields, to actually being able to get stuck and die in barbed wire if you’re not careful. Trenches played a big part of the warfare, and it’s no different in Tannenberg. Encampments will have LMG’s that can be manned to stave off attackers, but obviously leaves you open from behind if they manage to flank your trench.

With dozens of different weapons to try, it’ll take some time to unlock and master them all. As you level from experience, you’ll earn unlock tokens that can be used to unlock certain presets with squad roles or specific weapons if you’re playing Deathmatches. Keep in mind, this is based in WWI times, so the weaponry is going to reflect the era. Don’t expect many mods or attachments for your rifle though. In fact, most will only allow a bayonet to be put on your rifle, though the odd gun will allow for a scope (that’s incredibly hard to use) but so much of the online shootouts are sniping from afar that it’s hard to get up close kills. You’ll need to lead your shots and keep a keen eye out for enemy movement, as I promise you you’re going to die more often than not, unknowing where your attacker actually was. It’s slow paced compared to modern games and eras of weaponry, but one single bullet can kill you, so the realism is there.

The map design is fantastic, though most likely because it’s been recreated from actual historic accounts. Trench warfare is chaotic and having a weapon with a clip of 5 shots only is something that takes getting used to. You need to be deliberate with your shots and try to find ways to flank the enemy. The WWI era is very authentic in Tannenberg and should be a history buff’s dream. While the visuals won’t wow you by any means, they are passable, though there is some major pop in and texture issues, even on an Xbox One X. Audio is impressive though, hearing the gurgles of a nearby brother in arms dying after getting shot, or the twang of the barbwire you’re entangled in. While I don’t know my guns very well, each rifle appeared to sound authentic and had distinct sounds when fired.

Tannenberg isn’t trying to compete with the Battlefields and Call of Duty’s, as it’s a completely different experience; one much slower paced, deliberate and brutal. Some will be turned off by is clunkyness and sluggish gameplay, but the realism and recreation of WWI battles is on a whole other level. If you’re looking for realistic trench warfare, Tannenberg will pit you in 40 player WWI battles that history buffs will relish in.

Overall Score: 7.7 / 10 Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus

I’ve always been fascinated by the Warhammer 40,000 franchise. Games Workshop has created not only a brand and lore so expansive that it’s impressive by any means, but there’s numerous games, figures, toys, novels and more based on it as well, including dedicated retail stores. Unfortunately, I never really got into the tabletop game and collecting the figures, though I’ve dabbled into the games periodically, and the newest in the series is finally on console with Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus, where you get to control the most technologically advanced army within its universe: The Adeptus Mechanicus.

For the Warhammer lore buffs, Mechanicus’ cannon resides within the middle of the Dark Imperium storyline. For those that aren’t up to snuff on their Warhammer lore and knowledge, it won’t mean much, but those wanting an authentic storyline should be pleased to know that author Ben Counter, whom has written a handful of Warhammer novels in the past, has created a story about the faction, filled with interesting characters, even if it is long winded at times.

The Adeptus Mechanicus faction are cybernetically enhanced, so they detest anything organic, constantly trying to improve themselves and make every part about their beings perfect as can be. Knowledge is power, and any part of them that’s organic is viewed as a weakness. You’ll lead an excursion on a newly rediscovered planet, Silva Tenebris, which happens to be the dormant resting place of the Necrons, a race of robotic creatures that are aggressive when awoken to your infiltration. Every decision you make will change the outcome moving forward. Do you destroy everything in your path only to anger the Necron further, or try and tread lightly in hopes that you can gain more knowledge in different ways? Each decision matters and will set you on paths towards different endings.

Playing over the course of dozens of levels, including the Heretek DLC that was released on PC, the core gameplay is in the form of a top down turn based RTS of sorts. From the main hub you’ll get to choose which mission you want to take on, check your currently unlocked characters and more. Once you choose a mission, each with their own difficulty and rewards, you’ll see a layout of separate rooms.

From your beginning area you need to eventually make it to the room that’s labelled with an exclamation mark, noting an important room with your objective. Other rooms are either blank, has a glyph symbol that can give a bonus or detriment, or has enemies lying in wait. Now, the more rooms you explore, the more rewards you can find, but there’s a fine balance of doing so because the longer you linger and explore, the harder the challenge becomes, as more Necrons will awake. As the gauge fills up, the challenge becomes harder, as certain levels of the gauge mean you’ll have more enemies in battle with reinforcements or they will reanimate faster upon death.

Basic rooms will give you some text to read, usually describing the room while giving you three options to choose from. Glyph rooms are interesting, as they simply give you the options of choosing two symbols, some of which will give you great buffs, bonus currency, heal your troops, though it could backfire as well, hurting you or raise the Necron awakening meter, so it’s also a gamble of how you want to play things out.

When you do finally make your way to one of the objective rooms, you’ll be thrust into battle. Here’s where your Tech Priest and other units will attempt to survive and take out the enemy Necrons. Played in a top down view, this is where your traditional turn based gameplay comes into play. Not only will every friendly and enemy unit have a turn designated at the top of the screen to show their turn in sequence, you also have to manage Cognition Points (CP) to do virtually any moves, abilities or attacks.

You’re given a set amount of ‘free’ moves within a set amount of tiles around your unit that doesn’t cost CP, but if you want to venture further, that will cost a CP to do so. Attacking costs CP, as does your abilities, so it’s a constant balance of managing your CP and planning out your actions very deliberately and strategically well ahead of time. To help manage this, there are pillars and other objects strewn about the map that can be gathered to gain more CP, some of which can be done with a free use of your scanner probe, though that can also be used to scan an enemy to see their health and stats should you wish.

At the beginning of each new turn you’ll also be able to send in your cannon fodder troops. These are essentially the grunts, each of which have their own strengths, weaknesses and purpose, and while they can attack and do some damage, they are generally better used for other purposes, like running interference or taking a shot to save your Tech Priests, as the mission will fail if all your Priests perish in battle. The cost to using these units though is that the majority of them cost Blackstone to deploy, the currency you’ll need to upgrade your Priests. So again, do you forgo spending a little extra Blackstone in hopes that it’ll help you win the match and earn a bigger reward after all, risk it and try to do with just your Priests or cut your losses and avoid spending any unnecessary costs knowing you’re going to lose the battle? Again, it’s a fine balance that will take some time to figure out and learn what the right move at the moment will be.

Most enemies aren’t too challenging on their own, but I guarantee you’re going to die quite often, almost every mission for the first dozen or so until you figure out all the mechanics and upgrades. Necrons are synthetic remember, so even when you bring their life to zero, they have a chance to reanimate in one to three turns, based on how high your awakening meter is from when you were exploring the dungeon previously. To destroy a Necron you’ll need to attack it one more time once it’s down, or if you’re lucky, a critical hit on the final attack will vanquish it outright, though you can’t always rely on that.

What’s not explained all too well is the upgrade system. From here, you can spend your hard earned Blackstone to upgrade your Priests abilities, unlocking new slots and gear. There are a handful of different trees to spec into, allowing you to create different types of classes, from extra ranged damage, to healers, tanks and more. I first thought that specializing into one tree would be the way to go, but after losing basically every match, I decided to cave and research online what others were doing. I basically chose the worst possible thing to do, as you want rounded Priests overall that are better in certain aspects. Obviously you can upgrade them however you wish, but once I spread out the upgrades to other trees a bit more, allowing me to gain free CP and health per turn for example, I was faring much better and actually started winning matches.

There’s a ton of upgrades and abilities that you can unlock, including powerful passives and access to certain gear. Once I started to specialize one Priest into melee and another with ranged, things started to go much better in battle. As you win certain missions, you’ll gain access to new troops and eventually more Priests as well. There’s honestly a ton of stuff to go through in the skill trees that I’m still figuring out what works best for my playstyle and trying new combinations with my Priests to find what works best in tandem. Do you spend upgrades on getting more health, or would you rather have more dodge chance and the ability to heal? There’s near endless combinations you could come up with, it’s just a shame that I had to figure this out the hard way through trial and error.

As for the visuals, they are serviceable at best, as you can zoom in close to units, but you’ll need to be zoomed out the majority of the time to play strategically anyways. There’s little detail on the characters outside of your Priests, though I did enjoy that whatever gear and weapons they are equipped with are shown on the characters themselves. You can change the color pallet of your Priests, but that’s about it and it's very basic. The environment is dark and gloomy, to be expected when scavenging and exploring Necron artifacts and tombs. The audio on the other hand was quite impressive. Even though there’s no voice over work for most of the experience, which would have been welcomed given the amount of lore and text involved, the sound design of the soundtrack and background audio is fantastic. As I’m also testing out a new headset, the bass and music thumped in my ears as did the roboticness of the weaponry and movements of characters throughout.

I have to admit, if I wasn’t reviewing Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus, I probably would have given up on it early on. Thankfully because of my review commitment, I stuck with it, and once I wrapped my head around all of its intricacies and strategies, it went from a seriously frustrating experience of constant losing, to wanting to do one more match to see what I can earn and upgrade. Even playing on the Casual setting, I was losing quite often early on, but wasn’t offered help on how to avoid doing so. It will simply take trial and error and a lot of time and perseverance to figure this out for yourself, but once you do the struggle will have been worth it. There are even more options you can set to make things harder or easier, but diverging from the default difficulties will disable achievements, so beware if you care about those points.

There’s a ton of lore and backstory that Warhammer fans should truly enjoy, finally getting to play as The Adeptus Mechanicus faction. While non or casual Warhammer fans won’t be as impressed or enthralled with the attention to detail and amount of lore within, Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is an entertaining turn based strategy game that can offer a ton of challenge for those wanting it as long as you can get over the initial frustrations and learning curve like the pathetic organic lifeform the Mechanicus believe us to be.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire

I’ve been a massive shmup (shoot-em-up) fan ever since my early gaming days on the NES. As gaming has evolved, so has the bullet-hell genre. You know the kind, where the screen is almost literally filled with enemy bullets with seemingly no way to avoid and survive. Some games take this to the extreme for its challenge, but there’s a few that have a special place in my heart, like Ikaruga. So when a new shmup gets released I’m instantly intrigued and want to give it a go. Sisters Royale: Five Sisters Under Fire is the latest in the genre to release on Xbox One, though its aesthetic may not be for everyone.

The Castle of Shikigami series has been around for quite a while, and while Sisters Royale isn’t a direct sequel, it’s clearly influenced and a spiritual successor to Castle of Shikigami 2, even down to many of the same mechanics and shot types. For everyone else that isn’t as deep into shmups that I am, Sisters Royale offers up a decent vertical scrolling shooter but seriously lacks longevity and content to keep you playing after a few runs.

Normally games in this genre don’t focus on story and narrative, as that’s generally not what you play them. Sisters Royale does include a plot though, albeit one that seems cute at first, but will have you rolling your eyes by the time you play through with each sister. There are five sisters that are prophesied to defeat an evil demon, Saytan (yes, actually spelled like that) and save the world. The people of Pultima have been waiting for them to be saved by these sisters, but that day never came. This is because they hate one another and are too busy squabbling with one another as to who is going to marry the man they’re all fighting over, Yaskin. Yup, I told you your eyes will roll.

The sisters constantly squabble and fight with one another by throwing childish insults, each vying to win Yashin for themselves. There’s an additional character that can be purchased separately as DLC, Ode, and she offers a different viewpoint from the sisters, but again, the story isn’t why you’re going to play Sisters Royale. Even though there’s only a few lines of dialogue between the five acts, none of the sisters come across as likeable as they all fall into the cliché sterotypes we’ve seen a million times before.

As you begin, you’ll choose which sister you wish to play as, each with their own unique shooting patterns and bomb types. While they all have the same size, health and speed, their shot types are quite varied, and some I found were much easier than others. Gameplay is vertically scrolling, constantly moving towards the top of the screen at a set pace. The stages will fill with enemies more and more, each shooting towards you, which is where the bullet hell component comes into play.

There’s going to be plenty of projectiles on the screen, and on the harder difficulties it’s near impossible to stay alive with seemingly no safe zones. At the end of each act you’ll have to face off against one of your sisters, and the levels aren’t terribly long, so be ready to be done with each playthrough in about a half hour or so, depending on the amount of continues you’ll have to use.

There are three difficulties to choose from: Easy, Normal and Hard. The higher the difficulty, the more challenging enemy patterns become, obviously. Not only are more projectiles thrown your way on Hard, but bosses will have more health bars as well. Early on you’ll be somewhat overwhelmed, but once you get a feel for the shooting mechanics and movement, it becomes easier in time. That’s not to say Hard Mode is a cake walk, quite the contrary, offering some serious challenge, though you have unlimited continues.

Each sister is presented in chibi form, a super cute and emphasized version of themselves. You have a regular shot, a summon ability and access to bombs that help you scrape by in a pinch. Each character is unique in all of these attacks, as some sisters shoot a concentrated blast directly straight ahead, while others have weaker homing shots or shoot only diagonally. There’s obviously going to be some better suited than others, but allows you to find a favorite that suits your playstyle. The summon ability is an alternate form of shot that is more challenging to use, but can get you out some trouble, though each one is uniquely different. One sister’s ability can be held down as it simply locks on to any target on the screen and kills them, whereas others can act like a bullet sponge, soaking up a certain amount before throwing it back at your enemies. Again, some are much better than others, but offers some variety.

Normally these types of games don’t offer a tutorial, but Sisters Royale should have had one for its Tension Bonus System (TBS). Your normal shots don’t do much damage on their own, but there’s a system in place that changes your shots into a Power Mode that makes your attacks much more powerful when you’re nearby an enemy or projectile. It’s an interesting risk versus reward system that isn’t explained and something I had to figure out for myself once my shots started going red and doing more damage.

Each boss at the end of each act is challenging, but fair, and you’re given 90 seconds to defeat them. It’s an odd mechanic and seems unnecessary, as that’s usually more than enough time to do so since you’re constantly shooting the whole time, but also because if you die and have to continue, the timer gets reset.

This also plays into the scoring and coin system, as you can collect coins from downed enemies to increase those high scores. When you die your score is reset to zero though, so you need to try and stay alive for a whole act if you want to attain those high scores; something easier said than done. The problem with the coin system is that a stack of coins on the screen at one time really clutters up the already minimal play space you’re given. Couple that with avoiding hundreds of projectiles and you can see where it starts to become a real challenge to stay alive in the constant chaos. With a lack of any unlockables or any sort of online leaderboard, there’s really no point to chasing high scores aside from your own bragging rights.

As for its visuals, its basic but it works. It’s clearly anime inspired but it’s an odd contrast to the sisters we see in the cutscenes versus their chibi counterparts while playing. The aesthetic is going to either win you over or make you want to avoid it and the levels themselves have some color to them, but you’re unable to appreciate them given the bullet hell chaos on screen. As for the audio, the characters aren’t voiced at all, but the soundtrack is cute and bubbly to match the character design and lighthearted narrative.

Sisters Royale offers a decent challenge with its multiple difficulties, but a very short runtime, no unlockables and lack of any progression makes it hard to recommend other than to die hard shmup fans like myself. You’re encouraged to chase for those high scores, yet there’s no online leaderboards to strive towards or show off with. Sisters Royale is a short lived experience that was fun for a couple hours, but that’s about it, even after seeing each sister’s story to conclusion.

Overall Score: 6.7 / 10 Night Call

Have you ever taken a cab and gotten one of those drivers that just have a way of opening an interesting conversation with you, only to have your whole drive to your destination gone by quicker than expected? That’s the premise of Night Call essentially, where you play as taxi driver, conversing with your passengers to try and solve a murder mystery. Your meter is running and you only have a certain amount of time before your shift ends, so you better start piecing clues together to figure out who the killer really is.

You’re a taxi driver that works the late shift in Paris. You’re a friendly type that just allows people to feel that they can open up to you and talk to you about whatever, even wildly inappropriate topics and situations. There’s a serial killer in the city though, and he not only murdered your passenger, but left you for dead. You somehow survived though, and after months of time off, you’re ready to get back to work, trying to put the whole traumatizing ordeal behind you. As situations unfold, you’ll be forced to play detective and help catch the killer, not just by figuring out clues that you’re given, but by talking to passengers that may have been involved, victims or have witness testimonies.

You’re just a simple taxi driver though, how can you catch a serial killer? You have a special gift that allows people to entrust you like a confidant at times, so it’s up to you to talk to whomever you can to get whatever information possible that would be relevant to the case. Problem is, you also have a job to do. You’re only able to work a certain amount of hours on the night shift and you still have expenses to pay like gas and fees. Do you give a homeless guy a free ride somewhere in hopes that maybe he has some credible information for your case even though that means you won’t get paid or get a tip? It’s small decisions like these that will determine how much information you can gather towards solving the case.

As for the gameplay, Night Call is more akin to a visual novel than a traditional “game” per-se; Narrative driven, but very little gameplay aside from choosing who to pick up and what responses to choose in dialogue sequences. You begin with an overview map of Paris, seeing where you currently are and passengers all over that are requesting a ride. You only have a certain amount of time in your shift, so you’ll need to be strategic in whom you pick up, as the further they are, the more time and gas is used. Do you opt to pick up closer passengers to try and get more information overall, or focus on specific witnesses and suspects? It’s completely up to you, but you’ve only got a handful of days before you need to choose a suspect with the evidence you’ve uncovered by your conversations with your patrons.

At the end of your shift you’re forced to go home. This is where you’ll see your list of suspects and victims and all of the clues you’ve gathered so far. Clues come from various sources and if they match the police reports, they will be highlighted and attached via string on your board to the person of interest. It’s an interesting system, but quite basic.

The meat of the “gameplay” will come from the conversations you have with your passengers. Some have nothing to do with the case, some are oblivious that you’re even in the taxi with them and others are clearly hiding something. Some people just want someone to listen to their rambling, though maybe they’ll accidentally admit something they shouldn’t if you poke and prod them for more information. How you do so will be up to you though. Do you take a more aggressive approach or let them spearhead the conversation and follow their lead? What if they talk about something that makes you uncomfortable or propositions you? Would you give into their request or lie to simply get information? You choose all of the responses and every person is different, so it’ll really matter how you reply to some people, as the same type of questions or answers won’t elicit the same reactions from every passenger.

On top of watching your limited time each night during your shift, you also have to manage your cash flow. With how much driving you do, you’ll need to fill up gas at some point, which costs money. Do you forgo picking up an important passenger on the other side of town to take on a few paying customers nearby? There’s a constant balance of time versus money that needs to be watched carefully, especially if you decide to play on the harder difficulties, not even including trying to navigate the best ways in conversation with customers to try and get the information you want.

There are three different cases you can take on, though they are play nearly identical, with you waking up from a coma and having to solve the serial killer mystery. What is interesting though is that the killer is different with each playthrough, and with dozens of different characters, you can’t make any assumptions from one playthrough when you start anew, as someone guilty in your last game might be completely innocent this time. With nearly a hundred different cast members, each one with their own quirks, personalities and backgrounds, it will take you a bit of time to complete fill your “Passidex”. Now and then there are even a few ‘supernatural’ customers. These initially threw me off but they add just a little more flavor to the seedy and mysterious world of Paris at night.


What makes Night Call stand out the most though is its visual style. It utilizes a noir style aesthetic, so every scene and character is hand drawn in black and white, giving it that classic graphic novel style to it. The art style couldn’t be any more fitting for the backdrop and setting and fits wonderfully. While the animations are a little rough at times and transitions seem to loop quite often, overall I truly enjoyed the noir style artwork.

The biggest miss is that there’s absolutely no voice work for any of the characters. While yes, Night Call is more of a visual novel, having spoken dialogue would have made the immersion that much deeper. I kept picturing the driver with a deep scruffy voice, you know the kind, which narrates to himself and breaks the fourth wall. While the lack of voiced dialogue is disappointing, the musical soundtrack is fantastic. The ambiance is heightened because of the great music and I actually enjoyed it more than the gameplay after a handful of cases.

While Night Call may be perceived as a simple visual novel by most, and it is at its core, it’s not only compelling but has a unique and interesting backdrop that all comes together well. While it takes a case or two to really get the hang of the best way to play and spend your time and money, it’s a distinctive experience that I’ve glad to have played, even if the gameplay becomes repetitive over time. With dozens of characters to interact with and many branching dialogue trees, there’s plenty to talk about, even if it’s just a few minutes with the stranger in the back seat.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Edna & Harvey: The Breakout - Anniversary Edition

I’m grateful that I got to grow up in the age of gaming that I did. Some of my fondest gaming memories are from my childhood, with quite a few of them from the classic point-and-click adventure games that used to be so popular back in the day. I’d spend countless hours with classics like Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, Sam & Max, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle and many others. While the genre definitely hit its peak in the 90’s, there’s been very few releases lately save for the odd one here and there, as it’s simply not as popular as it once was.

Developer Daedalic Entertainment seems to have missed the genre as well, as one of their first developed games was Edna & Harvey back in 2008, a small point-and-click adventure game that many may not have played, but it certainly had a following. Twelve years after its initial release, Edna & Harvey: The Breakout – Anniversary Edition is finally here for console players to enjoy that have missed the long lost genre. While I don’t understand the importance of a 12th year anniversary, never the less, here we are, complete with new visuals and control scheme.

Edna wakes up from a slumber, only to realize she has no memory of what’s happened or why she’s in a padded room, something that clearly resembles a mental asylum. She has no idea how she got in there, or why, but she’s determined to find a way out, alongside her companion Harvey, her blue plushy rabbit that also speaks. Is she crazy? Maybe.

As Edna goes along her adventure to figure out what has happened, you’ll meet a wide cast of characters along the way that are also locked inside the sanitarium, some of which are clearly insane and absolutely belong within its locked and confined walls. Why is everyone locked in though? Why do certain things remind you of your father and past? Why is Edna talking to nearly every inanimate object she comes across? How is she travelling back in time to her childhood and reliving certain traumatic experiences? If you’re very clever and can figure out the numerous puzzles laid out before you, or have a really good walkthough you found online because you became stuck at nearly every turn, then you’ll find out soon enough.

Just like the classics before it, Edna & Harvey: The Breakout – Anniversary Edition is clearly inspired by the tried and true mechanics of being able to take, look, talk to and interact with nearly every object in each scene. This is where your crazy journey begins, as it’s up to you to figure out how to progress with every puzzle set before you.

If you managed to play the original release, you’ll be happy to know that the visuals have been completely redone from the ground up and look much improved. Everything is still hand drawn, but is much cleaner and easier to discern overall. For those wanting to experience the classic game, you can easily switch between modern or classic visuals at any time in the menu, but it takes a few moments to switch, so don’t expect any instant swapping back and forth to compare like we’ve come to expect from the Halo Remaster with the same trick.

The controls have also been improved overall, as most games in the genre have a box along the bottom of the screen with all your options and commands, but in this Anniversary Edition, instead there’s a radial menu when you click on an object, so you have all the options you need close by. It works, and it’s not terrible by any means, but it still feels clunky, especially when you need to combine items or are trying to select a specific object in a crowded scene.

Each scene will have a small dot on any object or person that can be interacted with. It’s up to you if you want to try and ‘take’ the item, ‘use’ it, talk to it or simply look and inspect. Characters are the same, and when you try asinine things, like trying to ‘take’ a person or use something absurd, there’s always some sort of witty one-liner from Edna. Scenes can have a lot of objects and characters that can be interacted with though, so you’re going to be spending a lot of time looking at, trying to use and combine items, attempting to find a clue to how you’re supposed to progress in your current puzzle. Given the amount of hours of trial and error and eventually becoming stuck numerous times I had to deal with, you could easily spend a dozen or two hours with Edna, though I would have never finished it without a walkthrough, as some of the puzzles are extremely obtuse or vague.

While every puzzle has a clue hidden somewhere to solve it, sometimes you’d really have to think outside of the box to make the connections. Factor in that every object isn’t always used for a puzzle, or that you may need to talk to a person multiple times to progress, you’re going to become stumped for prolonged periods of time, not even factoring in the aimless wandering from room to room you’ll do, as there’s lots of back and forth backtracking to get from one end of the sanitarium to the other. While old school fans of the genre will probably enjoy the completely and challenge, it can become a bit much at times for those that may be rusty or novices.

The other major issue comes with its dialogue. When you're talking to someone and given the option to reply, there's a certain amount of responses you can choose from, each in their own box. This would normally be fine, except for the fact there's no indicator or highlighting to show which one of the responses you're actually choosing. This means if you want to choose the third response down, you need hit down twice (as you obviously default to the top selection) and then hit 'A' to choose it. My guess is that it's an oversight from porting from the PC where you'd simply click on the box you want with your cursor, but when you want to choose the seventh option down, it's annoying to have to count aloud how many times you're pressing down so that you don't choose the wrong selection.

When comparing the new and old art style, it’s clear that a lot of work went into redrawing every scene and character, as even Edna looks much better with this new coat of paint. The coloring and palette seems much brighter overall and almost like some sort of cartoon you’d watch on a popular YouTube show. At the same time, animations have also improved, but there’s lots of ‘jankyness’ to some scenes. Sometimes the movement of characters are quite fluid, whereas other times it’s quite noticeable that it’s not as fluid as it should be, sometimes missing animations altogether.

The writing is quite good and there’s a hefty amount of dialogue within, much more than I was expecting for a small indie-looking title. I was happy to see that all of the dialogue was also voiced as well, which is a great touch. The voice acting for Edna and Harvey are excellent and the supporting cast did a decent job overall as well. With tons of wacky characters and plenty of witty writing, there’s more than a few laughs to be had throughout Edna’s journey to the truth. The setting may seem a little serious at first, but contains quite a bit of humor from start to finish, even when things turn quite dark.

I miss old school point-and-click adventures and forgot how much until I got to experience Edna & Harvey: The Breakout – Anniversary Edition. While it isn’t without its faults, they are easy to forgive when fans of the genre like myself are so starved for anything new to release. While simply putting a new coat of paint on decade old game won’t make it sit amongst the greats, it was an entertaining and peculiar experience filled with laughs and giggles I’m glad I got to experience, even if I had to look up a walkthough more than a few times to see the credits roll.

Overall Score: 7.7 / 10 Demon's Tier+

I’m a sucker for any twin-stick shooter, as I’ve always been a fan of the genre. So, when a new one comes along, of course I get excited and need to check it out. Enter the newest game, Demon’s Tier+, the latest game from Diabolical Mind, best known for their Xenon Valkyrie+ and Riddled Corpses EX, seemingly blending the best of both games into one.

Combining twin-stick gameplay and roguelike elements, you’ll be exploring randomly generated dungeons in the hopes to collect treasure and save the world. It sounds familiar I know, but it’s got some interesting mechanics that made it stand out and wanting me to come back for more time after time.

Ancient tales say that over a thousand years ago the world was engulfed with evil and darkness, but one hero was able to stop it and prevent the world from being overrun. It seems that was only able to last for so long, as there’s a massive nearly endless pit that has opened up in a small remote village that has evil starting to seep out of. Will you be the hero that saves the world once again by entering the dungeons of King Thosgar and defeating all of his minions?

As a twin-stick shooter, you’ll control things similarly, moving with the Left Stick and shooting in the direction you aim with the Right. While there’s no dodge per-se, you can block projectiles by tapping the Right Bumper, but this has a slight cooldown, so you’ll still need to be nimble and avoid most attacks. Every character has a special ability that can be used once their meter refills, but it’s with the ‘X’ button, something that can be a little tricky to do when both thumbs are already constantly on the sticks in a chaotic battle while also trying to stay alive.

You start out as a knight, tossing swords in any direction you see fit. There are a handful of other characters you can eventually unlock, each with their own stats and abilities. Each character has unique attributes such as health, attack, speed, stamina, defense, weapon range and combos. The knight, for example, is a good all-rounder, whereas the mage is incredibly slow to move, but does more damage. Each have their own pros and cons, and unique ability, so it’s a matter of finding out what works best for your playstyle. I personally opted to stick with the tried and true knight most of the time, but it will take some time and dedication to unlock the later characters such as the Archer, Cleric, Assassin and even secret other ones.

As you explore dungeons, defeat enemies, bosses and open chests, you’ll earn two types of currencies; gold and D-tokens. Gold is only used for your current playthrough in the dungeons to improve your stats. When you complete a dungeon level, before moving onto the next floor, you can spend your collected gold on upgrades to any of your stats. Do you get hit a lot? Maybe you’ll want to upgrade your health. Want to kill things quicker? Then increasing your damage may be the way to go. It’s completely up to you how you want to upgrade your character for each run.

D-tokens on the other hand are the main currency that you’ll want to be careful with. These can only be redeemed in the village and is the currency to purchase new characters, weapons (once you find their blueprints from bosses) and items like ropes, potions and keys. If you die in a dungeon you lose all your progress, gold and D-tokens. So to make use of what you’ve currently earned, you need to use a rope to crawl out of the dungeon pit. These of course cost D-tokens to replenish, but as long as you escape before dying, you can spend your currency as you wish.

When you do die, and you will often, you start all over. You lose all your currency and stat increases. Also, to prevent people from becoming too overpowered, every time you use a rope to escape and spend your D-tokens, you also reset your gold earned upgrades as well and need to start in the beginning dungeons all over. As you defeat bosses you might earn a weapon upgrade for the class you’re currently playing, which are unlocked once you invest enough D-tokens to finally craft it. The only issue with this is that while every new weapon will have bonus stats, you don’t know what they are until you’ve fully unlocked them. A few times I spent a bunch of D-tokens to unlock a new weapon, only to find out it wasn’t better than one I’ve already unlocked.

If you do die in a dungeon, not all is lost. If you can manage to get back to your corpse before dying again, you can earn and collect all your D-tokens from your previous run. Die before doing so though and they are gone forever, ala Dark Souls. Unlocking every character and weapon will take a long time to do, so there’s plenty of replay value within for those looking for a roguelike to invest a ton of time into. The dual currency system is a really interesting mechanic once you learn how to best use it to your advantage for each run.

Every time you play a dungeon, its layout is procedurally generated, meaning each time you play, it will be a different experience. Not only is the layout of the dungeon different every time, but so is your objective. To pass a dungeon within its five minute timer, you need to complete the objective given to you. This may be defeating all the enemies, blowing up all the explosive barrels, defeating a secret enemy, opening all the treasure chests or something else. You’re only given 5 minutes per dungeon to do so, as once the timer runs out, the undefeatable Grim Reaper comes to take you away if you don’t escape in time. This makes for a frantic balance of wanting to spend as much time to kill and loot everything you see, but also being mindful of your remaining time and escaping before the Reaper comes. Just always keep in mind to use your rope to escape before dying and you’ll never have to worry about losing those hard earned D-tokens.

The pixel art is great overall, as enemies vary and are unique, my only problem is that sometimes action can become a little too frantic with so much going on at once. Also, because the dungeons are randomly generated, sometimes you’ll be surrounded right as you enter and can quickly die while you try and center yourself on your surroundings. The later dungeons, such as the lava filled ones, I found to be a little too much, as it was hard to distinguish certain elements. Spike traps were notorious for me, as I died many times to do them since they are hard to see when trying to fight off a horde of enemies. The artistic style is retro pixels, as is the quality soundtrack that consists of chiptune music. The music is decent overall, but because you’ll be in the same beginning dungeons numerous times, it can become a little tiresome over time.

Two player local co-op is also available for those that have someone to play with on the same couch, though as usual, I wish this was an option for online play instead for those that don’t have someone to play with locally.

Once I figured how to best utilize the dual currency system and escape with my rope as needed, I started to enjoy my time with Demon’s Tier+ much more. While the grind is long and arduous, there’s plenty of replay value within for those that want a challenge to unlock everything it has to offer, including multiple tiers. Highly addictive twin-stick gameplay combined with tough-but-fair roguelike elements make for quite a decent experience overall, one that had me trying “just one more time”.

Overall Score: 7.7 / 10 Project Warlock

I find it incredibly interesting that developer Jakub Cislo took inspiration from games that came out well before he was born. He was introduced to the classic first person shooters like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D and Hexen among others, and seemingly fell in love with the genre, causing him to create his own game; Project Warlock.

If you grew up with the classics listed above, you know exactly what to expect: fast paced FPS action with plenty of bullet fire and billboard sprite artwork. If you didn’t know any better, you could easy mistake Project Warlock for a game that actually came out in the same era as the classics, and that is a compliment in the best way given that’s the aesthetic and gameplay style he wanted to create.

The world is being invaded by an evil force and it falls upon the shoulders of one warlock to rid the world of every last demon, beast and machine to save the world. While it won’t win any awards for its narrative or character development, that’s not why you play games like this; you play to shoot everything in sight at a frantic pace, finding keys and secrets along the way.

Rather than be a simple clone of Doom or Duke Nukem 3D, Project Warlock introduces some modern elements into its mix with character progression, spells, weapon customization and more. This makes for an odd blend of old and new, but tends to work for the most part. Through 60 levels of action you’re going to be shooting and casting spells in a handful of different settings. Just like the classics, you can bet you’re going to have to find colored keys for specific doors, elevators and fight massive bosses with your arsenal of guns and spells.

There’s quite a few guns to be found and use, each of which can be upgraded to have alternate fire modes or passives like using more ammo to do more damage. Some are better than others and it’ll vary based on your playstyle and what weapons are best versus certain enemies. Combining the weaponry with your spells is how you’ll make the most out of your runs once you’ve unlocked a handful.

One area where Project Warlock falters is in its weapon wheel. There are two different ways to swap your weapons, neither of which are intuitive or easy to use when you’re being chased by a swarm of enemies. It doesn’t really teach you how to use it effectively either, as there’s apparently two choices for each weapon type once unlocked, but I had to figure this out by stumbling through a handful of button presses with trial and error. There’s a more classic way to swap weapons as well, but it too is also cumbersome and not very efficient when you’re in the heat of chaotic battle.

The other area that was a big letdown for Project Warlock was its minimap. There’s one in the corner, but it’s basically pointless. It’s very zoomed in to your position, which is fine, but there’s actually no way to zoom out and see the whole map, so you’ll never really know where you are where you need to go. Also, once you do find your colored keys for the matching doors, these also aren’t labelled on the map. I can’t tell you how much time I wasted simply randomly running around trying to find where to go even after I had the key I needed. If there’s going to be a map, then it needs to be functional by allowing us to see it all at a minimum.

The more modern mechanics included are a little bit of customization and RPG elements. As you kill enemies and find secrets you’ll earn XP. Earn enough and you’ll level up. When you complete a handful of levels in a set you’ll be able to come back to the hub area and spend your skill and unlock points if you’ve found any. Here you can put points into your basic stats, but interestingly, putting a set amount of each will unlock other bonus perks. While I would normally dump all my points into health early on, there were other bonuses I could earn if I spread them out a bit more, which was interesting. The same goes with your weapons, allowing you to spend points on customizing them in certain ways to suit your playstyle. Finding what works best for you will be crucial when you start to challenge yourself on the harder difficulty modes.

With tons of secrets to be found, numerous enemies and tons of blood, Project Warlock gave an odd sense of nostalgia, yet is something completely new. The enemy variety could be upped, but given you’re going to be shooting anything that moves in front of you, it’s hard to fault it given it’s trying to be like the classics. The sprite work is great, and seeing that rotating billboard effect never gets old. Where Project Warlock shines most is in its soundtrack. Its got that retro feel to it, and every level has its own track as well, so you won’t become bored with the same tunes over and over.

Project Warlock is an interesting blend of nostalgia and modern but works quite well overall, save for a few minor issues. I can appreciate someone loving a genre so much that they want to create their own take on it, but it’s even better when they succeed, like they have here. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but for those like myself that grew up on 2.5D games like these, I came away more than impressed.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Cyber Protocol

I wasn’t really sure what to expect just before starting to play Cyber Protocol, as if you check out the screenshots beforehand, or even dive in and watch a video of gameplay, it’s all very confusing at first glance to actually figure out what’s going on. Thankfully the developers made the learning curve easy enough to figure out what’s going on with the first handful of levels before slowly introducing new mechanics and steeply raising the difficulty.

What if you took the core gameplay from Pac-Man but changed the setting to have a cyberpunk backdrop and twisted the gameplay just enough to be almost like a puzzle game? That’s essentially the experience of Cyber Protocol, as your android friend, G0X6, had been shut down, so it’s up to you to hack into the system and activate the protocol to cause a reboot. While a narrative isn’t really needed for games like this, I appreciate the effort that went into making a reason for doing what you’re doing. Obviously, as you hack deeper into the system, more security measures are in place, hence the difficulty spikes.

As mentioned above, think of the core gameplay much like Pac-Man. Your avatar traverses through a maze in the traditional top-down view collecting coins and other tokens if you’re able to figure out how to do so. Once you hit a direction, you’ll automatically travel that way until you hit a wall or object, stopping you. From there you can choose what direction to go next, but you have to plan ahead carefully your moves, as the levels are laid out much like a puzzle game.

The first handful of levels are simple enough, having you navigate around corners and bends by rushing from wall to wall, but eventually you’ll start to encounter traps and enemies that will make things much more challenging. There are diamonds that follow a set path back and forth that can’t be touched or else you’ll restart from your last checkpoint in the level. You’ll have lasers that charge up for a short while then blast outwards; another obstacle that must be avoided or you’ll have to restart. Eventually you’ll have to deal with portals, which will whisk you to another place in the maze, tiles that can only be touched a set amount of times before turning into instant death spots, walls that will cause you to explode upon impact and more.

The levels start out simple enough and gradually become more and more challenging, though never unfair. Even after dying dozens of times on a stage, I never really felt frustrated, as I knew it was my poor timing or trying to rush that was the cause for my restarts. Those that wish to collect every coin and token (which earns you new avatar icons) will have plenty to strive for, though I eventually conceded and tried to simply make it to the end whenever possible, as the amount needed are way too high in my opinion.

Cyber Protocol is all about trial and error. Sometimes moving into a portal will teleport you somewhere where there’s an enemy or laser in your path at that exact moment, so it’s all about timing. You’re able to zoom the map out and get a layout of the whole maze, but there’s a lot going on, and sometimes you’re going to have to be incredibly quick and accurate to make it out alive. Some tiles can be rushed through once, but then leave a wall brick behind, or others that block lasers until you pass through them. There’s a lot of different types of strategies that will have to be utilized to finish the increasingly difficult levels.

Even when you do understand what’s going on and what needs to be done, it can still be a little overwhelming at times to take it all in, as it can feel muddled at times with all the different types of blocks and moving parts to figure out. It’s not terrible design or anything to do with the visuals, it’s just a lot to take in with lots going on and strobing lights, though you do become accustomed to it over time after a handful of the 100 levels under your belt. As stages become more and more challenging, it becomes about logically thinking about how to solve the solutions and having incredible reflex skills. There’s even an Arcade mode where you and play competitively alongside four friends on the couch, though I wish online play was supported.

Where Cyber Protocol shines brightest is its Synthwave soundtrack. There are some real gems here, to the point where I actually sat on the music player screen and listened to the whole soundtrack a few times, even while writing this. Sure, there’s an achievement for using the music player for a set amount of time which is why I initially sat and listened to it, but I’m glad it was included, as I got to experience some amazing synthwave tunes. While there’s not a ton of tracks, they are kickass in every way if you’re a fan of the genre, as it’s fitting for the cyberpunk backdrop. The 8-bit graphics are retro and feel like you’re back in the 80’s playing an old classic game. You’re even able to unlock other visual and audio themes as you collect tokens during your playthrough.

I would have never imagined that taking Pac-Man’s core gameplay and spinning it into a hacker game with a cyberpunk backdrop would make sense or work, but here we are. Cyber Protocol may be repetitive at times and challenging with its trial and error difficulty curve, but at least the soundtrack is absolutely kickass throughout. I’m a sucker for anything cyberpunk, and if it has a kickass synthwave soundtrack, consider me sold. Needless to say, Cyber Protocol checks both of these boxes.

Overall Score: 7.7 / 10 Persistence, The

Two years ago The Persistence released, but was a VR-only title for PS4. Set in space with horror and roguelike elements, it was a decent game for VR at the time, but now developers Firesprite have taken out the VR elements and brought it to other consoles for more people to experience. The horror genre set in space is nothing new; hell, one of the greatest movie franchises uses that backdrop, so while it’s been done to death before, The Persistence actually nails the tone and makes for an interesting experience that will have you fear being in space all alone.

Your ship has stopped working in the middle of space, just by chance near a black hole that’s causing a massive amount of problems, you know, other than imminent death. You seem to be the only one alive and the onboard AI is going to help you repair the ship so you can get to safety before anything else goes wrong. Sounds like a normal narrative for a stranded ship in space right? Well, you’re actually dead. Well, you died, and you’ve come back as a clone as yourself thanks to the ship's AI, complete with your memories of everything that’s happened to you before. This specialized 3D printer clones humans, and given that this is a roguelike, every time you die, and you will a lot, your body is simply reprinted and you start your adventure again.

There’s been a problem though, and no one else seems to have survived and has been turned into mutants of sorts, all of whom will kill you on sight. Also, every time you explore the ship, you realize that it’s actually shapeshifting and changing its layout, which I have to say, is a very clever way to have a narrative reasoning for procedurally generated levels. It’s an interesting backdrop that added a little more flair and reasoning other than ‘save yourself and the ship’.

Given that The Persistence was a VR title previously, I would have expected the controls to be remade from the ground up specifically for controller use. While you do move around and look with the sticks as per usual, there seems to still be some remnants of its VR roots intact. Wherever your 3D reticule is placed, you can use a short teleport in that direction, which uses a resource that needs to regenerate before use again. In the vast majority of games, opening or interacting with objects is done with a button press, but again, the VR roots begin to show here too. Instead, you simply hover over the item you want to interact with, like a door or an object you want to pick up, and it will automatically do so for you after a moment. It doesn’t negatively impact the gameplay in any way, it just feels odd and takes some getting used to, especially when you interact with a trap and don’t move your cursor off of it before it explodes.

You begin your adventure with a simple harvester weapon. This isn’t really a weapon per-se, but more of a tool that you can harvest stem cells from enemies if you’re able to sneak up behind them, much like an execution. While you’re able to swing and smack them a few times to kill them, you’ll want to harvest as much stem cells as you can as you don’t get very many guns and weapons in the game until later on, so you might as well get used to it while you’re weak in the beginning. You also have an energy shield that can block attacks for a short time, and if you time it right, you can actually parry enemy attacks which leaves them open to a harvest by spinning them around.

Every time you die, and you will often, you’re reprinted and must start your journey anew. This is a roguelike after all, so any progress you’ve made will have to be done all over again in terms of any weapons you were carrying, though the currency and collectibles, like schematics for upgrades and upgrade tokens, persist through death thankfully.

Enemies will start out simple and brainless, with them attacking you on sight, but there will eventually be different types that you’ll need to know how to counter and combat. For example, there’s a blind enemy with half its skull missing that can’t see you if you stand still or move incredibly slow, so you need to sneak around or behind them to take them out for a harvest. Later you’ll have ones that smack you and run away, or big hulking brutes that can easily ruin your day quickly. Enemies with weapons can be a real pain, but kill them and they’ll drop their guns and ammunition, though you generally only ever have a handful of bullets at one time.

With all the currencies and collectibles you gather, you’ll be able to spend them on unlocks and upgrades, depending on your playstyle. Do you focus on weapons to gain access to those, or maybe permanent implant upgrades like more health or stealth bonuses? You’re going to die a lot in the beginning, so spend the time to gather everything you see and eventually runs will become easier and easier with more upgrades unlocked. Once you get access to some of the later weapons and gadgets, it can make a huge difference, as throwing around a hulking brute with a gravity gun is always a joy to perform.

The part that bugged me the most though was how incredibly slow your character moves. I get it, you’re in a spaceship all alone, so why would you go running, but at the same time I wouldn’t be wandering around like I was having a walk in the park on a sunny day without a care in the world. Certain areas will be blocked by rubble, which is where your teleport comes in. And because of the controls mentioned about earlier having to hover over objects to pick them up or open, this slows you down even further for a moment every time you interact with something.

Because the ship’s layout rearranges itself every time, you’ll need to constantly reference it to get to your current objective. There seems to only be a handful of room types, but how they connect to each other in each run is completely randomized, so no run will ever feel the same. This randomization though means you might simply be a few rooms away from your objective, or have bad luck and have to bypass a dozen or more filled with enemies to get where you want to.

While I’m not normally one that gravitates towards roguelikes, as I don’t find losing all my progress that enjoyable, The Persistence is meant to be a challenging game where you learn from your mistakes. For those wanting an easier experience, there is an option for an Assisted Mode that makes things much simpler, but be warned, this isn’t able to be toggled off afterwards and will completely disable any achievements gained from that point onward with that save file. While I decided to not utilize the Assisted Mode, I can appreciate the option was available and ample warning given before deciding to do so.

For a horror game set in space, you can expect a lot of darkness. The lighting is decent and enemy models are fine, but there are tons of the same exact enemies throughout your runs. Visually, everything is adequate, but the real experience comes from The Persistence’s audio. If you have a high end pair of headphones, you need to bust them out to hear some great atmospheric background audio. Minor sounds like creaks, bangs and other noises constantly ring throughout the ship, and while you can hear the zombie-like moans of the hostiles, it adds a layer of dread when you can hear them, but not know exactly where on the other side of the door and the lights off. On multiple occasions I had to quickly look behind me to see if an enemy was there because of something I heard, so prepare to feel quite tense at times.

While I suffered no real technical hiccups, the small leftover VR mechanics constantly irked me. The gameplay loop may become stale after a while, though the progression treadmill of earning another upgrade or unlock was enough to have me constantly wanting to do one more run. It wouldn’t be impossible to power through the campaign in a short while on a second playthough once you know what you’re doing and how to combat each enemy, but much of the experience comes from learning from your mistakes.

The Persistence nails the eerie tonality of a horror sci-fi set in space, but has an interesting enough narrative that stands out, even if it only comes in small chunks when you finally make progress. Mechanically it may be a little clunky with its VR roots left over, but the audio is so finely crafted that it makes for an immersive horror experience, even if it’s one that probably won’t get much replay, if at all, after you’re finished your mission.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 We Were Here Together

Little shy of a year ago, I got my first taste of the We Were Here series. The result? A lot of swearing at my co-op friend. like, a LOT. If you’ve ever wanted to test the communication skills between you and a friend to see how strong your friendship really is, then We Were Here Together, the third game in the series, is here to do just that. A co-op puzzle game where communication is paramount and absolutely necessary, We Were Here Together will test not only your puzzle solving skills with obtuse and challenging problems, but also teach you how hard to can be to describe the simplest objects you see in front of you.

Similar to the first two entries, We Were Here Together puts you and a co-op partner together on a new adventure, only to be separated once again as you work your way further towards your goal. There’s a minor narrative within that tries to piece together a motive as to why you’re doing what you are, and while I applaud the effort, it’s honestly a shoestring story with some cutscenes thrown in here and there to break up the puzzles between chapters. When you don't see a cutscene for an hour or two because that's how long you've been stuck on a puzzle, it loses a little of its impactfulness.

An online only cooperative adventure, We Were Here Together is played in first person where you’re only armed with your wits and a walkie talkie radio to your partner. Along the way you’ll be separated from your partner, but will need both parties to partake in solving a singular puzzle in their own rights, sometimes even under the pressure of a timer. What makes this setup unique is that since you and your partner are separated the majority of the time, you’re unable to see what your partner can see and their surroundings, and vice versa, so this is where strong communication comes into play and is an absolute neccessity.

There’s not much to learn in terms of controls, as you move and look with the sticks, interact with the ‘A’ button and use your radio by holding the ‘Left Bumper’. These radios are old, so they are only one-way, meaning only one person can talk at a time. When your partner is talking the light on your radio will shine, indicating they are speaking. When you speak, their radio will light up. This is meant to cause any unneeded chatter and to make sure you focus on what they are saying when they are speaking. The game even says that you should be playing with the game chat so that the radios can be used. Yes, technically you could simply talk in an Xbox Party chat for constant communication, but there’s something about the one way radio chatter that makes your communication more pertinent given the setting.

Now one thing to keep in mind is that you’re going to want a friend to play with. Yes, you can technically create an open lobby and have some random person join you, but even with a friend with communication skills, it was hard enough; I wouldn’t even want to attempt it with a stranger. You’re going to have to describe nearly everything you see in your room to your partner, and they will have to do the same, that way you can come up with the solution together. Are there books on the floor that are numbered? How does that relate to your partner’s room? They might have a bunch of random symbols on the wall or a recipe on how to grow specific plants, so they’ll need to communicate that to you so you can figure out how that pertains to what’s in your room and figure out how to progress. Once you’re successful you’ll almost always have that great “ah-hah!” moment, realizing how dumb you were for the last hour before figuring it out, or in my case, how terrible your partner was at describing the easiest objects.

Nearly almost everything in the puzzle rooms have meaning, though there was one puzzle in particular where there were extra items that didn’t pertain to the main solution, which was a bit frustrating to find out after the fact. Every puzzle will stump you in the beginning, but pay attention to all of the smallest details and you’ll eventually figure them out, even if it takes a lot of trial and error. One aspect I didn’t enjoy as much in this sequel though is that there seemed to be a bit more timed puzzles. While each one becomes increasingly more difficult and involved, the ones that had a short timer to solve were the most frustrating and tense.

Visuals seemed slightly improved from last year’s outing, though it won’t impress by any means. The animations, especially with the wave and pointing emotes seem much smoother this time, and while there’s no dialogue for your characters, the sound effects and ambiance is done quite well, with minor sounds like cracks or electricity coming through quite well, though maybe that’s because of the immense concentration I had while trying to focus on each puzzle.

If you enjoy puzzles games and have a like-minded friend, then We Were Here Together should definitely be looked at. I figured that since I reviewed the previous game with a friend, I would try this one with a different one to see if I had the same result in communication breakdowns. Sad to say, the results were almost identical, even with a completely different friend this time around. When frustration sets in and things don’t make sense, I promise you, you’re going to end up blaming your co-op partner, regardless if it’s their fault or not. We Were Here Together will give a cooperative adventure unlike any other, but it will surely put your friendship to the test, one that I almost failed, again.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Maneater

There’s something fantastical about sharks that spark curiosity and wonder. I mean yeah, sure they are predator, there are reported cases of shark attacks and the movie Jaws made many people scared to go into the open ocean, but when that Shark Week on primetime TV comes on, you know there’s always some good binge watching entertainment to be had. While there’s been the odd game about sharks over the years here and there, none are really all that memorable, probably for good reason.

That ends now with Maneater. No, not the Hall and Oates song (though it’s almost criminal they didn’t license the song for the intro), a dedicated game where you are a shark, aptly described as a ShaRkPG. What’s a ShaRkPG you ask? A game where you’re a shark, with RPG elements of course. You start as a small infant pup, eventually leveling up and growing into a larger and fiercer predator. Eat. Explore. Evolve.

Yes, somehow there is also a story within Maneater. Scaly Pete, celebrity fisherman, has finally caught a massive shark that’s been a menace to the area for some time. Now that he’s caught this mother shark, he kills her and rips her baby from within prematurely. Before tossing the baby, he scars the baby so that he can identify it as the same one in the future. That baby bull shark is where your journey begins.

Tossed aside, Scaly Pete serves as the antagonist in your story, as you start out as a baby pup, eventually growing into an apex predator. You begin in a swampy bayou, only able to feed on small fish, but eventually you’ll level up and grow, allowing you to feed and hunt bigger prey, including humans of course. Narrated by Chris Parnell (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Rick and Morty), the whole premise is that the backdrop is a reality TV show. It sounds like an absurd setup and idea for a game, and on paper seems like a terrible idea, but surprisingly works quite well.

Played in third person, you control your shark, and while normally underwater sections in game aren’t always done well, it works decently here. You’re able to maneuver pretty easily in the water, and if you start skimming the top of the water to go faster, you can easily dive with a press of a button. You begin as a small pup though, so you’ll be quite small and weak, needing to avoid other predators in the bayou like alligators that will make a quick snack out of you. The more you eat, the more experience you’ll earn, which in turn levels you up and makes you grow. So the first few hours should be spent on simply exploring and feeding on anything you come across. This will pay off in the end later on as well, as you’ll need to consume lots of other fish and animals to gather different currency types for upgrades.

As you explore the multiple areas, the map will show you certain locations where collectibles and other points of interest are. Some might be sign posts, license plates, crates or banners to smash through. Yes, you’re a shark that can catch some serious air and even go on land if needed, though only for a short time. Some areas are gated off with metal grates that can only be smashed through when you’re an appropriate size and age, so you’ll constantly be revisiting old areas, like the starting bayou, later on when you’re an adult or elder shark. Most missions will start off simple, like eating a certain amount of fish in a specified area, eventually giving you more quests like killing and beating larger apex bosses.

You’re able to tail whip to stun your targets and you’ll be spamming the Right Trigger almost constantly to bite with your powerful jaws. Small prey will only take a bite or two, but once you start feeding on humans and fighting against alligators, simply spamming attack won’t just cut it, and you’ll need to be more strategic. Once you’re able to take on humans, Maneater becomes much more interesting.

The more humans you attack and kill will raise your threat meter, much like a wanted level in Grand Theft Auto. Once you’ve maxed out the meter, you’re going to have hunters with spears and guns start to chase you, trying to take you down. Continue to fill your meter and you’ll have unique Bounty Hunters also start to try and destroy you. While you could quickly retreat and swim away to safety, taking down these bounty hunters will earn you special mutations, so they are absolutely worth trying to eat. These humans will come in force on boats, jetskis and more. While you can eventually destroy their floating fortresses, it’s always satisfying to leap midair and snatch a human off their boat as you devour them under the surface.

Taking down the difficult bounty hunters will allow you to evolve. You begin with just a simple sonar ability that allows you to track anything nearby in a certain range, but evolving your skills after collecting these bonuses really change the gameplay a great way. When you’ve unlocked your grotto’s that act as a home base, one in each area, you can choose to evolve your shark as you see fit. I enjoyed how the slots were on different parts of the body, like your teeth, body, fins, organs and more. I was quite fond of the bio-electric bonuses, and each evolution can be upgraded even further to make you more powerful, which take more resources. There are numerous sets and options for you as you unlock them, so it’s a matter of finding out what suits your playstyle best and changing your evolutions appropriately. The coolest part is that all your evolutions, especially when leveled up, actually changes how your shark appears, so you can have a pretty badass looking shark by the time you’re an adult.

Where I did have a constant issue though was in combat. You can click in the stick to snap and look at the nearest enemy, but there’s no lock-on mechanic at all. So this means you’re going to constantly be dashing at an enemy or predator and miss quite often. Keep in mind you’re a shark, so you’re swimming in full 3D, so it can become a little disorientating without any lock-on system when you’re trying to find your target before they take a bite out of you. Also, when you have a bunch of hunters chasing you down, it can be hard to choose and attack the specific target you intend.

There are a handful of areas to explore, each having a distinct feel and look to it, all with plenty of collectibles to find and full of details within the murky waters as well, such as floating debris. Audio is decent as well, with the narrator chiming in here and there with some witty writing and quips, and of course, the screams of the humans you’re eating.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Maneater, but what I got was an odd mixture of Grand Theft Auto for its threat level and Assassin’s Creed for its map markers, all while being a shark. While it has its flaws and can suffer from fatigue in long bursts, it’s also a unique experience (I’ve never heard of a shaRkPG) and can be quite entertaining and comical. Oh-oh, here she comes, watch out boy she'll chew you up. Oh-oh, here she comes. She's a maneater.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Super Mega Baseball 3

While I’m not usually one for sports, one of my favorite classic NES games was actually a baseball game, albeit it wasn’t a real simulator. (It was Base Wars by the way, in case you were wondering). While most may look for realistic takes on their favorite sports games, sometimes that’s not entirely possible on all consoles. Case in point, try finding an official MLB title on Xbox One in recent memory. If you wanted authentic MLB action, sadly you’ve had to play elsewhere.

While Super Mega Baseball 3 is not licensed by the MLB in any way, shape or form, don’t let its cartoonish style fool you, it can hang in there with some of the better sport sim games, regardless of its visual aesthetic. No it won’t have any of your official teams or players, but as a pure baseball game, it can surely hold its own. Even better, it’s very simple to just pick up and play, but has a ton of options and other things for super fans to do as well.

To be honest, I was totally expecting a very arcade-like experience when I took this review on. Yes, I falsely judged it from its visual style and full expected there to be wacky power-ups and the like, but instead, I was greeted with a quite authentic baseball simulator that just happens to have cartoonish visuals.

You can of course simply hop into a quick exhibition match and set the amount of innings to try things out, but where Super Mega Baseball 3 really shines is in its newly added Franchise Mode. Here is where you’ll take your team of choice across multiple seasons, constantly growing and evolving them into hopefully the top seeded team. Not only will you play every season game in this mode, but also participate in the postseason, develop players, handle retiring ones, signing and releasing free agents and more. For someone that’s not a big sports buff, it was all accessible and easy to understand what each option did and how it would benefit my team.

While there’s no trading of players, you can purchase special traits for players which can make a drastic change. These work like buffs and can add bonuses or weaken your players, so there’s a bit of a gamble. Maybe you’ll get a buff for your pitcher that greatly increases their fastball, or can boost someone’s power for when they are at bat. There’s a ton of options after each game and added some variety and development to the team which I enjoyed.

You’ll begin with a handful of tutorials, teaching you the basics like hitting, pitching and fielding, each of which are simple to understand but will take some practice to really get the hang of the timing. Batting is quite simple; with a press of ‘A’ you’ll swing, seeing where the ball will travel in the strike zone or not. Of course this will be very reactionary, and the better contact and timing you have with the ball, the better chance for a homerun. If you want to try a power hit you can hold ‘X’ and release it just at the right moment, improving your chance of a heavy hit. Timing is what will take getting used to, but it’ll eventually become second nature after a few games.

Pitching is another aspect that will take some time getting used to. Each pitcher has different pitches they can throw, which you pick with the Right Stick. You choose where you want to pitch to within the strike zone box, and you’ll need to match the moving cursor to your desired aim spot before it reaches the batter. It can be quite tricky to pitch exactly where you want, but again, with enough practice it’ll become second nature. Fielding is much simpler, as the players will automatically run towards the ball, though you can dive and leap for the ball if need be. Timing for these is also a little tricky, but it feels great to make a diving catch for an out.

With 14 different ballparks to play in, there’s variety with its different day and night settings. Not only can you customize and create your teams, uniforms and logos but you can even make leagues and custom seasons. There’s also multiple levels of difficulty you can set, from super beginner where I was netting like 20 runs a game, to hardcore expert where I couldn’t get a single base.

For those that want to take on competition online, you’re able to play 1v1 matches in cross platform Pennant Race Mode. From the matches I played, I had no lag and you can communicate with some preset hotkey phrases which was entertaining. For those wanting to know if Super Mega Baseball 3 is going to be for them, you can actually download the free trial which actually allows you to play an unlimited number of games in said Pennant Race mode.

I admit, I completely misjudged Super Mega Baseball 3 from its cartoonish looks, expecting a wacky baseball arcade game with a ton of over the top power-ups. What I got was a pretty decent baseball simulator that just happens to have a cartoony aesthetic. Don’t let its visuals fool you. Super Mega Baseball 3 may not be officially licensed by the MLB, have actual team or players, but it does offer some decent baseball gameplay for casual or serious fans of the sport.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Arcade Spirits

Being that I was born in the 80’s, some of my fondest memories are from arcades I would visit after school on the way home. For those that might be too young to have frequented an arcade before, there used to be a time where home consoles weren’t really something nearly every gamer had, and to play the newest games you’d have to bring a pocket full of quarters to your local arcade and hope it was enough cash to beat it in one standing. My mom would give me a few quarters every day before school so that I could stop on the way home to play a few games, and that’s most likely where my passion for gaming started.

I miss those days, as arcades aren’t a commonplace any longer since everyone has consoles at home now. That being said, there’s nothing quite like an arcade experience. There’s something about the sights and sounds of the machines and cabinets, hearing the pings and pongs from the pinballs machines and the curiosity of a crowd gathering around a single game when someone is on the verge of a high score. When you’re putting actual money on the line every game, it’s a different feeling and experience compared to simply hitting continue at home.

If you’re my age or older, you’ll most likely remember the video game crash of the early 80’s. E.T. was a monstrous movie for the time, and of course, there had to be a tie-in videogame, but it turned out to be so terrible that it nearly crippled and destroyed the whole industry. Look up the specifics and the documentary, as it’s a fascinating sequence of events, but it’s a major point in videogame history early on. Set in 20XX, Arcade Spirits takes this series of events but flips it, asking what if that crash never happened? It’s an odd premise for a game backdrop, but as Arcade Spirits is actually more visual novel than game, it’s quite fitting.

You begin by creating your character from a handful of different looks, choosing their name and pronoun. The default name is Ari Cader, which I thought was clever, so I kept it. Your family has a long line of back luck streaks, and now that you’ve found yourself recently unemployed, you believe the bad luck has finally caught up with you. This isn’t a good excuse for your long time best friend and roommate, Juniper, as she suggests trying out the new Iris app on your smartphone to find a new job. Not only does she want you to find a new job, but one you’ll really enjoy and love.

Of course, you eventually launch Iris, which turns out to be more than a simple app, but more an AI that can read your personality and report on your traits and relationships. As you’re given different dialogue options, they’ll be broken into different categories such as quirky, steady, gutsy, kindly or basically, each with its own symbol to show what type of answers you’re giving, though you can toggle these off if you don’t want ‘hints’ as to what replies will trend towards. There’s no right or wrong, and you can create any type of personality you want as you progress.

Iris finds you a job interview in a matter of seconds, so naturally you go with it and try it out. After nailing the oddest interview you’ve ever had with the owner Francine, you’re the newest employee at the local arcade, Funplex. Sure, you start out as just a lowly floor attendant, but this becomes more than just a 9-5 job, as you search for what you actually want, discovering yourself in the process.

You’ll meet some interesting customers and fellow employees along the way. Gavin is the assistant manager, tasked with keeping the doors open and the books balanced. He can be a bit dry at times and focuses on work almost solely, but has a good heart. Ashley uses cosplay as her outlet for her personality when she’s not busy working alongside you at the arcade. Naomi is the one I relate to the most, as she absolutely loves arcade machines and is the resident fixer of said machines, appreciating their worth and value on more than just a physical level. Teo is a star at the hottest dancing game, keeping tabs and organizing the community. QueenBee is the top of her class in eSports, taking on all comers and trash talking like no tomorrow. Percy is a seemingly regular guy, but going for a world record on a classic retro game, but why is it so important to him? With a wide range of characters, there’s some depth given each of the personalities, and it’s up to you to decide how you’d like to interact with each when given the opportunity, maybe it’ll even lead to some romance down the road.

Given that this is a visual novel moreso than a traditional game, there’s a lot of reading you’ll need to do. Some sections of the dialogue is spoken, but not all, which seems odd. You can toggle the settings and have it auto play, only stopping when there’s a dialogue choice to be made, or you can wear out your ‘A’ button if you want to press it at your own pace. Part of the appeal is playing as yourself, or something completely opposite. Your choices will have certain reactions and outcomes, so naturally this means multiple playthroughs if you want to see everything Arcade Spirits has to offer, but that's quite a daunting commitment.

You’re able to boot up Iris at any time to see how every relationship is trending and what your personality type is like. Again, there’s no right or wrong, so it’s interesting to see how each character reacts to certain response types. Sometimes you’ll also need to interject with irate customers or handle a crisis, and with a few hours of narrative, you’ll come to appreciate how much writing and dialogue went into Arcade Spirits.

I enjoyed the comic style visuals, as everything is bright and neon, though being a visual novel, there’s barely any animations. The dialogue is decent and occasionally funny, though filled with pop culture references that might go right over the heads of some. The voice acting is decent at best, but it’s jarring when some lines are voiced and others are not, especially since nothing your character speaks is voiced at all. The soundtrack also cuts in and out depending on what dialogue box you’re reading, so it can be a little distracting at times.

While Arcade Spirits won’t be for everyone, especially since it’s a visual novel at its core, it’s really meant for gamers of my generation that have fond memories of going to arcades back in the day and craves that nostalgia. Even though there’s no real ‘gameplay’ aside from dialogue and decision making, it’s done in an interesting way with a narrative that, while quirky, had a lot of charm to it. More than a simple story about working at an arcade in the year 20XX, Arcade Spirits tries to delve deeper into something more meaningful with its array of interesting characters, though it’s completely up to you how you want to forge your relationships.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Telling Lies

FMV (full motion video) games used to be really popular back in the 90’s. Since then it’s mostly died out, though it has made a small comeback in the last few years with a handful of titles. Instead of handcrafted experiences and graphics, instead, everything is filmed much like a movie, though with some added interactive elements. Telling Lies is the newest in the genre, and nothing like anything else I’ve played before.

Has someone you known ever given you their phone or PC to check something out? What about when they weren’t looking; did you ever get the impulse to start sniffing through their photos, texts and videos? Let’s be honest, if you’ve not done it you’ve most likely at least been curious what the next picture in their roll is. What if you were going through someone’s private messages and videos and become so intrigued and curious that you had to delve even further down the rabbit hole? This is what the basic premise to Telling Lies is, combing through a backup of a hard drive with tons of secretly recorded videos of people’s video chats. Directed by Sam Barlow, creator of the smash FMV hit Her Story, starring Logan Marshall-Green, Alexandra Shipp, Kerry Bishé and Angela Sarafyan, Telling Lies is more of an experience than a game, but one that will test how intuitive you can be.

Most narratives have a beginning, middle and end, and while Telling Lies has this as well, it’s not given to you in the correct order. You see, you’re sifting through a hard drive with nearly 200 videos and hours of footage broken into small chunks, and since there’s no timestamps, this investigative thriller is told in a non-linear way. We like to be oblivious, as we all know that our phones and computers are constantly recording everything we search, watch, message and record, but choose to ignore that fact. Telling Lies showcases what can happen if someone were able to check all of these secretly recorded videos, piecing together part of your life. Would it uncover secrets you didn't want others to know?

You are some sort of agent that has a stolen NSA hard drive of these footage clips, desperately trying to piece together what happened and who was involved so that you can find out the truth. Instead of simply having a folder with all the videos in it, you’ll need to search keywords to watch said videos. Every clip is usually anywhere from one to seven minutes long, but is captioned, allowing for easy searching.

The game starts out by searching the keyword “love”. From here you’re shown any clips where this word is spoken in the captions, bringing you to that moment in the matching clips. You can scrub the videos, deciding to rewind or fast-forward anywhere in the clip or simply watching from where it started. The searched words will bring up any related videos, but in no particular order. If you happen to search a specific keyword that takes place in the last video, that’s possible, but you won’t know any sort of timeline or meanings until you all piece it together; something easier said than done.

Part of what makes doing so difficult is that every video is only that person’s camera viewpoint and audio. Have you ever listened into someone else’s conversation, unable to hear what the other end was saying? That’s exactly what every video here is like, as you’re only getting one viewpoint of a conversation. So to find the other ‘half’, you’ll need to be creative to figure out a keyword that the other person’s video would also have or relate, then match them together in your head.

Given that all of these videos are recorded without the people’s knowledge, there’s obviously a lot of stuff that is quite private, leading to a shocking ending that I didn’t really expect. David, the main character, is the first person’s videos you’ll start to watch. You’ll be introduced to a handful of other characters as your search more words and terms, one where the real “truth” is sort of a moral grey area and that you decide for yourself. I don’t want to delve into any of the story or characters, as that’s the real meat of the experience, and one that you must determine.

Interestingly, your whole experience is utilizing and navigating a fake computer desktop, opening files, folders and searching. There’s no real tutorial, as the game assumes you know how to use a computer for the most part, though nothing is terribly hard to figure out. Scrubbing through videos is as simple as using the Right Stick to rewind or fast-forward, and bookmarking videos is done with a single button press. You can even pause the video, move your cursor to a word or phrase in the closed captions and search it simply that way as well. This really is the majority of the experience within Telling Lies, so if that sounds boring, you may want to look elsewhere for a more traditional ‘game’. For those that like to be nosey and pry into people’s lives, you’ll have your work cut out for you, trying to figure out the timeline and how all the videos and characters relate to one another.

You’ll need to have not only a sharp eye, but try to remember certain conversations and which ones relate to others. There’s no mechanic that tells you if you’ve watched all the videos or the timeline order they are supposed to go in, so be prepared to make a lot of notes. When I finally had the credits roll, I was glad to see that someone pieced together every clip in order and side by side, so it was like actually watching the conversations, though having this included inside the game would have been a much better experience.

Given that Telling Lies is a completely FMV game, it needs to rely on the strength of its actors and actresses to carry the weight of the narrative. Thankfully this is done excellently, especially with Logan Marshall-Green’s performance, as he is completely believable and conveys a range of emotions. Powerful performances from Alexandra Shipp and Angela Sarafyan (Westworld) also help Telling Lies carry weight in its believability, as the cast all around was fantastic.

In one video I really liked the David character, in another I think he’s a jerk, but it’s not until you get the whole picture and piece it all together that you can accurately judge the characters. Once you start to go down the rabbit hole and see what’s really going on, and why these videos are so secretive, it’s quite a depressing story, even if you have to sift through hours of mundane and one sided conversations. Telling Lies certainly isn’t going to be what everyone thinks of a game or an entertaining time. It can be downright boring at times, watching minutes of a one sided video where they are simply listening to what the other person is saying, but you’re unable to hear or see what they see on their screen.

It’s obvious that a lot of work and care went into crafting the unique experience Telling Lies gives, it simply takes some out of the box thinking to really appreciate and hours of patience to piece it together. While I enjoyed the outcome and its complexity, it’s tricky to recommend unless you’re the type of person that would enjoy snooping through hours of private video conversations and can somehow keep track of it all.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 MotoGP 20

Developers Milestone has been around for years, and they have quite a resume when it comes to dual wheel racing games. Most notable of the bunch would easily be the MotoGP games that have been around for quite some time. Much like other sports titles, the yearly installment of MotoGP is here with MotoGP 20, aiming to add a bunch of new features, modes and perform much smoother overall. Is this simply a fresh coat of paint with a couple new additions, or is it worth another lap around the track? Start your engines.

While I’m not new to motorbike games, I found that I almost always generally gravitate towards the four wheeled kind of racing instead, so jumping back into two wheeled racing was a bit of a shock in terms of difficulty. MotoGP 20 aims to be a simulator, and there’s plenty of challenge regardless of your skill and experience. For someone more novice like me, I was able to turn on a bunch of assists to help stabilize my rider, even with an option for auto braking, though pro’s can turn all of these assists off and play a much more hardcore and realistic version should they wish.

You’ll get to experience the official 2020 season in MotoGP 20, not just from the MotoGP, but Moto2 and Moto3, including a new official track that fans should be happy to have included; Kymi Ring. Given that you’ll be racing up to 300 mp/h, there are some seriously tense moments when you’re trying to brake hard before an apex to try and gain a position or two without wiping out. This is when bike racing is at its finest.

The bulk of your time will most likely be within its robust career mode. Here you’ll start out as a typical nobody, deciding what team to join, official or completely brand new, and starting your race career in either MotoGP, Moto2 or Moto3. I enjoyed starting out in the lower league, working my way up to the main show eventually as my skills improved. Like most career modes in racers, you’ll have a calendar to manage, highlighting what weekends are for racing and which are not.

There’s also a large element of career management as well, developing not just your rider, but your team. Yes, only one rider is out on the track, but teams are much more than that. You’ll start with a manager, eventually hiring other facets and roles, allowing for other perks and bonuses if successful. This also means you’ll have a bank roll to manage, so you better start winning to cover your costs. The better the candidate for a roll, the more their salary and signing bonus will be. While the bulk of your gameplay will be racing, obviously, you’ll be spending a fair amount of time within the career menus as well, as there’s a lot to sift through, not even counting the performance upgrades, R&D development and contract opportunities.

As this is an official MotoGP sim, you can expect actual teams, bikes, liveries, riders and of course, tracks. The classic and legendary staples are here like Laguna Seca, Le Mans and around twenty or so others. You’re able to pick a realistic and authentic team, but you can also completely customize them as well with their own liveries. The graphic editor is simple enough to use, allowing you to create some unique and custom tags and graphics should you wish for your helmet, racing number, stickers and more.

Some other improvements over last year have been included as well, such as the new physics, improved graphics and more. Playing on an Xbox One X, there’s an option for frame rate or visuals, and other than the odd hiccup here and there, the overall experience was quite smooth. The new physics are what most will probably have to take some time getting used to.

As a novice to the series aside from dabbling in it here and there, it took me quite some time to get used to the handling of the bikes. Without any assists on you can fully expect to wipe and slide out on nearly every corner as you’re beginning. You’ll want to play with the settings and assists to find a balance that works for you until you become comfortable with the cornering and braking. You’re on two wheels and need to balance yourself on your bike, so you have to pre-lean a little before your turn and find that sweet spot of letting off the throttle and not completely gunning it out of the apex to prevent your rear tire from coming out from under you. Factor in the aggressive AI and you’ll have your work cut out for you. Thankfully you can toggle the rewind feature to fix all of your poorly mistimed and too speedy turns that failed miserably and try again as much as you wish.

You’ll also be able to customize your bike much further than before, as now you’ll also need to tackle tire wear and fuel consumption as well. With damage turned on it can be either be simply cosmetic, or fully affect your bike’s performance if you take too big of a crash, taking you out of the race.

Newly added Historic Mode, is sure to please the true and hardcore fans of the sport. Here you’ll get to race as and compete against MotoGP legends such as Mick Doohan, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and many more. This mode allows you to relive MotoGP history by giving you daily randomly generated races that reward you with a specific currency if successful that can used to purchase special bikes, riders and teams. With more than 40 riders and bikes, there’s tons of historic content here for true and lifelong fans that will surely put a smile on their face. Each race also has multiple difficulties so there’s something for everyone to check in on daily.

For those that were let down with last year’s outing and preferred to play online multiplayer, you’ll be ecstatic to know that MotoGP 20 has finally decide to utilize dedicated servers for their online play. No more laggy races, though you’ll still need to deal with the riders that like to slam into you through the corners. You can not only setup private and public matches, but even a Race Director lobby, allowing you to setup the starting grid, penalties and more. The few matches I played online had no lag and seemed to work flawlessly, though I didn’t always find many lobbies waiting for players

Graphically, MotoGP 20 impresses overall. The bikes look fantastic and incredibly detailed, as does the minor features, like the rubber on the tarmac as you race around lap to lap, the smooth animations of your rider leaning side to side coming out of a turn or looking behind to see who’s on your tail, and of course the weather effects. Rain in particular looks absolutely fantastic and completely changes how you race and tackle each corner. Puddles form, meaning you can hydroplane quite easily, leaving you unable to take corners at extreme angles and speeds, forcing you to adjust on the fly. The riders themselves also look quite good, but the mini scenes before races with secondary characters can look quite dated, though it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Audio is just as good, as bikes sound distinct and you can hear the engine go through its gears as you shift. While there's no music during races or commentary, you’ll simply hear the engine whines constantly as you race, though nothing playing some of your favorite songs on Spotify in the background can’t fix.

While MotoGP 20 will be challenging for novices, it’s still accessible with its assists and options to make it possible to still be competitive in races eventually, though it will take quite a few hours to get to the point of actually winning as there’s not much in ways of a tutorial to ease you into the gameplay. For vets and MotoGP fans, there’s enough here to keep you challenged and tons of new additions that should appease you for another year until the next season starts.

Overall Score: 7.7 / 10 Inner Friend, The

I’m normally a big fan of odd and abstract games. You know the ones; they seem as though they were conjured out of some weird acid trip dream gone wrong, then decided to be put into videogame form. The problem with these games is that it’s very difficult to convey not only how they play, but the experience that you’re engaged in, as they are usually very nonfigurative with unique visuals and experiences. The same is true for The Inner Friend, developer PLAYMIND’s first outing as a studio, where a combination of platforming, puzzle solving and light horror elements combine to make for a very odd but memorable experience.

While it released for PC back in 2018, The Inner Friend is now here for console players, and while it’s a very unique and memorable experience, it certainly won’t be for everyone. I honestly had no idea what to expect going in, what I got though was a psychological horror game filled with symbolism and tense creepy moments, which at times can be more unnerving than a game filled with blood and gore.

As you begin The Inner Friend, you start floating at the ceiling in a room, looking down on someone as it appears they’re having some sort of nightmare. Are you a ghost or their soul? Is this an outer body experience? Thing is, instead of a face they simply have a beam of light coming out. As you move closer, the background changes to a familiar bedroom. You assume it’s yours, as you’re now some sort of mannequin child with portions of your ‘skin’ missing, like a jigsaw puzzle. As you look around the room you see a tear in the wall, leading to some sort of tunnel with no end. Of course, you go into it and start to plunge into nothingness.

You start freefalling, eventually landing on some floating buildings with no end in sight. As you fall into a portal you arrive in an old school that appears to have had some sort of catastrophic event within. You notice shadows of other children, seemingly frozen in time by some sort of red beam that’s pulsing. Levels are generally quite linear, and though you can explore the odd nook and cranny for collectibles, it’s generally a quite linear experience with little room to explore elsewhere.

There’s a handful of ‘levels’, each with their own goal, though don’t expect any sort of narration, story element or hand holding. You’re literally thrown into the game and nothing is explained to you in any way, even the meaning behind your motivation or what you’re actually doing. At first I initially thought it was about the person we see in the beginning on the bed maybe living through some nightmares, though after seeing the credits roll, I still have no idea. I don’t want to delve into any more of the levels, as The Inner Friend is quite short, and you’ll easily beat it in a single sitting, so detailing any more would ruin much of the experience.

Played in third person, you maneuver your character around the stages trying to reach the goal at the end, whatever that should be. Some levels have some platforming sections, though because the controls don’t feel very tight, you’re going to miss jumps quite a bit due to not always going the exact direction you attempted to. There are a couple puzzle sections later on as well, and these suffer from the same control issues also. Not that they are impossible by any means, but you’ll certainly have a few restarts due to it. In the last few sections you’ll also have a few stealth sections. Now, these aren’t very challenging, as it’s more just memorizing movement patterns from what you’re trying to avoid, but you don’t want to get seen and caught.

Where the gameplay is very minimal, simply walking and jumping around, sometimes escorting a shadow person, the real experience comes from its extensive and amazing visual and audio design. The visuals won’t blow you away by looking anywhere near photo realistic, but the way that the developers have crafted something so surreal and unique can be a sight to behold. One of the first things that came to mind was some of the set pieces from Alan Wake when objects were floating and moving around, or a scene you might remember from Poltergeist with hundreds of chairs stacked to form a massive pile.

Scenes like this really add a mysterious element to the whole experience. Jumping through broken mirrors into a seemingly forever darkness, only to come out the other end back into your bedroom is always a trippy experience. The best way I could describe it all is that you could think of the weirdest things you might have in one of your dreams, and The Inner Friend will top those. The psychological terror makes for some quite tense moments, even if it’s not designed to be outright “scary”.

Almost every level has a lot of tension to it, and this is masterfully done with some fantastic soundscapes. The audio is done so well and created such tension and an uneasy feeling, which even my seven year old daughter that was watching had to eventually cover her ears when she was enthralled with what I was playing. While there are no outright jump scares, the audio can really make you feel uneasy with the smallest of details.

The storytelling is more done through its overall experience rather than a traditional narrative that we’ve come to expect from most media. Visually driven, The Inner Friend gives you a very short experience, clocking at about an hour and a half, but it’s a memorable one. The Inner Friend is like one of those movies where the ending is left very ambiguous, allowing you to drawn your own conclusion however you will. Some enjoy these types of experiences, whereas others like myself, usually enjoy having a definitive answer. Don’t expect that here, even after the credits roll, as you’ll probably be left with many, many questions.

While flawed, especially when it comes to controls and a quite short runtime, I still enjoyed my time with The Inner Friend. I may not have completely understood all of its symbolism, but if you take it like more of an experience than a game, you can appreciate it more without your typical expectations. Bizarre and odd at times, but surreal for the majority, The Inner Friend tells its story through fantastical imagery, but it’s up to you to determine what all of it means to you.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Construction Simulator 3 - Console Edition

While I’ve never worked in construction, after a handful of hours with Construction Simulator 3: Console Edition, I have a new respect and understanding for how much planning and work goes into completing even simple production and construction tasks. You would think that using a bulldozer to flatten some land would be a quick five minute job, though, that’s until you need to actually perform said task for yourself. Luckily, you can do so without hours of training and getting behind the wheel of machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars from the comfort of your couch and an Xbox One.

Simulation games like this usually revolve around the gameplay itself, focusing on delivering the most true to life experience you can get without actually doing it, but doing so usually means that other elements, like narrative, aren’t much of a focus. This is the case as well with Construction Simulator 3: Console Edition, as you’re going to get a very in-depth construction sim, but not much else in terms of visuals, audio or narrative.

I will say, I give the developer kudos for trying to incorporate some sense of a story element within, but it could have done without. After you choose your character’s look and come up with a company name, you’re thrown right in. You were previously a game developer who was successful, but it wasn’t your true calling. Apparently your passion was running a construction company, so here you are, to learn the ropes and start to build your own empire. Pump the brakes though, you don’t even know what the equipment is, what it does, how it works or how to even the proper steps to operating said machinery. This is where your mentor comes in, teaching you the ropes of how to start building your construction empire.

Set in a small German village, you begin in a little corner of a town, eventually embarking out across the map as you make your way to bigger and better jobs and contracts as you progress. You begin with a handful of tutorials, showing you the basics, eventually teaching you every machine that you’ll be using in your jobs and how to become proficient with them. Thankfully, there’s a ton of tutorials, which should last at least a few hours if you were to do them all back to back, so there’s a great attempt to give you all the knowledge you’ll need going forward, just make sure you pay attention during these, or else you’ll be wasting an exorbitant amount of time trying to figure out what to do and how to do it properly.

There are dozens of contracts and jobs to partake in, starting simple such as flatting some piles of dirt and moving some cut down trees, eventually becoming grander in scale, constructing larger buildings and other massive projects. With a ton of variety of vehicles and equipment, you’re going to have your hands full for hours of construction 'entertainment'. As you complete jobs and earn money for completing contracts you’ll be able to purchase additional vehicles and even upgrade some perks with an RPG-like system in place as well.

With over fifty machines to get behind the wheel of, players that are actually in the industry will be happy to know that there are tons of licensed vehicles from over a dozen popular brands like CASE, Caterpillar, STILL, ATLAS, Bell and a bunch of others. To add even more authenticity to this simulator, you can even get inside vehicles with cockpit views, adding another layer of realism of what it’s like to actually be behind the wheel of this equipment.

If you’ve not played the previous entries of the series, you’re in for a surprise when you actually start to use the equipment. Now, the basic controls like moving the vehicles around are simple enough, but when you need to start using its other features, like the bulldozer, or a crane arm, this is where things start to get complicated. Most vehicles have multiple modes that can be toggled with a button press, and doing so will change its control scheme as well.

Your backhoe for example, once you plant its feet, you can use the back digger, with the Left Stick controlling some of the arm movement and the Right controlling the bucket. This is where you’re going to struggle for the first few hours. Yes, the UI will show you what direction on each stick does what, but it really doesn’t come naturally until you’ve sunk in enough time and practiced until it's second nature. To make matters worse, the camera can be atrocious at times. You never seem to get the right angle you want to see what you’re doing, and when you finally do, you’ll need to move which messes up your camera, forcing you toggle from your vehicle controls back to camera; rinse and repeat. There are different camera angles you can play with, but you’re going to constantly struggle with it and the controls. Factor in that nearly every machine controls slightly differently, and you'll start to see where the frustration can set in when you want to do a simple task, but struggle doing so.

Even from the beginning moments, it will surprise you with how dated everything looks, almost as if it was a straight port from its mobile counterpart without much improvement for its console counterpart. There’s nothing pretty to see, and the bland audio matches as well. That said, I oddly enjoyed my time with it. While I’ll never actually operate in any of this machinery in real life, I have a new respect for how much work goes into what you might consider a small construction task.

Sim fans are surely the ones that will get the most out of Construction Simulator 3: Console Edition, especially those that know the industry, and even though it’s very rough around the edges and visually dated, I still enjoyed my time with it for the most part, aside from the constant battle with the camera and controls.

Overall Score: 5.5 / 10 Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition

Originally released on PC back in 2017, Deep Sky Derelicts was met with some decent fanfare. Granted, I primarily game on my console, so it passed me by, but in the time since then, developers Snowhound Games has been hard at work, not only bringing out two DLC packs for the game since launch, but has now finally brought it to console gamers on Xbox One with the Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition, and it feels like a natural fit for the most part. Combining turn based strategy card combat with exploration and roguelike gameplay, Deep Sky Derelicts is a gritty yet often humorous adventure where you’re fighting against plenty of enemies and aliens, all while looking as if it came straight out of a comic book.

Mankind hasn’t done so well lately, with essentially two classes of rich and poor strewn across the galaxy. The poor class do what they can to survive in space, scavenging what they can from derelict space stations that have seemingly been long abandoned. There’s a rumor about a Mothership that you are hired to find more information about, so you and your team of scavengers take the job and agree to report any findings as you explore and search numerous alien ships. With the promise of a better life and full citizenship, you have all the motivation you need to put your life on the line in deep space.

While this is the main premise of the narrative, there’s a lot more to it that unfolds as you explore and uncover new information, of which the writing is actually done well as you meet new characters and search each new area. There’s plenty of humor included as well, from simple one liners that gave me a chuckle to full on laughing, again, which speaks to the quality of the writing. Obviously though the first thing you’re going to notice about Deep Sky Derelicts is its unique comic book graphic style. It’s dark and gritty, but suits the setting and narrative quite well actually, though I do wish it was voiced and narrated.

So if you managed to play Deep Sky Derelicts previously on PC, you’re probably wondering why this is titled the Definitive Edition. Essentially it’s the all in one package with the core game and its two DLC’s that added quite a bit of content, mechanics and features, for the better. The first DLC that’s included is New Prospects. This expansion added new stances like Stealth, Rush and Normal that allow you to add another layer of strategy when trying to ambush enemies or sneak past to conserve energy which can make a huge difference in the outcome of a battle. New hazardous conditions have been added, like blizzards and even a new class, the Miner. With new missions and a bunch of other features and mechanics, this DLC actually made the core game much better overall.

The second DLC included is Station Life. This expansion more focused on your survivability and life on the station, as the name suggests. Now you’re able to craft new equipment, take on random and challenging battles, new missions, contracts and of course a new class, the Inventor, that relies on health regeneration rather than shields like other classes. Having not played the core game itself without the DLC’s, I can’t imagine how different the experience must have been without all these additions and improvements, so thankfully the wait for a console release has been worth it.

Your group of three mercenaries are hired to find out more information about a fabled Mothership, so you’ll search and scavenge derelict ships in search for more information and loot. Sometimes you’ll encounter hostile aliens, robotic machines, friendly settlers and other mercenaries. When you do engage in battle, combat is done in turn based card battles and you’ll earn experience and loot for winning. Every card has its own buff, attack damage, energy cost and more, so it's paramount to create a great deck as you progress. Your home base is where you’ll spend your time recruiting new members if needed, crafting new items, unlocking new perks, healing up and more.

As you land on a new derelict station, you’re presented with a grid-like map of the ship, though you’re only able to see a handful of squares around your area. As you explore grid to grid, you’ll uncover new areas and encounters along the way. Thing is, energy is required to move squares and to partake in battles, so it’s a resource you’ll need to constantly manage. Do you spend a lot of energy exploring a ship hoping to find a second landing pad, almost like a continue spot, or do you play it safe and return back to your home ship and pay to recharge your energy and engage in a few more battles to earn some more experience and loot? There’s a surprising amount of strategy required to be successful, something that’s not taught very well in the beginning, so be prepared to be confused for the first while until you figure it all out by trial and error.

Your three man team consists of different classes of your choosing, but again, it’ll simply take some trial and error to finally decide what suits your playstyle best. Each class has their own role and specializations, so it’s a matter of finding a great meld of abilities that works best for you. Do you take a bring brute that’s very heavy weapon and melee based, a medic that can heal or more ranged based damage dealers? They all have their own strengths, weaknesses, abilities, skill trees and more.

While turn based games or card battlers are not new to me, I’ve never quite played one that blended the two together in such a way like this. Your deck of cards are randomized for battles, so you’ll have a number to choose from each turn based on whose turn it is. Do you play your damaging cards to try and get quick kills and finish the battle, or spend precious turns buffing and regenerating shields to hopefully survive another enemy turn? There’s a surprising amount of strategy involved, not just in the combat, but upgrading and improving your team as you level up and gain more gear.

As you explore ships and come across NPC’s you’ll also be given optional side quests that can help you greatly down the road. Sometimes you’re given a choice of how you want to react or respond in conversations, which can have some unexpected, and sometimes hilarious, results. Then there’s the customization menu that is more than overwhelming when you’re beginning. Here you can upgrade your equipment with new gear you’ve found along the way, spending skill points to have specializations and much more.

The menu is serviceable, but it’s obvious that much of the controls and menus were developed for PC play moreso than console, as there’s seemingly a lot of button presses and menus that are cumbersome with the controller. Yes it works, but it takes some getting used to and isn’t the most of fluid experiences. For example, you can equip mods on your weapons, which are indicated by specific shapes to show what can fit with what, but this isn’t really explained very well and really confused me until I took the time to sit down and figure it all out. On the flip side, once you’ve learned how to navigate the menus and what goes where, you can really start to customize your characters and improve your damage and survivability quite substantially.

The graphic novel aesthetic is dark and gritty and fits the tonality of the game. While I enjoyed the art style, there wasn’t much variety of backdrops and the environment. The background music and ambient sounds are quite decent and never really became stale even after a handful of hours, I just wish there was some narration and voiced characters to give it a little more life.

With a Story and Arena mode along with the two included DLC’s, there’s plenty of content to sink your teeth into if you can get over the cumbersome and confusing menus. Once you learn its intricacies and how to upgrade your characters efficiently, Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition becomes a much more enjoyable turn based card battler. The writing is well done, combat is incredibly strategic and there’s plenty of depth for anyone looking to be a space mercenary and earn their citizenship while fighting aliens and raiders.

Overall Score: 7.7 / 10 HyperParasite

I actually got to play HyperParasite about a year and a half ago on PC in a very early access state with the promise that it would be coming to consoles eventually. Well, that day is here, and HyperParasite is finally on Xbox One ready to infest any and all human hosts it can find. Developer Troglobytes Games originally asked for $37K on Kickstarter long ago to bring their gaming vision to life. While it didn’t meet its goal, they somehow managed to not only make their game a reality, but also bring it to console as well.

While the world is in turmoil, there’s a new threat to mankind, an organism that’s capable of taking over a host and controlling them, much like a body snatcher. This is you, you are HyperParasite. The President has called for everyone to come together; criminals, police, homeless and average basketball players alike will all try and stop you in your journey to try and take over the world. Your goal is to infect the President and use his body to press the big red button that will surely end the world as we know it. Doing so won’t be easy, as the whole world will be against you.

To make this backdrop even more appealing, it’s set in the 80’s, so expect a palette of bright neon and tons of pop culture references from the era, something an 80’s child like myself really enjoyed and appreciated, though younger audiences probably won’t clue into these references. Snatch, zap, repeat.

You’re a simple parasite that resembles a blob, but of course you have the ability to take over the body of any host you come across. When you’re in your true form you’re incredibly weak, barely do any damage and can die with one bad hit. When you take over someone’s body though, you are that person, so you gain access to their stats and abilities. Turn into a cop for example and you can use your pistol to shoot enemies from afar. If you take over a papergirl, you’ll throw, well, newspapers at your enemies. Need to take over a homeless dude with a shopping cart? You got it, you’re going to start ramming people with said cart. When your host loses all of their health you’re forced out of the body and must try and infect another before you die, which is easier said than done when things become chaotic.

Gameplay is like another other twin-stick shooter with some roguelite elements mixed in. When you die, and you will, you start all over again, though there is some progress that does carry over. I would best describe HyperParasite’s gameplay as Kirby meets Hotline Miami. The 80’s aesthetic really makes it stand out amongst others, as does its humor and great pixel work. The camera is top-down with the Left Stick moving your character and the Right the direction you’re aiming. If you’ve played SmashTV before, the way you’re locked into each room is similar, as you’ll need to clear each one before being able to move onto the next. Levels are procedurally generated so every run will always feel fresh.

There’s a ton of enemies you’ll face against, including mini bosses and full blown baddies that will take many tries to overcome. While you won’t be able to infect and take over every character right away, eventually you’ll face off against a harder version of a certain character, and if you bring their brain back to the safe zone shop, you’ll be able to unlock them and use them when you spend enough coins. The better the characters, the more coins it costs to unlock. This means your first few hours will simply be trying to gather as many brains as possible to get the character unlocks, then saving enough coins to actually be able to use them. Luckily this is the progress that carries over each time you die.

During your adventure, you’ll come across cracks in the ground that the HyperParasite can use to upgrade its attack, defense or lives. Your natural form is very weak, so you’ll always want to take over someone’s body, as those are essentially your lives. There’s about 60 different characters, and the special ones like Rocky, Detective McClane, Hulk Hogan and Teen Wolf are just a few of the pop culture references you’ll come across, but of course they are called something different to avoid copy write infringement and are very tongue in cheek. With each character having its own unique attacks and specials, you’ll eventually find a handful you prefer that suits your playstyle. While I’m glad a multiplayer mode was added to play alongside a friend, it’s a shame it’s only local couch co-op only and no online support, as HyperParasite is quite challenging solo.

While I may be a little bias in favor of the 80’s neon aesthetics, as I’m a sucker for bright neon and pop culture, it really suits the overall feel and mood of HyperParasite quite well. The pixel artwork is done quite well but the synthwave soundtrack is even better. While I don’t normally pay much attention to soundtracks and audio, I was grooving along to the beats the whole time I was body snatching, so kudos to Van Reeves and Joe Kataldo for the kickass soundtrack.

HyperParasite is an interesting concept with fundamentally decent gameplay, but where its shines is its heart, as you can tell a lot of passion went into this project. Having seen it evolve over the past year and a half proves a lot of work has gone into making it the best game it can be. It’s hilarious, has tons of pop culture references and more than enough glowing neon that you’ll know what to do with. If you’re a twin-stick shooter fan, HyperParasite is worth checking out and infecting the human race for as long as you can handle its challenging difficulty.

Overall Score: 8.2 / 10 Complex, The

Have you ever watched a movie and wish you could actually make the character on screen decide what to do because you clearly know better? Movies are an interesting medium, as they tell a story, but it’s a linear experience, as you simply sit there and watch the narrative unfold without any decision making or input. Things are changing though, and if you’ve experienced an interactive film before, either with Wales Interactive’s previous ‘games’ in this genre, or even Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch on Netflix, then you’ll know what to expect with The Complex.

Essentially you’re watching a movie, as it’s all filmed with real actors, but you’ll be given choices now and then on how you want the character to react or respond, giving you a choice of how events unfold, much like a Choose Your Own Adventure book from eons ago. While some might not believe that having you press a button or two every 15-20 minutes constitute as a “game”, it’s still an interactive form of media, and the quality is there to still make it an entertaining one at that.

Filmed in the UK, The Complex is a sci-fi live action interactive adventure that will have you making some tough decisions from its very beginning moments. There’s not always a right or wrong, as sometimes you need to skirt a morally grey area. Case in point, the first decision you make is going to be choosing between two people who lives and whom dies. There’s no traditional ‘game over’ in a sense, as your choices simply change the outcome moving forward, and with eight endings to strive for, there’s a decent amount of content to experience if you’re able to make all the “right” choices.

The Complex’s narrative, written by Lynn Maxcy, takes place after a massive bio-weapon attack hits London. Two doctors, Dr. Amy Tenant (played by Michelle Mylett, best known from Letterkenny) and Rees Wakefield (played by Al Weaver, which I know as Rex from Xenoblade Chronicles 2) are trapped in an underground laboratory where Dr. Amy has been conducting her revolutionary Nanocell technology. The lab is on lockdown mode, and not only is time running out, but so it their air supply. Of course, this technology is very sought after by nefarious people, but to complicate matters more, someone that was on the subway, sick and bleeding from the eyes, is also in the lab with them, which is no coincidence.

You control Amy’s actions when given the choices and The Complex will actually track your relationships between all of the characters as you work your way towards finding the multiple endings. Amy and Rees have history, so how does that play out in your first playthrough? Once you learn some critical information about your boss Nathalie Kensington (played by Kate Dickie, best known as Lysa Arryn in Game of Thrones), will this change how you interact with her and her assistant during your video calls? I don’t want to delve into the story much further, but you’ll need to make some tough choices along the way, justifying them either way to yourself and seeing the consequences for doing so. Sometimes you won’t be able to save everyone, or the choices you make won’t show their results on the surface until the very end.

Given that this is an interactive movie at its core, the majority of the time will you be watching said movie play out, but now and then you’ll be given usually two choices for Amy to make. You’re not always given a lot of time to think it over too, so your first or second playthroughs will be reactionary until you see the main plot points unfold in different ways. Every choice you make it tracked and Amy’s personality will be shown at the end of the credits, determining your personality. Was your Amy agreeable, neurotic or open? You’ll see at the end of each playthrough.

Much like most movie experiences, The Complex will run around about the 90 minute mark per playthrough. Obviously they want you to play a handful of times to find all of the endings, though I wish there was some sort of marking to indicate what choice I’ve made previously when given them again so I can go down a different path of choices. Given that The Complex is live action, I’m more judging the visuals on its sets and CGI. It’s obvious that this had a budget, and given that the majority of the narrative is told inside the lab, there’s not all that much to look at. When there are moments with CGI, it’s quite noticeable and the production quality is something you’d find from a straight-to-TV B-movie. That’s not to say the acting isn’t fantastic, as everyone did a great job throughout, especially Michelle Mylett as Dr. Amy. The $16.99 CAD asking price is right on par with the value it gives as well.

The story is interesting, characters have growth and mystery, acting is done wonderfully and the multiple endings means you’ll always have some sort of surprise by the time the credits roll again. My first ending was dramatically different from my second, so I’m glad it wasn’t just minor differences for the outcomes as a way to sell the multiple ending angle. The real question is, will you choose to smash or blow up the toilet?

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Bless Unleashed

Ever since a friend showed me Everquest back in 1999, MMORPG’s have had their hooks in me. Since then, I’ve literally put thousands of hours into various MMO’s over the past two decades. To say that it’s my favorite genre is an understatement, so when a new one comes along, I tend to dive into the deep end feet first and completely immerse myself in its gameplay and world. Bless Unleased (simply referred to as Bless from here onwards) was no different, as I’ve actually been playing it well over a month now, and usually I review games quite quickly purposely, but being an MMO, it’s not one that can be rushed. Truth be told, I wanted to hit end-game and max level before writing this review, but as it turns out, Bless has a serious grind to it, along with some gating that forces you to halt rapid leveling and progression, which is nothing new to me, but others will, and do already, find the grind very taxing and frustrating.

If you’ve played numerous MMO’s before, you’ve probably heard of Bless before. Now, this isn’t the failed PC MMO Bless Online. Yes, it’s the same studio and set in the same universe, but it’s a completely different experience, and not just because it’s an Xbox One exclusive on console. Also, Bless is completely free to play (F2P). Now I know what you’re thinking; probably something along the lines of “but aren’t all F2P games simply pay-to-win (P2W)?”. Honestly, this is usually the case, but with over 200 hours already put into it, I’ve not felt compelled or forced to open my wallet and drop some money into the game. For complete transparency, we were given a Founder’s Pack which netted us some items, mounts and bonuses, and I’ve also spent some money on other items and conveniences, not that I never hit a brick wall where it felt forced like in other F2P MMO’s.

As you begin your journey in Bless, you’ll choose one of five classes: Crusader, Berserker, Ranger, Mage or Priest. All of the classes fit the typical roles you’ve played countless times before in other games, where the Crusader is your heavy armor tank with sword and shield, Mages nuke from afar and Priests heal, but Bless changes thing up quite drastically with its action oriented combat. There’s also no real ‘holy trinity’ where every group absolutely needs a tank to soak up the damage, a healer to replenish life and damage to kill things. Yes, some of these classes fill these roles in certain ways, but get those traditional MMO roles out of your head, as Bless does things differently, for better and worse.

Once you’ve chosen your class and customized your character to how you want them to look, you begin your adventure within a dream with a highly powered character. You have a very powerful character with lots of abilities unlocked and start blasting away at enemies. This is how the game teaches you the basics of combat in its tutorial, but being an action based MMO, there’s no simply spamming a hotbar of a few abilities like in most MMO’s. Instead, you’ll need to be actively dodging enemy attacks, watching for visual cues and utilizing different combos for your attacks and abilities as you unlock them with each new Blessing you receive. Once you defeat a boss at the end of this dream state, you awaken in the world of Lumios, taken down a road filled with despair, enemies and of course, you’re the one that will save the world.

Like any MMO, you’ll begin as a weakling and with little to no gear and abilities. As you quest, level up and gain experience, you’ll slowly start to become stronger as you progress and find new gear and combat abilities. This is an MMO though, so you’ll constantly see and interact with thousands of other players during your adventures. Sometimes this is helpful, as you’ll be killing a boss and anyone else is able to join in and help for their own credit as well.

Your quests begin simple enough, usually having you run to somewhere nearby, killing a few enemies or doing a fetch quest for someone, the usual MMO fare we’ve come to expect over the years. Bless begins no differently, as the quest chains will guide you on a specific path from one area to the next, generally keeping you within enemies that are meant for your level range. As you defeat enemies and monsters, you’ll earn gold, experience and sometimes new gear. Gear is more than a simple comparison of choosing the one with better stats, as there’s a whole ranking from E to A class and rarity that can be improved, for a cost. Keep in mind though, as you level up, enemy scaling is also in place, so even though you may be max level and go back to the beginning area, enemies will scale to your level as well, so in one way you never feel like you’re becoming more powerful because of this.

Combat in Bless is interesting yet challenging. Instead of a hotbar of abilities you spam over and over like in most MMO’s, Bless as action based combat where you have numerous different combos that all have their own uses and situations to be used in. For example, I play a Priest, so one of my combos allows me to do some big damage quickly, but leaves me open to attack while I wait for the animations to complete. Another combo I have is shorter and does less damage, but pushes back enemies if successful, allowing me some breathing room when I’m soloing. As you press the different attack buttons there are prompts on the screen to show you what button press will link into the next combos, granted, after you’ve put in enough hours into your character, these become second nature, as I already know I need to hit ‘RB’ three times then ‘B’ three as well for my big damage combo.

Somewhat like a Souls game, you’ll also have a stamina bar linked to your running and dodging. This becomes incredibly important, so the quicker you learn it the better. Enemy attacks need to be physically avoided, or you’re going to sustain a lot of damage, so you always need to be on the lookout for tells from enemies, either from their wind up or certain animations to indicate the imminent attacks. Regular enemies obviously won’t hurt as much, but when you mistime your dodge from a boss, you can easily die in one hit if your gear isn’t up to snuff. Factor in that health doesn’t replenish automatically unless sitting at a campfire, eating foot or using potions, you’ll quickly learn how important dodging is, or else you’ll go broke from having to constantly buy potions or waste hours sitting at a campfire as your health slowly refills.

While your core attacks are your combos, your main abilities come from your Blessings. Think of these as specializations. You only get access to the abilities within each of blessings, so there are different uses and times you’ll want to switch from one to another. For example, one of my Blessings that I’m currently working on is much more PvP focused, and since I loathe PvP, I don’t plan on using it very much if at all. The one I currently use almost exclusively is very heal focused, allowing me to drop heal orbs for allies to pick up but still has some utility and damage abilities as well. And yes, as a healer I can’t simply target you and heal like in other MMO’s, another factor as to why communication and being very aware of your surroundings in Bless is extremely important.

As you complete quests you’ll earn Skill XP (SXP), and once filled to 100%, you’ll earn a point that can be used to unlock new abilities or improve ones you already have. Each Blessing has a finite amount of abilities, usually four, but the later ones will cost many skill points to fill completely, so you’re going to learn that there’s a real grind early on. If you do manage to completely fill a blessing with skill points you earn a passive bonus that is permanent, so it’s worthwhile investing the time into doing this for the long term.

Once you reach a certain level you’ll gain access to partake in Arenas, Lairs and Dungeons. Arenas are for two players facing off against a single boss. These start easy, but the later ones become quite challenging and will require teamwork. Lairs is the same deal against a single boss, but consists of a party of five. Lastly, Dungeons are five players in a traditional pathway filled with mobs on your way through to some bosses. Most have three bosses within, but unlike most MMO’s, the only rewards you get is after you defeat the final boss and loot the chest. Mid-dungeon bosses don’t drop loot, so if you’re unable to finish the final boss, you’ve wasted a lot of time with no reward.

The problem with these chests you get for completion though is that they need to be unlocked with keys. How do you get said keys you ask? Well, if you have certain perks, you’ll get a maximum of two keys a day. TWO. That’s right, I’d love to spam dungeons all day at the chance of getting the gear upgrades I desperately need, but when you’re only able to open two a day, you don’t actually want to do more as they don’t stack in your inventory, which is always at a premium. Yes, you can purchase more bag and bank slots for real money if you wish, or find pieces to unlock them hidden within in the world, but obviously that convenience becomes quite tempting when you’re constantly struggling for bag room early on. Because of this design, it feels as though Bless discourages you from playing how you want at times.

Currency starts out simple enough with you earning gold, but eventually you’ll be introduced to Star Seeds, Artifact shards and cores, and a ton of other marks for different Unions. You’ll eventually become a millionaire in gold, but quickly realize that doesn’t have much value later on for the most part. Star Seeds can be gained once a day and you’ll be able to convert a small amount of gold into Star Seeds, which is then used for many things like upgrading equipment, buying and selling on the marketplace and much more. Star Seeds become incredibly important, so you’ll need to find a balance of selling items versus breaking them down for artifact cores when it comes to having enough resources to upgrade your items.

Let’s talk about the enhancement process for a minute shall we? The majority of your gear will start out either rank C or B and usually blue in rarity. If you spend Star Seeds and Artifact Cores, you can upgrade them from +1 to +5. From there, you can turn a +5 blue into a purple item, increasing its gear score with each upgrade. After it’s +5 at purple, you can then turn it yellow into a legendary and so on. Sound easy? Technically yes, but it’s going to cost you a fortune of resources, even if you're successful.

There are two different NPC’s you can use to upgrade your gear, the Common or Master Enhancers. Common costs much less resources to upgrade, but there’s a chance that your gear goes down a rank if it fails. So if you have a +5 item and fail 3 times in a row, you’re back down to a +2 item. The Master Enhancer doesn’t have this issue, but the flipside is that he costs an exorbitant amount more to do the upgrades. You can still fail the upgrade, and will often, but you won’t lose a ranking if utilizing the Master. Factor in that the percentages of success aren’t shown and failing numerous times in a row completely drains your Seeds and Cores, and you can see where people start to become frustrated. That being said, finally getting that upgrade to Legendary or Mythic is an amazing feeling and makes you forget the dozens of failed attempts previous.

Being F2P, I fully expected there to be a cash shop, and there is, but you can’t really buy power. Sure, you could spend money and then sell the items on the marketplace which in turn could be used to buy upgrades and boost your gear score, but it’s not all that practical to do so. The cash store mostly has cosmetic and convenience items, the most importantly being resurrection scrolls. These allow you to instantly revive yourself if needed rather than waiting for someone else to do so after a long prompt, which becomes near essential in the later dungeons. You could spend cash on more bag space or some fancy new costumes, but I’ve not felt much need to dump much cash into the game.

Because it is F2P and we were given a Founder’s Pack, I did purchase a Bless Pass. This is the equivalent to Battle Pass/Season Pass that other games use, especially Battle Royals. Everyone has the base tier of Bless rewards for doing specific objectives in game, but should you purchase a Bless Pass, you gain extra rewards, like costumes, gold, Star Seed boosters and more. Is it worth the purchase? That will come down to preference, but I’m glad I bought the inaugural pass to check it out.

I’ve been fully engrossed with Bless since its early access and launch. I’ve logged in every day, done all the content I can up until this point, and the game is still halting my progression in numerous ways. Gating is a way that developers ensure players don’t progress too quickly, usually to buy them time to add or change endgame content as everyone is leveling up and gaining gear. The first major gating players ran into was a large level gap from 17-20 where you simply ran out of quests, forcing you to grind mobs for minuscule XP so that you can progress. Next, dungeons require a certain gear score to queue up and get in, and if you go in with the bare minimum, you’re going to have a bad time, so much time and effort was spent into upgrading my gear.

Now, in the mid-30’s of levels, I’m gated from questing any further until I earn enough Prestige Marks by doing a series of quests that appear at random, and since I can’t be on the game 24/7, I sometimes miss and have to forego completing some of these. I’m already aware of what the next few methods of gating are going to be, so prepare for a repetitive grind of doing the same quests and bosses every day until you’re allowed to progress. I completely understand the need for an MMO to be a time sink and that you need to put in the time to receive the rewards, but this goes far beyond being reasonable at times.

The other major complaint I constantly deal with in Bless is its open world PVP. Once you reach around level 20 and venture further into the world of Lumios, essentially everywhere is a free for all PVP zone. Now, in the beginning there were no real restrictions with who could attack who, so you would have higher level players picking on lower ones, but some small improvements have been made in the last few patches. There are a few safe points in certain towns and soul pyres where you rest, and there’s a harsher penalty for these outlaws, but it still doesn’t change the fact that at some point, you’re almost forced to PVP, something I absolutely loath in games like this. There’s no dedicated PVP server as well, and I understand the intent was to make the world feel more lively, but when there’s little to no checks and balances for those that don’t want to participate, frustration comes in once again. Only recently they’ve made it where people can’t PVP in the big boss areas, as nefarious PVP players were killing everyone at the end of a battle with no recourse.

It’s not often that a MMO gets a dedicated and exclusive console launch, and I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but I’ve been hooked ever since that first day. There’s a laundry lists of issues I have with Bless, one that could write a lengthy article about on its own, but when it comes down to it, I’m still logging in every day to play with my friends, work on my quests and clear a few dungeons. Visually Bless is quite decent on an Xbox One X, with characters, environments and animations feeling current, and it’s clear it was designed for a console from the ground up with its ease of use for controller combat. Audio is decent as well, as many NPC’s are voiced, and even though you’ll hear the same combat sounds a million times throughout your adventure, it’s always impressive on a scale that MMO’s demand.

As an MMO, Bless Unleashed it perfectly serviceable, but those that want to make rapid progression are going to be sorely disappointed and frustrated with many of its draconic design choices. MMO’s are hard to review, as they are constantly evolving, being updated and changing with what the community and developers want. As of this point in time, I can certainly recommend giving Bless Unleashed a shot since I still find myself logging on every day, and given that it’s completely free to play, there’s no real reason not to. Be warned, as you’re in for a long and arduous grind if you stick with it, and it’s incredibly challenging when it comes to combat in the later dungeons, but I only expect Bless to improve in many facets in the future.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Roundguard

I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong. Case in point, I unfairly pre-judged Roundguard as a simple Peggle knockoff. To be fair, it’s hard to blame me, as when you see the screenshots and notice the peg board pachinko-style gameplay we’ve all played before, it’s easy to make assumptions. But I was wrong. Yes, it plays like Peggle at its core, but there’s enough variety and gameplay tweaks that it does feel like a different experience that Peggle made popular.

If by some miracle you’ve not seen or played Peggle before, it was a very popular game last generation where you were tasked with clearing pegs by shooting a pinball down a pegged board, watching it be pulled to the bottom of the board by gravity. It was very simplistic yet absolutely addictive. Developer Wonderbelly Games clearly has taken this addictive nature and made some minor tweaks to the core concept that actually changed the gameplay, arguably for the better. You wouldn’t think that adding a dungeon crawling element and roguelike gameplay to Peggle would work, but they’ve managed to pull it off for an entertaining adventure.

While there is a shoestring of a story element within Roundguard, revolving around you trying to save the king and recover his gold, let’s be honest; it’s nice that it’s included, but you won’t care about it when you simply want to shoot your ‘balls’ down the play field, trying to make it to the end of the dungeon. You only have one life though, indicated by a health bar, so this is where the rougelike element comes into play, as when you lose all your life you start all over again from the beginning of the dungeon.

In classic Peggle, the pegs on the board are just that, standard pegs, that disappear when you hit them with your ball. Roundguard changes this up and makes it fit the dungeon theme, so pegs can be health or mana orbs, poison, monsters, pots that smash open and drop gold or other items you’d find in a dungeon. Instead of a plain pinball to drop on the field, you’ll actually choose one of three heroes; a warrior, rogue or mage, each of which have their own starting stats and abilities based on their class. Warriors obviously have the most health where the rogue can use sneaky attacks against their enemies. Mana is used for your special class abilities, so when you run out, you’ll need to find some mana orb/pegs to hit to replenish.

Just like Peggle, you aim from your crossbow at the top of the screen, aiming at your target and then launching. In Peggle, once you launched your ball you would generally just wait until gravity does its thing and the ball reaches the bottom of the screen. In Roundguard, there’s a bit more ‘gameplay’ to it if you will. Once launched, you still won’t have direct control of your character as they bounce down the board, but with your abilities, you can choose when to use them, some of which will require some quick reflexes, planning and of course, luck.

In Peggle you simply had a ball counter that you needed to fulfil your objective before running out of balls. Roundguard however changes this up a bit. Instead of a ball counter, you have a health pool. When your health is depleted it’s game over. There are health pot pegs though placed randomly across the board, so sometimes you’ll need to forego hitting that monster to pass the stage, as doing so also hurts your character as well. And yes, when you attack a monster by hitting them, you take off a certain amount of their health pool, but they have an attack stat as well, and you’ll also receive damage for doing so. Even the bottom of the screen is filled with spikes, hurting you if you don’t land on the scrolling cushion that will spare you some damage at the end of a launch. Lose all your health and your run is over.

Just like a good dungeon crawler, you’re also going to find upgrades to your abilities, armor and weapons along the way as you make your way further down the dungeons stage to stage. These will be paramount as you make your way from stage to stage on the way to the bosses. When you do eventually die and have to restart, you’ll gain a bonus for your next run, hopefully making it an easier go the next time around. If you’re able to beat a handful of bosses and clear the dungeon completely, you’ll earn an ever important relic that is a permanent choice to toggle on or off, changing gameplay in different ways, like maybe having more health and mana pots on the board.

Dungeons are also randomized every time you play, not just the peg placements and other items, but even quests and bosses, so it doesn’t become stale as quickly as I expected. There’s also online leaderboards, so there’s plenty of competition to be had against your friends and other Rounguard-ers. The visuals are very cartoonish, there is some decent humor present and the music is basic but catchy. Obviously someone playing a genre like this isn’t playing it for its narrative, graphics or audio, but for its simple yet addictive gameplay.

I honestly expected Roundguard to be a simple Peggle re-skin, but came away very surprised that this wasn’t simply a 'shoot and wait' experience. On paper a roguelike dungeon crawling Peggle game shouldn’t really make sense or work, yet Roundguard has manages to give an exciting experience that is just as addictive as the game that the genre is best known for, and in some ways, surpasses it with its depth.

Overall Score: 8.2 / 10 Underhero

Every now and then there’s a game that comes along and really surprises me. Usually it’s some small indie game I’ve never heard about and just happens to fall into my lap. This was the case once again when I started playing Underhero. Having never seen anything for it previous to booting it up, I had no preconceived ideas of what to even expect. Sometimes going in this way is a real treat, as you’re experiencing a game for the first time almost shrouded in mystery, so you’re unsure what to expect.

I got lucky this time, as Underhero really impressed me, not only with its fantastic visuals and soundtrack, but its humor and gameplay were fun beginning to finish. At its core, Underhero plays almost like a mix of Paper Mario and a Metroidvania. You explore the world in 2D platforming but then have a unique battle system as well, all encompassed with an interesting story filled will laughs throughout.

We all know how the story goes, where the hero comes in to save the princess and defeat the big bad boss to save the world. That is no different here in the beginning. You start off as a legendary hero, max leveled and dawning the shiniest and best gear there is. How come no one ever thinks of the minions that try and halt the progression of these heroes? You ever wonder what these cannon fodder enemies do all day simply sitting and waiting in a room for a hero to arrive, only to die mere seconds later? This is the premise of Underhero.

You, the Underhero, were simply waiting for the hero to arrive so that you can try and stop him, which of course shouldn’t ever happen because, well, he’s the hero and heroes always prevail over evil. Underhero doesn’t follow this standard trope though, and by some miracle, you manage to actually kill the hero, and your two friends that were in the room with you as well. That’s right, a random minion finally killed the hero, something no one has been able to do before. And of course, since Underhero is filled with humor, you of course defeated him by dropping a chandelier on his head, crushing him.

The now flattened hero was carrying a magical hilt with him, and because you’ve just now become the protagonist, he must go with you now. Yes, the hilt speaks and actually convinces you to work against your evil boss and fulfill its destiny. Your boss, the big bag evil Mr. Stitches gets wind of what has happened and has not only promoted you in light of your massive achievement, but he also lets the captive princess go since she’s no longer needed. He has other plans for you though and sets you on a quest, one you must follow along with for the time being until you’re powerful enough to take Mr. Stitches on directly.

Dialogue is witty throughout and the thought of a simple henchman turned hero is funny in itself, as you now must complete the hero’s quest with your magical hilt guiding you along the way. Underhero is very self-aware and constantly breaks the fourth wall, as it had me laughing throughout. There’s even a butterfly that has two personalities and talks to, and argues, with himself. And don’t forget that when Taco Tuesday gets cut for budget reasons, people will forget the 30% pay cut.

2D sidescrolling is how you’ll explore the world, with slightly branching paths housing secrets and money, puzzles and more. The platforming itself isn’t terribly difficult, which I enjoyed, and the world can seem quite large when you piece together all of the scenes. While there are collectible bonuses, you don’t generally have to explore every inch or do all that much backtracking, which I also appreciated, as it always felt like I was making progress forward.

Between battles you’ll be talking to NPC’s, purchasing items from merchants or stores, or even get to partake in some of the interesting and odd minigames from time to time. These have you racing against bugs with wheels for feet, or maybe taking part in a trivia game show that tests if you’ve been paying attention and talking to people. These sections break up the pace a bit, which is welcome, as I didn’t expect Underhero to be nearly as long as it is.

Combat is the other major component to Underhero that I ended up enjoying more than I expected. Not really turn based, but kind of, combat utilizes a timing based system where if you attack during the musical beat in the background, you’ll gain a critical damage to that attack. There’s a stamina meter you need to keep track of, as if you deplete it, you’ll be unable to block or dodge for a short period of time.

Before battle begins you can actually talk to every enemy, as they may tell you some secret or other information you’d otherwise not have known. Battles too tough? Why not use your hard earned gold to bribe your way out of said battle then? Do you try and squeeze and extra attack in and hope the enemy doesn’t return the favor, or do you use your shield to try and block or parry with the last of your stamina? Land a dodge and your stamina replenishes much quicker, so there’s a balance of offense and defense you need to master as you progress.

You can use your sword for regular attacks, or hold it for a more powerful swipe. You have a hammer that takes a long time to wind up, but does huge damage. For ranged or flying enemies, you have a slingshot that you need to manually aim as well. Your shield can block or parry, but using it too frequently will cause it to break, meaning you’ll have to spend some cash to repair it. The combat eventually becomes quite skill and reaction based in the later levels but never feel unfair, and of course you earn experience points for winning, allowing you to level up and add bonuses to your stats.

Underhero has a fantastic visual aesthetic that screams retro pixel graphics. The animations are done wonderfully and the world and backdrops all vary and fit the tone of the scene you’re in. There’s a lot of small details thrown in if you take the time to look, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. The audio is just as good, with an original soundtrack composed by Stijn van Wakeren, someone that I’m not familiar with, but certainly enjoyed the musical bliss throughout.

There’s no doubt that Underhero was made with a lot of love, as it shows in nearly every aspect, not just its visuals and audio, but the clever writing and depth of the gameplay. While you’ve probably not heard of it, Underhero really is fantastic experience start to finish. While I normally love betting on the underdog, you’ll definitely want to bet on the Underhero.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 WARRIORS OROCHI 4 Ultimate

A Musou game is one where you’re put into an open map and simply need to hack and slash your way through hundreds of enemies. It’s not going to challenge you with puzzles or have an engaging narrative, but it’s mindless fun. The best known Musou games are most likely the Dynasty Warriors series. They’ve been around for about two decades and have more than a dozen different iterations and sequels over the years, so they’ve clearly gathered a following over all that time. While I’ve played a handful of them over the years, none of them really gathered my attention long term, as I found the gameplay to be quite repetitive and basic. With the new release of WARRIORS OROCHI 4 Ultimate, I was curious to see just how much the core gameplay has changed and evolved since the last time I picked up a Musou title. Turns out, not all that much.

What you usually look for in a Warriors game is killing near endless enemies with just a few simple button presses. WARRIORS OROCHI 4 Ultimate does this and more. With nearly 200 characters to choose from, all of which are unique in their own fighting styles and attacks, there’s a ton of content within to keep you busy for quite some time as long as you can deal with the monotony and repetitiveness of the mission structure that doesn’t seem to have changed all that much in the past decade.

Warriors games tend to have a grand story, and while there’s a lot of dialogue, they’ve never been able to hook me, this title included. While there are some quick tooltips that explain events of the previous game, there’s little done to catch you up on what’s happened thus far in the series. Maybe it’s the massive amount of characters that I found confusing, or that much of the story is given through dialogue before, after and during gameplay, but I just found it hard to follow who was who and most importantly, why.

This Ultimate edition adds a whole new chapter that takes place at the end of the regular WARRIORS OROCHI 4, which many fans felt like the original ending fell flat. Luckily this is remedied, but it’s still a slog to get through the campaign’s first couple chapters even if you’re trying to be quick about it. Given some more background and expanding on events that happened in the base game is a welcome bonus, but every story mission is going to be the same flow of running around, killing enemies and waiting for doors to open as characters talk to one another.

So if you’ve played WARRIORS OROCHI 4 already, you’re probably wondering if upgrading to the Ultimate Edition (purchasable separately for original owners) is worth it and what’s actually included. Turns out, quite a lot has been added in the Ultimate edition. First off, there’s a handful of new noteworthy characters to choose from: Gaia, Yang Jian, Achilles, Hades, Joan of Arc, and the one that had me most excited, Ryu Hayabusa. All of these characters are quite significant, so it’s great to see them finally included in Ultimate.

As noted above, you’ll get a new chapter that takes place after the original ending, expanding upon events and adding sub-scenarios to flesh out the story even further. Newly added are Infinity and Challenge modes as well. These add more missions and ways to grind and level your characters. Interestingly, you’re now able to swap Sacred Treasures out with other characters, allowing you to customize them even further, making for some unique combinations and strengthening your play style.

You’re also able to utilize a reincarnation system, allowing you to reset and re-level your characters with bonuses, much like prestige ranks in other games. Doing so for all characters will take some serious commitment, but for the hardcore and faithful, there’s something to strive towards. Some minor updates have gone into making the menus easier to navigate, especially when searching through the mass amount of characters. A good majority of the Ultimate add-on is meant for end game grinding and improving your characters and teams even further, but for a price.

For those that haven’t played a Warriors game before, you control a team of three characters that categorize into different class types. You begin with only a handful but will eventually have more than you’ll know what to do with. While I appreciate the massive amount of playable characters, it eventually gets to a point of being overwhelming, and even testing out each character is going to take some time, so prepare for some long gaming sessions if you want to get the most out of it.

The majority of the game can easily be beaten if you find a character you like and spam the same attacks repeatedly. What is new is the introduction of the Magic system, tied to which Sacred Treasure is equipped. In the beginning it allows you to cast a couple of different magical abilities, almost like a special move, but as you begin to understand the systems further, especially when many enemies start to become immune to regular attacks, it’s a welcome addition to the standard Musou formula that has become a little stale over time. There are even new additional Musou attacks that everyone gets, much like a super move, which is how you can wreak some real havoc in the thick of battle.

While the Warrior games have always had a lot of content, it’s always been very generic and repetitive. Sure, the core formula hasn’t changed much, but the additions that the Ultimate edition has added are some welcome changes overall. The main issue is that it feels as though all of these additions and changes should have simply been a game update, but instead, you are forced to pay for these ‘fixes’, and it’s not cheap either.

If you already own WARRIORS OROCHI 4, it will cost you over $50 CAD to upgrade to Ultimate over the base price of the game itself. To make matters worse, that doesn’t even include the Season Pass content either. Granted, WARRIORS OROCHI 4 Ultimate is priced like a regular new release, it’s really the original owners that get screwed over the most by the pricing. Factor in that most of the content is meant for post-game and grinding, it’s truly only the hardcore that are going to make the most use out of the additions.

For newcomers, WARRIORS OROCHI 4 Ultimate is easy to recommend if you simply want a mindless button masher, enjoy killing thousands of enemies with ease, don’t mind outdated graphics and repetitive missions and audio. There’s not much thinking involved unless you’re trying to follow along with the narrative and keep track of the insane amount of characters, but generally gamers that play Musou’s know what they are getting into. If you’ve ever played a Dynasty Warriors in the past, you’ll also know what you’re exactly signing up for, albeit with a ton more content this time around.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Edgar: Bokbok in Boulzac

I’m a big fan of games that have a lot of heart and that don’t take themselves too seriously. Edgar: Bokbok in Boulzac is one of those games. You’re Edgar, a whacky hermit that lives on the outskirts of town by their lonesome. Well, not totally alone, as he’s accompanied at all times by his trusty companion, a chicken named Precious. While the journey isn’t long, only lasting a couple hours at best, Edgar: Bokbok in Boulzac is an interesting game that focuses on narrative and has a great artistic style to it.

Edgar loves his squash, so much so that he farms his own on his land. Edgar’s worst nightmare comes true as his squash plantation becomes ruined by a batch of insects. To remedy this grave situation, he’s going to have to leave the confines of his home and venture into the nearby town in search for an extremely rare metal, Razidium. While he’s been a loner for many years and not used to socializing, he’s unable to find any Razidium but also starts to clue in that something strange is going on. With Precious by his side, Edgar sets out to figure out what’s going on, all in hopes to save his squash farm.

Gameplay for Edgar: Bokbok in Boulzac is quite simple. You simply maneuver Edgar around in the local town, talking to people and interacting with items. You have the ability to look at your inventory, but there’s no real need, as you’ll simply use the proper item when interacting with the correct object. That’s really all there is to it. You move Edgar around with the Left Stick, talking to the locals to find out more, eventually making progress as you go and uncovering secrets as you interact with the ‘A’ button. I expected there to be more puzzle elements included as well, but this really is narrative focused more than anything else.

What does cause some frustration is when you’re unsure what to do for the next step of progression. Sometimes you need to talk to someone to get an item or to get new information. Where the problem comes in is that there’s no quest guide or markers of what you’re supposed to do, where to go or whom to talk to. This results in you aimlessly wandering at times, simply interacting with every object and person you can to hopefully make it to the next step of the journey. Given how short the adventure is overall, this can be forgiven, as it’s an overall straightforward game more focused on the narrative, but having some guidance or indication of what to do next would have been very welcomed, especially when coming back after a while, unsure of what you were supposed to do.

I absolutely loved the artwork and tonality of the visuals, as it’s very colorful and simple. Character design is fun and dialogue is written well. The only lacking feature is that there are no voiceovers included. While I get that that’s a costly venture for a small indie game of this caliber, it would have added more flare to their personalities, though the background music is decent overall and never wore on me during the adventure.

While some of the puzzle solutions are a little obtuse at times, much of the progression will simply come from trial and error and talking to everyone you come across. Edgar: Bokbok in Boulzac never takes itself too seriously and contains a funny, strange and wacky story that’s worth the journey, even with the minor frustration. While I did expect it to have more humor, Edgar and Precious had enough moments that made me smile throughout, as it should for you as well, just wait for a decent sale though.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Project Starship

You could say I’m a shmup (shoot-em-up) connoisseur. Ever since the early days of gaming, I’ve always been drawn towards bullet hell shooters, otherwise known as Danmaku (which translates as a barrage of bullets). What makes these games addictive is trying to remember the insane bullet patterns while trying to avoid the hundreds of bullets on the screen at one time, so when a game like Project Starship does things slightly differently, it can be a little jarring at times.

Looking as if it was ripped right out from the late 80’s or early 90’s, Project Starship screams indie pet project with its very simplistic and pixelated visuals. This isn’t generally a bad thing, but it can appear very basic at times. That being said, you’ll see all the bullets on the screen while you fly your ship trying to avoid all the projectiles.

You take the role of Garret or Gwen, two different pilots that play the exact same, trying to save the world from evil. While they fundamentally play the same, it seems each can receive different power-ups, at least that’s how it appeared after my dozens of playthroughs. What makes Project Starship unique in the Danmaku genre though is that every run is procedurally generated. This means that you won’t necessarily be memorizing bullet patterns and enemy placements, as every run will be randomized and different. This on one hand forces you to adapt on the fly, but it is a complete crap shoot if you get lucky and have a good or terrible run because of the randomness.

While the core gameplay is like any other shmup with the screen being filled with dozens of bullets, especially on Hard mode where you’ll lose a life, or in this case, a shield, if the core of your ship gets hit. Great shmups have precise controls and you can make a clear distinction of the projectiles you need to avoid in relation to where your ship is. This is where Project Starship flounders a bit. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been hit by something I totally couldn’t see, either from behind me or elsewhere. In the later stages there’s so much going on, not just bullet barrages, that it can become confusing and cluttered on screen.

Of course, you’ll find power-ups randomly dropped from enemies as you destroy them. Some add additional bonuses like missiles or shields, others add an extra life or change your weapon type to something more powerful like shurikens or lasers. Yes, shurikens in space. There’s also an odd voice over that announces when you pick up any of these that seems out of place. This is all well and good, but again, because every run is randomly generated, you could have an amazing high score run one time, and the next, you’ll die before even challenging the first boss.

At certain times you’ll also encounter random sequences called Mad Events. These break up the standard gameplay and usually have you dodging bullet patterns or flying though narrow spaces for a short period before gameplay returns to normal. This is usually not a big deal, I swear there were times where it was unfair and seemed as if it was unbeatable without getting hit.

Normally in games like these you also have special bombs or something of the like that clears the screen of enemies for emergencies. This is included as well, kind of. There are special items you can pick up, but they are odd and not always effective. For example, one of these special items is literally called “TV Doesn’t Work”, and when used, causes a fake static to appear on screen for a few seconds where you’re unable to see anything, but also clearing enemies on the screen. Another has you dialing a phone, but I’m still unsure what this power-up actually does, if anything.

While the game is unique in its visuals and design, it’s quite basic. Funny enough, there’s an epilepsy warning at the beginning, and there’s so much flashing on the screen at times that I completely agree with these warnings. While not often, I did deal with some major slowdown in the later stages when things became hectic on screen, more so when playing Hard mode. You’re simply aiming for a high score, and sadly, there’s not even an online leaderboard to compare how you’ve done against your friends and others.

For around $5 you can experience an interesting Danmku game that is retro inspired but lacks replayability and features unless you want to constantly try and beat your own high score. With an online leaderboard I would have had more motivation to play long term, but you’ll even attain all the achievements in just a handful of runs.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Valfaris

I’m always a sucker for a game that brings back waves of nostalgia, reminding me of games I grew up with. Valfaris, now with an included Full Metal Mode, did just that, bringing me back to a time where pixel art games were hard as nails and didn’t hold your hand even the slightest. I enjoyed their previous game, Slain: Back From Hell, for many of the same reasons; amazing pixel art, a kick ass soundtrack and more than a fair share of challenging gameplay. If I had to make a direct comparison for its gameplay, it’s akin to a Contra or the classic Batman for NES.

You are Therion, born of a place called Valfaris, and as you are scouting the far reaches of space, it seems the lost Valfaris has reappeared, though now infested with a near endless horde of enemies and monsters. You’ll now return home to find out what has happened, but it won’t be any easy task, and you’ll die many times, as such is the case in games like this.

Therion begins with a simple gun and sword, but as he adventures further into the deeps of Valfaris he’ll uncover more savage weaponry to help him defeat his enemies. Full of gore, violence and metal, Valfaris is a love letter to old Contra style games where the difficulty was brutal but the gameplay was excellent.

You’ll have the classic 8 directional aiming, though at times I found it quite difficult to hit the exact angle or enemies I intended in the thick of battle. Your enemies start out basic and won’t pose much of a threat, but as you venture further, they become much more challenging, with plenty of bosses that will test your patience along the way. You’ll collect gems that can be hoarded, or used in specific spots as save points, replenishing your health and allowing you to swap out and upgrade your weapons. You’ll need to be strategic though, as some sections will be easier than others, so do you use them at each save point when you can, if you even scrounged up enough, or try and get one more checkpoint further and hold onto them for a little while longer?

Each new area you explore in Valfaris has its own mood and setting, each with its own unique traits, mood, visual style and quirks. One for example has you needing to kill a specific drone to get its pheromones to open certain doors, whereas another has you piloting an awesome skeleton mech that makes you feel like a complete badass.

While Valfaris released last holiday, the reason we’re covering it now is because of its newest update, aptly titled Full Metal Mode, adds new reasons to play if you’ve already mastered the game. This is essentially their take on New Game+ but with a ton of extra additions. For starters, you do begin with your collected arsenal and upgrades, but enemies are buffed slightly with increased health, attack and are much more aggressive; the same goes for bosses as well. There’s also new Destroyer Class weapon to seek out and Therion takes more damage this time around, so you’ll be challenged more than before. While the new Full Metal Mode is a great idea and addition, the core game itself is quite difficult, and I can only see the most hardcore of players getting to not only experience the new additions and challenge, but really appreciate it for its worth.

By far, Valfaris excels the most in its gorgeous pixel art visuals excellent metal soundtrack. There’s a ton of detail and animation in the pixel style, and I want to rock out every time Therion puts up the horns and head bangs when he attains a new weapon. Spearheading the amazing metal soundtrack is former Celtic Frost guitarist, Curt Victor Bryant. You constantly want to rock out and even dying for the hundredth time isn’t as frustrating as I expected, as I constantly had a great soundtrack to fall back on.

I wouldn’t usually categorize a game as ‘metal’, but that really is the best description for Valfaris. I’m not great at Valfaris, given its challenging and difficult gameplay, but I never really became discouraged with it to the point of an uninstall or great frustration. I’m slowly making progress and is an easy recommendation if you’re into challenging games with a retro look, feel and kick ass metal soundtrack.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Rugby 20

I’m married to a Kiwi, so I’m obligated to watch and like Rugby in our household, specifically the All Blacks. This isn’t against my will mind you, as I did fall in love with the team and sport after learning its many intricacies. Hell, I even own an All Blacks jersey, so you could say I’m a real fan. I even stayed up to watch the most recent World Cup as well, which is when I was curious as to why there hasn’t really been a great Rugby game that I’ve played before. There’s been a few here and there, but there really hasn’t been a standout in many years. This is where Rugby 20 hopes to cash in.

The problem with Rugby is that it’s a challenging sport to convert into a game, which is probably why there’s only been a couple of decent Rugby games in the past. Rugby 20 does a decent job overall, especially with its Tackles, Rucks, and Passing, but there’s also a handful of letdowns, like its terrible Kicking mechanics and lack of licensed teams.

While you can jump into quick play exhibition matches, sports games thrive on their career modes. At first, I thought Rugby 20 was lacking said mode, but as it turns out, Solo mode is where your traditional career-like gameplay begins. Here is where you’ll be spending most of your time, as you’ll create your team and earn currency to buy new card packs. That’s right, it’s essentially like FIFA’s Ultimate Team. As you earn new cards, you can build your team how you like, hopefully constantly upgrading your lesser ranked players with higher ones.

As you play more matches and win you’ll earn more currency, allowing you to buy bigger and better packs, but it’s a long arduous grind. I do wish I was able to play Solo with a real team, but alas, you’ll need to create one from scratch and work your way up the leagues. You do get to design the uniforms and logo, but it’s quite basic and there’s not a lot of options aside from colors and a few patterns.

As you begin, you’re only able to compete in two of the smaller leagues, but as you level up and play well, you’ll be able to enter into the higher leagues as well. Keep in mind, you can also be demoted to the lower leagues again should you start to lose again. You’ll also need to manage your team, healing injuries (this is hard hitting Rugby after all), improving player skills and more, but it’s very cumbersome how it needs to be done.

For starters, the prices are exorbitant to heal players, and when you need to constantly do so, it’s hard to keep up with the costs. It won’t let you play your next match if you have an injured member on your team, so you’ll need to unequip that players’ card if you can’t afford to heal them. This may mean that another player will have to take his spot on the team, even if it’s not the position they excel in, lowering their effectiveness. Eventually you’ll earn enough cards where you can swap in more than enough players on the fly, but it takes a long time to get to this point, even if you simulate a handful of matches.

Rugby 20 boasts a handful of different teams and leagues. You can compete in the Top 14, Pro D2, Gallagher Premiership and Pro 14 leagues, and international teams are included as well. While this is all welcome, the biggest letdown is that international teams are NOT licensed. This means I can play as a team that resembles my All Blacks, but it’s not them in appearance, logos, names or stats. The flip side to this is that the small leagues appear to be licensed, but I was really hoping to play as my favorite players from the team I wanted.

As noted above, Rugby is a difficult sport to translate into entertaining gameplay, usually due to its slow moments. Rugby 20 seems to have found a solution to this, as you’ll get to experience all stages of Rugby plays, from Rucks, Tackles, Passing, Kicking, Line-outs and of course, Scrums. While you’re on the pitch, you’ll need to assess the situations and tweak your strategies accordingly. You’ll be able to choose specific tactics and plays which makes for a more realistic Rugby experience overall.

By far, the highlight of Rugby 20’s gameplay is its Passing. Tossing the ball from side to side is seamless and simple to do with the Left and Right Bumpers. The longer you hold the button, the further you’ll toss the ball, trying to find that open space in the defense, aiming for those elusive Tries. Passing feels fluid, responsive and I was always able to quickly pass to whom I was trying to easily.

On the other side of gameplay, Kicking for goals is absolutely terrible. There’s a meter that you’ll need to pull down on the stick, then up, like in golf games, but you also need to aim in the direction you want somehow at the same time. Even after doing the training a number of times, I’m still unable to Kick where I want on command and opt to just give up.

Rucks happen constantly, and on the lower difficulties, you can essentially keep the ball in possession almost the whole game. Rucks also are simple to perform and transition into a Pass or Kick whenever you wish. Scrums are also quite simplistic, with a quick Quicktime event to start it off, then keeping your cursor over a moving target to indicate if you keep control and possession of the ball.

Rugby is certainly a dangerous sport, as you have massive men running and tackling into each other without any protective equipment. Tackles in Rugby 20 also feel authentic, as there’s a timing aspect that’s important, and successful attacks feel like they are hard hitting with some oomph behind them.

Multiplayer is included, local and online, though I suggest having friends come over or others that have also purchased the game, as I was unable to find a single match online every time I tried during my review period, so unfortunately I’m unable to speak upon the online quality and features of matches.

Visually, Rugby 20 isn’t going to impress in any way. The camera options are quite far back, though purposely so you can play more tactically, but close up shots of the players and areas aren’t anything pretty to look at. The animations on the other hand are quite decent and appear as if they were authentically motion captured. If my team was licensed I would be able to see the comparison to their real life counterparts, but we’ve already spoken about that letdown. As for the audio, the commentary is passable, but it doesn’t seem to flow realistically at times with audio clips that sound like it’s obviously spliced together.

Rugby 20 is certainly a passable experience for the sport, one of the better ones in previous years, but it doesn’t do much more that’s exciting. The lack of licensed teams was its biggest letdown, but those wanting an authentic Rugby experience really has no better option out there right now, even if it’s a moderate try at best.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Monster Energy Supercross - The Official Videogame 3

Since its inauguration, it seems that we’re going to get a yearly installment of the Monster Energy Supercross games. Now, if you’re a fan, you’ll no doubt be looking forward to the yearly titles, and now the third is finally upon us. Monster Energy Supercross: The Official Videogame 3 is just that, the defacto experience for the sport complete with an abundance of in-game advertising that makes you want to go buy a pallet of energy drinks. Given that the series has turned into a yearly outing, fans will obviously be eager to learn what’s new, and like most yearly franchises, there’s always a few small improvements, but is it enough for one more lap around the track?

With over a hundred riders, you’ll get to relive the 2019 season and even join the official teams across 450SX and 250SX within 15 official stadiums. While I don’t follow the sport, I’ve played my fair share of supercross games, so having authentic stadiums and being able to join the official teams is a cool detail that it has against the competition, as you can race with, and against, your favorite riders.

For the career mode itself, you’re essentially going from race to race, trying to place as best as you can. From time to time you’ll get to choose whether you want to race for a team or a sponsor, each with its own objectives and rewards. The better you place, the more you’ll earn, meaning you can purchase new gear to customize your character. Now and then you’ll get invitations to take place in a special race or event, but the career progression is as basic as it gets for the most part. Some variety would have been great to have to break up the monotony of simply racing back to back.

One of the biggest new additions is the option to create your racer in the beginning, but as a female if you wish. New ground and in-air physics are boasted to be new, giving you more control, as is new models and animations. For the models themselves, the faces still look lifeless and the hair awkward, but the animations do seem to be quite improved overall. Not only the riding motions, but the intro and podium sequences look smooth and realistic in their motions.

As for the new physics and controls, I’m still on the fence about how I feel about it. On one hand, you do feel like a pro racer when things go to plan, cutting tight corners, landing the perfect jump on a down slope, pulling off a perfectly horizontal scrub over a huge jump or nailing that holeshot before the first corner, but half the time you’ll spin out, land on an opponent’s head without any recourse, and lose a ton of momentum in the whoops sections when you don't gauge the amount of speed you need properly.

In general the controls feel decent, as you can shift your weight however you desire, on two wheels or in the air, but this only comes after a handful of hours of practice. The tutorial that is given is barebones as it gets, essentially teaching you how to lean and press the gas, leaving you to figure out the rest on your own. I really wish more care went into teaching how to holeshot better, setup yourself on jumps properly and banking into sharp turns. Yes, you’ll be able to aim where you want to go and step on the gas, but it’ll take time to master the smaller nuances to start to begin to win races, as it’s not always about going full pedal.

When you do eventually make a mistake and screw up, there is a handy rewind feature should you want to retry that corner or landing again, but you’re given bonuses for not using it. I almost always play racers in third person, but Monster Energy Supercross 3 feels like a much more authentic experience when played in first person, either showing your handlebars and fender, or even as if you’re wearing your helmet and looking out the visor as you would in real life.

Aside from your career mode where you’ll probably spend the majority of your time, you also can participate in championships, time attacks, single races and still be able to ride around your compound freely. There are even some challenges to complete in the compound for rewards and increasing your skills.

Track Editor is where you can create any tracks you could possibly think of. You’re able to upload your creations, download others and vote for the ones you like. That being said, people have figured out ways to create incredibly short tracks that give massive amounts of money and experience, whereas others have created some truly interesting and challenging tracks.

Multiplayer of course returns as well, and seems like it has a bigger emphasis this year with its dedicated servers. You can race in public lobbies, create private matches for your friends or even dictate the races that others will play as a Race Director. Here you can choose and edit nearly every option, like race settings, camera, penalties, starting positions and more. With a group of friends, Race Director mode could really be entertaining for everyone to play together with. You’re also able to hop into the compound with friends to free roam, checkpoint race or treasure hunt, so it’s clear that they want people playing online more and for longer with this year’s entry.

Monster Energy Supercross: The Official Videogame 3 adds a few new features this time around, though none make it feel like a drastically different game from the previous year(s). While it may just feel like another lap around the track, it is a slightly smoother go this time around.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Journey to the Savage Planet

Some people like being directed and hand held of where to go in games, others, they like to be thrown into a world and let loose to play however they wish. If you fall into the latter category and prefer freedom in how you play, then Journey to the Savage Planet might just be for you. If I had to directly compare to a single game, No Man’s Sky comes to mind, albeit with a much lighter and humorous tone, though you’re stuck on a single planet in Journey to the Savage Planet rather than giving you complete freedom in in the universe.

You are the newest recruit of Kindred Aerospace in the Pioneer Program. Kindred Aerospace proudly boasts that they are the 4th best interstellar exploration company, and you are tasked with determining if planet ARY-26 is suited for human life. Sure, you’re dropped onto a planet with no equipment, experience or plan, but hey, you get to have an adventure! The deep seeded humor is set from the opening moments and never lets up until the credits roll, making it a journey I enjoyed much more than expected. That, plus you can slap and kick any creature you see.

As you begin your journey, you’re given a few guides as to what you should be doing and how to control the basics, but after that, you’re essentially left to your own to discover and explore ARY-26 however you wish. At first, things may not seem as savage as the title suggests, as the first creatures you encounter seem quite harmless, and actually are quite adorable. As you venture further from your ship though, the environment and creatures start to become more dangerous the deeper you delve into the planet.

While you can freely explore, many areas will be locked away until you have the right equipment to traverse around, so there’s going to be a lot of backtracking and going to new areas once you have a grapple beam, able to double jump and more. This makes for some Metroidvania exploration, but you’re tasked with determining if the planet is habitable for humans, so you’ll also need to scan every flora and creature with your visor to add them to your database as well. Doing so will give you hints as to deal with certain threats or how to properly use specific plants for your benefit. For example, plants with large orange seeds can replenish health, others act like bombs and can blow up cracked walls, and scanning another specific plant will alert you that its poison can be used to melt hardened amber.

As you gain new equipment and upgrades, you’ll be able to delve further into ARY-26, and if you scour enough, you’ll also find ancient relics that act as teleportation devices so you can fast travel to specific points on the planet. Your ship is outfitted with the latest 3D printer capabilities, and this is not only how you craft your new upgrades when available and you’ve gathered the required amount of materials, but this is how you’ll come back to life once you die. Oh, and you will die, so it’s quite convenient that a replica of yourself is printed so you can get back to your adventure as soon as possible. When you do die though, all the resources you’ve gathered will be at your corpse, waiting for you to pick them up and deposit them back at your ship.

What excited me the most for Journey to the Savage Planet was that I was going to be able to play alongside a friend while exploring with the built in co-op. After doing so, I’m sad to report that the co-op features are as bare bones as it gets. First, you can only invite people from your friends list, so no random players or matchmaking, and you can’t even start playing until they’ve joined your lobby. Second, it seems you don’t share resources and only the host makes progress in their game. That’s right, if you’re the friend joining someone, you won’t keep anything you’ve earned to go into your own game; only the host keeps any progression. Why you would want to play as the friend joining other than to help, I’m not sure, but it was quite a letdown, as my friend didn’t want to waste his time if he wasn’t making progress as well.

Visually, Journey to the Savage Planet is gorgeous, as everything in the world is super bright and colorful. Creatures may not have a ton of variety, but the different versions of each is interesting, like the ones that wear hardened amber on their heads for armor. The boss fights are far and few in-between, but they are challenging and quite a sight to behold. There’s even a great photo mode included for those that want to take breathtaking snaps with some gorgeous vistas. As for the audio, the soundtrack is fitting for the mood and the voiceover work from the CEO of Kindred and the commercials is done wonderfully.

I enjoyed my time with Journey to the Savage Planet, not only for its simplistic gameplay and exploration of an interesting and beautiful planet, but especially for its humor. Even the way that you hold items in your left hand throughout is funny, as is every email and commercial you receive on your ship. Typhoon Studios has created something special in their very first outing as a developer, and while it may not be perfect, it sure was an interesting Journey to the Savage Planet.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Without Escape: Console Edition

There used to be a time where point and click adventures were all the rage. Back in the early days of gaming, certain games like Myst were some of the most popular games around. But as technology grew, the genre seemed to pretty much die out save for a few odd titles here and there. As the saying goes, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again”, and developer Bumpy Trail Games has taken this to heart with their release, Without Escape. Harking back to an age of gaming that’s almost been long forgotten, Without Escape feels like it’s ripped straight from the 90’s with its first person graphic adventure, pre-rendered backgrounds and FMV cutscenes.

Do you remember when you were younger, when staying at home all alone at night might have made you nervous? Any small noise you heard got your imagination going full speed. Were you the type to hide under the blankets, or go to investigate? Given that hiding under the blankets would probably make for a dull game, this is how Without Escape begins, with you waking up in the middle of the night after hearing an odd noise.

As you awake just before 3AM, you notice a piece of paper beside on your dresser beside the bed. It has a phone number written on it that you don’t recognize, and thus begins your adventure and uncertainty. As you begin to explore your home, you notice odd symbols and other things that don’t make any sense, such as locked doors and finding hidden keys throughout. Where do these keys take you? Click on enough doors and objects and you’ll eventually figure out.

If you’re too young to have played a classic point and click adventure, or it’s been a long period of time since doing so, gameplay is summed up by looking at a pre-rendered screen, in this case, many different rooms of the house you’re in, and you have your cursor that you can move around, clicking objects to interact with them or to move to different scenes. There’s a cheesy film grain toggled on by default, but thankfully you can disable it in the options.

Some objects are obvious, like paintings, clocks, phones and such, but sometimes you’ll need to pixel hunt (essentially moving the cursor everywhere on a scene to find the clickable area) to find an object you might not even know you’re looking for. One item in particular had me looking up online what I was supposed to do to solve the current puzzle I was on. My main issue with the puzzles is that some of them are really obtuse. Why are you finding keys or switches in the weirdest places? And one puzzle in particular forces you to google something online unless you happen to know your periodic table of elements. With no combat or timed puzzles, you can take it at a leisurely pace.

As you click on objects, you may obtain certain items, such as a key for example, which will automatically be put into your inventory. You have the ability to look at your inventory of currently held items, but I’m not sure why, as they will be used automatically if you have it on hand and click the right door or object. Thankfully this means that there’s no trial and error testing every object with every item you’re currently carrying.

As you progress, things take a more supernatural turn. I don’t want to spoil anything simply because the gameplay is short; extremely short. In fact, it’s taken me much longer to write this review than finishing Without Escape itself. If you really wanted, you could follow a walkthrough online and be done in less than ten minutes. Yes, it can be that short if you wish. For achievement hunters, this is great, but if you’re looking for a long term puzzler, this isn’t the experience you’re hoping for. That being said, there are multiple endings for those that do want to see and experience all that Without Escape has to offer. My personal favorite moments in the short journey were the classic FMV cutscenes, and even though they only last a few seconds each, it definitely brought back some nostalgia.

While the genre may not be around much anymore, it’s always fun to play one again, as it brings me back to my early gaming days. While many might find a point and click adventure like this mundane and basic, it’s a widow into the past, showing how far gaming has come in such a short period of time. While some might find the length disappointing, it’s at least priced to match at just a few bucks. If you’re not a master at puzzle games, you might get an hour or so of gameplay out of it, but for most others, Without Escape will easily be beaten in a single sitting.

Overall Score: 5.5 / 10 Dragon Sinker: Descendants of Legend

I’ve played quite a handful of KEMCO games over the past while, as they have a massive catalogue of mobile games that they’ve been constantly porting over to Xbox One for classic RPG fans to enjoy. The newest entry, Dragon Sinker: Descendants of Legend took me a little bit by surprise. To be completely honest, many of the KEMCO titles are very similar to one another. It’s clear they have a template and formula that’s been working for them for quite some time, and after you’ve played a handful of them, you start to see many of the similarities. Yes, Dragon Sinker feels like many other KEMCO JRPG’s, but this one actually hooked me and had me playing even after I was done the main story.

If you’re as seasoned as I am, then you’ll have fond memories of classic 8-bit RPG’s such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and more from decades ago. If you grew up loving these types of games, or even have a soft spot for them now, then you’ll be happy to know that Dragon Sinker plays much like a love letter to those classics, albeit with its own modern spin on a few things. So if you’ve been craving some classic 8-bit RPG nostalgia, buckle in, as Dragon Sinker will scratch that itch.

For how much I enjoyed its gameplay, the plot is as cliché and predictable as it gets. The evil dragon Wyrmvarg demands a sacrifice from the human kingdom yearly, of which the human King has been compliant. Unbeknownst to Prince Abram though, he sets off to go defeat Wyrmvarg and fails, only infuriating the dragon further. Now to defeat Wyrmvarg, Prince Abram is going to have to scour the continent in search of three legendary weapons; the only ones known to have defeated him ages before.

Doing so won’t be easy though, as Humans, Elves and Dwarves no longer get along and have animosity towards one another. Along the way you’ll just so happen to befriend an Elf and Dwarf, gathering other followers during your journey as well. So while the overall narrative is a dated and overused trope, and the writing is passible at best, I still wanted to stick with it until the credits rolled and I saw one of the numerous endings.

You’ll have your typical setup where you’ll follow the main quest from town to town, exploring a dungeon and defeating its boss, gaining upgraded equipment before moving onto the next. There are a handful of optional side quests that you can partake in, usually asking you to revisit an older area or dungeon, though the majority of the rewards generally never felt worthwhile, aside from the quests where someone new would join your party.

Progression is generally very linear, with the overworld map having sign posts of where to head next and most other pathways blocked off. The same goes for dungeons, as any dead ends generally have a treasure chest, but you never veer too far from the main path. In these dungeons you’ll come across two or three pentagrams on the floor, allowing you to quickly teleport to any of the others you’ve activated in the same dungeon. Lastly, if you plan on completing the optional side quests, you’ll want to spend some gold and invest in a handful of Rainbow Feathers, as these are the items to fast travel to any main town or area you’ve previously been to.

At each new town you’ll have access to purchase new weapons and armor for your three main characters, and if you’ve grinded enough battles along the way, you’ll generally always have enough to afford the top tier equipment at the time. Your journey should take roughly 10-15 hours depending on the difficulty you choose, whereas I got my first ending at just about 8 or so hours in without too much extra grinding. That being said, there’s a lot to do post game if you wish, especially an optional boss that you’ll need to massively grind to even stand a chance against, so there’s plenty of gameplay within should you want.

You’ll face against your typical fair of slimes, goblins, wurms, birds and more. There’s really not a lot of variety of enemies, and harder versions are either pallet swapped or enlarged, indicating they are much stronger. While I do wish there was much more of an enemy assortment, the 8-bit visuals are done great and you’d be hard pressed to tell if this was released recently or back in the 80’s for the most part.

The party system was something I found interesting, though completely useless. You’re able to create 3 parties of 4 players each, for a total of 12 that can be used or swapped to at any time in battle. Abram leads one team, Mia another, and lastly, Bowen the third. Each of these leaders are permanently alongside you to the end, but each can also have 3 other minor characters in their party as well that can be freely swapped out whenever you choose.

The idea of this 3 party system is that you can create three separate types of parties, then swap them interchangeably whenever needed in battle. In theory this works, as I don’t see why not, but I simply balanced my main group, Abram’s, with a tank, healer and damage classes. I actually never swapped out to the other two groups ever aside from trying it out. Factor in that there’s more than a dozen different jobs, of which the appearance of each character will change to suit, and you can create some interesting party combinations.

When one of the minor characters max out their job, usually at level 10, they can switch to another, granting one of your 3 main characters a special bonus ability they can learn, so it pays to level many of them up. Thankfully, all of your 12 used characters will gain experience and job points for winning battles, even if they aren’t technically ‘tagged’ into a battle. Once you find a few class abilities that mesh and work well together, you’ll eventually become unstoppable if you plan out your attacks accordingly.

What surprised me the most though was when I realized there was a lottery system included within. Here you can spend lottery tickets for a chance at some amazing prizes, though you’ll also earn a different currency during regular gameplay that allows for lottery entries with better prizes. While the majority of the time you’ll simply earn some decent items, I got very lucky early on and won a special pet character that was usable in my party and some insanely overpowered gear. This gear actually lasted me to the very end of the game and my pet was by far the strongest of my 12 for quite some time. Thankfully you’re not able to spend real money in this lottery gimmick, though being a KEMCO title, there are some extra DLC’s you can purchase such as double experience points, faster walking, no enemy encounters and other helpful bonuses should you wish.

While it’s obvious at times that this was originally a mobile game that’s been ported, given its extremely repetitive background music and uninspired enemy variety, I still enjoyed the gameplay enough to stick with it to the end. The writing has some humor to it, but is cliché and predictable as can be. Even so, for whatever reason, this has easily been my favorite KEMCO title to date, even if it feels like I’ve already experienced much like it before.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Pathologic 2

I’ve never really played anything quite like Pathologic 2 before. While I’ve not played the first, the setting and plot of the sequel really intrigued me. When you think of horror games, you usually think of killers, blood and jump scares. Pathologic 2 does the genre quite differently though, as its “horror” is more based on a depressing and dying world around you as a plague sets in, one that you’re not immune from. While the world sucks you into its narrative, it’s very rough around the edges, making it hard to stay immersed in this decaying and desperate world.

You begin as Artemy Burakh, also referred to as Haruspex, a doctor whom has been away from his village for many years to complete his medical training. One day he receives a letter from his father, pleading for him to return home as there’s something he needs to help with urgently. You hitch a ride on a train only to be greeted by another stowaway that emerges from a coffin. This is where the weirdness begins to set in.

You start having visions, but they seem so real; are they actually visions? You are attacked as you exit the train, so in self-defense, you end up murdering the three assailants. You arrive back in your village, only to find out your father has been murdered, but how, by whom and why? There are mime-like creatures, plague doctors and other odd characters you'll meet in this remote rural village. These are only some of the questions you’ll need to solve, but there’s a much bigger threat that’s consuming everything in its path; a plague.

This deadly outbreak starts out as a small nuisance, but now that you’re the only healer in town, people will want your help as well. But no one is immune, including yourself. Is self-preservation more important than saving others? Because this small village is so secluded, food, medicine and even water are resources in high demand, but low in supply.

You’ll need to constantly manage your own thirst, hunger, exhaustion and stamina, but what if a group of kids are starving and ask for help? Do you help them instead of hoarding your supplies for yourself? What if bottling someone’s blood could save others but turn people hostile against you? These are just some of the situations you’ll come across during your unfolding journey full of suffering and death. It quickly becomes apparent that you can’t save everyone, oh, and you only have 12 days to do so.

12 days isn’t a lot of time to save yourself and a town from a deadly plague, so there’s no time to waste. Time is your biggest enemy, as you’ll need to determine what to do with your time, who to help and who to ignore, as you simply won't be able to help and save everyone. While you’re given a map of the town and markers of quests you’re currently on, you’re completely left open to play however you wish. You’ll talk to a number of characters, each with their own personalities and backgrounds.

Some simply want help, whereas others will have their real motives hidden. There are usually numerous dialogue choices for each conversation, of which you can choose however you wish to respond, affecting the outcome of that relationship. It’s not as simple as good versus bad choices though, as there’s going to be a lot of morally gray area, and what you do to help one person may upset others or even hinder yourself.

The hardest aspect for me to become accustomed to in Pathologic 2 was its survival elements. This is where you’ll need to manage your hunger, thirst, exhaustion, stamina and more. This is a small village, so finding resources isn’t as simple as checking every canister and shelf. I personally really dislike games where I need to worry about aspects like this, but in this setting where the world is succumbing to a plague, it’s eerily fitting. Thankfully there are a ton of settings in the options that can be adjusted, like how hungry and thirsty you become, the quickness of exhaustion and much more. At nearly every point when adjusting these values though the game tries to remind you that Pathologic 2 is meant to be challenge and you’re meant to die, so tinkering these parameters changes the intended difficulty, but you’re certainly welcome to do so if you wish.

You might find more than enough food and water during your first day or two, but resources diminish as time passes. What do you do for water when the water supply becomes tainted? If you steal food from someone’s house that was infected, do you risk eating it? Would you trade your only gun and bullets for a simple drink? It’s not too harsh in the beginning, but as days pass and people die, your situation becomes ever more desperate. This is where the ‘horror’ element starts to sink in, as you won’t always know what the best course of action is or should be when you and others start to become fraught.

This is where the high difficulty starts to kick in. 12 days seems like a lot in the beginning, but time becomes much harder to manage as you progress. Certain quests are only available at certain times, or maybe you absolutely have to complete one before another event happens. You’ll never know for certain what’s going to happen beforehand, so every decision you make through dialogue and choices affect other outcomes as well. Some will really enjoy this difficulty and challenge, whereas others will find it hard to even sit through the first day of gameplay.

Sometimes you’ll need to defend yourself, and in the beginning, this is done with your fists. Hand to hand combat is how you’ll experience most combat in Pathologic 2, as you will eventually gain access to a pistol, but bullets are a rare commodity just like food and water. Fighting in Pathologic 2 is, simply put, horrendous, most likely due to playing in first person view. You can punch, charge an attack to break an opponent’s guard and block, but it feels so janky and never rewarding.

Even after a handful of hours, I was still losing fist fights quite often; it simply doesn’t work well, and if you’re fighting off more than one opponent, you’re sure to lose. At one point I was hated so badly in town that everyone basically tried to kill me on sight, though to be fair, that was my fault for harvesting organs from someone I defeated earlier. I knew I was going to lose a fight to four thugs, so I ran away, but they found me and knocked me out. Turns out I respawned right beside where I died and they were still in the area, so they instantly started attacking me again. I was basically in a death loop where they were spawn camping me until I was able to flail about in combat and eventually defeat them between deaths.

If you purchase the bundle with the included DLC or separately, The Marble Nest, this puts you into the shoes of a different doctor also trying to save the town from the deadly plague as well, but in a much more self-contained story that only lasts for a single day. It’s an interesting DLC that shows a different perspective to the overall narrative, adding some more gameplay for those that enjoy the overall narrative.

Most of the audio is quite decent. Some of the soundtrack is perfectly fitting for a plague backdrop and when voiceover is used, the performances are quite decent. The only issue I had was that many one-liners are used, especially when it comes to combat, and I really wish all of the dialogue was voiced, not just a few lines here and there. Graphically, Pathologic 2 does look quite dated, especially when it comes to the combat animations and bland backdrops, but the world is so dark and grim and the character models in conversations quite decent, so it gets a pass at best.

The world and narrative does a great job of immersing you into a bleak and desperate world, only to be constantly taken out by long loading times, pop-in textures and terrible combat. While I wasn’t a fan of the survival elements, those that enjoy their challenging games should thrive with the difficulty. You can’t save everyone, sometimes not even yourself, but Pathologic 2 surely is an experience unlike any other, for better and worse.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Fishing: Barents Sea Complete Edition

At one point I was tuning into Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel at its peak. Something about that unique career path made for some entertaining viewing every week. Of course, I also imagined what that job would be like day to day. Now, with Fishing: Barents Sea Complete Edition, I can get an idea of what the day to day might actually look like, and it’s tedious.

I will say, when I first played a Farm Sim title and the like, I was very skeptical as to why anyone would find that type of gameplay entertaining, but after delving into a handful of titles, I now get it, not making the same mistake this time around. Yes, this is a slow paced simulator, but there’s an audience for nearly everything, and if being a commercial fisherman peaks your interest even slightly, then you’ve come to the right place, as Barents Sea has some depth to it.

Having released on PC long ago, this complete edition now finally makes its way to console, including both of the DLC’s that previously released for the original game. The first, Line and Net Ships, added 5 new vessels to captain, and King Crab added, well, you guessed it, crab fishing. Both are included along with the base game now that it’s been released on console.

You’re given a fairly small fishing vessel and are set on your own in the Norwegian Sea, searching for prized fishing grounds and the start of your lucrative career. Your initial boat is very small, can’t hold much fish and is excruciatingly slow, but you have to start somewhere right? You’ll begin small, catching a single line or two at a time, eventually working your way up to bigger and better vessels where you can also hire a crew and upgrade your ships.

Once you learn the very basics, you’re essentially left to your own in a huge open map. You’re given a large circumference area where you can see fish density and population, but like other games, you’ll need to actually venture out into the greyed out parts of the map if you want to see underneath its ‘fog’. Obviously, after you’re able to afford the better boats, exploration and fishing will come faster, and with a handful of different boats, there’s plenty to work and strive towards.

Given that you’re a commercial fisherman, don’t expect to grab any fishing rods. Instead, you’ll fish with various methods such as long-line, trawl and net, each of which has its own style, method and controls, each of which is simple to learn, but to master and gain the most bonuses will take some time. My only complaint is that the controls for the menus themselves is very awkward and cumbersome, having you tap directions on the D-Pad numerous times to select the option you want.

If you’re a fishing buff you’ll be happy to know that there’s officially licensed equipment too from Scanmar and TrawlEye. While most will probably not know this equipment or brands, those that do should find the authenticity that much more accurate. As you raise your bankroll, you’ll be able to customize your boats with upgrades, not just to your engine to be quicker and more reliable, but to expand your storage containers and more across your whole vessel. The better your equipment, the better and bigger your catches will be, so it pays to invest when thinking long term.

As you sail across to the Barents Sea, you’ll need to periodically dock at one of the harbors to repair your boat, offload and sell your catch, upgrade your boat, refill your supplies, hire staff, take out a loan and more. As you sail you’ll deal with different weather, seasons and even day and night cycles, all of which affect fishing spots and patterns.

Sailing times can be excruciatingly slow, especially in your first boat. Thankfully, you can set waypoints in any area that’s been previously explored and doesn’t have the ‘fog’ on the map, which you can then fast forward time as it does all the traveling for you in mere seconds. While this is handy, as time will fast forward in real time too, you can only skip ahead time manually when you’re docked, not on the open water. Keep in mind, traveling around uses your fuel, which costs money, so you’ll need to figure out how you want to pass time when you’re waiting for your lines to soak and attract more fish. I just wish there was a way to pass time quicker on the actual boat itself, but at this point, there is not a way to do so.

I fully expected there to be a sandbox mode like in other Sim games, where you’re given an unlimited, or at least obscene, amount of money and can just freely play with whatever equipment you want. I didn’t find that here, meaning you’re going to need to grind and work for that money if you want to try out all the ships, equipment and upgrades. Also, if this had a multiplayer mode, I would have really enjoyed fishing alongside with a friend or two, cooperatively or competitively.

Yes, Fishing: Barents Sea Complete Edition is going to cater to a very niche and specific audience, but just like Farm Sim and others alike, those that do enjoy this time of super realistic gameplay that most will find mundane, will surely enjoy the attention to detail and authentic representation. While I’m not the specific audience for a title like this, I can appreciate the work that goes into trying to show an accurate depiction of such an interesting and unique career.

Sometimes you need a break from all the shooters and action games. This is where Fishing: Barents Sea Complete Edition comes in; when you just want to sit back, sail your boat across some open water and commercially catch some fish for some profit. Just be prepared to sink a ton of time into it if you want to make any real progress.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Dead End Job

Everyone’s most likely had a dead end job at some point in their life. You know, the one you know isn’t really a career and you hate getting up for in the morning, but it pays the bills, so you stay. That’s the case here too with Dead End Job, a game that has you controlling a Ghostbuster of sorts, without all of that trademark infringement of course. A twin-stick shooter at its core, you’ll be shooting and vacuuming up ghosts non-stop in this whacky adventure where you’re stuck in a dead end job.

You play as Hector Plasm, tasked with clearing out all of the unwanted ghosts and ghouls from a number of different places. You’re equipped with a plasma gun and a vacuum and will need to exterminate and clear out business offices, parks and more. Your mentor has died though, and you need to get her soul back, but only have 30 days to do so. Each day you take a job to earn money, and to ‘win’, you’ll need to earn enough money, but doing so won’t be as simple as it sounds. It’s a silly premise, but given the artistic style and gameplay, it melds well together.

As you begin your ghost busting career, you’ll only have access to the Business District. Here is where you’ll be clearing out ghosts in office buildings, complete with furniture, shelves and photocopiers getting in your way. As you complete jobs and earn cash you’ll eventually unlock the other areas at certain goals, offering more challenge but more rewards as well. The main goal is to earn cash so you can have a chance at the final boss, but every time you die, you’re demoted and lose any perks you’ve gained along the way.

Every level and room is procedurally generated, so no two plays will ever be the same. While each room isn’t terribly large, at least there is some variety, as you’re going to die a lot and repeat levels many times in this roguelike. To complete a job, Hector will need to rescue a certain amount of civilians before making it to the exit. As you enter each new room, ghosts will randomly appear, and while every room isn’t forcing you to clear it, this is how you’ll earn extra cash and experience to level up.

To defeat ghosts, Hector needs to use his plasma gun to whittle down their health, and once depleted, you use your vacuum to suck them up and collect the cash. Once all the ghosts in a room are defeated that room is now cleared and won’t respawn. In the rooms where the civilians are being held, you’ll usually have to fight a handful of more challenging ghosts before moving on from these locked rooms. If you have a buddy over and wants to play as well, there’s asymmetrical drop in/out gameplay included as well, which makes for a much better overall experience, though I wish there was online co-op support.

While the core gameplay is simple with the twin-stick setup, you'll be moving with the Left Stick and shoot in any direction with the Right. Vacuuming up ghosts is done with the Left Trigger and any items you pick up can be used with the Bumpers. It’s a simple setup and works for the gameplay. You’ll have a tricky time though, as ghosts can wander and shoot through objects, they are ghosts after all, but you must adhere to the laws of physics and avoid tables, desks, trees and other objects. Photocopiers for example will blow up if you shoot them enough, causing you harm if you’re too close, but will also sometimes dish out cash or items. Also, your blaster has a heat meter, so you’ll need to manage your firing and vacuuming so you don’t overheat, left unable to use your blaster for a short time.

To earn extra cash you’ll also be given a list of optional objectives. Most of these are things you’ll already do, like clear a certain amount of jobs, use X amount of items, defeat a number of ghosts, etc, and will help you reach your cash goals faster. You’ll sometimes also earn tickets that can be redeemed to unlock concept art as well, which is a little bonus for those that like that kind of thing. My only complaint with this is that these optional objectives don’t automatically complete themselves, meaning you need to go into the menu and claim the rewards before you’re given a new sub-quest to replace it.

As you defeat ghosts you’ll also earn experience for doing so. Fill up the meter beside your character and you’ll level up. Each time you do so you’re given a promotion with a funny title and get to pick one perk to make gameplay that much easier, such as faster shooting, better blaster cooldown, show where hostages are on the map and more. The problem is that since Dead End Job is a roguelike, you’re going to die a lot, and when you do, you’re demoted and lose all of your perks that you’ve earned to that point. This means that every time you die, you’ll need to work your way up the ranks and earn those helpful bonuses all over again. Trying to do the harder stages with no perks isn’t generally going to end up going your way, so you might need to do a few of the easier levels first, though keep in mind you need to earn a certain amount of money before the 30 days is up as your overall goal.

There’s also around 100 random items to find along the way, ranging from super blasters, bomb-like throwables, disco balls, food for health and much more. While most of these are very helpful, some are power-downs, like making you maneuver super slow or slide like you’re on ice. The main problem is that I know what certain items do by their icon, like food, but others will be a complete random guess, as nothing is said anywhere what it’s called or what it does until you use it. When you’re in the thick of things and trying to defeat a hard ghost, you might inadvertently cause yourself to die by using a terrible item by accident.

For those streamers out there, there’s also interactivity included for Twitch and Mixer. Here you can toggle your viewers to be able to choose your power-ups, or downs, for you; a nice touch for those that stream a lot and want another form of interacting with their audience.

Visually, Dead End Job looks like a weird cartoon or a flash game you’d play on the old Newgrounds site. It’s very colorful and contains a bunch of humor, especially the very clever and catchy opening theme song. Factor in that the music is done by Will Morton of Grand Theft auto fame, and you’ve got a fun adventure in short bursts that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

If you’re a twin-stick or roguelike fan, Dead End Job is worth a look, even if it’s not perfect and does suffer from repetitiveness quite quickly. While I enjoyed my time with Hector busting ghosts, it’s a fun little title to play on a long weekend with its variety of enemies, items and levels. A completely serviceable title that fans should be able to sink a few hours into before moving on from their dead end job.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Blacksad: Under the Skin

From the moment I saw the first trailer for Blacksad: Under the Skin, I knew that I was immediately interested in delving into its dark and gritty world. Based on the comic that released in 2000, Blacksad takes place in 1950’s New York with you as the titular detective, John Blacksad. What makes this world unique though is that it’s actually filled with anthropomorphic animals, meaning that instead of humans, each character is a different type of animal but with human traits and qualities. Blacksad is a cat, and with that comes his heightened senses of smell, vision and hearing, something you’ll use to your advantage many times throughout this murder mystery.

While it’s set in the same world as the original comic, it’s a whole new story for Blacksad to partake in, so longtime fans will be happy to know that it’s not simply a retelling. If you’re a fan of Telltale adventure games where you get to navigate dialogue however you wish, or dark L.A. Noire style detective games, you’ll surely enjoy your time with Blacksad as he tries to solve a murder and missing person case that falls into his lap.

Boxing gym owner Joe Dunn is found dead, hanging from his apparent attempted suicide when the cleaning lady arrives early in the morning for work, calling the police to her finding. Bobby Yale, his star student that has his most important fight in his career about to come up has also gone missing, this sets the tone right away about a dark and gritty mystery that will have Blacksad search the bowels of the city for answers, wading through shady characters, corruption and more ugliness that he expected to find.

Sonia Dunn, Joe’s daughter, takes over the gym and hires Blacksad to investigate. While she wants to know why her father apparently committed suicide, she seems more concerned with finding Bobby, as his big fight coming up is the only way they are going to be able to afford to keep the gym open. Everything is not as it seems though, and Blacksad starts to go down a rabbit hole that he never expected, filled with more corruption and evil than initially thought. It’s a great story filled with lots of twists and turns, as I wanted to keep playing until its conclusion.

Even with its anthropomorphic characters, the setting of Blacksad is fantastic, as you get sucked into its world almost immediately with its 50’s noir backdrop and breadth of varied and interesting characters, some of which comic fans will recognize as well. As for its core gameplay, this is a detective game, so the majority of your time will be searching areas for clues, deducting said clues and how they fit together, quick time events (QTE’s) and of course, questioning people with many dialogue options.

Much like a Telltale game, much of Blacksad is dialogue heavy, allowing you to react and choose your questions and answers. Sometimes you’ll have a good amount of time to choose your responses, others will need to be snap reactions, not allowing you to overthink every situation and outcome. That being said, there are some wrong answers, in the sense that you’ll be greeted with a death or a game over screen, though you can quickly retry until you find the ‘correct’ dialogue path.

Much of the time you’ll be in a scene, wandering around for clues and objects. These sets are generally designed well, but Blacksad walks at a snail’s pace, so it can be a little frustrating at times when you simply want him to hurry up. The poor camera angles at times don’t help matters either, and when you are near an object of interest, an ‘A’ button will appear, allowing you to interact, but sometimes you’ll need to be exactly on top or beside the object which can sometimes be tricky.

Blacksad is a detective, so naturally he’s curious and wants to ask everyone questions. How you ask, what you ask, or more importantly, what you choose to ignore, will shape his personality and ultimately, which of the multiple endings you receive. Relationships can completely change an outcome of certain situations, as I chose to hide that one of Blacksad's clients was cheating on his wife, from his wife, in turn for a favor, one that I redeemed much later in the story. Of course, Blacksad’s morality wasn’t as high as it could be and that situation could have played out completely different based on which choices you make. You can even choose to be silent in situations as well, which is viable, and sometimes necessary, in certain situations.

Once you do question people and find clues you’ll then need to piece together these small pieces to draw specific conclusions. This system will allow Blacksad to conclude new theories and answers. Doing so is simple, as you’re choosing two or three clues, and if they go together and ‘match’, then Blacksad will deduct what it actually means, allowing you to progress further in the story. This is heavily relied upon in the later sections when you’re finally putting together all of the pieces and clues, but there’s no penalty for pairing the wrong clues, as it will simply reset your choices until you choose the right pairings.

Given that Blacksad is a cat, he’s going to rely on his senses at times as well. Your feline abilities allow you to utilize your superior hearing, smell and sight at certain times. For example, when you’re interrogating someone, you could listen for their heartbeat and see if it’s beating quickly, usually indicating that they are lying. Maybe you’ll quickly glance at a piece of jewelry they’re wearing, allowing you to deduct that they belong to a certain shady gang, opening up other dialogue options. While it’s not used a lot during the course of Blacksad’s investigation, and while there’s no way to fail these sections, it’s an interesting addition that plays into the animal characteristics of the characters themselves.

Blacksad’s world completely engulfs you into its dark and seedy roots. The 50’s noir detective backdrop is wonderful and completely believable with its varied and interesting characters. It looks as if Blacksad and the backdrop has been taken directly from the comic and the 50’s jazz-like soundtrack simply enhances the immersion and believability of the world. The majority of the voice acting is done exceptionally well, especially Barry Johnson who did an excellent job with Blacksad.

While I immensely enjoyed Blacksad from beginning to finish, it’s absolutely littered with a laundry list of bugs, even post patch. Clipping is notorious, not just from clothing and minor objects, but even a part where Blacksad had to operate a forklift, almost as if they didn’t get to finish a proper sitting model while driving, so he just ‘sat’ in it by clipping through it. There’s also a weird glitch when a camera angle changes and the clothing ‘pops’ in, reacting weird to the gravity. Sadly I’ve also experienced more than a couple hardlocks and crashes, one where I almost lost my game save.

While there’s a plethora of technical issues, I’m hoping these will eventually get fixed, as aside from the bugs, Blacksad is very well written, contains a ton of twists and turns and takes place in a fantastic 50’s noir backdrop. I admit, Blacksad is generally more interesting because of its anthropomorphic characters, but it surprisingly doesn’t feel out of place or odd once you get sucked into its dark world.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 AVICII Invector

While I was never a massive AVICII fan, I did quite enjoy his hits that I would hear daily on the radio. Even though I’ve never purchased any of his music, his passing in 2018 was quite sad, as he was one of the faces of a whole musical genre and quite influential. Where there’s darkness though, there’s always light, as we now get to experience 25 of AVICII’s top hits in a new rhythm based game dedicated to his body of work; AVICII Invector.

There’s no denying that AVICII has some amazing hits that even casual fans of the genre have probably heard, such as Wake Me Up, Lay Me Down, Without You and more, so to say that he had an influence and reach around the world is an understatement. With AVICII Invector, we get to experience his body of work, celebrating it with an interesting and challenging musical game that I ended up enjoying more than I expected. And as a bonus, a portion of each sale is going to the Tim Bergling foundation to support mental health awareness, which makes this tragedy have some semblance of positive in it.

Like any good musical rhythm game, you’ll need to press button prompts in tune with the music, which happens to be very catchy and fantastic melodies as well. While I can appreciate that a snippet of narrative was included between certain stages, these cartooned cutscenes don’t really tell a captivating story and don’t feel all that needed. There are certain types of games that are just fine without having to add a narrative in just to have one, and musical games like this are one of those. These cutscenes more felt like a slight interruption between stages rather than a reward. Again, glad the effort was there, but simply didn’t feel needed in a game like this.

Invector is broken up into multiple sections with a handful of songs in each before being able to move onto the next group of songs. You’ll need to hit a certain score threshold before ‘passing’ the song, though this is incredibly easy to do so on the Easy difficulty, and not too terribly difficult on Medium once you have a grasp of the mechanics. Songs become progressively more challenging of course as you progress, but the difficulty lies more in with what mode you’re attempting them on, as Hard mode is just that; Hard.

So you’re the biggest AVICII fan and simply want to know what 25 songs are included? I have to admit, while I knew the massive hits, I actually fell in love with some of the lesser known songs the more I played through them on multiple difficulties, trying to raise my highscores.

Tracklist:

Can't Catch me
Pure Grinding
What Would I Change it to
The Nights (Avicii by Avicii)
Waiting For Love
Gonna Love Ya
You be Love
Friend of Mine
Sunset Jesus
Fade Into Darkness
Wake Me Up
Lonely Together
Without You
Hey Brother
Levels
I Could Be The One
You Make Me
Lay Me Down
For a Better Day
Broken Arrows - M-22 Remix
True Believer
Talk To Myself
Heaven
Tough Love
Fades Away

You control a small spaceship flying along a set path, tasked with hitting specific button prompts as you pass over them to the beat and music of course. There’s basically two different types of ‘highways’ you’ll be cruising along as you attempt to fly over the prompts and hit them to the beat. You have flat three lane 'roads' where you can be on the left, right or middle, or will be placed in a triangle tunnel, much like a Toblerone box, where you can navigate to any of the three sides. Each has its own challenges, as the flat ‘road’ will have turns and hills that can obstruct the upcoming button prompts when it gets going quite fast, and the triangle tunnels and mess with you when you’re rotating around each face quickly.

Crank up the volume and enjoy the melodies that made AVICII known. I suggest starting with Easy to simply get your bearings of the controls, then move up to Medium and Hard as you become more comfortable and can react quickly without having to think as much. As for the button presses, you’ll be using either of the Bumpers, the face buttons and Left or Right on the stick.

When you pass through or over a white beam of light, you want to match that with the press of the Bumper at the same time. You’ll also pass over ‘A’ or ‘X’ button prompts on Easy as well. When you move up to Medium difficulty the ‘B’ button is tossed in, and Hard also includes ‘Y’. It sounds easy, but given the quick tempo of some of the songs, you’ll need to be on your game and looking ahead to watch’s coming if you want to hit the correct button on the beat.

What I really thought was clever is the subtle tutorial system in the beginning. For example, it’ll teach you to press the Bumper when you pass over or through one of those white beams, or hold it for certain sections, but get enough correct in a row and it’ll stop showing the prompt. Make a mistake and it’ll remind you for a few notes until you start doing well again. Certain sections will also free you from the restrictive lanes and allow you to fly your ship freely through some rings floating around for extra points, as these serve as small sections to break up the gameplay or help during the slower portions of songs. You can even use a boost after getting enough points, acting as a multiplier for higher scores, but the notes come towards you much faster, so it’s challenging to do so perfectly.

Games like these suffer from longevity unless you’re the type to want to climb and try to top the leaderboards. Given that this is solely an AVICII game, you’ll also need to be a fan of his, obviously, if you want to get the most out of it. With only 25 tracks, you’ll be playing many of the same songs repeatedly, trying to do better than the last to climb those online ranks. Making the jump to higher difficulties does feel genuinely more impressive, especially when you nail those really challenging sections at a quick pace. And for those that have more than one gamer in the house, there’s also a two to four player mode as well for everyone to enjoy AVICII’s work together. I really don’t have any negatives to mention about AVICII Invector. The mechanics work well, the visuals are bright and colorful, and of course, the music is fantastic throughout.

Music based rhythm games are one of my favorite genres, and it’s been quite some time since I’ve enjoyed one this simplistic in premise, but challenging at the same time. Obviously your enjoyment will depend on how much of an AVICII fan you are and if you want to challenge yourself to climb the leaderboards, but if you fall into those categories, AVICII Invector is a great way to spend some time experiencing the work of the late, great AVICII.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Felix The Reaper

While I’m no savant when it comes to puzzle games, I do quite enjoy them, as I tend to think very logically and systematically and can generally get a good grasp on the solutions with some practice. Then there’s Felix The Reaper, developed by Kong Orange, a puzzle game that nearly broke me and has me on the verge of quitting. That’s not to say that it’s a bad game, but challenging is putting it quite lightly.

Felix The Reaper’s core mechanics revolve around navigating a gridded map with a 3D isometric camera angle as you manipulate the Sun and shadows to solve each bite sized puzzle. It’s setting is quite odd and unique though, as you’re a Grim Reaper, Felix, sent to make sure that when people are set to die, you’re there to assure the immanent death happens without any problems, even if that means setting up how it’s going to play out without their knowing.

Felix works for The Ministry of Death, loves dancing, and has fallen instantly in love with the busty Betty The Maiden, whom happens to work for The Ministry of Life. He goes to the human world to not only fulfill his job, but in the hopes that it’ll mean that he’ll be able to meet Betty and impress her with his sweet dance moves as well. Of course the premise is absurd and silly, but it suits the gameplay and overall tonality of the game. The catch though is that since Felix is undead, he’s unable to be in the sunlight, which is where the puzzle mechanics come in, given that you’re on Earth and all.

There’s no doubt about it, Felix The Reaper is a very challenging, and at times, frustrating, puzzle game. You need to make sure people die or that certain events happen, but can’t ever be in the sunlight, so you’ll need to strategize on where to move, where to place objects and when to change the direction of the sunlight to cause shadows to move elsewhere, all while dancing the day away doing your job.

Played on a gridded map, Felix can navigate anywhere there are shadows. Given that most levels are flat, you’ll need to be very strategic where you maneuver, as going into the sunlight simply isn’t possible for Felix. Eventually you’ll need to move objects, or even stack them to make their shadows outreach to longer places. Since you can’t go in the sunlight ever, you’ll need to figure out where you want to go ahead of time and setup nearly every movement beforehand. Sometimes this means hiding behind a box where the shadow will keep you safe, or placing a barrel on a box and then moving to another spot where you know there will be shade once you rotate the sun. It’s all about creating pathways of shadows, and doing so is much easier said than done.

The shadow mechanics is really interesting, and surprisingly, quite difficult to wrap your head around. You’re able to freely rotate the sun in one of two directions, simply going by trial and error, but you’re also able to preview what shadows appear before committing to the sun’s movement if you wish for better points. Trust me, eventually you’ll stop caring about high scores and points and will simply be grateful for level completion.

Your overall goal of each level is to have Felix essentially setup and ensure that your target’s death occurs without hitch. The main problem I found was that there’s very little in ways of a good tutorial. The game shows you the basic mechanics quickly but then leaves you to it on your own to figure out. Levels become progressively harder, of course, and it feels like you hit a brick wall quite early on. I simply had to push through with tons of trial and error when I got stuck, and became more frustrated as time went on.

Part of the problem though is that it seems as if you can make wrong movements, almost permanently getting yourself stuck and having to restart. This normally wouldn’t be a huge deal, but when you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, unable to progress, it’s frustrating to not be able to figure out what or why you’re doing something wrong. There is a hint system in place that you can utilize that’s supposed to let you see what step to do next, but it’s quite vague. For example, it’ll just show an arrow on a square, not determining if that’s where Felix should be, if you should place a barrel there or which direction the Sun should be. Some steps are obvious, but when you’re given a hint showing three different arrows at once in different places, it doesn’t help all that much.

There’s also an option to rewind to the last milestone, almost like a checkpoint along the process of solving the puzzle, but you never know when these occur until you use this ‘rewind’ feature. While it was nice to not have to completely redo the whole level from the beginning, the basically useless hint system will leave you either frustrated with hours of trial and error, or resulting in looking up a walkthrough if you become truly stuck.

To be fair, when you do finally fumble your way through a puzzle, the feeling of accomplishment is quite great, even when it’s a sloppy solution with dozens of trial and error mistakes. For those that are truly gluttons for punishment, there are hardcore versions of each level to unlock and even time trials as well. You’d need to have a serious commitment if you want to tackle these extra challenges, but they are there for those that want it.

Felix The Reaper is visually cute and whimsical, as Felix is a portly dude but always makes you smile with his constant dance moves, especially when you navigate from tile to tile. The shadow mechanic works well, even if it’s quite challenging, though sometimes it’s difficult to tell if certain corner tiles are navigable or not. Characters have a very cartoon-like appeal to them, but the true star is the great soundtrack that Felix listens to on his Walkman. With a selection over 10 different indie songs and artists, there’s some good tunes here if you need something to try and keep you relaxed and focused before becoming too frustrated with the puzzles themselves.

I really enjoy puzzle games, even those with some steep challenges, but for some reason, Felix The Reaper frustrated me more than usual with its steep difficulty, and moments of ‘fun’ were far and few in between. Levels should only take a matter of minutes, but when I’m repeatedly trying one for over an hour, it’s hard to not let the frustration set in. If you really want to challenge yourself then Felix The Reaper is a great choice for those that truly want to test themselves with some punishing difficulty. For the more casual puzzle fans, it’s hard to recommend as you’ll get stuck quite early on, something that even Felix’s charm and dance moves can’t overcome.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Children of Morta

I sometimes find it hard to keep my interest in roguelikes for the long term, usually because there’s not much, or very difficult to progress overall. But that’s also the charm to roguelike titles; that you’re challenged with either completing games in a single sitting or having to make a certain amount of progress, but usually if you die, your progress is wiped and you need to begin all over again. Great roguelikes though usually have some form of constant progression, even with the numerous deaths. Children of Morta thankfully does a fantastic job at giving you purpose and progression, regardless of how great your runs are or not.

At its core, Children of Morta is a roguelike hack and slash RPG, akin to a Diablo dungeon dweller with some Binding of Isaac flavor mixed in. What makes Morta stand out amongst the competition is not only its delightful 8-bit visuals, great combat mechanics and character progression, but its lore, perfect narration and fantastic storytelling. While 8-bit roguelikes are nothing new, few have had all of the cohesive elements come together as wonderfully as Morta does, as I became hooked after just a handful of hours.

The narrative revolves around the Bergson family, a close knit clan that is attempting to stop the Corruption that is spreading across the land. Residing at the base of Mount Morta, the Bergson’s are the only ones that can stand up against this unknown evil. You begin as John, the father figure of the family, wielding a sword and shield. You’ll only have access to your basic attack and a dodge at first, but eventually you’ll learn new skills and abilities that will make each character unique in its own way.

While the narrative begins out with your typical ‘save the world' trope, it eventually evolves into something much more, sure to tug on your heartstrings when unfortunate events occur. There’s a narrator that is constantly adding to the story, not only explaining what’s going on, but done in such a fantastic way that he deserves a special mention, as it’s probably the most memorable aspect of my whole time with Children of Morta.

Procedurally generated dungeons means that every time you play is going to be a unique experience, for better or worse. As you explore each layer of a dungeon, you’ll delve deeper, eventually facing off against a powerful boss, though not after a handful of deaths and slowly becoming stronger as time goes on. Because every level is randomly generated, your experience may vary from run to run. Sometimes you’ll have a fantastic run where you feel super powerful and getting a ton of great bonuses to help you along the way, while other runs will feel the exact opposite, leaving you scrounging for every health pickup you can find before your untimely death.

While you simply begin with John, a typical sword and board type of melee based character, you’ll eventually unlock and be able to play as a number of different Bergson’s, each with their own unique playstyle, abilities and perks. Each Bergson plays different from one another, but there’s basically two types of play: ranged or melee. With six playable characters to unlock, you’ll choose from four that are melee based and two ranged.

While I vastly preferred my ranged characters, there’s a reason you’ll want to play as each family member, even if it’s not suited to your preferred playstyle. My favorite, Linda, is an archer that is best played by kiting enemies one by one and not becoming surrounded by monsters, whereas Joey, whom uses a sledge hammer, can take out a group of weaker enemies in a single swing. There’s a time and place that each Bergson will be best suited for, as Kevin is a very quick fighter that uses daggers, Mark is a martial arts fighter and Lucy is a fire mage.

Linda for example can move and shoot with her bow and arrow, but only for a short time. Lucy on the other hand has to be stationary to cast her fireballs, so it’s a completely different playstyle. The other melee’s generally play the same, but there are certain strategies you’ll need to use to avoid being hit, like dodging out of the way, or actually into enemies, if you’re Joey for example.

Even though I know I want to play Linda all of the time, the game forces you in a way to play the others. Play too many runs consecutively with one character and they’ll become ‘corrupted’ for a short time, usually lasting a handful of runs. This means that their maximum HP will be drastically lowered, making it near impossible to complete runs with them until they’ve rested and become better. This is when you’ll be ‘forced’ to play as other characters, so make sure to become accustomed to each Bergson.

The other reason you’re going to want to play as each is that every character has their own skill tree. Spend enough points to unlock bonuses and abilities and you’ll eventually unlock perks for the whole family at set spent goals. For example, 4 points spent in a skill tree will unlock the first Bergson perk, like extra dodge, damage and other bonuses, regardless of what character you’re currently playing. It’s honestly a clever way to promote trial and error with each character, as you’ll want the bonus perks for every character eventually.

Thankfully, all of your skills and gold carry over with each death. So while you will die a lot, there’s no real consequence other than having to attempt that dungeon again and again until you become powerful enough to make it through to the end and best the boss. This means that you’re always progressing, even if slowly at times, as I’m currently farming runs for gold to unlock bonus damage and experience points for the whole family.

Not only do you constantly progress as your characters grow in power, but the story also unfolds between runs as well, not only tied to overall dungeon progression. This way of continuing the narrative in small snippets, regardless of your skill, is very clever at keeping you interested in the lore as you repeat runs numerous times. If it wasn’t for the perfect voice acting of the narrator between each run, it wouldn’t feel as impactful; thankfully that’s not the case here.

Between runs you’ll be able to spend your gold to increase your damage, armor, speed, critical damage and much more, again, for the whole family, regardless of who you use. This means you’ll want to not only kill every enemy you see and explore every corner of each dungeon floor, but smash open every pot and vase as well for that sweet gold accumulation.

Local co-op is an option if you have someone alongside you to play with, adding for a much more entertaining experience, but the lack of online co-op was a serious let down. I know that I shouldn’t come to expect online co-op to be included with smaller studio titles like these, but man, such a missed opportunity, as a friend and I had to play separately on our own games in party chat, talking about what we were each experiencing and thought instead of doing so together. Here’s to hoping that online co-op can be added in the future, as it would turn this great game into something truly fantastic.

Visually, Children of Morta has some of the best 8-bit art and animation that I can recall in recent memory. Everything is done by hand, and even though it’s very old school, the animation is done so well, you’re never guessing what the characters are trying to express or convey simply by watching them. The world is colorful and looks as if it’s taken from a classic NES storybook.

Audio is just as impressive, again, mostly because of the masterful work of Ed Kelly as the narrator who describes the tales of the Bergson’s at every corner. The story is captivating, and because of the narrator, it’s as if you’re part of some fantastical fairytale. I actually didn’t mind dying so much because it usually meant I got a snippet of story between each run, almost as if that was the reward itself for even trying.

While at first glance Children of Morta may simply appear to be another typical roguelike RPG hack and slash, it all comes together in a wonderful and charming way, making you forget that you’re generally repeating dungeon runs back to back. While the lack of online co-op was really the only negative I have, the rest of the experience with the Bergson’s was a very memorable and entertaining one throughout.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Fisherman: Fishing Planet, The

I can count the times I’ve actually gone fishing in my life on one hand. Even so, I did enjoy each time I went, and for whatever reason, I’m always drawn towards new fishing games when they release even though I have barely any real world experience. Fishing is much more than simply getting a hook, tackle and drinking some beers on a lazy weekend. For enthusiasts of the sport, they know there’s much more to it than that, and The Fisherman: Fishing Planet aims to bring that reality to console. I even learned quite a few things about the equipment and techniques that I previously didn’t.

Truth be told, Fishing Planet has actually been on PC for quite some time as a free to play title. While The Fisherman: Fishing Planet is essentially the same game but ‘console-fied’, it essentially includes a mass amount of DLC that’s been released for it over the years, including a few bonuses and exclusives on top to entice new players. It’s great to see that a previous free-to-play title riddled with microtransactions now has an all-encompassing package with a ton of content and new additions like the Creuse (France) map and trolling technique.

You begin your fishing career by first creating your character. Now, don’t judge the game by these first 10 minutes, as the character creator is as basic, bare bones and quite frankly, disappointing, as it gets. Visually, it doesn’t impress either, as you only have a selection of a couple faces and clothes, appearing to be from something last gen. Don’t fret, as The Fisherman becomes much better after this point and will start to look much better as you begin to reel in those fish along the lakeside.

While there’s really not an overall traditional campaign structure, instead, you’re guided by tutorials and missions to aim you in a progression path. Think of The Fisherman as a true fishing sim, as you’ll not only need to buy and choose your equipment, but decide what works best for each type of fish you’re wanting to catch that day. You’ll need to setup your ‘profiles’, consisting of what rod, line, bait, hooks, float and more you'll want to use. You’ll cut the line to the length you want, adjust resistance, reel speed and much more. I knew there was a lot to the sport, but this gave me a deeper appreciation for how much thought and purpose goes into every equipment decision.

The tutorials and mission structure are well designed, slowly introducing you to new equipment, techniques and menus, all while highlighting what you need to exactly choose to progress. Obviously, if you want to prove your own worth, you can freely fish at any of the unlocked bodies of water and have at it at your own pace as well. Just like real fishing, you may have a stroke of luck, or sit for hours without nothing but a nibble. Sometimes if you choose the right equipment and time of day, you’ll have fish chomping at your line as soon as you cast, or you may be waiting minutes at a time for any interest as well.

Regardless if you’re a beginner like myself, or a pro angler, there’s a lot to learn here with a surprising amount of depth. With almost 150 different species of fish, they all are distinct and react like their real-world counterparts. Some prefer certain temperatures of water, times of day or even depths, all of which will need different equipment to catch efficiently.

Did you know there are more than one type of fishing? I didn’t (except for fly fishing I guess). The Fisherman includes Float Fishing, Spinning, Bottom Fishing and newly included, Trolling. All of which are different techniques that you’ll need to master. I tended to have the most luck with Bottom fishing, as I found it more successful, but there’s plenty to learn, especially for beginners like myself.

To say that there’s a boatload of content would be putting it mildly. There are nearly twenty different fishing environments to take in the scenery, more than 1000 different products to purchase for your angling career, dynamic weather changes, a day and night cycle, seasons and even single and multiplayer competitions. Yes, at times it can be a bit overwhelming, but as you spend time with it, you become more accustomed to how the menus work and where to find exactly what you’re looking for quickly.

Once you’ve got a grasp of how to set your equipment, line and begin to fish, this is where The Fisherman begins to shine. While the visuals are not going to blow you away by any means, they are quite decent when you’re sitting at the edge of a lake, surrounded by forest, noticing ripples in the water from the fish swimming by and have some sun-rays breaking through the treetops. It’s easy to feel like you’re actually in nature, as there’s no overlying soundtrack either, just you and the sounds of local wildlife. The only downside to this is that I’ve actually fallen asleep numerous times playing late at night, as it was quite calm and relaxing.

Once you’ve figured out where you want to cast your line, a tap of the Right Trigger will set the power meter going, and another to stop it at the distance you want. After that and your float is in the water, it’s time to play the waiting game. While you’re able to look at your float in the water for movement, there’s actually an icon in the top right that shows a more detailed model of what your rod and floater are currently doing. Unfortunately, this is really where you’ll need to stare the whole time, as this is your main indicator that a fish as taken your bait and is on your line. Look away even for a split second and you might miss a bite before you strike. Reeling in your catch is going to depend on a variety of factors as well. Do you risk reeling in quite quickly and putting pressure on your line, hoping it doesn’t snap? Or play the long game, letting the fish tire itself out and slowly reeling in when it’s taking a break? Of course, this also depends on the fish, its weight, your equipment and patience.

The lakes and ponds are shared worlds, so as you fish long the bank, you might see other players populate nearby as well. You’re able to see via chat who has caught what and its weight. It’s a subtle way to introduce players to one another and promote competition. There are of course actual tournaments you can enter as well for sweet prizes and bragging rights, and with free updates and seasonal events, there’s always something new for you to partake in, more than just your standard fishing.

The best thing about The Fisherman is how it doesn’t force you in a specific way to play. If you feel like getting on your kayak or boat to catch some fish by yourself, you’re free to do so. Maybe you want to work on those missions to earn some extra gear and bonuses. Or maybe today you enter that tournament and try and catch one of the trophy fish. If you have friends that play as well, you can even create private rooms to have a calm and relaxing experience together. The more you catch, the more you earn, unlocking new fishing holes, gear and objectives, so there’s always something new to strive towards, even if you’re casually just wanting to catch a few at a time.

My biggest complaint though is how the menus are navigated and controlled. Some menu sections require you to use the D-Pad, while others the Left or Right Stick. Some even require both, one for main and the other for sub menus. I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrated I’ve become at times because I can’t figure out how to simply scroll down and choose the equipment I want to because I hit the wrong bumper or used the wrong stick. It’s confusing and terrible design. Yes, I eventually got used to it, but this menu control scheme needs a tutorial of its own if it’s not going to be changed or fixed.

Given that The Fisherman prides itself on being a broad yet focused fishing simulator, it’s more geared towards those that want to experience the sport, more so than simply throwing your line out and pushing a button to catch your fish. Proper fishing takes patience and preparation, and to get the most out of The Fisherman is no different. Yes, you can jump in for a quick catch here and there, but to become a true angler, you’ll need to dedicate some time to it to learn all of its intricacies.

For those seasoned anglers, you’ll appreciate just how much detail went into the over 1000 items, nearly 150 fish, numerous fishing holes and detailed gameplay. While I may be a fishing beginner, I really appreciated just how in-depth The Fisherman: Fishing Planet really was while also never feeling too overwhelmed with its steady mission structure or the option to freely do whatever I want and still progress. If you’ve been curious about the sport, or simply can’t wait until next summer to do the real thing, The Fisherman: Fishing Planet has more than enough content to keep you busy until the next fishing season begins.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Race with Ryan

If you don’t have young kids, I couldn’t fault you for not knowing who Ryan is. For those of us that have seen more Ryan videos than we can count, you know all too well how crazy kids go for Ryan, his channels, toys and now games. For the uninitiated, Ryan’s World is a YouTube channel currently sitting with 22.4 million subscribers that started with Ryan, a young kid, essentially reviewing toys and games. As his channel grew, so did their production, popularity and now he’s a brand and local household name for anyone that has a young child. He’s taking in millions a month, has a toy line at Walmart and now has a new videogame, Race With Ryan; he’s doing pretty well for himself.

Just as the name implies, Race With Ryan is just that, a simple kart racer that takes influences from Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing and other greats, but injects the signature Ryan characters and kid-like aesthetic. If you know Ryan’s World, your kids will be ecstatic to know that all the known characters like Ryan, Combo Panda, Gus and the rest are all included, as are clips of him and his parents on their couch to introduce cup races. Am I the target audience, of course not, but my seven year old daughter was more than excited to play as her favorites.

Included are six tracks, ranging from a kid’s room, western themed and spooky haunted ones among a few others. Each track can be raced in reverse as well, totaling 12 different races you can partake in. Is that a very low number of tracks for a kart racer, yes, but will your young kid notice or mind, probably not; at least mine didn’t. At least each track is varied enough and has a different feel to keep them interested for longer.

There’s also enough variety in the character selection as well, as each character has a few different vehicles they can have. Some are car based, trains, helicopters and more. There’s no having to worry about each kind having different stats, as they are purely a cosmetic change. While I wish that any character could use any vehicle like in Mario Kart, my kid didn’t seem to mind.

Given that Race With Ryan is meant for a younger audience, the menu and mode selections are quite basic. You’re able to choose from a Quick Race if you want to simply get in and race as soon as possible before the kids lose interest, or the Career Mode where you’ll probably spend the majority of your time, which consists of a handful of races back to back.

Career Mode has a handful of different cups you can race in, all of which can be played in Easy, Medium or Hard difficulties. Cups will begin consisting of 3 races, but by the final cup, will have 6 to gain points in. Surprisingly, even career can be played in four player split screen if you have a bunch of kids and controllers at home, sadly there’s no online component though, strictly couch co-op.

Now I’ll be honest; I wasn’t really expecting much from the gameplay itself, given it’s meant for a much younger audience, and holding itself to Mario Kart’s high bar is a bit unrealistic. What I will say is that I was impressed with how smooth and decent the racing itself felt. The speed isn’t terribly fast, as again, it’s meant for a younger audience, and you can power-slide to drift and gain speed boost, much like Mario Kart, for the better skilled players. If you have very young kids or players that aren’t as skilled, you can toggle automatic acceleration and even an assistance for steering so they don’t constantly crash into the wall; a great touch for the very young players that want to play alongside their siblings.

Like any good kart racer, there’s also a bunch of powerups that can be used to help you during races. These can help you gain a speed boost, shields that rotate around you like hamburgers, paper airplanes that mimic a red shell, or tossing tennis or soccer balls to stun opponents. As you can see, this is a much more light hearted take on the standard Mario Kart powerups, fitting of Ryan’s World; though there’s not a lot of varied powerups overall.

Kids that are fans of Ryan will be pleased to know that not only is he featured in Race With Ryan, obviously, but they’ve also filmed short little intro videos that you’ll see throughout your time playing, either introducing you to cup tournaments or offering encouragement when you lose. The video looks as if it was filmed on someone’s phone, and the audio is even worse. Did my kid notice? No. Does it really affect the overall experience? Not really, but it was noticeable and seemed out of place with the lack of polish compared to the content they usually push out.

While my kid had a ton of fun with it, I wanted to get a few quotes from her about her thoughts about Race With Ryan, as she’s the target audience and has a ton of Ryan toys as is. I tried to get her to formulate a paragraph, but here’s her raw thoughts:

“It’s really good because you get to get new characters and I like racing with other people like my Mom and Dad.”.

“The graphics are really nice and colorful and the animation is good.".

"It's really hard to control (the drifting) and I hit the wall a lot.”.

“I like that all the characters are there, because my favorite is Combo Panda, and it’s awesome when I come in first place.”.

“I like seeing Ryan in the videos and that everyone sounds like they do on his channel.”.

“You should buy it because it’s a good game.”.


That final quote about sums up her experience with the game, as she really enjoyed her time with it. Do I have a laundry lists of issues with it? Absolutely. Does any of that matter when my seven year old is enjoying the game and is the target audience? Not in the slightest. What annoyed me the most was that the achievement unlocking doesn’t stack. There are achievements for winning each cup on each difficulty setting, but beating it on Hard doesn’t unlock Medium and Easy, so you will have to do each cup a minimum of 3 times to complete everything and unlock all of the extras. Again, my kid wasn’t discouraged by this, as she knew daddy would do it for her, but having to complete a cup on Hard to get her favorite character was a bit of a pain when I already did it twice before on the lower difficulties.

If I was to score the game solely on my experience and comparing it to others in the genre, it would have received a much lower score for its lack of track variety and dull gameplay overall, but I’m not basing this on my experience; I’m basing it on my daughter’s, who now gets to play a video game as one of her favorite YouTube stars. If your youngster is a Ryan’s World fan, they’ll certainly enjoy this youth friendly outing with Ryan and all his friends for a few laps around the track, even if it can’t hold a flame to classics in the same genre.

Overall Score: 6.2 / 10 Pig Eat Ball

Having done reviews for over a decade, I’ve played my fair share of nearly everything out there, even some of the weird Japanese stuff that I used to import back in the day. Pig Eat Ball might be one of THE weirdest games I’ve ever experienced, which is saying quite a lot. Developed by small studio Mommy’s Best Games, creators of Shoot 1UP and Serious Sam DD XXL, Pig Eat Ball is perfectly titled given that you’re a pig, eating you guessed it, balls.

I don’t even know where to begin describing the gameplay other than chaotic and insane. You need to eat all the tennis balls in a level to win, but the more you eat the fatter you get, so you might get stuck or not fit down narrow corridors, so you’ll need to barf out some of said balls to get skinny again and fit through. Yes, this game is about eating tennis balls and barfing them out. I told you it was weird. It really is unlike anything I’ve played before. Oh, and it has bearded clams; like actual clams with beards on them... perv.

While the gameplay is insanely weird, as is the story that frames it all as well. Your dad, King Cake, has decided to marry his pig (literal) daughter off, you, to whomever can win the official Royal Games. Of course she doesn’t want to get married, but King Cake is not having it, so she decides to go undercover with an ultra-sneaky disguise, glasses, and win the Royal Games herself to avoid getting married to anyone else.

Now that Princess Bow is taking matters into her own hands, er, snout, she’s going to have to travel across all of King Cake’s Space Station Kingdom, consisting of five massive worlds, earning pearls to challenge the bosses before moving onto the next. I honestly expected a short and quick adventure with a smaller studio game like this, but was surprised there’s actually a massive amount of content for hours of entertainment. With over 200+ levels to challenge yourself in, you’re going to have to dedicate some time if you want to see Princess Bow’s adventure until the end.

To complete a world, you’ll need to earn a certain amount of pearls to unlock the final challenge against a boss. To earn pearls though, you’ll need to challenge each bearded clam (I still giggle when I see these) and complete all of their levels, usually consisting of 3-5 or so. These levels are bite sized, usually tasking you simply eating all of the balls at once to win. Doing so is much easier said than done though, as you can choose to barf out the balls at any time since you won’t be able to fit down certain pathways when you’re super fat. When you barf out the tennis balls though, they’ll be covered in puke and you’ll need to eat them up again, making you sick all over again.

Played in a top down perspective, Pig Eat Ball is a puzzle game at its core, but there are some minigame elements to it as well. Each hub world has secrets to uncover and every level will grade you from bronze to gold based on how quickly you complete them. If you’re a real glutton for punishment, you can try and challenge yourself to getting all gold medals to unlock super-secret items as well. And for those that love bragging rights more than anything else, an online leaderboard will keep you busy indefinitely.

Remember, Princess Bow is partaking in this tournament in secret, so she’s going to need disguises, of which there are plenty. Some are hilarious, like adding a mustache or giant wax lips, and each has its own pro and con of choosing it, like making you move quicker, but less suction power to eat balls for example. Some levels benefit from a specific strategy, so you’ll want to experiment with each disguise, as they may make some levels much easier or difficult. For example, I was using the Wax Lips that gave me more suction power, but in one level it made it more challenging because spiked balls get sucked up too in whatever direction you’re facing, hurting you.

Each of the five giant worlds are individually themed, as the first world is space ship based, whereas the second is a sushi lover’s paradise. You’ll also face new types of puzzles and enemies with each new world as well, constantly keeping you on your toes as you progress. While many levels will simply require you to eat all of the balls at once, some have a time limit or a certain amount of times you can get hit without failing. While none are overly challenging, it can take a try or two to simply figure out what’s going on with all of the chaos happening on screen at one time. There’s nothing like being one ball away from winning, only to barf all of them up, sending them scattering everywhere. Prepare yourself for some wild bosses as well, as they are just as crazy and weird as the rest of the game.

If you happen to have some friends or family over and want to play some multiplayer, assuming you can explain the Pig Eat Ball’s premise and still keep them interested, up to four players can play against one another in local competitive play. These minigames range from typical ‘eat all the balls’, to who can make the most amount of sandwiches (by sucking up the ingredients and then spitting them out), among a bunch of other weird games. It’s a fun mode should you have friends over and want to show them your super weird new game.

Visually, Pig Eat Ball looks as if it’s from the classic 8 or 16-bit era. If you’ve played classic wacky Japanese games in the past, you’ll have an idea what to expect. It’s very colorful but it can be very confusing at times what’s actually happening given how much chaos is on the screen at one time. The soundtrack is fantastic though, consisting of upbeat classic chiptunes that appear to come from the same era the visuals consist of. The sound effects are even better, with barfing sound like, well, barfing and the scream of pillbugs as you hit them always put a smile on my face.

Pig Eat Ball is one of the most creative, weird and oddly satisfying indie games I’ve played in quite some time. Weird is really the most descriptive way to put it, as there’s nothing really like it out there. Even still, there’s hours of content to be had and plenty of laughs if you’re like me and can’t get over that you need to earn pearls from bearded clams.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Dauntless

While I absolutely loved Monster Hunter: World, I eventually stopped playing due to the serious grind to make any real progress. Since then, nothing has really filled that gap. I’ve been tempted to go back but decided not to once I think of the time and effort I’d have to put in once again. Enter Dauntless, a free-to-play co-op action RPG that clearly took some cues from the long standing Monster Hunter playbook, but changed enough so that it’s a unique experience, yet familiar.

The biggest thing Dauntless has going for it is that it’s free-to-play, so you can start playing right now without having to put any money down. I know what you’re thinking, that most free-to-play games are okay, but eventually ‘require’ you to pay something if you actually want to make any real progress or look cool with unique skins. Yes, Dauntless falls into this somewhat as well, but you could easily progress without ever putting a dime into it, though you won’t look as cool as those that have.

A series of floating islands in the sky, aptly called The Shattered Isles, is under attack by massive beasts called Behemoths. While in normal circumstances this wouldn’t be a huge issue, they are eating Aether, the mysterious force that is keeping The Shattered Isles afloat in the sky, so needless to say, they must be stopped at all costs. Your first few hunts will show you the ropes, but you’ll eventually be faced off against more challenging and larger Behemoths as you progress.

You’re a Slayer, tasked with taking down the never ending threat of Behemoths alongside up to three friends. Besting these beasts will reward with you with experience and loot which can be crafted into powerful new weapons and armor. If you’ve played Monster Hunter: World, then you’ll have an idea of how this works already. The best part? Dauntless is completely cross play and chat, so you can play alongside your friends regardless of console or PC preference. Because of this, I never had an issues waiting for a hunt to begin, and actually played with more PC and PS4 people than I anticipated. Sure you could play solo, but that’s nowhere near as rewarding and much more challenging.

Behemoths come in all different shapes, sizes and difficulty. You’ll be faced off against numerous different enemies that have an element types to their attacks. For example, if you’re fighting versus a fire behemoth, you’ll want to use ice based weapons for extra damage but fire armor to take less. While it’s not forced, it’s highly suggested, as you even have a ranking on your offence and defense in the lobby based on your currently equipped gear. There are more elements as well, like Terra (Earth), Shock and even Radiant or Umbral as well. Each type has their own strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll need to make sure you got the right tools for every type of hunt.

There’s a ton of different sets of weapons and armor to craft, based on your playstyle and preference, so there’s always a constant grind to partake in, it’s just a matter of how rounded you want to be. To craft these items though, you’re going to have to hunt certain Behemoths for specific parts. For example, certain weapons or armor require parts from certain monsters, such as maybe a part of their tail or horn.

Some items drop regularly on a kill, while others are rare drops and require you to break off certain parts. If you happen to do enough damage to a tail for example, it could break off, dropping you a rare component, but also leave it susceptible to more damage as well. Be wary though, as a Behemoth can become enraged or completely change their attack patterns if they lose a horn or tail for example, so always be aware and on your toes. Once you’re trying to craft a complete set and see the grind that needs to be done to acquire all the components you need, you’ll need to dedicate some serious time into Dauntless to make any serious progression.

How you fight and what weapon you’ll use is also up to you, and there’s a plethora of weaponry to choose from, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and specific specialty. You begin with a basic sword, a good all-rounder, but eventually will be able to craft and choose from War Pikes, Axes, Chain Blades, Hammer, Aether Strikers (fists) and Repeaters. Every weapon feels and plays completely different, has an ideal range, strike zone and specific purpose. Certain weapons are meant for constant sustained damage, like my Repeaters, while others are for stunning or breaking off Behemoth parts and armor, so having a well-rounded team will make all the difference. Every weapon also has its own progression as well, so the more you become experience with a specific type, you’ll become more proficient with it, able to craft higher tiers.

Hunts are you choosing what type of specific hunt or patrol you want to partake in. If you want to simply hunt a Blaze Behemoth, you can do so, though if you want to track down a specific one, you can do that as well. Patrols will place you in a queue to fight any of the element type, whereas a specific hunt will look for other players wanting to do said explicit Behemoth. Eventually you’ll want to hunt certain ones to grind for specific pieces and components you need, all of which are laid out in an easy to understand list when you’re in the crafting menu.

Hunt Pass is an interesting component to Dauntless that tempts you to a certain type of progression. Your Hunt Pass is essentially a checklist of objectives that you rank up once you complete bounties and find collectibles in the hub zone, Ramsgate. This basic Hunt Pass is free, but being a free-to-play title, they need to tempt you to drop some real money into the game right? This is where the Elite Hunt Pass comes in.

This is a second set of tiered rewards that you can earn as you rank up as well, usually given you cosmetic skins, useful potions or even Platinum, the confusing real world turned in-game money to purchase other cosmetic items. Think of this like a Season or Battlepass from other games and that’s how you’ll find its worth to you or not. If you really want to gain some of the early items from Hunt Pass levels, then there’s even a purchase you can make that skips you ahead 15 levels instantly, unlocking some of the items. Of course, this costs real money, and if you want, you can even buy Platinum and skip all the way to the final tiers, but this becomes costly of course.

This is where we need to have a talk about microtransactions. Yes, Dauntless is completely free to play, and no, you aren’t forced to spend any money on it should you choose. You’re always tempted though, especially when you see the Hunt Pass Elite rewards, or cool skins on the marketplace. Once you convert the money it roughly works out to be $5-10 per skin or purchase. You’re able to buy bundles of Platinum of course, ranging from $6 to $130. While it’s not shoved down your throat to spend money, you are reminded often about it, constantly teased when you see someone with the coolest skins out there. Full disclosure; we were given a VIP code and a handful of Platinum, so you can bet I bought the coolest looking armor and weapon set I could afford. Did I need it? No. Am I glad I look awesome now? Absolutely.

Visually, Dauntless shares a colorful and cartoony style that almost mimics that of Fortnite. In fact, my daughter saw me playing and actually thought that’s what I was playing. Even though it has a cartoonish visual style, the Behemoths are very well designed and vary based on the type you’re fighting. Animations for characters and monsters are very fluid and you can customize the color pallet of your armor to be almost exactly how you want, granted, if you put some money down for the cool dye sets of course. Standing on a plateau you’ll be able to see the far distant edges of the floating island you’re hunting on, always on the lookout for sparkly collectible plants and rocks for crafting as well. Weapons sound like they have some ‘oomph’ in their hits on impact, Behemoths sound intimidating with their attacks and snarls, and the battle music is very fitting for hunting some huge monsters.

My biggest complaint with Dauntless though has to be with its camera. Given that you hunt in third person, the camera can get a little wonky at times when you’re backed against a wall or the Behemoth is close up to you. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve fallen off the edges of the islands because I was unable to move my camera around quickly enough while also trying to keep track of their attacks. Also, what I would give for a camera lock-on system. Currently there’s no way, that I know of, to lock onto a Behemoth, so you’re having to track it and adjust constantly while also aiming for specific parts to attack. Some Behemoths constantly pounce, leap and teleport around, so keeping track is incredibly difficult in the thick of battle. Sure, you can press in the ‘Left Stick’ to center your view on them, but doing this constantly while also trying to maneuver and dodge isn’t the easiest of tasks.

Dauntless kind of took me by surprise. While I expected a game that was Monster Hunter-like, and it is, I actually prefer Dauntless’ progression path, as it’s not discouraging overall. Yes, there’s a big grind the higher tier you get, but the payoff for finally crafting that new armor or weapon is fantastic. If you’re paired with a poorly skilled team, you’ll most likely fail, but I love that it’s simply fighting the Behemoths without useless filler in between, so getting right back into the thick of things doesn’t take long with the cross play enabled. It’s free to play, so might as well check and see if it’s a hunt you’ll want to partake in.

Overall Score: 8.1 / 10 Megaquarium

I’ve always been drawn to Sim games. Not only the classic SimCity’s that I’ve spent hundreds of hours with, but everything from SimEarth, SimAnt, SimTower, Rollercoaster Tycoon and Theme Hospital, just to name a few off the top of my head. There was nothing quite like waking up on a weekend and building your city until it was time for dinner. While theme park sims are nothing new, I’ve never actually seen a dedicated one tailored around an aquarium with this much depth and options.

While yes, you’ve played games like Megaquarium previously, most likely with a different theme, there’s a decent amount of content within to keep you interested and challenged for some time. At the same time, it has some depth, but the console translation was done quite well, utilizing the controller well without being a burden or confusing with a ton of button combinations. Not only will you need to be the curator of a great aquarium, but you’ll have much more on your plate, like managing staff, designing all facets of your business and of course, being profitable.

The campaign is done well, broken into 10 different bite sized scenarios, starting you out with just a handful of different fish and tanks, slowly teaching you the basics as you progress. Your first aquarium will be small in scale, as you won’t have access to much livestock or equipment, but each scenario teaches you something new, tasking you with more involved and complex objectives. At first you’ll simply be trying to fulfill your objectives, like have a certain amount of fish or earn enough progression points, but eventually you’ll need to start thinking and planning strategically. Once you complete all the objectives in a scenario you’re able to leave and progress to the next, but if you’re enjoying it and want to continue playing, there’s nothing stopping you from doing so either; a nice touch I enjoyed.

For example, you begin with just a basic square aquarium tank, but you’ll eventually gain access to different shapes and types as well. My favorite are the kind that are hidden behind walls, with just the viewing size accessible to the public, like you’d see in a real aquarium. This though requires some pre-planning if you want to design it properly, like building walls around it and a staff only door so the public doesn’t go where they aren’t supposed to. Some tanks are also quite tall, so you’ll need to build platforms and stairs, not to mention planning where your pumps, heaters, skimmers, chillers and other equipment are going to go, depending on which type of livestock you’re putting in said tank.

The campaign does a great job at easing you into the gameplay and difficulty increase. The adage ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ is completely true with Megaquarium. In the later scenarios, you’ll really have to pre-plan what you want to accomplish before spending money on doing so. Do you hire a ton of staff to keep all the animals fed, the place clean and your equipment running in top shape, but ballooning your payroll? Do you build a queue system where visitors needs to follow a floor path, much like an Ikea visit on the weekend? Do you have one central staff area sectioned off with all your tools and feeders, or spread them out along your floor plan? It’s completely up to you and will take time to figure out what works best for your play style and given objectives.

While the later stages can have some challenge, you never really feel overwhelmed given the steady difficulty curve you’re given. Even learning the UI is done slowly and laid out so it makes sense. I was honestly a bit concerned at first, as Sim games can be a little daunting on console given the limitations to a controller compared to a keyboard, but they made it work in a sensible and logical way. You’re only ever a few button presses away from what you’re trying to accomplish, which sometimes isn’t the case with console versions in this genre.

The build menu for example is broken down into multiple sections. Are you wanting to add to the floor or walls? Building a tank or adding equipment? Even decorations and livestock are in their own sections, so it’s never confusing and very simple to find exactly what you’re looking for. If you do become overwhelmed, you’re welcome to completely pause the time and think about what you want to do, or fast forward time if you want to hurry up progression.

The beginning types of fish are quite basic and simple to keep happy and alive, but as you progress you’ll need to be a bit more mindful as to their needs, as some require a certain amount of rocks for shelter, specific water temperatures or even lighting. As you progress you’ll gain access to more exotic, and usually expensive, animals to showcase in your aquariums, actually coming up to nearly 100 species, some of which are only accessible by trading certain fish with other aquarium owners.

The amount of equipment will also be plentiful, as you’ll start off with basic heaters, pumps and more, but eventually will be able to utilize much more powerful and larger versions. It will take some getting used to, especially when you want to connect your equipment via a pump, not physically attached to your tanks, but once you experiment and figure out what works and doesn’t, the gameplay really sstarts to open up as you plan more strategically.

While profit is obviously one goal of your business, you actually progress with science and ecology points instead. Science is how you’ll unlock new tools and equipment, where ecology is how you’ll gain access to new fish, coral and more. There’s even an overall leveling system called prestige which opens up even more advancement; a nice carrot to constantly dangle in front of you to compel you to keep playing.

You’re only able to hire a limited amount of staff, so do you train them all to be OK at everything (repairs, feeding, cleaning etc), or have each one specialize in one job? There’s no right answer, as each aquarium setup will be different, so be sure to experiment with what your current needs are. You’ll also need to keep your guests happy, so you’ll have to plan space for vending machines, washrooms, benches to rest, gift shops and more. Keep in mind, you’ll also have a budget and limited cash flow, so manage those finances if you want to be successful.

When you do complete all the campaign scenarios there’s also a Sandbox mode for you to enjoy and create whatever you wish, complete with a bunch of different settings, toggles and even a challenge generator. This is the mode I found super relaxing when you need a simple night of calm gaming, which the chill music helps with, even if it becomes a little repetitive over time. If you really want to start customizing your aquarium, you even get access to decorations, allowing you to really customize your business to nearly anything you can think of, adding some personality to your business.

What I enjoyed most is that there’s different difficulty levels, so feel free to start out on beginner that allows for easier management of your funds and less harsh penalties overall. Of course, if you like a good challenge, it’s there for you should you want it.

What Megaquarium does best is offer a laid back relaxing sim experience on console without feeling too watered down (pun intended). You’re given the tools you need at a slow and steady pace without ever feeling overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure how a dedicated aquarium sim would be, but it’s got a lot of charm and really is quite a calming experience overall for fans of the genre.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Indivisible

You’d never guess that Indivisible is only Lab Zero Games’ second main release. Best known for their 2D brawler Skullgirls, they branched out and made something completely different this time around with a RPG that completely surprised and impressed me, in all the best ways. A solid blend of RPG, action and adventure, Indivisible impresses most with its spectacular hand drawn art. Watching the opening cutscene alone, you couldn’t be faulted if you thought Indivisible was based on an actual anime, that’s how impressive the art style is. If you’ve played Skullgirls previously, it’s similar in visual flare, but has certainly been improved with this new title.

The narrative centers on a young teenager, Ajna, daughter of a remote town’s leader whom is killed when they are attacked by an enigmatic person. Of course this not only turns Ajna’s life upside down, but it awakens a mysterious power that’s been lying dormant inside her. It’s here that she sets out on a quest of revenge, and while its base is a story we’ve been told a million times previously, it becomes much more involved and interesting as you progress and lasts much longer than I anticipated.

For starters, it seems Ajna is part diety, harnessing an extremely powerful force within her which also sets her up for trouble, as Lord Ravannavar is looking for people with such power, unable to find many until now. The story begins quite slow and run of the mill, but once you start to meet new companions and unveil some of the larger elements to the narrative, it changes from a simple story to a much more engaging and emotional tale, full of great writing, interesting characters, humor and great gameplay to top it all off.

The world itself has a good amount of lore and character, but the writing really shines with every new companion she meets along her journey. While in most games, secondary characters are just that, not really given a lot of time to have their personality shine through and have much character development; not with Indivisible though. Sure, the main narrative focuses on Ajna’s quest, but her friends and companions along the way get their fair share of screen time and spotlight, give you enough time to become attached and form your favorites.

Due to Ajna’s unique powers, she actually absorbs these “incarnations” into her head, only to come out during battles. An odd setup, one that I didn’t get right away, but simply go with it and it’ll make sense given the narrative. You’ll eventually have quite the large amount of ‘friends’ to choose along the way, allowing you to bring four into battle, all of which have their own combat styles and abilities, so there’s plenty for you to experiment with.

My personal favorite throughout is easily Razmi, a pyromaniac who wears her dead tiger’s corpse on her head like a headdress, constantly making hilarious comments and one liners. There’s a handful of others too, all with their own personalities and quirks that really make them stand out due to the fantastic writing and accompanying voice acting.

Indivisible is one part RPG and combat and other part Platforming, making for an interesting hybrid. Given that it’s played 2D, it falls best into the Metroidvania genre, where you’ll explore an area, but have many sections blocked off or inaccessible until you come back later on with new abilities and knowledge of how to progress. Combat itself is in real time, but is quite unique and challenging, something that I really enjoyed once I wrapped my head around how to execute it properly.

Your party will consist of four members, each of which are mapped to one of the face buttons on the controller. The amount of actions each character can take at a time is shown with the number of button icons are below their health bar, beginning with just two. How you execute the real time combat is completely up to you. Spam all the buttons and everyone will fight at once, though as you progress, you’ll need to be much more tactical as you venture on versus harder enemies.

Simply pressing a button will have that character attack, but each also has different attacks and abilities when combined with a press of the Up or Down on the D-pad as well, so you need to think strategically, as some attacks are purely for damage while others are for setups or air launch combos. This is the basis of the combat, but each character has their own strengths, weaknesses and utility. This is where you’ll need to experiment with the well over a dozen characters to find the team that works best for you. While I found my perfect team early on to mid game, some might opt to stay with the beginning four or constantly change it up as new teammates are added along Ajna’s journey.

There’s also a Super meter that fills as you land attacks or take damage. This meter has multiple levels, and expands as you progress, allowing you to unleash special moves, with the power based on how many bars of your Super meter you want to use. With a ton of characters and unique attacks, there’s plenty of depth within for you to find exactly what you like. Combat isn’t simply about attacking though, as it’s in real time, and enemies will also be aggressive towards you as well. When they do, you’ll see a red ring around the base of the character that is being targeted. If you’re able to perform a perfect block by tapping the button that said character is tied to just as the hit lands, you’ll absorb a share of the damage. This will need to be perfected once you start making it throughout Ajna’s journey and take on some of the massive bosses. Some of the bosses will also attack the whole group at once, which can be blocked, but depletes your Super meter as well.

Combat will be confusing at first, as you’re really only taught the basics and simply left to figure it out yourself afterwards, but becomes quite rewarding and engaging once you figure it out. If it become too overwhelming, pressing ‘RB’ will allow you to slow down time, allowing you to choose which enemy to focus on, or simply take a quick breather and figure out what order you want to setup your attacks with.

The other main component to Indivisible is its platforming sections. Much like any other Metroidvania title, you’ll constantly have areas you can’t reach or access until you come back later with new abilities or powers, allowing you to venture further. Simply starting out with her mother’s Ax, Ajna will be able to use it to smash certain walls or hang onto walls before wall jumping higher. As you progress you’ll earn new weapons that allow for more mobility to reach new areas. The spear lets you spring vault to higher areas or bounce on deadly spikes. Your bow and arrow will allow you to hit targets that toggle platforms from a distance, or even coat a wall of spikes with flowers that can be jumped on.

There’s a surprising amount of abilities you gain as you progress, much more than I was expecting, but it keeps the gameplay fresh and interesting. Once Ajna begins to unveil her hidden powers from within, you’ll be able to traverse quicker and with purpose, constantly on the lookout for Ringsels. These are floating red crystals, that when enough have been collected, can increase your offence by adding more attacks, or defense. This adds a purpose to exploring more of the world as you traverse, though many will be hidden quite well.

My only real complaint actually has to do with these prominent platforming sections. Yes, they break up the gameplay and makes sense given the genre, but this is also where I had the most frustration from many deaths from mistimed jumps or hitting the spikes below. Some of these sections are timed with crumbling platforms, so you need to be precise and perfect in many of these sections, which can be frustrating at times. Many boss fights also mix up the combat and platforming as well, so there’s no escape from it.

By far, Indivisible’s most impressive feature is its art, as it’s beautiful in every way with completely hand drawn visuals. When you get to witness the full blown cutscenes, the quality only goes up and I swear it could have been taken from an anime I’d never heard of before. I can’t even imagine the amount of work that’s gone into every animation and character, and it doesn’t go unnoticed with the beautiful color spectrum and smooth animation, even if there’s the odd framerate dip now and then. The audio is just as impressive, though nowhere near as memorable really aside from the wonderful voice acting across the board. Every character’s personality really shines through due to the great voice over performances from everyone.

Indivisible starts out with a typical trope about revenge, but grows into something much larger and meaningful by the time the credits roll, all due to the excellent writing, fantastic voice acting and simply great gameplay overall. While many games can be great, few are memorable, and Indivisible is one that I’ll be thinking of for some time. You’ve earned a new fan Lab Zero Games.

Overall Score: 9.1 / 10 Draw a Stickman: EPIC 2

Were you like me as a kid, constantly drawing and imagining that those scribbles were coming to life? No? Well, this is how us kids entertained themselves before the days of the Internet and gaming as we know it. A lot of time has passed since those days where I was filled with imagination, but now, with Draw a Stickman: Epic 2, my drawings actually can actually come to life, even if they are more... uh, adult in nature.

Not only does Draw a Stickman: Epic 2 allow you to draw anything you can conceive in your imagination and bring it to life, but it also includes the Drawn Below expansion, adding some more value to the low $9 CAD price tag. You begin by drawing your character, and while most will probably opt for some basic stickman of sorts, you’re given just enough sizes of pencils and colors that you could technically draw anything you wanted. I’m just a simple man-child, so of course, my character was very... uh, phallic. We’ll just leave it at that. Check online and you'll see a plethora of creativity that people have come up with, which is very impressive.

Your drawing instantly comes to life and can walk around with some basic animation. You then need to draw a friend, which can be anything you want, and this is where the narrative begins. There’s some sort of evil ink that takes over your friend, turning them from your comrade into an enemy, and what’s really cool is that the game’s title screen changes based on what you named your friend. It’s a neat little touch that I didn’t expect.

Here you’ll enter the handful of stages, which if you’re a good puzzle solver, won’t take you very long to complete. Yes, it can be quite short, but there’s a certain charm to the simplistic world and more than enough bonus collectibles for you to search for should you want to find extra colors to use among other extras. You must become the hero and save your friend, but you’re going to have to get your drawing hand ready, as you’ll be using a number of different pencil types throughout your journey, all of which have a different use.

I honestly had no idea that Draw a Stickman: Epic 2 was actually a puzzle game at heart. While it has some light combat and exploration elements, puzzles are generally what you’ll be solving. Starting you off with a simple green pencil, this allows you to draw leafs onto dead trees. Draw whatever shape you want on a dead tree with this pencil and leafs magically grow. This is how you’ll defeat enemies early on, as they don’t like to be touched my any color, so you have to lure them into the trees to defeat them.

As you progress, you’ll gain access to numerous pencils, all having their own specific use. While the puzzles themselves aren't too terribly challenging, and the gameplay is quite short overall, I don’t really want to give too much else away as then there wouldn’t be any surprises left. What I will say, is that you’ll have to also draw other items, like a sword or a pickaxe to use in your arsenal as well. Again, these can be any drawing you can imagine, so get creative.

You’ll unlock the ability to utilize your sketchbook as well. Not happy with your initial stickman drawing, or want to simply improve upon it? Here you can basically have numerous drawings for your characters and items saved in your sketchbook, allowing you to swap freely whenever you wish. There’s no benefit to having a better drawn character, but it can be quite entertaining and hilarious to see what you and your friends can come up with. Do a quick YouTube search and you’ll see the crazy kind of stuff people have come up with.

The world itself is very lighthearted and comes across as if it’s being told from a comic book that a child drew themselves. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it suits the overall mood and type of game, but my seven year old had an absolute blast drawing a handful of characters and seeing them come to life. Is this meant for a younger audience? Yeah somewhat, though the puzzles were a little complex for her at times and I had to intervene and do those parts for her. She simply wanted to spend her time drawing and seeing it walk around the world.

For less than $10 you can get a simple game in premise, but is only limited to your imagination. While I may find it hilarious drawing lewd and inappropriate characters and seeing them come to life, my innocent daughter had a great time just drawing a ton of characters and laughing the whole time. If you’re a creative artist or have kids, you can find a few laugh filled hours in Draw a Stickman: Epic 2; for everyone else, there’s not a lot of content to keep you going for more than an afternoon.

Overall Score: 6.8 / 10 Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince

The Trine series has been around for a decade now, and in that time, has amassed a following, deservedly so. While I never got around to trying the series previously, the general consensus was that fans loved the first two, but the third departed a bit too much and wasn’t as well received because of it. It seems that developers Frozenbyte has taken that criticism and feedback to heart and has returned with an even better outing this time with Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince.

Returning back to 2.5D glory, Trine 4 once again follows the iconic trio in a new adventure, to save Prince Selius from his nightmares that seemingly are able to invade the real world. Pontius the Knight, Zoya the Thief and Amadeus the Wizard band together once again for a new journey that takes place in a world that looks as if it’s taken directly out of some sort of children fairytale. The Prince has gone missing, so it’s up to your trio to not only find him, but to stop the world from being invaded by his nightmares.

While the majority of the gameplay will focus on puzzles, this also means there are a handful of combat elements as well. Each character has their own set of abilities and uses, but won’t be able to solve many, if any at all, puzzles on their own. A blend of platforming and puzzle solving, Trine 4 will absolutely put your brain to the test with its complex puzzles, as you’ll need to swap characters on the fly to solve each puzzle.

Amadeus is a wizard whom is able to conjure a cube into reality, which is then able to be used in a multitude of ways. Most common would be using the box as a platform or to reach higher places, though can be used in other ways as well. Need to lodge a see-saw in a certain way? Box! Need to block projectiles so you can jump by? Box! While he is unable to fight traditionally, he’s much more of a support character and has specific uses.

Zoya is an archer who primarily uses her bow and arrow to attach to hooks and create tightropes that can be walked on. While she has the ability to use her arrows against foes, it’s not very efficient, as you need to aim in a direction for a short period before firing. When she starts to become much more useful is when she gains access to fire and ice arrows that has a multitude of uses, such as freezing platforms in place.

Ponitus, my personal favorite, is a beer bellied knight whom is much more straight forward with his sword and shield. He’s best used in the combat sections, but has many more uses, like being able to reflect light beams with his shield or bounce flowing water in another direction. He’s also able to eventually dash into objects and send them flying to smash certain barriers as well.

Together they all have their own uses, but it’s how you combine their abilities together that will take practice. For example, maybe you need to conjure a box and place it somewhere so that Zoya can attach a rope to it and swing to the next area. Or maybe Zoya can make a tightrope that Pontius can get across and reflect back a light beam to unlock a door. There’s a million situations like this that will take some practice, but being able to swap characters on the fly is simple and instantaneous. There are even skill trees for each character, adding some more depth and unlocking new abilities as you progress, like different types of arrows, other conjured objects and more.

Like any puzzle game, things start out quite basic and you’ll be flying through them with ease. Eventually they become a little more challenging and require some thought, then you’ll eventually hit a brick wall of frustration. That being said, the puzzles are quite clever and almost always require more than one character to solve. Once you start playing co-op, this is even more true, but more on that shortly.

Given that the prince is making his nightmares come to life, now and then you’ll come to a room where a bunch of enemies spawn, unable to progress until they are all defeated. These generic battles aren’t very difficult, as I simply use Pontius and slash away until they are all gone, but the bosses are a little more tricky and involved. I’m guessing that the combat sections were added to give some gameplay variety, but honestly, these were the sections I enjoyed the least. Trine 4 is a puzzle game at its core, so deviating from its greatest strength seems like an odd design decision. The fighting simply feels bland and repetitive and I wouldn’t have held it against it if it was missing these sections completely.

Just as I thought I was really getting the hand of solving Trine’s puzzles, I opted to try the game in co-op. With support of up to 4 players online or local, I thought it was going to be cake walk with another player able to also choose any of the three characters as well. What I didn’t know is that Trine 4 automatically scales a majority of the puzzles based on how many co-op players there are. While figuring out a puzzle playing solo could be tough, having another player who has their own responsibilities that needs to work in tandem with you, is a whole other level of challenge.

Once you need to deal with mirrors reflecting light, portals, magnets and more, adding another player essentially doubles the amount of ‘steps’ required to solve said puzzles. Yes, it’s still a better experience playing cooperatively with a friend, but the challenge does ramp up; I can’t even imagine how challenging the 4 player puzzles must be. Even though it was much tougher playing cooperatively with a friend, it was a better overall experience with two people trying to solve a puzzle as opposed to being stumped on your own, even if your partner can't always pull their own puzzle solving weight.

What maybe surprised me the most though was just how gorgeous Trine 4 can look at times. It’s as if the trio’s adventure was taken straight out of a fairytale story somewhere. The models for each character is impressive, but it’s the world and environment itself that really shined. There’s a whole pallet of beautiful colors that are utilized, bright and pastel with a ton of charm. Even though the game itself is in 2.5D, the world looks fully realized and quite the sight to simply take in. The audio is just as impressive, with an engaging soundtrack that suits each backdrop and excellent voice work overall from every character.

For as much as I enjoyed Trine 4, it felt very crowded when it came to mechanics and having to utilize certain abilities and combinations. Yes, you’re introduced to them gradually, but it’s a lot to take in and remember. I don’t think anyone would be saddened if the combat sections were cut, but I understand why narratively they’re included. While I may have missed the boat on the first few Trine games, I certainly won’t from this point forward; you have a new fan.

Overall Score: 9.1 / 10 Hunt: Showdown

Back when Hunt: Showdown released in Game Preview, we got to check it out and came away with some hope that when it was released as a final product, that many additions and improvements would have been made. Well, that day has come, as Crytek’s Hunt: Showdown has now been officially released. At its core, Hunt: Showdown is a competitive PvPvE matchup set in the Louisiana swamps where you’re fighting otherworldly creatures and monsters and fending off other players. It’s an interesting premise, and while it’s definitely improved over the last few months since I’ve played last while in Game Preview, it still feels as though more works needs to go into it to really make it something special.

Seemingly set in the old Western times, you’re on the hunt for some mythical and powerful beasts, but before you can vanquish them, you’ll need to gather clues as to where their hideout may be in the massive swampland. Along the way though you’re going to come across other beasts, zombie-like creatures and even other players, all trying to kill you and your team.

Once you find a boss, and if you manage to kill it, you’ll still need to make your way to the exit on the edges of the map, but will have all of the other bounty hunter players chasing you as well. It’s very challenging to get the hang of and you’re going to die a lot, but if you persevere and put the time required to level up and learn the mechanics, it starts to become more enjoyable. That’s a big if though, as when you fail, you’re character is permanently dead after a certain level, as is their gear. The only upside is that the experience you’ve earned is then shared into your Bloodline and can be used for another new hunter, but more on that shortly.

You only begin with a simple gun and not much else. You also have a special power called Dark Sight that allows you to peer into another realm, highlighting where clues to find the boss location is currently at. As you find clues, the map will show an area of interest, narrowing you in on the boss’ lair, but you’ll need to constantly press a button and check the map, as there’s no mini-map on the HUD unfortunately. Keep in mind that all of these matches are online, so there’s no pausing, so you better find a safe spot to check your map to figure out where to navigate to.

This Dark Sight darkens the whole screen, allowing you to see some glowing blue particles in the far distance to wherever a clue is located. This feels cumbersome, though I understand the reasoning narratively, but you’re unable to fire your weapon when focusing on utilizing this power. The other main use of this Dark Sight is that it will also mark where a player carrying a bounty to the exit is currently, making it much more difficult to survive as the player(s) who defeated the boss. Generally you’re going to die well before a boss fight though, sometimes from the PvE monsters, but usually from some massively overleveled players that are also matched up with you.

Bounty Hunt matches consist of up to 12 players, either all solo, duos or trios. The problem is that you’re never allowed to see a player list of the server, or have any idea of how many remain, if any at all. There’s no messages showing that someone has died or left the server, so you always have to be weary and on your toes, keeping an eye out for other deadly players. My biggest gripe with the Game Preview version was that there seems to be some terrible matchmaking, meaning you as a level 1 will be paired up against max level or prestige players. This obviously makes for a horrible imbalance, and when you’re spending the first few hours simply trying to figure out the mechanics, it makes for a terribly frustrating experience. sadly this wasn't remedied for the full release, and you'll find the same frustrations that I had. That being said, when the shoe is on the other foot, you’ve put in your time, leveled up your Hunters, unlocked a plethora of new deadly weapons and get paired with some easy kills, it’s hard to not take advantage. Though to get to that point you’re going to have to really dedicate some time into Hunt: Showdown.

While there’s only two or so maps, they are quite large, the bosses you face are randomized, as is the time of day or night you play in. Playing in daytime is absolutely nothing like playing when it’s dark out, so the experience will vary nearly every time you queue up for a Hunt. In the Game Preview versions there were only two bosses available, though it looks like one more has been added since. Once players in a match find enough clues to locate the randomized boss’ lair, you’ll fight against the Butcher, Spider or newly added Assassin.

These bosses are huge, require a ton of damage to defeat, and once the location is known, you can bet that other players will be heading to the location as well, either to help defeat the boss, or kill players and extract the bounty for themselves. The Spider is just that, a massive arachnid that can poison you and deplete your health. The Butcher is a brute of a monster that can easily kill you in a single swing if you get caught in a bad spot. The Assassin is quick, nimble and able to ‘teleport’ out of harm’s way by turning into a swarm of insects.

Each boss is challenging in its own way and requires a specific strategy to beat; not even factoring in the other players that may try and ambush you. One thing I noted in the Game Preview version that still appears to be broken is that the bosses are unable to leave their lair. For example, if they are in a barn, you can simply stand at one of the doorway entrances, pop a few shots, back away and wait for them to come back in range since they’re unable to leave their building. I’m not sure if this is by design, but it defeats much of the challenge to the fights themselves. The flipside to this is that other players also know this strategy, so you can easily ambush other players, or be aware that they’ll be looking for you outside said doorways.

Once you reach a specific level, your Hunters are prone to permadeath. While they’ll die and you’ll lose all their gear, their experience goes towards your overall Bloodline level. This XP can then be used towards a new or other Hunter, so it's a trade-off to death in a way. It’s an interesting mechanic, though should you be able to extract and escape with the bounty, you’ll earn much more money and experience to improve your Hunters.

There is DLC available as well, as we got to try out The Legends of the Bayou add-on. This DLC first and foremost is basically a cosmetic pack and doesn’t really offer any advantages for gameplay itself. Essentially this DLC gets you two new Legendary Hunters; The Bone Doctor and The Weird Sister, two legendary weapons and 500 Blood Bonds, a form of currency to purchase said characters and items. The odd thing is that you’re still forced to ‘pay’ for the DLC characters, and not simply given to you, with the Blood Bonds you’re given, which I found an odd design choice. The new Hunters look quite unique compared to your standard randomized Hunters, but that’s one of the perks of purchasing said DLC, as you are getting a ‘cool’ skin for your character that most won't have.

Get ready for some serious loading times. From pressing Play to the start of the match, you might as well plan to go make a snack or get a drink ready. The loading time is quite lengthy, and while it runs fine once loaded, it’s excruciatingly long at times. Factor in that max level players will kill you on sight almost instantaneously, and you’ll have to get ready for the lengthy loading all over again. This forced PvP element is what really deters me from continuing to play long term. The skill and equipment gap is simply much too large, and being matched up against players like this is sure to deter new comers that are struggling to simply learn the mechanics and intricacies of the gameplay itself.

While Hunt: Showdown is nothing special to look at from an environment perspective, especially at night when you’re able to barely see anything a new feet in front of you, where it truly does shine is in its audio. Every monster has a unique sound, stepping through the swamp or forest will sound realistic, with the swashing sound of running through water, to the snapping of branches as you walk over them. If there’s a doorway with chains hanging in it, they will clang as you pass through, not only adding to the creepy vibe overall, but possibly alerting an enemy team to your whereabouts. The audio absolutely blew me away and I actually use Hunt: Showdown as one of my games to test new headphones out with; the atmosphere is that engrossing and sucks you right into the world.

While it’s come a long way since I played it in its first iteration from Game Preview, it still feels as though something is missing. Maybe I’m just not a fan of the forced PvP elements, as I’ve died to other players much more than any boss or monster in the game. Yes, that’s part of the experience, but it would have been a less frustrating experience if I was at least paired up with players of equal skill and level, not those that have done it all. There’s obviously a following, but with a PvP-less option, I know I would have stuck around longer with some friends trying to collect those bounties.

Overall Score: 7.2 / 10 We Were Here Too

Have you ever wanted to test your true friendship with someone? Think you and them have amazing communication? We Were Here Too will prove to you how terrible your communication is and surely test the bonds of your friendship. I used to think Mario Kart was the game that did this previously, but after spending a few curse filled hours attempting to solve puzzles in We Were Here Too with a good buddy, we surely put our friendship to the test, and almost didn’t pass.

The Premise of We Were Here Too (WWHT) is very similar to the first entry in the series; a two player cooperative puzzle adventure where you’re stuck in a castle, split up with only a radio to communicate with one another and need to help each other escape an abandoned castle.

We Were Here Too opens with a cutscene showing a group of adventurers traversing through a blizzard. They get split up and find themselves reaching for a castle in the distance for safety. They arrive but realize shortly after that they are split up into different areas of the castle. With only their radios for communication, they’ll need to help each other escape, but doing so will be anything but easy.

Played in first person, We Were Here Too is a forced cooperative puzzle adventure where you’ll need to communicate with another player, online (sorry, no local co-op) to escape a variety of rooms and solve puzzles along the way. Until the very end, you’ll be separated, unable to see what the other player sees; this is where your handy radio comes into play.

Communication will need to be constant, clear and concise if you want to not only get out of this dungeon together, but spare your actual friendship as well. Controls are quite simplistic, as you move and look around with the sticks, interact with ‘A’, and ‘Left Bumper’ for your one-way radio. Since you and your friend are separated and can’t see one another, each will have a specific role to play in every puzzle.

Every puzzle requires some immense cooperation, and since you only have a radio to communicate with, you better hope that you can describe the smallest details you see as good as you think you can. I’ll let you know right now, it’s a lot harder than you’d expect. For example, I’ll be locked in room A with a bunch of symbols on the wall. You, in room B, will have some sort of puzzle to solve, but won’t have any clue how. This is where I describe what I see in my room, hopefully properly, allowing you to figure out a solution to escape. Once you solve the puzzle, we both get to move onto another room separately. The puzzles are much more complex than that, but that’s the general idea of the gameplay structure.

Puzzles become increasingly more difficult as you progress, with the last handful becoming borderline infuriating. One in particular had me trying to go up a spiral staircase, but being blocked by a locked gate. The only thing I could see was a picture on the wall of a cross with different shapes in each quadrant, as if you unfolded a cube. My friend, had a room full of cubes and needed to match the one I was describing and put it on a pedestal. If he got it right, the gate opened and I walked up the stairs and we attempted the next one. Oh, what I didn’t mention is that the stairs were slowly retracting into the wall, so if he didn’t solve it in time I would fall into the lava below and we’d have to restart. To make it more chaotic, if he chose the wrong cube, a handful of stairs would retract at once, so you can start to see how vital key and important your communication will be.

Another puzzle that almost broke us was me having to navigate a circular maze of sorts. I had to reach a specific marker on the ground before the puzzle reset, and since it’s played in first person, I was essentially running it blind. My friend had a vantage point from up above though, so he had to quickly guide and direct me of which way to go and what marker I needed to get to next. I will say, we did have to cheat for this one and co-stream, as I simply couldn’t do it with his poor directions. Things become frantic and once frustration sets in, as communication drops as well. Most puzzles seem to be randomized every time you die as well, so there’s no simply looking up a walkthrough of solutions, only how to arrive to the solutions themselves is key.

You each have a one way radio, and WWHT suggests playing without party chat that has open mics. Playing properly with in-game voice, each person can talk, but only one at a time, indicated by the light on your walkie. If your light is on, that means your partner is talking. If you don’t let go of your radio button, neither of you will hear each other. This means you need to start to respect when each other is talking, taking turns and listening. Yes, you could use party chat, Skype or whatever form of communication, but We Were Here Too truly is meant to be experienced this way, and is better for it.

Having to explain what certain shapes and symbols looks like seems easy, but having to actually do so, and with a timer on some puzzles, is much more difficult than you would initially expect. For example, one room had me locked in with a bunch of weapons on a rack and armored knights not holding anything. He had to explain what knight was holding which weapon in which hands, all while the room was closing in on him, close to crushing him. I had to not only follow his orders and what he was communicating, but also reverse the crushing wall every so often with the turn of a wheel. Again, communication is key, and without it, you won’t even pass the first puzzle in the 3-4 hour adventure.

Can you cheat by sending pictures to one another, or in my case, streaming your game so each other can see what you see? Absolutely. Do I suggest it? Absolutely not. This really was a last ditch effort to try and reach the end when we only had a few puzzles left, but it kills the importance of communication, which is what WWHT is based upon. Yes, you’re going to swear at one another, more than once, but when you do finally escape, I guarantee your communication between one another will be better for it.

As for its visual and audio, it’s a mixed bag. Visually, the castle and environments look great. The castle has that dark, gloomy and spooky vibe to it and the puzzle symbols can be clearly read and interpreted. As for the character models and animations themselves, when you do finally see one another, they are a lot left to be desired. Yes, I know it’s a small indie game, so it’s hard to hold it against it, but it looks very stiff and out of place once you do finally get to be in the same room together. Audio is quite decent overall, with the castle having spooky sounds and many audio cues to tell you if you’ve solved a puzzle or done something right or incorrect.

The main problem with We Were Here Too is that there’s virtually no replay value. Yes, you could play through twice to see and try the other half of each puzzle, but it’s akin to seeing the main plot twist in Fight Club or Sixth Sense, you simply can’t recreate that magic you experience the first time around. Once you realize there’s a ‘secret’ ending, you could justify the second playthrough, though hopefully your communication has improved since your first outing.

If you’re a puzzler fan and have a friend that is also like minded, then We Were Here Too should be absolutely on your radar, as this sequel will put your puzzle solving, and friendship, to the test. Given that We Were Here Too is relatively cheap, even though it has a short playtime and not much replayability, I did quite enjoy my time with it. I certainly learned that me and by buddy have to work on our communication and that if we somehow got into a situation like this in real life, we’d have absolutely no chance of survival or I’d leave him behind and save myself, which I’m OK with.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series, The

I’ve been a Walking Dead fan since its graphic novel days, before the show even began. Since the show grew in popularity, the brand itself has exploded into many spinoffs, including a handful of games that were lovingly developed by the previous Telltale Studios. The first episode of Season 1 released back in 2012, and since then, we’ve had a handful of follow-up seasons and spinoffs as fans clamored for more characters, stories and lore. Finally, everything Walking Dead related to Telltale’s series is at last in one place, including all four of the main seasons, 400 Days and The Walking Dead: Michonne as well. Taking place over 23 episodes and easily lasting more than 50 hours of gameplay, there’s a ton of extra bonuses as well that justify The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series title.

To fully understand and appreciate how significant this collection and release is, you need to also be aware of the saddening story behind the rise and fall of Telltale Games. While I won’t delve into too much detail here, as that’s for another story, the main takeaway is that Telltale was being mismanaged for so long that halfway through the development of the final season, they closed their doors for good.

This not only left many out of work, but fans wondering if they were going to see Clementine’s story finished, a character and narrative that fans have waited years to see the conclusion of. Long story short, Robert Kirkman’s company, the creator of Walking Dead, Skybound Games, came in to save the day and finish the final season with some of the original development team. Not only did we almost not to get to see Clementine’s story to its grand finale, but now this collection wraps up everything in one neat little package with a bunch of bonus extras as well.

Taking place in the same universe as the comic and show, The Telltale games told a story that revolves around a young child name Clementine. From the beginning of the first season, she begins out scared and alone when her parents are nowhere to be found, but by the end of the final season, is easily on par with any of the cannon characters from the comics or show in terms of strength and importance to others.

If you’ve not played any of The Walking Dead games previously, you should know that Telltale games always have a heavy emphasis on narrative. Choices you make (mostly) matter and affect the outcome of events later on. Yes, you’re still going to go from point A to point B in the story, regardless of your choices for the most part, but as the saying goes, “It’s not the destination, but the journey”. This couldn’t be any more true to the series, so get ready for an emotional ride.

Season One / 400 Days:

I’m not sure anyone knew what to expect the reaction to a narrative based Walking Dead game was going to be before its initial release. Sure, I’ve played Telltale games previous to this, but after this inaugural episode, it was clear that Telltale had something truly special on their hands and hit a stride of compelling storytelling rarely seen in gaming. While the series revolves around Clementine, a small first grader in this season, you actually play as Lee Everett, who vows to watch after her when he finds her alone at her house.

Taking Clem under his wing, you’ll teach her how to survive in this new harsh world. Sometimes that’s deciding to protect her from things she doesn’t need to know, or simply keeping her hair short so it can’t get grabbed by walkers. Their relationship blossoms to a point where they would consider each other family and do anything for one another. With a handful of supporting characters, including Glenn, weaving the game into cannon from the comics and show, the season unravels, forcing you to make impossible decisions at every turn and will leave you in tears if you have any sort of heart.

Season 2:

When the final episode of Season 1 ended, it wasn’t clear if there was going to be a follow-up season or not. Luckily we got one, and got to continue Clementine’s journey, though this time you were in complete control of Clem trying to survive the apocalypse with a new group. This is where we start to see Clem grow into who she’s destined to be, becoming quite the bad ass along the way for such a young girl.

Season 3:

While I was always excited for a new season of Walking Dead, Season 3 was easily the letdown of the series. Here you play as Javier, and while Clem is involved in the story, she has a much smaller role and sits backseat for much of the narrative. There’s nothing wrong with the season per-se, but it was the one that I felt the least connection to.

Season 4:

The final season. This is where Clementine’s journey ends. Again, she is the focus of the story, along with AJ, the child for whom she’s now watching after and raising as her own family. They find a boarding school run by kids, which adds a unique dynamic when she’s thrust into an ongoing battle. Just after episode two of four is when the Telltale closure happened, so fans were unsure of what was going to happen with the remaining episodes of the season. I’ll admit, I was legitimately saddened when news broke, for the employees, but also unsure if I’d see Clem’s story finished after all these years and being so invested into the series.

While only four episodes long, it feels the most structured and focused overall. They knew the end was coming, so many things were wrapped up. New elements were added and a ton of nostalgia for fans that have been around since the beginning. While it’s a miracle the season was finished with Skybound coming in to complete it, the fact that there’s closure at all is something I’m more than thankful for. It’s a hell of a journey that Clem partakes, and even after years since its first release, I usually get around to playing a season or two now and then; that’s how strong the narrative and storytelling is.

MICHONNE:

One of the comic and show favorites, Michonne, got her own spinoff story. Only 3 episodes long, it’s the shortest of the series and doesn’t directly interject with Clem’s story. This was more of a fan service for followers of the comic. Taking place when she leaves in issue 126 and returning in 139, this mini-series essentially shows you what happened and where she went. Some of her origin narrative is also explored, adding more depth to the fan favorite character.

Given that this is the Definitive Series edition, there’s more here than simply bundling all of the seasons and spin-offs. There’s actually a decent amount of extra content within that is sure to delight longtime fans and give more insight into the game and development process itself. The most notable addition is the graphic improvements and options. There’s a new “Graphic Black” setting that matches the style of the final season and brings it in line with the graphic novels with much thicker black lines and shading. Some scenes become much darker because of this optional style, but it really does make it look more in line with the graphic novels if you’re a fan. Luckily it can be toggled on and off on a whim, but this coupled with the improved lighting, animation and lip syncing, it felt almost like a new game at times.

There is also a plethora of behind the scenes bonuses that include watching playthroughs of some of the most critical episodes, complete with a commentary track comprised of developers, and even the voice over artists themselves. These require some commitment though, as they are roughly around two hours long each. There’s even a short documentary about the Telltale closure, though purposely avoiding many of the ugly details. My only complaint about these commentary tracks is that it seems as though the subtitles are hardcoded into the videos themselves, unable to toggle them off.

There are other typical bonuses as well, such as being able to use a music player to play the tracks across all of the seasons and a 3D model viewer that allows you to inspect, rotate and play with the character models. I’m glad that they’ve decided to keep the original season menus intact though as a great throwback for longtime fans, though there’s a new overall Definitive Series over-menu that needs to be navigated first.

While the majority of your gameplay will consist of choosing dialogue options, hoping you made the ‘right’ decision, there are some exploring and navigating elements as well, though not as prominent until the final season. Being created in a custom engine, the original releases were quite laggy, buggy and full of issues. It seems the majority of these issues have been remedied, as it felt incredibly smoother, and many mechanics, especially lip syncing, have been drastically improved. It absolutely felt that this edition is the way Telltale originally intended the experience to be.

With about 50 hours of content to get through, The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series is the absolute best way to experience one of my favorite games in recent memory. If you’ve never played the series previously, or never got around to finishing all of the seasons, this Definitive Series is the absolute best way to experience one of the most emotionally engaging narratives in gaming in recent history.

While the closure of one of my favorite studios is a sad cliffnote to the series, Clementine’s journey is one of the most notable and memorable stories I’ve experienced in any medium previously, largely due to the perfect performances by the voice over cast and writing team at Telltale. Sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye to something you love, and while I’ve already said my goodbyes to Clementine and her story, it’s a journey that I’ll always treasure having experienced over the course of nearly a decade.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Bus Simulator

There are niche games, and then there are super niche games. One such super niche title is the newly released on console Bus Simulator. I never used to think that anyone would want to play odd games like Farm Simulator, but after reviewing a few, I learned to see the appeal. Bus Simulator is no different, as there’s a crowd and audience for everything, even being a city bus driver.

Bus Simulator is true to its name. Not only are you a bus driver, but part city planner as well, as you’ll be creating the routes, managing staff, efficiency and more. You’ll have access to a handful of different licensed buses from Mercedes, MAN, IVECO and Setra. I can only assume that these are the go-to for names in the bus world, but they appear to be and are said to be authentic. Not only can you simulate your bus career, but you can bring along friends online to join your company and play with them as well.

Your bus career begins in Seaside Valley, a city sorely needing someone to spearhead the transportation infrastructure development. Seaside Valley has many different and unique districts, from residential, commercial and industrial, just like any large city. Your opening tutorial will show you how to create a small route with just a few stops then drive it, but eventually you’ll need to create many varying routes, hiring drivers, purchasing buses and more, adding some long term goals to strive towards, rather than simply driving a bus itself.

As you perform good routes and bring passengers to their destinations, you’ll earn money along the way. This is how you’ll afford to purchase new buses and hire more staff to drive the routes you’ve created, which in turn earns you more money. You’ll also earn a star rating based on the route you’ve driven and how well you drove. You’ll lose rating if you drive recklessly, hit potholes, speed bumps, speed, crash, etc. Drive well, stay the speed limit, arrive on time and use your turn signals and you’ll earn more. Drive better, earn better.

While you can freely drive any routes you create, there is some mission structure given to guide you along the way on how to connect areas and try new things like night driving and return routes as you aim to make your city more connected. There are a ton of other options if you want to boost the difficulty and effort required, like giving passengers change if they need to purchase a ticket, picking up garbage customers leave behind' a more realistic and challenging mode and across the nearly 6 square miles of roads.


You may think that driving is a bus is simply getting from point A to B, but there’s a lot more than goes into it, especially if you want to keep passengers happy by being prompt and drive properly. Sometimes you’ll have to face against freak weather, speed traps, terrible drivers, traffic, construction zones, fare evaders and more.

If you’ve played any of the Farm Simulator games, you’ll feel right at home knowing that your buses have an obscene amount of knobs, levers and buttons, all of which have a specific purpose that you’ll need to utilize. The initial tutorial will teach you the basics, but there’s a handy radial menu to quickly access certain toggles like lights, wheelchair ramp, E-brake and more. If you choose to play with cashier mode on, this is where you’ll need to see what type of fair they want to purchase, then give them the appropriate amount of change. I found this to be WAY too time consuming and tedious, but the option is there for those that want the realism or challenge.

What did surprise me was that you’re actually able to customize your buses with different graphics, colors and vinyls. Not only can you color your bus to nearly anything you like, but you can put different patterns and graphics on it as well. No, you’re not going to have any crazy layering like we’ve come to expect from a Forza obviously, but the fact that it’s there is a really cool touch and was unexpected. If this supported mods, it would have been awesome to have actual ads on the sides of your fleet.

Why drive alone though? Invite your friends to ride alongside you in real time; another feature I didn’t really expect. Up to four players can play together, though I found the most fun when one of my friends came with my on my route and simply pestered passengers to see their ticket. If he found a fare jumper, they actually get fined and we earn more money. Thankfully there wasn’t a happiness meter attached to the riders though, as I'm sure we would have had a harassment suit filed against us.

Visually, Bus Simulator is pretty terrible to look at in general. Yes, the internal bus view is recreated from its real life counterpart and looks decent, but basically everything else is incredibly dated. Buses themselves look plain and uninspired, but the models and animations for the passengers are exceptionally terrible. The same goes for the voice acting overall, though thankfully the bus sounds themselves are somewhat decent, as I've come to know the hydraulics lowering sound all too well. While some parts aren’t as realistic as can be, as passengers are friendly, cars let you merge and there’s no weirdos on the bus, everything else is as authentic as can be in relation to the actual driving itself.

Bus Simulator aims to be just that, the defacto simulation experience for not only driving a bus, but all of the other work that goes into running a transportation company for a large city. Yes, many will find the gameplay quite repetitive and dull, but there’s a certain calmness to it that I enjoyed and found relaxing. Yes, it’s a seriously niche game that will cater to a very specific audience, but if you’re in that demographic, there’s no better options out there, even if it’s not very pretty to look at.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 GreedFall

From the first time I saw a Greedfall trailer I knew I was going to be hooked. What’s not to like? It’s got a very Witcher 3/Dragon Age vibe but set in a colonial backdrop, reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed III. If this hasn’t already peaked your interest, then you’ll be happy to know that I enjoyed the vast majority of my time with Greedfall, even after about 30 hours worth. French studio, Spiders, last known for Technomancer, have finally brought a release that not only stands up alongside others in the genre, but stands out as well. Yes, it’s flawed, but I couldn’t put it down until the credits (eventually) rolled and came away incredibly impressed by its beauty, mechanics and depth of lore.

There’s a horrible disease spreading called the Malichor, seemingly unstoppable and killing nearly everyone it infects. With no known cure, De Sardet and their cousin set out for a mysterious and relatively unknown island, Teer Fradee, in search for said cure. Having a noble background, you’ll start an investigation into the Malichor, what’s causing it, and more importantly, how to stop it. Doing so will not be a simple task though, as you’ll need to navigate not only dangerous lands with wild beasts and enemies, but have to handle the political sides of a civil war between settlers and natives.

With a 17th century European backdrop, the world is completely believable, looks the part and is surprisingly gorgeous to take in its vistas. The towns and cities are bustling and look aged, and the woodlands have some great backdrops full of foliage and pathways that house secrets. Your dear cousin is taking the new role of Governor on Teer Fradee, so naturally you’ll be given special access to areas and leading the expedition to find a cure. As the Ambassador, you’ll have no navigate very delicate situations when it comes to politics and warring tribes, as well as beasts trying to eat you.

I don’t want to give much more away about the narrative, but I will say that it’s wonderfully written and keeps you hooked until near the very end. My only real complaint is that it feels very padded near the last act or so, as I was forced to help many people to progress, but to help them I needed to prove my worth by helping other people, and so on. When I thought I was at the end initially, I still had a few more hours to go before the credits rolled. Some may see that as great value, but it definitely felt like it overstayed its welcome just a little too long. That being said, the writing was fantastic, the story compelling and the voice acting top notch.

If I had to choose a single game to best compare Greedfall to, it would be most likely Dragon Age. You’re on foot exploring a vast island with magical properties. You’ll upgrade your weapons and armor, have companions of your choosing at your side and be hooked on a deeply lore rich narrative for at least a few dozen hours. You’ll first begin by choosing your male or female character then customizing their appearance; choose wisely, as you’ll be seeing this face for a very long time with hours of cutscenes and dialogue.

From there, you’ll choose a starting ‘class’ per-se, setting you on a guided pathway of skills and abilities, but you’re by no means locked into that specific playstyle, as you’ll be able to earn many skill points and abilities to completely customize your character to play however you wish. I chose the typical melee warrior build, but by the end of my journey I was able to heal my party, set traps, explode bombs and use the highest tier guns as well. Your initial choices are just a starting point, but you are able to reset all of your points and abilities should you wish later on. There are a ton of different skills and abilities, allowing for very unique gameplay and custom builds, so it’s a matter of experimenting and finding what works best for you.

As your adventure progresses, you’ll meet new companions that will aid you in your journey for their own reasons. You’ll be able to take two alongside you at all times, and they are also categorized into specific classes. Since I was a melee archetype, I chose to have the healer and the ranged damage dealer alongside me, but there are other choices as well that can mesh quite well together. When you outgrow your gear and find better pieces, you’re also able to give them to your companions, like a hand-me-down to a younger sibling. Any weapons or armor that isn’t going to be used can either be sold or deconstructed for materials, which in turn will be used to improve your gear, but more on that shortly.

As you explore towns and countryside, you’ll unlock camps and villages which can in turn be used as fast travel points. While Greedfall is made up of a bunch of areas, you’re able to freely fast travel to any point you’ve been to at any camp or zone boundary. This will save you an immense amount of time, as Teer Fradee is deceptively large. Sometimes it can be a little tricky to find a correct path when having to search for something or someone up or downstairs, but you’ll need to refer to the map quite often as there’s no glowing breadcrumb trail, just an icon on your HUD pointing you in the correct general direction.

Having to navigate a political landscape was an aspect I didn’t expect to be as deep as it was. There’s so much lore and history with all of the races and factions, making navigating certain talks and deals quite tricky at times. In general, the settlers and natives are always blaming each other and fighting, so it’s going to take a lot of patience and proof that you can be trusted enough to help them with whatever they want. If you’re dealing with someone that absolutely despises the natives, but have one alongside you as your companion, it’s going to be a much trickier situation to talk your way out of. Since I dumped my skill points into Charisma, there was a ton of conversations that I was able to talk my way out of, or influence them how I wanted, to get the outcome I wanted, though brute force is an option as well.

Saying that there is a healthy amount of quests is an understatement. Not even including the main quest storyline, there’s so much side quest content that could easily keep you busy for many hours. While it may not be on par with the likes of a Witcher 3 in terms of content and depth, it’s still a staggering amount to take in if you’re a completionist. Even better, quests can sometimes be completed in different ways, depending on your skills and choices.

For example, when confronted with a looming battle, do you go head first into war, or sneak around finding dirt on your opponent and blackmail them to stand down? Maybe to gain someone’s trust you’ll need to prove that you hurt another faction. Do you do that or lie, hoping there are no repercussions? Because I had max lock picking skill, I was able to bypass a lot of extra searching guards and rooms for keys, saving a lot of time. There are many situations where you’ll need to decide between stealth, diplomacy or combat, and there’s no wrong choice, just yours. Keep in mind that many of these choices do ultimately matter, as you do have a rating of how the factions like you, which will affect outcomes and options further in your adventure.

Combat feels great and responsive, and with a vast skill tree, you can customize to any playstyle you wish. Able to wield two weapons, I opted for a quick one handed sword and a secondary two hander that cuts down shields and armor. Eventually I was able to pepper in gunfire, magic and traps as well, with my companions keeping my health topped off and damaging from afar. If the real-time combat becomes too overwhelming, there’s also a tactical pause that allows you to figure out your next move and queue up an ability. While I opted to hotkey these to my D-pad, there were certainly times where the tactical pause came in handy against the bigger bosses.

Combat and quests is how you’ll earn experience and level up, allowing you to put more points into the skill tree and unlock new perks and abilities. If you decide to spend points into crafting, you’ll be able to upgrade your gear that has open slots. This allows you to further customize your gear and add a multitude of stats to your gear, but it also physically changes its visual look as well. When I added a rare purple handle to my sword, it had a different look for that specific spot. The same goes for armor, as adding plate additions actually made the armor look slightly different. The crafting may not be the deepest system out there, but it sure was fun and enjoyable to upgrade my gear beyond its basic stats when I started getting high end purple and gold tier gear.

I have to be completely honest; I don’t know what I was going to expect from Greedfall before starting it, as it’s from a smaller studio that’s never done anything this vast before aside from Technomancer. Playing on an Xbox One X, I can safely say that Greedfall looks absolutely stunning at times. The world is created beautifully, be it a city or woodland, lighting is great and monster design top notch as well. Yes, there were bugs and glitches like framerate drops and screen tearing here and there, but nothing that really drops you from the immersion for too long. Main characters look great and have a ton of detail, though secondary NPC’s seem to either simply stand around or wander aimlessly.

The soundtrack is just as good, as it fits the atmosphere and backdrop of the dark and gloomy world of Teer Fradee. As you near enemies or have to be careful, the music changes to indicate danger, swords clang and magic sounds powerful. The voice over work across the board was more than impressive and completely believable, so kudos to Spiders for stepping up, as poor voice acting in a 30+ hour game would have been utterly disappointing.

Having spent nearly 30 hours in Greedfall, I’m glad to have experienced it. The narrative is deep, rich of lore, complex and has many twists and turns; it’s just a shame it feels a little too long by the end with some superficial padding of forced side quests. If you’re a fan of Dragon Age or Witcher 3 and have been craving a new RPG to sink some hours into with some depth, Greedfall should be at the top of your list. It’s a shame that it released in the busiest holiday window and will be overlooked by all the other AAA games out there, but those who manage find it amongst the crowd and give it a chance should be more than pleasantly surprised.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 WRC 8 FIA World Rally Championship

There used to be a time where I would play nearly every rally game I could find, especially when they hit their stride with the Colin McRae games back in the early 2000’s, which eventually morphed into the Dirt series we know today. Around the same time, the WRC series emerged as well, though for whatever reason I never dived head first into them. It’s been a long time since a dedicated rally game has caught my attention, though to be fair, with the Forza Horizon series basically encompassing all different race styles, which may be what has kept my rally hunger at bay all these years.

Today is a new day though, and after sinking a good dozen or so hours into WRC 8 FIA World Rally Championship, based on the current 2019 WRC Season, I may have become addicted all over again to the absolutely insane racing that takes an unfathomable amount of skill, braveness and just a hint of crazy. Have you ever watched an actual WRC rally race? You need to have steel balls if you were going to try and attempt that, though the same could be said for the spectators that watch along the sidelines, inches from a speeding car on the verge of chaos.

It’s been a little bit of a layoff since the previous WRC 7, as it was welcomed with lukewarm reviews overall. It seems though that with the time off, Bigben and Kylotonn have improved on nearly every facet and mechanic, making WRC 8 a truly authentic experience that fans should appreciate. Not only is it the official simulation of the World Rally Championship, you’re going to have access to actual WRC drivers and co-drivers, WRC vehicles, WRC 2, Junior WRC, legendary cars, but you’ll do so over the course of 14 rallies, equaling easily over 100 stages, varying in challenge, difficulty, weather and more.

While there are a handful of modes to play and try out, Career Mode is where I spent at least 90% of my time with WRC 8. While the bulk of your gameplay will obviously be racing in the stages and championships, there’s a whole new element to the Career mode this time around, as you’ll actually partake in being a part of the whole team like a manager. That’s right, a racing team is a lot more than its driver and mechanics. You’ll have to hire and pay staff for R&D, repairing damage to your vehicle between stages, finance managers, meteorologists, engineers and more. This whole ‘team sim’ aspect actually took me by surprise, but I did enjoy it, as you had a balance to budget and do more than simply jumping from race to race.

You’ll have a calendar where you can see the upcoming events of the series you’ll take part in. Between these large events you can choose how to fill your days, such as resting if you simply want to get to the event sooner, or maybe try out a legendary race, race in some extreme weather or even test out a new manufacturer’s vehicle. There are even rare events that you might be able to partake in, so there’s always something interesting to do other than the main rallies.

Another aspect that surprised me was that there’s a fully-fledged skill tree as well. As you earn XP for racing, you’ll be able to spend skills in a vast skill tree, of which there are four main categories. I decided to focus on earning more money, job roles and such for my team, but there are a bunch of different ‘builds’ you could work towards. It added a little more personalization to the campaign, setting it apart from others which I liked.

It seems the extra time in development has helped improve almost every facet of WRC 8, from its improved and more robust campaign mode, much more impressive graphics, a new physic engine, and my favorite, the dynamic weather system. Make no mistake, WRC 8 is much more on the simulation side as opposed to arcade, though there are a bunch of difficulty options and assists you can toggle if you’re new to the series. Be prepared to crash a lot in the beginning though, as I would nearly go off the track at every corner early on, but once you start to get a feel for it, the experience completely changes for the better.

Of course, for the hardcore fans and the ones that want a super realistic experience, you can tweak nearly every setting in your vehicle to perform however you wish, even the damage can be turned to realistic where you’ll need to watch your tire wear as well. As I said, it does take quite a bit of getting used to, but once you overcome that steep learning curve and can start tackling corners that are barely wider than your vehicle itself, it becomes quite thrilling, just like watching the actual sport.

I have to say though, while dynamic weather is nothing new in games, they are more than a mere nuisance in WRC 8. Usually in most racing games when it starts to rain, sure your tires will slide a bit more and you’ll get rain on your screen to simulate the real thing, but weather in WRC severely affects your racing and handling, which I don’t think I’ve experienced to this level before. For example, in one race it started to rain; no biggy, I just slowed down a little more than normal for the upcoming corners. Then, it started to really downpour, substantially more.

As I hit puddles in dips that formed, it would actually alter how my car handled through them. Have only one wheel going into a puddle? Your car is going to pull that direction, just like in real life. You may even hydroplane if you don’t straighten out before going through as well. Snow takes this to a whole other level and this means that your races can always be unpredictable.

You’ll not only have daytime races, but night as well, which adds an additional level of challenge. Sure, you have your co-pilot barking out upcoming turns and directions, but having that limited visibility, coupled with the dynamic weather, and you’re going to have to put your big boy/girl pants on to place well. You’ll also want to make note of the track type before a race, as you’ll want to equip the most appropriate tires to match what type of race you’re partaking in.

Fans of the sport will be happy to know that not only are actual teams and rallies included, but stages are replicated from their real world counterparts as well, so keen eyed super fans should be able to recognize some of the stages. While I’m not a super fan by any means, the variety of stages was quite staggering, as each had its own feel and look. Racing down incredibly narrow dirt paths is quite different from drifting along cliff edges or a tarmac race. There’s plenty of variety to keep you challenged and entertained.

While multiplayer is included, I was unable to find a single game to play with others online with a Quick Match. I tried hosting a lobby as well numerous times, but no one ever joined, so I’m unable to speak to the quality of the online multiplayer unfortunately. I’m hoping that doesn’t mean that the community isn’t large, but luckily there are weekly challenges that you can partake in to challenge yourself on the leaderboards against others. They are calling this is WRC eSports, and can see it being a weekly event to return to in the long run if you like competition.

Visually, WRC 8 can be incredibly impressive. Lighting looks fantastic with sunrays peeking through the treetops, dirt will form on all sides of your car as you progress through stages and the rain effects look absolutely realistic on the windshield, especially when it starts to downpour heavily. The vehicles themselves though look simply average. I never once had any performance issues and the framerate was incredibly smooth throughout. I’m not sure if it was 60 FPS, but it sure felt like it on my Xbox One X. As for the audio, engines roar, you can hear the pops of gears being shifted and the backfire of the exhaust.

I actually have very few complaints overall aside from crashing which seems very buggy and ‘floaty’. When you hit a rock or spin out, it’s like the physics sometimes follow a different set of rules compared to racing. Sometimes I’ll stop dead in my tracks, other times I’ll spin out wildly, and finally, I’ve launched myself nearly into space on occasion. The crashes sound great, but feel inconsistent and not weighted.

My only other major flaw I noted was the lack of vehicle selection. Yes, you’re getting actual drivers and cars from manufactures, and there’s multiple types of cars from WRC, WRC2, Junior WRC and Legendary vehicles, but it seems like there’s not all that much variety. Again, I’m no WRC expert but I wish I had more selection choices, as I get it, the Lancia’s are legendary.

Kudos to Kylotonn though, as they’ve gone above and beyond adding support for a wide array of steering wheels and peripherals. While I didn’t have a wheel and pedal combo to test it on, I did watch others play who did, and it seemed like an even more authentic experience, especially for the wheels that have force feedback.

While I’ve been out of the loop for many years on rally games overall, WRC 8 has sucked me back into the fray, eagerly awaiting to see what improvements the inevitable sequel will bring. WRC 8 improved on nearly every aspect and should be considered if you’re looking for an actual FIA World Rally Championship simulator; it’s even quite fun to boot.

Overall Score: 8.1 / 10 Remnant: From the Ashes

I’ve always enjoyed playing Soulsbourne-like games, even if I’m not particularly skilled at them. While the challenge is usually high and the difficult great, the reward for finally passing an area you’ve been stuck on for hours is quite satisfying. Gunfire Games, the studio that brought us the latest Darksiders game, is finally taking their crack at the Dark Souls formula. While I wasn’t sure what to expect, and the first few hours frustrated the hell out of me, once things clicked, Remnant: From the Ashes completely went from a frustrating experience to an incredibly exciting one.

There’s a dozen Souls impersonators out there already, so I was curious if Remnant would be any different. While it does borrow quite heavily from Dark Souls mechanically, the most drastic change is that Remnant is played with guns instead of swords and shields. Not only does this change the gameplay dramatically, they seemed to have nailed that ‘special sauce’ that made fans fall in love with the Souls games in the first place.

An ancient evil has invaded the world from another dimension and much of humanity has been destroyed. You are on the last remaining remnants of mankind, so you’ll set out on a path for revenge and to stop the enemy so mankind can rebuild. Doing so will be much more difficult than it seems, and you’ll even need to utilize portals and travel to other realms to stop The Root, alongside two other friends should you wish.

While Remnant does borrow quite heavily from Dark Souls, the way it handles its campaign is quite different. Each time you play through the campaign, you’ll navigate the major story sections, but every stop between point A, B, C and D are randomized. This means that not only are the areas you go through are different every time you play, but that also means the mini dungeons and even bosses will vary each playthrough.

This means that the replay factor is through the roof, and there are a ton of secrets and goodies that will take a lot of farming to find. For example, there’s a very rare dungeon that after a dozen or so hours of resetting the world and running though, me and a friend finally got it to spawn. This dungeon houses a unique boss that when defeated, drops one of the rarest gear sets in the game, one that I proudly sport when playing.

This was only possible because of hours of farming and resetting the campaign. But this is also encouraged, as you can farm gear and items this way as well. Even leveling up isn’t done in your traditional sense, as with Remnant, instead of a “level”, you’re ranked with how many Trait points you’ve spent instead, but more on that shortly. What I do enjoy about Remnant’s mechanics compared to Souls is that your progress is always saved and carried over. Died? No problem, no need to get back to your corpse, you’ll simply restart at the last crystal you rested at. Didn’t get a randomized boss or dungeon you wanted? Reset your campaign and continue with your character just the way they are.

That being said, this was after literal HOURS of frustration of not understanding many of the Remnant’s mechanics. Nothing is really explained outside of the beginning tutorial, and that’s more focused on the gunplay rather than how the world works systematically. If I had to rate Remnant on its introduction alone, it would get a hard “F” grade, as I was almost ready to give up on it. Then by chance me and a friend joined a random game with someone that knew Remnant inside and out and took it upon himself to not only teach us the mechanics of how the worlds worked and how to upgrade gear properly, but helped us with a run through of the campaign.

This was the tipping point of going from a game that I nearly uninstalled, to wanting to play alongside a friend nearly every night to farm better gear and challenge ourselves in Hard or Nightmare mode. I fear that some people won’t be as fortunate as I was though, as the game itself won’t teach you very much, simply throwing you in and letting you figure it out for yourself.

As you begin your adventure, you’ll create your character to look how you wish, but the character creator isn’t very robust, and honestly, once you start getting new gear, it won’t really matter anyways. Just be prepared to die a lot in the beginning, but stick with it and learn how the world works, and you’ll come across one of the most rewarding experiences once you start to level up.

You wield two weapons; a main and a secondary, both of which use different ammunition. Killed enemies can drop ammo, as can finding it by breaking items and boxes in the world (generally anything made out of wood), and you’ll always need to be on the lookout, as you’ll be fighting off hundreds of enemies. Played in third person, depending on the class you chose, you’ll begin with a simple pistol and a sidearm like a rifle or shotgun. While the classes don’t make too much of a difference initially, you’re able to make any sort of build you want later on, so they are more starting points for certain playstyles rather than hard locked choices.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, you’re able to also play alongside two friends with drop in/out gameplay. While there is some scaling that takes place with multiple players in a game, Remnant is a much better experience overall with a friend or two in a party. Things never really become stale either with every area being randomized each time, alongside with bosses and loot.

If you’re a Soulsborne fan, you’ll feel right at home, as many mechanics have not only been ‘borrowed’, but straight up copied. Estus Flasks are replaced with Draognhearts, which you can eventually upgrade to have more down the road if you defeat a certain boss fight and find a specific item. Need to refill your health and ammo? Sit at a floating red crystal, which is a replacement for the bonfires, and yes, this also resets the regular enemies as well. Even boss fights are sealed off with that grey fog in the doorway to indicate that you’re in for a battle next. There are even more mechanics ripped right from the source material, but if it’s not broke why fix it?

Earn enough experience and you’ll gain a trait point. These can be spent in a variety of different ways for a multitude of stat increases. Need more health, feel free to dump them into your vigor. Want more stamina or elemental resistance? Feel free to do so. Each stat caps out at 20 trait points, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a cap to how many trait points you can earn, so you’ll eventually be able to fully max out and have spare trait points after dozens of hours. While I’m currently sitting at about 170 Trait level, I’ve played with people that are well over 700 or so.

This not only allows for some character customization, but even some of the traits themselves are hidden. For example, there is forced friendly fire in Remnant when playing co-op, and I kept getting hit from my friend because I would constantly step in front of him. After he downed me ten times, I earned a new trait that allowed me to put trait points into that allows me to take less damage from friendly fire. Now that this trait is maxed at 20, I take maybe 1 or 2 damage from his shots. There’s a ton of hidden traits like this that will require some research or luck to find.

In the newest patch an Adventure Mode has also been introduced. Here you’re able to re-roll individual worlds. For example, you begin out on Earth for the first world, but maybe you want to re-roll the Rhom or Yaesha worlds to try and farm for a specific boss or gear. Now, instead of having you play through the whole campaign, you can simply reset these individual worlds and try your luck. Again, all items you collect, and any progress you make with your character are all saved and carried over regardless how you play.

I won’t lie, in the beginning I was quite frustrated and died, a LOT. There’s a wide variety of enemies, each of which need a different strategy to defeat efficiently. In the beginning, you’re going to learn the hard way how to do this, resulting in many deaths, much like Dark Souls. Also like Souls, you’ll have a stamina meter which is needed to run and dodge. You’ll become best friends with your dodge button as well, as this is how you’ll avoid most damage from enemies and bosses, but required precision timing in harder battles. Watch your gear and weight though, as the heavier you are, the most stamina dodging will take.

There are also a handful of items that will become quite useful during battles, such as a Bloodwort, which is akin to a health regeneration potion, items that can cure disease and other negative effects and even ammo boxes that can be used in a pinch. Once you learn Remnant mechanically, you won’t need to rely on these items often until you start to challenge yourself in Hard and Nightmare mode, which is a massive bump in difficulty, but as are the rewards.

Loot isn’t given in the form of weapons and gear for the most part either, but instead, parts and items that are then craftable into new gear. For example, the first time you kill most bosses, you’ll earn a unique item which can then be used to craft a new specific item back in the hub world. These are generally the most powerful items, and if you get a rare boss, usually amazing gear accompanies if defeated as well. You’ll need scrap (currency) and items like Iron, to create items though, of which you’ll find throughout your adventure.

Not only are these needed to craft items, but you can also increase your favorites in levels to higher tiers as well. For example, regular items can be boosted to +5 with regular iron and scrap, but to go higher you’ll need the next tier of iron and more scrap, so you need to collect any shiny items you see along your adventure, as the costs stack up quickly.

There are also Mods that can be earned and crafted, adding a whole new dimension to the gameplay and can be quite a game changer. For example, we defeated a rare boss and I got its item that allowed me to create a new mod that is quite exceptional. When I use my weapon that it’s attached to enough and fill its meter, you can then unleash your mod power. Mine is a swarm that infects any enemies nearby, dealing massive damage. This alone was a game changer and allowed me to tackle harder enemies with ease.

Gear sets will also have bonuses if you wear 1, 2 or 3 pieces of a set. My set for example allows me to heal a large amount of damage to my co-op friends when I use one of my Dragonhearts to heal myself, because I’m wearing the 3 pieces together. There’s a ton of different gear sets as well that you’ll earn from bosses, and each caters to a different playstyle. My friend for example has a set that allows for a chance to not use ammo upon firing, and since he’s coupled that with a single shot high damage weapon, it’s a deadly combination when you pair certain gear together.

Remnant is quite impressive visually the further you make it through the worlds. While the starter area and Earth won’t really ‘wow’ you, the worlds you explore later on are impressive, not only in their scale, but how detailed it can be. One desert and barren world has a solar eclipse in the background that I’ve actually been using for my wallpaper, and the ancient ruins underground feels like it’s straight out of Battlestar or some other sci-fi adventure. There’s a lot of variety, color pallet and bosses will always be terrifying upon first glance.

Remnant: From the Ashes dumps you into its world without any sort of hand holding or explanations. While some will enjoy this, I found it incredibly frustrating in the beginning, not sure how the world worked mechanically, or even that areas were randomized. If I didn’t have a bit of luck and be aided by a high level player that spent hours teaching us how Remnant actually worked, I don’t think I would have stuck with it in the long run, which is a shame, as I think some will have the same initial experience I did. Do some homework, watch a bunch of YouTube tutorial videos with tips and tricks, as it will make Remnant a massively better experience once you figure out how it all works together.

If you take the time to learn its mechanics and grind for some gear, once it ‘clicks’, Remnant changes from a simple Souls-like game to a completely unique experience that I could hardly put down. It’s a shame that it released in the busy window that it did alongside some massive AAA games, as I’m sure it’ll get overlooked, but if you’re a Souldborne fan and want an entertaining co-op adventure with some friends, Remnant: From the Ashes should seriously be looked at. While I was almost ready to give up at one point, it’s a fantastic game once you learn its intricacies.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Gears 5

It feels like it’s been far too long since I’ve enjoyed a Gears of War game. Matter of fact, Gears 4 released back in 2016, so it’s been longer than I expected. To say that I’m a gears fan is a bit of an understatement, as I own an obscene amount of merch, including two full size lancers, so the wait for Gears 5 has been a long one. But the day has finally come and the wait is over, and now that Gears 5 is here, there’s a more than enough content to keep even the most hardcore fans busy for quite some time.

CAMPAIGN:

I’ve enjoyed every Gears campaign to date, but Gears 5 is easily my favorite so far for numerous reasons. While Gears 4 focused on a narrative revolving around JD, Marcus Fenix’s son, essentially passing the torch to a new generation of COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments), as Marcus, Cole and Baird are much older now, yet can still fight. Gears 5’s narrative starts with you playing as JD, but eventually shifts to Kait Diaz, which had a pretty substantial plot twist at the end of Gears 4.

Kait has a unique connection to the enemy, and Gears 5 will explore what that is and how dangerous that can be, not only to her, the COG and everyone else, but Sera itself. As you uncover her origins, alongside Delmont (Del for short) and Jack, the trusty robot we’ve had alongside us in previous games. Campaign is now playable with three players, with one taking the role of the unique Jack. You can play online or splitscreen co-op alongside your friends, and it’s a complete emotional rollercoaster from beginning to finish. I really don’t want to spoil any of the main plot points, but it’s easily my favorite Gears campaign, and I believe, also the longest if you factor in the open world segments free exploration

GAMEPLAY:

Are you one of the new players to the Gears series, or simply haven’t played in a long time and are quite rusty? This is where Boot Camp comes in. Acting as a tutorial for the basic mechanics, you’ll learn the ins and outs of the signature Gears core gameplay. Not only will you learn how to fire your weapons and use the active reloading, but how to duck behind cover, utilize advanced techniques and more. Sure, a Gears vet will know all of this already, but it’s a great addition for those new to the series.

Gears 5 also supports crossplay with PC and Xbox players, so finding a team for a campaign run or a Horde match shouldn’t ever be a problem. While the core gameplay is mostly unchanged, veterans will be pleased to know that there are some new additions and tweaks that should be welcomed. One I really appreciate is the fact that some weapons can have more than one execution animation, or that there’s open world segments in the campaign.

Even better, there’s an Ally system in place to encourage you to play with others on your friends list. Yes, every mode can be played solo, but each is enhanced when playing as a team together. The more you play with specific friends, the more honor you’ll earn for doing so. As this raises in ranks, you’ll earn more XP when playing together, so there’s now a true incentive to play together, more so than just not being lonely.



ACCESSIBILITY:

Gears 5 seems to have gone more than just an extra step with accessibility, and for good reason. Given that Gears 5 is part of Game Pass, this may very well be the first foray into the series for many people, so many options and additions have been included to cater towards all types of players. You have Adaptive Controller support, controller remapping, subtitles with a ton of options including font sizes, narrated menus and UI and even a friendlier Beginner option for aiming, for those not well versed in shooters.

While aim assist is nothing new to console gaming, as it slightly helps you aim at enemies to line up shots on a controller easier, this new option ‘snap to aim’ is geared towards very new players, acting as an extreme aim assist. With this option toggled, you can simply aim down the sights at an enemy, and it will generally lock onto it for you until you stop aiming. This allows for 'automatic' headshots, and during boss fights, even locking onto their normally hard to hit weak glowing spots. While some may think of this as ‘cheating’, not everyone is very versed in shooters, and if this optional inclusion means that more people can enjoy the franchise I love as well, then I see that as total win-win.

JACK:

Jack, who’s been a part of the squad in previous gears games, finally gets his time to shine in the spotlight. Previously, he simply would open doors and do mundane tasks, but now in Gears 5, he’s a fully playable character and has quite a few abilities that changes the typical Gears gameplay. Jack can now utilize a number of new abilities, which you’ll learn as you progress through the campaign and complete sidequests. Can’t get passed a fire patch on the ground? Have Jack boost your shield so you can briefly run through it unharmed. Can’t sneak by some turrets without being seen? Jack can turn your squad invisible for a short time. Becoming overrun and need some help in battle? Jack can hack enemies and turn them against the Swarm for a short time as well. These are just some of Jack’s abilities and he’s a great help in battle by being able to stun enemies and revive downed squadmates.

Not only does Jack make gameplay feel much more tactical in Gears 5, as a well-timed ability can change the outcome of a tough battle, he actually feels like a real part of the team and has a lot of interaction with the main characters throughout the narrative. Truth be told, he turned out to be my favorite character in all of Gears 5 by the time the credits rolled. Sorry Kait, you’re a close second.

SKIFF:

Another drastic change for Gears 5 is the inclusion of the Skiff. While Gears has always have vehicular sections, they’ve always been on rails and was simply a way to change the gameplay for a short period. Now, with the Skiff, you can freely explore some open world sections of the world. Generally in Gears, you’re give a very linear line of travel from point A to B, but now with these chapters where you get to control the Skiff, you can freely explore and even do side missions should you chose.

The Skiff is basically a sled that utilizes the wind to propel, like a kite board, but on land. In these sections, you can freely explore however you wish. I was totally expecting there to be some sort of combat element to it as well, but thankfully there wasn’t. This meant that I knew I could relax and simply speed around to my heart’s content across vast desert or ice tundra’s, depending on the chapter. While it’s simply a fancy way to navigate around a vast area, it feels slick, fast and I’m hoping it’s a trend that stays come the inevitable sequel.


VERSUS:

Versus, the online player versus player matches return, obviously. Of course, your ranked matches that people flock to returns, but as expected, is filled with nearly everyone using a Gnasher shotgun and wall bouncing so much it looks like a pinball machine. Fans will surely enjoy it, which is fine, but thankfully, for those less hardcore, there’s a versus mode for you here as well, aptly titled Arcade Versus.

In Arcade, things are changed up, which makes for an interesting take on your typical matches you’d come to expect. As you take out enemies, you’ll earn skulls, which in turn can then be used to spend on new weapons. What’s more interesting is that just like Horde and Escape modes, each character is unique in their loadout, so it actually matters who you choose, as they each only have access to specific weapons. While it’s an interesting twist, there’s some strategy to it as well in relation to spending your skulls. Do you save more and wait for a better weapon, or spend less and more frequently on lesser weapons? This less hardcore-like version of Versus is a welcome change for those of us that aren’t aspiring pros or enjoy using the Gnasher.

HORDE:

Horde mode makes a return in a big way, but with some drastic changes as well. Every character has their own special ability, like an ultimate that charges over time, and is meant to fill a specific role and play style, locking them into a role essentially. For the uninitiated, Horde mode because quite popular when it was introduced, having you trying to survive 50 waves of enemies, with each 10th having a boss of sorts to best as well. It’s a simple premise, but fans took to it, and it’s been a Gears staple ever since.

Surviving progressively difficult waves sounds easy on paper, but execution is much more challenging. Luckily bots are able to fill empty spots finally, but you’re going to need some serious communication and teamwork if you want to tackle the harder difficulties. Each character isn’t simply a re-skin of one another, as they each play uniquely to their loadout, perks, abilities and ultimate. Engineers are the defense builders, scouts can zip around quickly, tanks take the brunt of the damage and others are your ones for taking out the enemy. One feature I absolutely detest though is that you can’t have two players playing the same character in a match.

I myself only play Jack, as I love his support playstyle and unique abilities like being able to hack and take over an enemy with my ultimate. If I join a match and someone else is Jack, I’m forced to play someone else, which makes me simply leave the game entirely. If you’ve played Overwatch before, you’ll know what I’m talking about, but when characters make progression, I’d rather focus on the one I like and want to play, rather than being forced to play a class or character I don’t enjoy.

As you down enemies, they’ll drop energy that can be picked up. This energy has a multitude of uses, such as building fortifications, healing others, repairing or even purchasing perks for yourself between waves. Do you hoard all the energy for yourself to boost your own gameplay, or deposit what you’ve gathered into the team base for all to share?

While Horde mode is generally a defensive game type, there are new Power Taps that allow for a little more aggression and risk taking. These are extra points on the map, which if captured, will generate more energy at set intervals. Enemies will try and destroy these as well, so do you use them as bait, or spend more energy and build defenses nearby as well? This will depend on your team cohesion and strategy.

What I enjoyed most about Horde though is the progression your characters make after it ends as you earn XP. Each character has certain perks or abilities that are equipped with cards. As you begin at level one, you can only equip one card, so you much choose wisely. As you gain levels, you’ll unlock new cards and the ability to equip more at once. You randomly gain new cards after matches, and if you get duplicates, you can actually level up the cards themselves, making them more powerful and effective. Horde has changes, for both good and bad, but overall it feels a bit more accessible, even for newcomers, yet has the long term progression for those that decide to stick with it.


ESCAPE:

Escape mode is something completely new for the Gears franchise, and I’m still not completely sure how I feel about it. In essence, it’s almost like an opposite to Horde, as a group of three players are tasked with escaping from a hive. The catch is that there’s a time limit, as you set a bomb and must get out before it explodes. Like Horde, each character has their own abilities, ultimate and loadout, but don’t expect any of your favorite Gears cameos here, as it’s generally the lesser known characters on the D-list.

While the premise is simple: Get to the extraction alive and close the door behind you before the bomb goes off, it can be anything but depending on the players you have with you. Having a teammate rush ahead, or lag behind, can be a death sentence for success. Even worse, you may have someone that doesn’t share the weapon pickups or ammo. I highly suggest playing this solely with friends.

What is very cool though is the ability to create your own Escape Mode map. With a simple to use map editor, you can create custom maps for your friends, or even upload and share them online for everyone to try out. There’s some interesting ones out there already, and I’m curious to see how creative people become with this in the future. There’s even a weekly featured map to challenge yourself with and earn rankings for should you enjoy the mode.

VISUAL/AUDIO:

I’m going to go out on a limb and straight up announce that Gears 5 is easily the most visually impressive title on consoles to date. Playing in 4K, 60 FPS and HDR lighting (on an Xbox One X) is nothing short of stunning. The facial animations in the cutscenes during close-ups looks damn near realistic from the main characters, character models are extremely detailed and the vistas and environments vary and all have their own tonality. Gears has previously been known for its very dark, drab and grown color palette overall.

Gears 5 completely gets rid of that stigma and infuses a gamut of colors based on where you are in its world. You may be exploring a lush green forest, a tundra filled with white and blue hues or a desert filled with a deep red sand. The color infusion is what the series sorely needed and it’s never looked better.

Audio is just as impressive. The voice work from the whole cast is completely flawless and more than believable. Not only do the facial animations enhance their performances, it’s actually got some humor included that made me chuckle more than once. While the weapons don’t sound as impactful as they once did in previous games, that simply may be just my memory playing tricks on me. When the wind hits the Skiff’s sails, they unfurl and you can hear the poof of them as they fill with a gust of air. Small audio details like this breathe more life into the experience and enhance the world of Gears even further.

While some may not welcome the changes and tweaks, I’ve completely fallen in love with Gears all over again because of them. The Microtransactions are vastly improved over Gears of War 4 with the removal of random loot boxes, but the prices are still insanely expensive and disheartening. I’m not paying $5-10 for a blood spray of country flag, but obviously others will. For any negative I could think of, I can easily list two or more positives that I absolutely fell in love with. For example, Jack being playable completely changed the strategicness of the core gameplay, as does the Skiff opening up the open world gameplay and offering sidequests.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had Gears on the brain, and now that Gears 5 has been extremely addictive and taking a large chunk of my time lately, I’m glad to say that not only is Gears back, but better than ever with a slew of additions, changes and improvements. Kudos to The Coalition for taking the risks they did. I’m no longer worried that one of my most beloved franchises are in safe hands going forward.



Overall Score: 9.5 / 10 Control

Remedy has always been one of my favorite developers. While The Matrix may have ‘invented’ bullet time, Max Payne was really the pioneer of showcasing it on the gaming front. From there, and a Max Payne sequel, we were given Alan Wake, an extraordinary narrative that still has fans begging for a sequel to this day. Later, Remedy tried something completely different with Quantum Break, a mix of action gameplay with live action TV show elements. While I was a fan, it got mixed reviews. Now, in 2019, Remedy’s newest release is finally here, titled Control. Having built upon their previous releases, Control feels like the pinnacle of their efforts, and it shows.

Narrative has always been Remedy’s strong suit, even if it can get a little crazy at times with its supernatural elements; Control is no different. The Federal Bureau of Control (FBC) is a government agency, much like our real world FBI, but they focus on paranormal events and phenomena. You are Jesse Faden, searching for answers at the FBC, only to be greeted by the Janitor. Even finding the FBC headquarters isn’t possible by normal means, so it’s clear that Jesse has some sort of deep connection to what’s taking place.

Jesse’s mainly looking for her lost brother Dylan, but she’s being guided by someone, or something, that she can converse with in her head. There’s also a major threat from an invading enemy known as The Hiss within the FBC walls, known as the Oldest House. The Hiss can corrupt nearly everyone it comes into contact with, as the vast majority of FBC workers have been possessed and turned into hostiles with super abilities.

Jesse is special though, and regaining control is a job that she’s thrust into as the new Director of the FBC. I’d love to go into more narrative detail, but the story, lore and how it plays out really is Control’s greatest strength, and I won’t want to spoil much else. It’s also at times absolutely crazy, so trying to explain it in simple terms would also take a dozen more paragraphs.

Played in third person, much like their other games, you’ll feel at home if you’ve played Quantum Break previously, as you’ll also have access to supernatural abilities as you progress. You’re able to freely search the Oldest House, but certain pathways will not allow access until you find specific keycards, granting you access. So while it’s somewhat an open adventure, you’re confined to a linear progression that’s narrative based, though there are a few branching paths with more than enough collectibles to seek.

Normally I’m not one to hunt and find out collectibles, but there’s an absolute truck load of them within the FBC walls. You’ll find memo’s, posters, notes, recordings and more, each of which expands the lore of Control’s world, almost to a point of being overwhelming. While I don’t want to spoil anything, there are ties to other Remedy games like Alan Wake, and more than a simple Easter Egg as well. Find enough of the collectibles and you might figure out how Control’s world is actually related to the one in Alan Wake. This alone excited me enough to seek out more of the hidden items.

Because the FBC deals in the supernatural and paranormal, the building itself is also very deceiving. From the outside it looks like a standard building you’d see in any downtown core, but once you start exploring within, you’ll realize that the innards are much larger than its walls. Walls will shape shift, move, extend and more as you progress, adding some very cool sequences along the way. Speaking of, one of the absolute best sequences actually occurred during my playthrough near the final chapter of Control. I won’t spoil what happens, or how, but make sure you make it through the Ashtray Maze at some point. Enough said.

Much like any government building, there are signs everywhere that show arrows of how to get to certain areas, rooms, sectors and more. This is how you’ll generally navigate your way from objective to objective. While there is a map you can pull up with a press of the D-Pad, it was completely unreliable for me throughout my whole time with Jesse. For some reason, the map would constantly fail to load properly, only showing me the icon of where I am and the labels of certain areas, but the actual map layout wouldn’t load. Since there is no breadcrumb trail leading to you where you need to go, you need to rely on this map heavily at times, but when it fails to load most of the time, it became quite frustrating, leaving me lost at times.

The somewhat saving grace of this frustration was the inclusion of waypoints, cleverly referred to as control points. The main areas and hubs of the Oldest House need to be cleansed of all Hiss infecting it, and once done, Jesse can revert the area into a safe zone, also allowing it to be used as a fast travel point, helping with exploration as you’ll need to backtrack many times to reach newly unlocked areas as you gain more clearance levels as the Director.

Jesse is chosen as the new Director, proven by wielding the Service Weapon. This paranormal gun may seem like an ordinary pistol at first, but there’s much more to it that you’ll uncover during your adventure. The first few firefights will feel like any other third person shooter, but eventually Jesse will come across Objects of Power, granting her new abilities like flying, telekinesis and more. Once you start to blend in abilities with the shooting mechanics, Control really starts to feel like its own experience, one that I enjoyed more as it progressed.

Your Service Weapon starts out as a basic pistol, but will eventually be able to be morphed and changed into having other properties, like a charge up shot or rapid fire akin to a SMG. Interestingly, Jesse can equip two forms of the gun at once, able to freely swap between their forms, but they share the same ammo source, one that refills automatically when not being used or shortly after its clip being emptied. This took me a while to get used to, as pressing ‘X’ switches your gun’s form, not reloading like practically every other game, as that’s done automatically. Eventually you’ll become accustomed to it, but it’s certainly not the norm. Also not what I expected was that your health doesn’t replenish automatically, so you’ll need to pick up glowing sprites from defeated Hiss to refill your health; something that can be quite dangerous during a massive battle.

Because of this shared ammo resource, you’ll also need to rely on your abilities to take out Hiss as well. I heavily relied on my telekinesis throw ability, allowing you to pick up nearly any object, or even debris, launching it at great velocity at enemies. Your abilities also share a resource as well, so you can’t freely dash everywhere or launch items without needing a rest period, so you’ll need to balance their usage.

Enemies vary as well, so some will be nearly immune to bullets, yet can be killed easily with a thrown object, others will fly around, making it nearly impossible to hit with objects, so gunfire is your better option. While there’s not a vast variety of enemies, knowing how to defeat them individually and how to prioritize targets is how Jesse will survive large battles. Once you see these orb-like Hiss, you’ll need to make those priority number one, as they can heal enemies, but they move incredibly fast so it’s a cat and mouse game of being mobile and interchanging weapon fire and abilities. This becomes quite chaotic later on, especially in the last few battles, but it’s also what makes Control shine and feel unique.

There’s also an upgrade system in place for Jesse to improve her Service Weapon and abilities. You’ll be able to craft a handful of different forms for the weapon, and even be able to upgrade them much later on, adding more mod slots. Defeated Hiss will drop random mods now and then, which can either be for your weapons, some for specific forms, or for Jesse herself as a personal mod, like more health, energy, quicker dashing, etc. You’ll gather numerous types of resources from enemies and hidden secrets, eventually unlocking all the way up to tier 5 mods which cost an extreme amount to craft, but add some huge bonuses. These upgrades really open up Control to play how you want, as you can boost headshot damage, reload speed, less ammo when floating and a ton of other mods to suit your playstyle.

Visually, Control is impressive, but I had some major slowdown at times, some screen tearing, and honestly, just expected a little more. Facial animations from the main characters were impressive in cutscenes, but I wasn’t blown away. The environment was actually the most impressive, especially when walls start moving and shape shifting when you take over a control point. As for its audio, the voice acting is flawless due to Courtney Hope’s portrayal (whom you’ll recognize as Beth from Quantum Break), weapons and explosions explode with power and the soundtrack is very fitting for the setting, especially the sequence I alluded to above.

Control has that signature Remedy feel to it, from its unique combat to its completely out there narrative, something only Sam Lake could be a part of. Although the story is Control’s strongest asset, it will take a lot of concentration and thought to piece it all together, as I’ve still got many questions even after the credits have rolled. Luckily you can continue Jesse’s journey once completed, allowing you to finish up any sidequests and other activities as we wait on the upcoming DLC that will hopefully answer more questions. Welcome to the FBC Director.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Wreckfest

One of my all-time favorite games was back on PS1 with Destruction Derby. Since then I’ve always loved watching derbies. I even wore out a VHS tape my grandma had that was some local derby event when I was kid. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a truly great derby game though, and while the FlatOut series somewhat filled that gap, nothing’s really grabbed my attention long term or impressed the way Wreckfest has done.

Developed by Bugbear, the people who actually made the first two FlatOut’s, Wreckfest has actually been on my Steam wishlist for quite some time, but I never got around to pulling the trigger. Things sometimes works out though, and now fans can enjoy Wreckfest on Xbox One. Luckily, it seems the wait has been worth it as well, as full on collision, wrecking and smashing is in full force without any slowdown. While you may think that Wreckfest is simply a racing game with crash physics, which it does have, you’ll need to become quite used to full-contact racing and breaking the rules if you want to emerge victorious.

While there’s no story contained within the campaign, which is fine, there’s plenty of content to dig through, even if you don’t plan on playing online with randoms and friends. Career mode is sectioned into different leagues and events, starting with the Regional Juniors. Each league has a dozen or so events that you can partake in, given you have the proper type of car, and you earn points for winning said events.

To graduate to the next level of completion and unlock more events, you’ll need to reach the point threshold in your current championship. For example, once you reach 2000/2000 points in Regional Juniors, you’ll unlock the next series and a whole new set of races and events. While it’s a basic structure, the events are quite varied and will have you racing and smashing in derbies and more. Certain events have car restrictions, like imports, FWD, etc, so you’ll eventually need to purchase new cars if you want to partake in all of the events and progress. As you win events you’ll earn XP and money, which can then be used towards new purchases and upgrades.

The tonality of Wreckfest makes it a completely different experience to say a Forza racing game. In Forza, if there’s a jerk driving backwards or smashing you into a corner, you generally get upset, because that’s not the way that type of racer is supposed to be played. In Wreckfest however, it’s not only encouraged, but it’s quite rare when someone isn’t trying to smash you into a wall or wreaking havoc with a bus in the middle of a figure eight intersection.

What I also really enjoyed about Wreckfest was its lack of rules. Yes you need to drive the right direction, but for example, there’s a track that’s shaped like a horseshoe with both ends having a looped turnaround to get you going back the same way you came. Most people tend to stick to the outside and loop back in on the inside, but Wreckfest doesn’t force this. If you’re like me and want to be a little more chaotic, you can take the loop on the inside and exit on the outer edge. Sure it’s risky with the chance of more head-on collisions, but there’s risk vs reward.

Many of the maps are a ton of fun as well. Some are figure eights, which after a few laps is complete insanity and destruction at the intersection, and others have a lot of overlap where head-ons occur. There’s even one track that has a loop, aptly titled Death Loop, and you can imagine the chaos that ensues with lots of ramps and jumps.

While there are no licensed cars, some are quite obvious as to what vehicle their real world counterpart are. Each vehicle takes some time to get used to, especially with cornering, as they are quite heavy and weighted, and that’s before you start to take damage from your opponents. These cars aren’t generally meant for drifting, so cornering will take some getting used to, but be prepared to crash a lot, especially with ramps, barriers and opponents that are using you to bounce off of.

While collisions and cars being smashed is nothing new in racers, none have taken it to the level that Wreckfest has. Not only will your vehicle become barely recognizable after a few good hits, but you can even lose parts, wheels, smash in your ends and more. Damage yourself too much and you’ll be completely wrecked and out of the race, though trying to limp across the finish line with a wheel missing is always hilarious to watch. Sure, it would be nice if everyone drove perfectly and didn’t try to hit one another, but don’t expect that here. I’m already at the point where I don’t get upset if I get smashed into a wall or wrecked in a race, it’s just part of the Wreckfest experience.

Cars are basically junkers once you purchase and unlock them. This is where the cash you’ve been earning by playing campaign, or online, comes into play. You’ll find everything from sedans, speedsters, muscle cars, wagons, busses, limos, harvesters, lawnmowers and even a couch. Yes, you read all of that right. Wreckfest adds a ton of variety, not only with the great track design, but unique vehicles as well. There’s nothing quite like trying to do a loop in a motorized couch or lawnmower.

Regular vehicles can be upgraded though, improving their performance. You can upgrade its engine, boosting its class level should you wish, various other parts and even cosmetic items like wheels, hoods, spoilers and more. Improving the car’s handling, speed and more is quite rewarding, especially once you can start to keep up with the competition, and adding cosmetic changes just adds a flair of welcomed personality.

If you want to race with a bigger emphasis on smashing and wrecking, then maybe you’ll want to outfit your vehicle with more armor. While this will greatly boost your strength, it’ll make you much heavier, so speed, acceleration and cornering will take a hit. My suggestion, create one vehicle specifically for destruction derbies with tons of armor, and a separate for racing events. You’re even able to tune your vehicles before races; nothing to the level of Forza obviously, but the option is there to make some tweaks to your differential and more.

You’re even able to change the paintjob of your car as well. Unfortunately there’s only a handful of liveries and choices, as there’s no painting or layers like we’ve come to expect from a Forza, but at least the colors of each section can be altered if you wish. I do wish there was a little more customization in this department, but at the same time, we all know what happens when people are given free rein to those types of tools.

If you want a break from Career, you can create a custom single player event, completely customizing it however you wish. Want to race busses on a figure eight? Go ahead. Want to have a limo only destruction derby? Feel free to do so. Want a ton of laps or realistic damage? It’s all up to you. My only complaint is that these custom matches are only playable in single player, so there’s no creating a wacky event for you and your friends to play together on.

Arguably, the star of Wreckfest is its destruction derbies. This is where all of the players are put into an arena, with the last car functioning the winner. You get points for smashing, spinning out and obviously, wrecking your opponents. If you think you can simply stay away and try to outlast everyone, think again, as there’s a timer where you need to make contact with another player every minute or so, to thwart people trying to simply run away while everyone else does the work. There’s also a Deathmatch derby mode where it’s a set timer of a few minutes, and the player with the most points at the end wins. Here you can respawn if your car is wrecked, so this takes a different strategy compared to Last Man Standing where you don’t get any second chances.

Wreckfest is visually impressive when considering the amount of damage level and wreckage that takes place on the track, even more so when you realize wrecked cars don’t despawn either and stay on the tracks as an obstacle. While it won’t wow you by simply looking at it, it’s the smaller details that impress more if you take the time to notice. Audio on the other hand is atrocious. While the vehicle and crashing sounds are impactful and sound like they hurt when hit, the in game soundtrack is on a whole other level of terrible, to the point of having to completely mute it and play my own tunes.

I could gush all day about what I love about Wreckfest and that it’s the most multiplayer fun I’ve had in quite some time with a bunch of friends, but there’s also a laundry list of issues that I have as well. While I’m glad it supports 16 players, it’s a shame it’s not the full 24 that the PC version has. While there’s absolutely no slowdown, even when all 16 players are smashing into one another, the loading time before each race is almost to the level of being a joke, even on an Xbox One X. When you’re playing a 3 lap race then having to load a new track between each time, you load for almost as much time as you play. Factor in the minute or two of lobby time between races too and you’ll need to find something to fill your downtime with. The menu system is quite buggy, not always allowing you to change your car for some reason, or explaining why you can’t pick a bus on certain tracks.

There’s seemingly also some crazy slingshot mechanics when racing the AI. You could be in first by a long shot, but the AI will make a comeback out of nowhere, even when your car class is much higher than theirs. While I primarily stick to online play now with friends, this was quite frustrating when I would lose campaign races due to this. And just to reiterate, the soundtrack is absolutely horrible, so make sure to mute it as soon as possible in the options.

If I was to score Wreckfest solely on its fun factor, it would easily get a 12/10, but there are issues here and there that do hinder its enjoyment at times, especially the excessive loading. Even though there’s the odd technical and design issue here and there, I’m still getting on every night after convincing a handful of friends to pick it up, as we race and smash until the middle of the night.

Wreckfest is the epitome of white knuckle driving, as you’ll clench when you can see an oncoming hit about to happen, or laugh uncontrollably once you completely destroy someone and send them flying off the track. Wreckfest is chaotic and frantic fun at its core, and even though it has its issues, it’s a complete blast to play and enjoy.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Ancestors Legacy

What usually kills a decent RTS when it comes over to consoles is its control scheme. With a mouse and keyboard you have full control of what you want to do quickly. Mapping that to a controller is no easy feat, as proven by the numerous RTS games that have released on console, but very few have done it successfully. This is usually the first aspect of a console RTS that I experiment with and judge, as it will completely make or break the game. Luckily, I can attest that Ancestors Legacy is one of the few that have seemed to have manageable controls; not perfect, but much better than others out there.

While I’m no RTS aficionado, as I’m generally not very skilled in them, I do enjoy them regardless. Top down strategy games usually require a lot of skill, as you need to multitask and manage nodes, build your base, command units and fight off the enemy; Ancestors Legacy is no different. If I had to directly compare it to another RTS, I’d say it’s mechanically similar to Company of Heroes, yet has a Middle Ages setting; a good pairing if you ask me.

Set between the 8th and 13th century, Ancestors Legacy surprised me most with its quite lengthy campaign. You begin by controlling the first of four nations, the Vikings. After you complete the first few missions, which act as the tutorial, you’ll be able to then freely choose between the Viking, German, Slav or Anglo-Saxon factions, each of which have two stories and characters each. Each person’s campaign is broken into five lengthy missions, totaling forty missions to sink your teeth into. Factor in multiple difficulties as well and you have quite a bit of value contained within.

According to developers Destructive Creations, many of the single player campaign missions are based on historical events as well, which is even more impressive. As you progress, missions become longer and more involved. I initially just expected each faction to simply be a pallet or skin swap, but they are quite different, each of which’s campaign was interesting and kept my attention throughout.

Being a strategy game, there is of course base building and resource management, along with combat, but something about the Middle Ages setting really interested me. Once I grasped my head around the resource management and capturing nodes, I finally got into a good groove where I was able to execute my orders to my squads exactly how I intended, or retreating when I knew the battle was lost, sparing a few lives.

While combat may not be as large scale as some other titles, it’s manageable, and you’re able to freely zoom far out to see the whole battlefield, or up close and personal with individual units. I do recommend that you stay zoomed out though, as the visuals are passable as a whole, but zooming in does show the lesser quality animations and models when in close range.

Like many other RTS’, you’ll be tasked with capturing enemy nodes, halting their resources and giving them to you. There are other mechanics in play though, such as being able to utilize tactical advantages, like flanking from cover in a tall field, knowing what units are strong and weak against others and destroying and pillaging anything in your path.

While the overall mission variety is generally the same throughout, having you start from nothing and eventually building an army, surviving an onslaught, recouping and overrunning the enemy, the story between missions make it all mean something, tying it all together in a way that matters. Have enough resources and you can amass quite an army, ploughing through nearly anything in your path, but there’s specifically a retreat command purposely given to you, as you’ll need to rely on it when you become overrun. There’s no shame in running away to live and fight another day.

Each faction has a handful of different units that can be created and utilized in different ways. With the Vikings for example, you can make scouts and send them out on horseback at incredible speeds, spotting enemies and figure out your next plan of attack. Do you build an army that has mostly soldiers, or have shield bearers that can endure the most damage on the front lines. Once I had access to creating archers, combat became much more interesting and tactical. Be warned though, as friendly fire from archers can, and will, hit and kill your own members, something that happened quite often.

As your units are victorious in battle, they’ll level up and become stronger. While you could simply build more units and send them into the meat grinder, having units able to level makes you want to take care of them more. Doing so is easy, as in between battles you can heal your surviving units by having them rest and camp. I would trick a solo enemy unit into my trap, defeat them, rest up and continue on my path. And yes, there are actual traps you can build as well, great if you want to play with even more strategy and purpose, though I didn’t rely on them very much overall.

While there is base building, it’s quite basic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it keeps the gameplay more focused on the combat and strategy elements. You’ll need resources to build and create units though, such as wood, ore and food. Take over an enemy encampment and capture it for yourself and you’ll be collecting all of its resources for your own army. Each building and unit takes a specific amount of resources, so you’ll always want to capture any nodes you possibly can.

Your enemies will not let that slide though and try and retake them, so do you set a group of units to defeat these nodes, or spend a lot of resources and build an archer tower that can help defend itself. There’s a fine balance that you’ll need to figure out, and once it all ‘clicked’ for me, it worked wonderfully.

The only real oddity I found with the base building aspect was that you’re unable to freely place the buildings where you want. Building a tent will set it in a specific spot, as will a barracks, blacksmith, archery range and others. While it’s not a deal breaker, some might find this small detail a little disappointing.

While the overall visuals are serviceable and fitting of the medieval setting, zooming in close to units really doesn’t hold up well and starts to show its flaws. That said, the soundtrack is fantastic and sets the atmosphere well, even if the voice acting in the campaign is quite dreadful at times.

With four separate factions, each with two campaigns, there’s a ton of content here to keep you busy for quite some time, and that’s not even factoring in the multiplayer skirmishes as well. It may not be the most robust RTS out there, but it’s a great console RTS that vets and newcomers alike should enjoy. Plus, who doesn’t like Vikings?

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Truck Racing Championship

Some sports I understand, others I just don’t get the appeal. That’s not to say that others don’t find them interesting, such as NASCAR, but sometimes it doesn’t just grab your attention. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Truck Racing Championship (called FIA European Truck Racing Championship elsewhere for some reason) initially, as it’s racing, but with massive 5-ton trucks, instead of the NASCAR, Formula 1 or MotoGP that we’re accustomed to spectating.

To say that racing huge heavy trucks changes the racing dynamic is an understatement, as it’s not simply the same thing as regular racing but slower (though it is obviously), but there’s more nuances you need to manage, such as the heat and wear of your brakes, as stopping a massive truck at high speeds is much more taxing on the vehicle than a regular car.

I knew that trucks were raced before, but it’s not really got a huge following here, as far as I know, so I’ve never watched an actual race. After spending hours with Truck Racing Championship, the FIA ETRC (European Truck Racing Championship) league is something I’m now aware of, and have even watched a handful of the races on YouTube. It’s unreal to see these racers perform how they do in these vehicles, and ETRC has some really interesting rules that makes it stand out, like being speed limited to 160 km/h for safety precautions.

More on the simulation side of racing, Truck Racing Championship is trying to emulate the actual ETRC sport, and if you’re a follower, you’ll be happy to know that this is an officially licensed game, developed by N-RACING, and includes actual circuits, drivers, teams and liveries. Even if you know nothing about the sport itself, you’ll get to race on infamous tracks like Laguna Seca, Fuji Speedway and Nurburgring, among others.

The bulk of your gameplay will come within its Career Mode. Here you have two options, from ETRC racing or a World Series Tour. ETRC is what the sport is actually modeled after, so I decided to spend the bulk of my time there, as the other career actually isn’t based on real events and has you racing a different type of truck that is noticeably faster. Both careers can be played separately, as they have their own progress, but mimic one another structurally.

You begin as a freelance driver, looking at the contract options and what teams need a driver for their team for said weekend race; a two day event. In the beginning you’ll change teams on short term deals, but eventually work towards a long term, which unlocks the ability to modify and upgrade your vehicle, though it takes a while to get to that point given how long races take.

This is because every ETRC event is more than just the race itself. It begins with a Practice run, Qualifying, Super-Pole and then the four races (2 races on each day). That’s a lot of racing for one track, though thankfully you can skip all of the pre-races should you choose to. Luckily you can also set the number of laps, as a full race is about a dozen and will take a serious time commitment per event if you decide to keep it that way. I chose short, which makes races 2-3 laps, depending on the length, and was a little more bearable. Factor in that these trucks are quite slow compared to your regular sports races, and you’ll see where fatigue can start to set in quite quickly.

There are dozens of trucks from actual manufactures, and each of the two types handle quite differently. The ETRC trucks, resembling a classic Optimus Prime look with a square boxed cab, whereas the others are more of your standard semi-trucks you’d see driving on the actual roads with the front nose. ETRC trucks are much slower and handle nothing like your typical race car. These are 5 ton beasts, and as such, will take some time to get up to full speed, and even more skill needed to brake properly for turns.

Visually, everything looks authentic, though not impressive when compared to the latest Forza for example. Not to say that it looks terrible, as I was quite impressed by the water and reflections on the tracks, but it’s nowhere near a Forza in terms of visual fidelity. While I normally always play in a far out 3rd person view in racing sims, the cockpit view was quite interesting here, as you sit much higher in a truck and it gives a much different perspective, able to see upcoming turns and opponents easier.

Before you can get racing though, you’ll need to obtain your license. If you’re having dreadful flashbacks of having to do the same thing in Driver on PS1 back in the day, it’s about the same. You’ll go through a handful of tutorials that teach you the basics, not only of turning and maneuvering these big rigs, but more importantly, how to brake in them properly. It’s a pain at first being forced to do these, but it does teach you invaluable tips that will make your racing career much more successful in the long run.

Braking is what arguably sets Truck Racing Championship apart from other race sims. These are 5 ton trucks. Have you ever heard a semi slam on its brakes to avoid hitting something ahead of it? It’s not a pleasant sound, and these trucks are doing it at up to 160 km/h and in hairpin turns. Much like how professional drivers want their tires to be a certain temperature for ideal grip and turning, the same goes for brakes with ETRC drivers.

If your brakes overheat, they will eventually give out, and if they are too cold it’ll take longer for you to stop, so there’s an ideal temperature that you’ll want them at to be the most effective. Because of this, trucks are actually equipped with water reservoirs, used to cool down the brakes after a heavy stop by dumping water on them. You actually have to do this with a press of the ‘B’ button, and while it’s doubtful you’ll run out of your water in the tank, it does need to be monitored via the HUD.

Remember, these trucks aren’t built like super cars, and as such, don’t corner like them either. You will need to acclimate to the controls, as you can’t really drift in these vehicles like you normally would in other games. When you brake, your wheels lock up, so you need to plan ahead of turns and slow down purposely well beforehand if you want to keep the best momentum possible.

AI opponents seem hit or miss for how they decide to drive. Sometimes they concede to my position and won’t try to hit me or rub, other times it’s as if they don’t know that I’m there and use me as a wall to bounce off of. What did surprise me though is that the AI will make human-like mistakes, such as a spinout, drifting off into the gravel now and then.

That’s not to say that you’ll have an easy time winning, as it seems they have much better speeds and handling than you do, even if racing near perfectly, making those first few turns ever so important to get out in front early. Also, there’s sadly no rewind feature, so if you make a huge mistake, you either live with it and finish, or restart the event from the beginning.

There is multiplayer support, splitscreen and online, though as this was written well before the official launch, I was unable to test the online functionality as no one joined my lobbies any time I made one. What I did get to test was how to mute and disable the terrible narrator that does nothing to really help you at all. Now and then you’ll get advice like “try and overtake” or “work for a better position”, even when it contextually makes no sense as to what’s currently happening in the race. Factor in that there’s no musical audio during races either and you can see what it became a nuisance to only hear engines, squealing brakes and a brain dead narrator.

Truck Racing Championship may not be the most polished or impressive race sim out there, but it’s meant for a specific audience, one that I believe will appreciate the authenticity to the ETRC sport and trucks themselves. It’s a different racing experience than I’m used to, but it definitely piqued my interest in the actual sport, something I had never heard of or paid any attention to until playing Truck Racing Championship, even if the game itself wasn’t terribly robust.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Damsel

While I don’t normally gravitate to challenging 2D platformers, Damsel piqued my interest with its colorful comic book inspired visuals and frantic paced gameplay. Be prepared to dash, shoot, hack, disarm, rescue and kill thousands of vampires throughout your adventure. In the beginning I was quite enjoying my time with Damsel, trying to simply survive and progress, but about half way through, repetitiveness reared its ugly head.

The campaign is broken into three main chapters, each of which are made up of 25 bite sized levels. As you complete a mission, the next is available to challenge yourself, meaning you need to beat them progressively in order to continue on and unlock new missions and chapters. For the narrative, it’s presented in an actual comic book form, which is why the accompanying visuals tend to match and work so well.

You play as Damsel, a secret agent which is the only one that can stand up against the evil forces of the Red Mist, an organization comprised of vampires, set out to take over the world. She has a team that helps her along the way, narratively anyways, as she uncovers Red Mist’s secrets. Between levels you’ll get to watch a few panels of comic book styled storyboard, progressing the story as you go. Does that story relate to your current objectives? Not usually, but at least there’s a decent amount of narrative within.

Damsel has lightning quick reflexes with her dash ability, has killer melee abilities if close range to a vampire, all topped off with a powerful shotgun that can blast any enemy in your way. Your goal is to cause distress, and Damsel has the abilities to do so, it’s only a matter if you can keep up as well. Each mission is bite sized, lasting anywhere from 10 seconds to 2 or 3 minutes, depending on your skill and practice.

Not only will you have to deal with dozens of vampires, but also traps, bombs, lasers and more. Levels are meticulously designed to be played out in a certain way, if you’re trying to aim for a highscore or speedrun that is. If you’re aiming to work on your score or time, you’ll need to play many times to experiment and see what works best to maximize your efficiency.

Each mission has a specific objective, ranging from defeating all the vampires, hacking computer terminals, disarming bombs, saving hostages or destroying coffins. You need to do so quickly though if you want a high score or a good time and grade. There are other traps and different types of vampires will challenge you in unique ways. You can’t simply spam your shots, as you’ll lose the mission if you accidentally kill a hostage, something you’ll do countless times by accident, prompting a restart.

While there is an easier Chillout Mode, where you don’t need to worry about dying and can simply enjoy it for fun, Damsel is crafted around speedruns and leaderboards. While you have a main objective, there are also skulls strewn about the levels, strategically placed, allowing you to amass much higher points. If you're a true glutton for punishment, the most extreme difficulty forces you to keep your skull combo constantly going if you want to progress.

You’re going to have to utilize all of your skills and abilities if you want any chance at succeeding, from your double jumps, dashes, melee, wall jumps and precision aiming. Most of your kills will come from your shotgun blasts, as you can aim in the main vertical and horizontal axis, yet no diagonal. Each vampire will have its health above its head, displayed as a number of hearts. A shotgun blast or melee will do one heart worth of damage, so sometimes you’ll need to figure out how many shots you’ll want to purposely shoot, as one extra might kill the hostage they are guarding, again, causing a restart.

While there are a handful of enemies you’ll encounter, I was hoping that the second and third chapters would add something new, either from enemy variety or bosses... something. Sadly, what you experience in the first dozen or so levels will be what you do for the remaining as well. While no new mechanics or enemies are introduced, the difficulty does spike quite sharply about halfway through by various means. When you get close to a bomb for example, you’ll need to perform a quick QTE to disarm it, but if an enemy shoots you, you get knocked back and have to restart the process. Given that there’s a short timer, you’ll die many times from these explosions due to a random enemy projectile or getting too close to start the timer when you didn't mean to.

This is where repetition and practice comes into play, as levels are designed in a specific way, so it’s only a matter of memorization of enemy placement and pathways if you want to be successful. That being said, because each mission is short in nature, Damsel definitely contains that “one more try” urge, as I would constantly get frustrated from having to restart numerous times, usually due to accidentally killing a hostage, but yet went back for another several tries. The small levels also means you can quickly jump on and play for a few minutes if you don’t have a lot of time to sink in at once.

For those that are a glutton for punishment, or really want to challenge themselves, there’s also an Arcade Mode. Here is where you’ll be tasked with trying to complete the campaign mode, but are only given a set amount of lives per stage. While there’s nothing new added here except difficulty, this is where the best of the best will climb the leaderboards for bragging rights.

Visually, Damsel is beautiful with its colorful and lighthearted comic book style. While the comic book narrative between missions is welcomed, animations of all of your moves is fluid, and stylish to boot. As for the audio, the soundtrack is decent and never really grated on me, even when retrying a level more than a dozen times. The only glaring miss is that the comic book panels aren’t narrated, which would have added some depth to the boring characters, though maybe they purposely wanted to keep the silent comic book aesthetic.

Damsel is absolutely designed for those that either speedrun or want to climb global leaderboards for bragging rights. For the more casual, it might be a little much with its challenging and frantic gameplay, though that’s where the easier difficultly option comes into play. In short bursts, Damsel can be a lot of fun, but play too much in one session and you might start to feel frustrated with the need for perfection and repetitiveness.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Redeemer - Enhanced Edition

Before the Mortal Kombat’s of the world were ushering a bloody good time, we had to settle for bloodless beat-em-ups, like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage. Gaming has come a long way though, and a blood-filled romp is commonplace these days. The latest in the genre is Redeemer: Enhanced Edition, complete with buckets of blood and full to the brim with violence.

You are Vasily, a Kratos look-a-like that used to be a security officer for a shady weapons company. His job had him get his hands quite dirty, including murder, and he wanted no part of that life anymore. He managed to escape and leave, fleeing to a remote monastery and living a violence free life for two decades. Living amongst the monks he found peace, but one day he returns to nearly the whole village murdered once the corporation found out where he was hiding all this time. Now it’s time for redemption, and do to do, he’s going to have to get bloody.

Previously being released on PC, the new improved Enhanced Edition is now available for console players as well. If you managed to play the original Redeemer, then you’ll be happy to know that a few improved have been made, granting the Enhanced Edition title. New content, level’s difficulties have been balanced, abilities are now divided into two sections (Monk and Soldier) and the biggest addition that’s been requested, a 2 player co-op mode for when you have a friend over.

If you’re like me and never experienced Redeemer in the first place, it’s a top down brawler, complete with gunplay that has you fighting your way through levels, leaving a huge blood trail in your wake from anyone that tries to get in your way. You’ll be using your fists, kicks, melee weapons, guns and even environmental objects to kill everyone in your path. If it sounds violent, it is.

There are 15 levels or so, each lasting maybe 20 to 30 minutes, give or take, depending on your skill and difficulty chosen. Levels are very linear, so you’ll essentially be going from point A to point B, but there are a few short hidden paths that lead to some surprises, though there’s not much of an exploring element here, just simply killing everything in your path to the exit. If that’s not your bag, there’s also an Arena Mode where you can take on waves of enemies if you want a change of pace.

The majority of your combat will be with your fists and feet, making combos based on button combinations. If you manage to sneak up behind a normal enemy, you’ll be able to instantly execute them with a single button, essentially getting a free kill. This works quite well and will help thin the numbers before a large battle.

You’ll find a variety of weapons laying around, from torches, knives, axes, crowbars, staffs, hammers and a bunch of other nasty arms that will cause death. Every melee weapon has a durability meter though, usually only lasting a few hits, so make them count. The same goes for firearms, as there’s only limited ammo in each gun, and you can’t simply collect ammunition on the ground, you need to pick up the other guns and swap them out.

As you begin, you’ll face basic soldiers that pose no threat, and obviously as you progress through the levels, the difficulty will increase as you go, adding new enemies that need to be dealt with in very specific ways. For example, the difficulty randomly spikes about halfway through the story, quite sharply out of nowhere, where you’re pitted against a bunch of new monsters. One has spikes and will hurt you if you try and punch and kick them without a weapon, another spits acid and needs to be avoided at all costs, and another that’s a hulking beast and can hurt you real quick if you’re not careful. On their own they aren’t too challenging, but combined, and multiples of each becomes a bit much and chaotic.

Eventually, because of the sheer number of enemies you’ll be facing off against at a time, fatigue sets in with the same repetition of attacking, spamming parry, attack, parry, attack, parry and a few dodges here and there. That being said, I never died because of poor controls, only because I became overwhelmed with the harder foes at once. Stringing together combos, attacks, dodges and parries comes easy, and with that, Vasily’s baddass-ery goes up a notch.

Surprisingly, there’s also a progression system of sorts, relating to your abilities. As you use your attacks more, you’ll become more proficient with them, eventually able to upgrade them and picking perks. For example, eventually you can add another hit to your punch or kick combos, have your punches cause lightning damage or your kicks fire. Melee skills are separated from weaponry, and they level up the same way with perks being able to be chosen at certain levels. Oddly enough, there are also hidden scrolls strewn throughout the levels, and collecting these gives you new skill points as well.

While I didn’t have anyone to play co-op with, it seems most people that played the original were constantly asking for co-op to be added, so now it is to much rejoice. The second player is one of your Monk brothers, though I’m unable to confirm if the second player increases difficulty or enemies in a playthrough. Sadly it’s only couch co-op, as I would have probably dabbled in an online co-op if it was included.

While not often, there was a handful of times where framerate would dip down, one time well into single digits. The fact that I’m using an Xbox One X is what surprised me most about the extreme slowdown. That being said, the loading between stages is quite quick though, so it’s almost a tradeoff.

Redeemer: Enhanced Edition scratches an itch, albeit a seriously violent one. There’s so much blood and violence that it’s almost comical at points, though I don’t see many parents agreeing with me. Certain kills will have the camera zoom in to Vasily performing the execution, which is quite pleasing when it’s a special environmental kill. Graphically, it’s suitable for the tone, though you’ll see hundreds of the same few types of enemies and the same corridors repeated. The audio is slightly better, with the voice acting being half decent and attacks sounding like there’s some real ‘oomph’ to every hit.

Redeemer: Enhanced Edition was a fun distraction for a few hours, but it’s very repetitive, and once you’ve completed it, there’s no real reason to go back and do so again unless you really want to challenge yourself with the harder difficulties. At $38.99, it has priced itself out of the market, especially if you have a capable PC and can get it for much less than half of that elsewhere. If you’re seriously needing a fix of an ultra violent brawler, it’s a decent playthrough, but there’s no real lasting appeal afterwards.

Overall Score: 6.7 / 10 Streets of Rogue

While I generally don’t gravitate towards rogue-lite’s, as I prefer a grand story and character progression, sometimes there are games in the genre that command my attention and I quite enjoy. Streets of Rogue is one of those titles. I initially made two mistakes when first starting Streets of Rogue though. One, I thought it was going to be a different take on Streets of Rage, a side scrolling brawler. This it is not. Second, simply from its visuals, I thought it was also going to be some variation of the Prison Architect games, but I was wrong again.

Instead, I got a twin-stick rogue-lite that is fully packed with humor and allows for a multitude of different play styles, promoting experimentation. One part The Binding of Isaac, another part Deus Ex, there’s near infinite replayability that is quite entertaining, and one action can set off other unintended reactions within the city.

While it doesn’t play a heavy role in the gameplay, there is a main narrative that revolves around trying to usurp the tyrannical mayor. He’s outlawed many things, including chicken nuggets (the prized currency of the people), and you, the Resistance, is trying to end him. After the tutorial though there’s essentially no story elements aside from a few quips here and there between characters. It’s an absolutely silly premise, but it fits, as the dialogue is cleverly written and full of laughs throughout.

Played in a top down view, the core gameplay is much like a twin-stick shooter, but depending on the class you choose, you may not even have access to guns. Levels take place in a city, starting with the Slums, Industrial Zone, The Park, Downtown and Uptown, working your way up to the nicer parts of town to confront the mayor.

The city is full of citizens, all going about their own business. Police patrol areas, gangs own territory, merchants have stores to purchase from, cannibals will gnaw on anyone that passes by and zombies will do their best to infect others. Wait, what? This is just a small example of the different types of NPC’s that inhabit the city and need to be interacted with in different ways. If you start shooting people, police will come after you. If you steal from people, you won’t be liked either. Streets of Rogue allows for a multitude of ways to handle any situation, which is part of its free form charm.

Each level has a main mission for you to complete, with a handful of side quests that are optional as well. You can complete these missions in any way you see fit as well. Need to destroy generators? You could simply shoot and destroy them, but why not set a trap, or hire a gang to do it? To do this, you’ll come across a variety of different equipment to use in any way, like banana peels, detonators, traps and a ton of other items that are fun to experiment with. While I originally only wanted to play with the Soldier class, shooting everything and everyone, once I started to try other characters and experiment, it was very entertaining to see what works and what doesn’t.

The final area of each level will also have some sort of disaster that occurs. Maybe a zombie outbreak happens, or bombs randomly fall from the sky, or an ooze slowly spreads throughout the level, or even a bounty is on your head, having everyone be hostile towards you. These add another layer of not only difficulty, but uncertainty. Maybe you were trying to play a pacifist run, but when everyone is attacking you, sometimes your plans go out the window.

As you complete missions and level up, you’ll earn those previous chicken nuggets. These allow you to purchase new mods and items for subsequent runs. This is a rogue-lite remember, so you will be dying a lot and having to start over, but there is some overall progression which makes it more entertaining each time. There are even modifiers you can toggle for specific types of runs. Want infinite ammo? Turn it on. Want to make things more challenging and items cost more? Go for it. It’s up to you how you want to play each run.

Furthermore, the class system is where Streets of Rogue really shines. I initially started out with a basic solider, but eventually tried a multitude of other classes like a doctor, zombie, gorilla, comedian, thief and more. Each one also plays completely different from the rest, as they all have their own abilities and play style. As a doctor, you don’t use guns, so you’ll have to rely on your tranquilizer gun and chloroform for takedowns from behind. Maybe your comedian can talk a guard out of his keys, or being a zombie to infect as many others as you possibly can.

Each class has their own main quest per stage as well, which plays into their own playstyle. I was quite surprised with the variety of gameplay, as each class can be quite drastically different from the others. Playing as a hacker is nothing like playing as a super gorilla, and you can’t expect them to play anything like a standard soldier.

Can’t decide on what character you want to play? Why not make your own? Yup, you can completely customize essentially every aspect of your character, from its looks, stats, perks and abilities. You have a set amount of points to use, and the better abilities and perks obviously use more points, but there are dozens of options available, making creating your perfect character simplistic. Certain abilities or perks may make things even harder, like people hating you, so it’ll give you more points to use to balance out the difficulty increase. There are a TON of options here, and I spent an hour just reading all of the hilarious descriptions.

Want to cause chaos and mayhem alongside some friends? No problem! Streets of Rogue supports up to four players locally or online. I could see this being extremely entertaining, as each player’s class would dictate a different way to solve quests. I did host a few games, but never had anyone join, and while there’s a player base and a server browser, it’s a little unintuitive to simply jump in and play with others.

The old school pixel art is endearing, perfectly suiting it for the humor and gameplay presented. Surprisingly, classes did look unique and distinct, which goes a long way to show how much heart went into the pixeled visuals. The audio is just as serviceable, as there are a few catchy tunes, but each level simply has its music repeated every play, so it does become stale after a while, especially the first few levels that you’ll be replaying many times.

Streets of Rogue took me by surprise. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but came away with a rewarding experience that promoted experimentation. While some classes shoehorn you into a specific play style, being able to create your own opens up nearly unlimited possibilities and new experiences, all while laughing throughout. If you’re looking for a rogue-lite that allows you to tackle gameplay in a variety of ways, allowing you to be creative and a variety of multiple endings, then Streets of Rogue should be your next play.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 They Are Billions

I initially wasn’t quite sure what to make of They Are Billions. It’s described as a Steampunk strategy RTS, which is technically true, but it also has a flavor of Tower Defense in certain ways. You’re tasked with simply surviving an eventual horde of zombies, but to do so you’ll need to build your colony so that everyone inside its walls are safe, as a single mistake can infect and destroy everything.

They Are Billions lives up to its name, as when the Horde does eventually charge, provided you can survive until then, the screen will literally be filled with thousands of zombies. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, you’ll excel if you’re a fan of RTS games, as you’ll need to manage resources and base build, but when it comes to RTS titles on console, very few games have gotten down the mouse and keyboard transition to controller right. I wish I could say They Are Billions was on this list of controller friendly gameplay, but unfortunately I’m unable to currently.

Narrative wise, there’s absolutely nothing here aside from simply surviving and defending your home base. There’s no campaign to speak of at all. That being said, there is a full-fledged campaign with the PC version, but on console, it’s completely absent. While it’s most likely of a when, and not if, as to when campaign will get added to the Xbox One version, at the time of this writing, there is only a single Survival Mode to play, so keep that in mind when deciding to purchase.

Instead of a typical RTS top down view, They Are Billions is played in an isometric 2.5D perspective. You’re able to zoom in very close, seeing individual units and zombies, but also zoom out to see just how many zombies are approaching your camp walls at once. The Steampunk aesthetic fits the dark and gloomy setting, as does the artistic style with its cartoonish style of character design.

Every game you begin in Survival mode is built as a randomly generated world. Your base is placed randomly within the map, sometimes in a great position near a bunch of water and nodes to harvest from, other times, well, you’ll be struggling a lot more when the random placement doesn’t work for you.

Truth be told, I’m generally quite terrible at RTS games; always have been. A feature that is specifically made for me is the ability to ‘real time pause’. This means the game is still running, but events and actions are paused. I can use this feature to figure out what I want to build and where, setting up the plots, without having to constantly worry about zombie swarms until I’m ready. With how difficult the controls are, which I’ve delve into shortly, this feature made the gameplay somewhat more bearable until I got the hang of it over hours of trial and error.

You’ll need resources to do nearly anything though, from wood, iron, stone, food and more. To gather you’ll need to have specific buildings in place that are in range of nodes and not blocking others. To build these structures though, you’ll also need resources, so it’s a cycle of resource management. You can also eventually upgrade buildings, so you’ll need to keep an eye on many things at once, even your energy costs.

It’s a lot to take in, and the main problem is that there’s absolutely no tutorial of any sorts. So when I started my first Survival game, I became quickly overrun by a swarm, unable to figure out what happened or how to prevent it. It took me a good handful of hours to really dig in and want to learn what does what, and I’m not sure everyone will have the same patience to do so. A basic tutorial of how to build, navigate the clumsy controller setup, how to successfully build defenses and more, would have gone a long way to have me enjoying They Are Billions from my first game instead of hours of frustration from the beginning.

Until you start to grasp the many intricacies of how to properly build a base and survive, you’re going to fail a lot. What’s worse, a single stray zombie that bypasses your defenses can completely destroy your whole base and cause a game over. As soon as a zombie infects one of your buildings, it will quickly spread to the rest, making them unusable until fixed, though at that point, the damage has been done. Your workers and population will also turn, making it impossible to contain once the infection spreads, so you need to make sure you defenses are impenetrable.

You can send your protectors to explore the map for more resources, or defend your base, it’s up to you. These attackers will be your best defense against the zombie horde, which is impressive given that up to 20,000 units each have their own AI at any given time; and no, I didn’t accidentally add a few 0’s there. When you see the horde for the first time, it’s an actual horde and quite impressive, though good luck surviving it.

Survival mode has you trying to last a certain amount of days, with numerous difficulty options and map types once unlocked. There’s also a Challenge mode that gets rotated weekly. Here, everyone will play the same exact map, vying for a high score on the leaderboards. It’s an interesting way to promote competition in a single player survival mode.

Where it starts to fall apart, almost instantly, is from its control scheme. Initially a PC title, They Are Billions was clearly designed for mouse and keyboard gameplay. The remapping onto a controller simply doesn’t work intuitively, and even after hours of gameplay, I was still making mistakes with button presses, accidentally deleting buildings because I forgot to deselect it with a different button, and never was able to accurately select individual units or setup hotkeys.

While very few RTS games on console have nailed the controller scheme, it is possible, but They Are Billions is probably one of the worst and most cumbersome I’ve experienced yet. That doesn’t mean the game itself is terrible, but when you can’t control it properly and do what you want on the fly without having to really think, or simply guess, it doesn’t work fluidly and effects the fun factor. That being said, They Are Billions does support Mouse and Keyboard play on Xbox One, which is a great gesture, but it feels as though it’s absolutely necessary if you want any chance at being successful. You won’t be able to sit on the coach and relax with a match or two of Survival if you’re planning on just using a controller sad to say.

On top of controller issues, there’s also times where you’ll have some massive slowdown. I can only assume it’s from when a lot of action is happening on screen, or in the background, but it happened more than a handful of times to be noteworthy. The biggest offence though is the complete lack of any campaign. Sure, if Survival Mode is your thing, you’ll be content with randomly generated maps, but for those that want more, it’s not going to hold your attention for too long, even less if you don’t have a spare keyboard and mouse to play properly with.

It feels great when you survive a swarm that is stopped at your walls, but when you lose a game because of one stray zombie that manages to infiltrate your walls, it’s quite frustrating, as it’s as if you need to play absolutely perfectly to succeed. With a proper tutorial to teach you how to play, and a campaign, I would have enjoyed They Are Billions immensely more, but in its current state on Xbox One, it simply feels empty and a work in progress.

If you have a mouse and keyboard to play with, then They Are Billions can be an entertaining time once you’ve learned its mechanics and strategies; if you’re going to play with just a controller though, I’d recommend at least waiting until an update with a campaign is added to make the value more worthwhile having to deal with the frustration.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Illusion of L'Phalcia

It seems like every month, KEMCO releases another one of their RPG’s from their PC/Mobile catalogue on Xbox One. With no shortage of titles to port over, the newest, Illusion of L’Phalcia is what console players are now able to enjoy if they’re looking for another run of the mill RPG. While there are no shortage of KEMCO titles to choose from, Illusion of L’Phalcia does pack a lot of content, even if it does run on a little longer than expected and is quite a grind in its endgame.

Created by Sage Elpis hundreds of years ago, The Sword of Amal contains within it the mystical power to grant wishes, provided it has a magic source of sorts. Seeing how powerful it was and weary that it could be used or evil, the sword was hidden away with the only clues to find it being a map torn into six different pieces. Protagonist Ryser, along with his talking cougar friend, aptly named Cougar, are Seekers; treasure hunters of sorts.

Ryser seeks to be rich with gold, and Cougar, well, he’s a foodie and would use his wish to eat a buffet of the world’s finest foods. They are in search for the map pieces to find the Sword of Amal to fulfill their shortsighted wishes, but like any RPG trope, will find friends along the way that join them to help, or for their own reasons. You’ll come across Tiana, a girl being chased by soliders, her guard Ferio and Caldina, a mysterious warrior, all of which are searching for the Sword of Amal for their own reasons.

While the story is one that we’ve seen a hundred times before, the character interactions is quite entertaining, especially the first half when Ryser and Tiana are constantly at each other’s throats for minor reasons. Sure, it gets old after a while, but as the story progresses, there will be twists, albeit obvious ones, but it at least keeps you engaged until the credits roll.

Much like practically every other KEMCO RPG, Illusion of L’Phalcia is a homage to the classic 8bit RPG’s that we grew up with. This means the majority of the gameplay is your top down sprites with limited animations, though combat within this one is done in a 3D aesthetic. Also like nearly every other KEMCO title, you’ll learn about the main story, talk to townspeople, head to your next destination, beat a boss, move onto the next town for more information and repeat until the final confrontation.

There are a few extras thrown in, like a handful of sidequests that you can choose to do, but these generally simply having you going through a previous dungeon and bringing back a specific item or two. As you explore the world map, you’ll also come across optional area bosses that are much more challenging than regular monsters and will give you special rewards if defeated.

Combat is your typical run of the mill turn based RPG style, choosing whether to attack, use a skill, magic or item. Attacking doesn’t cost anything, but magic and skills will utilize your MP, so they can’t be relied on as heavily. If you simply want to auto battle with attacks, pressing ‘Y’ will allow you to do so, essentially fast forwarding the dull combat.

As you fight in battles and use abilities, you’ll also charge your special meter, allowing you to pull off a triple team attack when used. This will randomly choose a skill from each of your three chosen teammates and use them, free of charge from MP. It’s handy to have in a pinch, but I wish I could queue up which abilities were used instead of it being randomly chosen. Where the real diversity comes in is with L’Phalcia’s interesting rune and magic system.

As you progress, you’ll find and earn Gems throughout your journey. These runes are how you equip your characters with specific types of magic (black for damaging and white for protective). What makes this unique is that each character has their own grid of a different size and shape. This grid is where you need to fit in runes, somewhat like moving around items in your Diablo inventory, making them fit within the grid constraints. As you gain levels, you’ll earn grid expansions, and as you earn higher level runes, they’ll become bigger or odd in shape.

A standard white magic rune is as simple 2x2 square, where a black rune is more like a “Z” shape. The high end runes are much bigger and more oddly shaped, so it’s difficult to slot in everything you want, requiring some strategic choices of who’s going to utilize which runes. There are other types of runes as well, like counter attack, physical damage bonuses and more, but the trick is to somehow make them fit within each character’s grid. Even though you can rotate pieces, it’s very tricky to figure out what the best rune combo for everyone is given these grid restraints.

Defeating those area bosses on the world map will earn you some special points, which can be used for high end items and gear, so it makes them worthwhile challenging yourself to. Given that the base game is $18.99 CAD, I was surprised to see that there was optional DLC also offered as well, though I shouldn’t have been given this isn’t the first KEMCO title to offer DLC like these.

Instead of story, quest or character additions, DLC for L’Phalcia is offered in the form of shortcuts. For $6.49 CAD, you can have a XP x3 bonus, full restores after battle and even disable random encounters. Sure, these are completely optional, though at the endgame, you’re going to be very tempted once you start to grind to max level to take on the biggest bosses. Luckily the game doesn’t pester you to do so, but when the base game is priced as it is, it would have been nice to have these as built in options.

While I find the classic 8-bit visuals endearing and nostalgic, obviously they aren’t anything pretty to look at. The hand drawn characters during dialogue are done well, though the 3D battle animations are quite stiff and basic, especially some of the skill attacks and enemy designs. Your 12-20 hour journey will have a handful of repeated audio tracks that become quite repetitive, especially when you’re grinding in seemingly never ending dungeons. Seemingly, narrative important scenes are fully voiced, though only in Japanese and no option for English. Transitioning from voice to text back and forth is jarring and the bland writing doesn’t help much either.

Even with my complaints, I was sucked into the predictable story all the way to its credits, and is a decent way to spend a weekend if you’re looking for a serviceable classic RPG experience, even if it won’t be a memorable journey that you’ll think of afterwards and has a massive difficulty spike near the end.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Omensight

I’ve always been drawn to strong storytelling, especially when it incorporates some type of time travel element to it. Needless to say, I have a soft spot for the classic movie Groundhog Day, and when games use this narrative device, I’m automatically intrigued. Omensight uses this Groundhog Day element, where you’re stuck reliving the same day over and over while trying to figure out a way to save the end of the world.

You play as the silent but deadly Harbinger, a mysterious warrior that only appears in times of a cataclysmic crisis. The lands of Urralia are torn apart at the end of the day when a deadly and evil god appears, Voden, seemingly unable to be stopped. But this is where you come in as the Harbinger, as you’re the only one that can prevent this catastrophic event from occurring, again.

Doing so is impossible though on your own, and you’ll need to recruit help, but convincing others is going to be difficult, as Urralia is under a civil war with the numerous factions. Urralia’s Priestess has been murdered, seemingly at the heart of the reason for Voden’s awakening, so it’ll be up to you to solve this mystery as well, as it may play a key role in being successful.

Again, that won’t be easy, as each race’s faction and cities are at war with one another. The nations of Pygaria and Rodentia are at war, so helping one side will make the other resistant to aid you going forward. This is where your choices come into play. Do you help one person to learn more information on the other and see how their side of events played out, or choose the other for a different perspective. Oh, and even though there’s a Game of Thrones element where each nation is vying for power, every character is actually an animal. It sounds silly and out of place, but it works, reminding me almost like a Secret of Nimh setting.

This is where the brilliant storytelling comes into play, as at the end of each day the world ends, but you as the Harbinger will travel back to the start of the day with your newfound knowledge, allowing you to either make different decisions, or even use that information to confront others on their actions. I don’t want to go into any details about the overall narrative, as that’s easily Omensight’s strongest asset, and spoiling it would be an injustice.

Seeing different perspectives of certain events is really interesting, and even better when you confront characters about what they know or have done. You’re also able to use your Omensight ability, projecting your visions into their mind, allowing them to see what you’ve witnessed as well. The story becomes more and more interesting as you progress and solve smaller mysteries, eventually leading up to the murder of the Priestess and Voden’s awakening.

While the narrative is what will keep you interested, each day is chosen by who you want to accompany alongside. Each level will have you progressing through a linear level, though there are hidden areas that can be unlocked once you have specific knowledge of how to open them that correspond with colored locks.

The camera takes a little getting used to, as it’s a locked and fixed camera based on the area and action that’s happening on screen, though it tends to work well the majority of the time. If you do happen to get put behind an object, it will actually turn see-through so that you won’t be blind as to what’s happening. There are a few platforming sections, which, with the fixed camera can be a bit of a pain, but I only died a couple times due to this.

While there aren’t that many levels, you’ll be playing through them numerous times, due to the storytelling mechanic of reliving the same day every time. Every ‘new’ day you relive though, you’ll have new knowledge, so maybe your companion will open a new path, or a slightly different event will occur during your next day playthrough.

As you explore each stage, you’ll fight hordes of enemies blocking your path. Depending on whom you choose in each day, they’ll fight alongside you, and the AI is actually half decent as well. Each companion will do their own part to help fight, but you’re able to use Right Trigger to utilize their special ability when needed.

Combat is very smooth and fluid, reminding me much of a Batman Arkham style where you need to attack, dodge and heavy smash. As you defeat enemies you’ll earn XP which can then be used to level up in your hub area between levels/days, unlocking new abilities for you to use in combat with each level gained. You’ll also earn shards, which is like a currency, allowing you to purchase upgrades for your abilities, health upgrades and more.

This is when combat becomes quite fun, as you’ll eventually have access to new abilities that are much more powerful, but can only be used once you’ve stored enough orbs from performing combos in combat, making you focus on executing a constant barrage and dodges. As you progress further, your choices will effect whom you fight and when. If you side with one faction, maybe the Rodentian’s (rat race) will fight against you, or vice versa when siding with the Pygarians (birds). This is how replaying the same levels stays fresh, as new events and actions occur based on what information you have and if you decide to share it or not.

While I enjoyed the combat, it does become quite frantic in the last leg or two, with numerous types of enemies that all need to be dealt with in a specific way. Shielded enemies needs a heavy attack to allow you to open them up to hits, flying enemies can constantly spit goo at you if you don’t take care of them in the air, and massive sharks can destroy your health quickly if you don’t dodge in time.

Once you learn enough information, major reveals will come to light, like who killed the Priestess, who’s plotting against whom and other revelations. Using your Omensight is how you’ll get the truth out of people, as it will show them true events of what has happened, either making them confess or rally with or against you. It’s a great storytelling mechanic that kept me intrigued all the way until the end.

The cel-shaded visuals are oddly fitting for the character design, though maybe that’s just because of the animal aesthetics, but it all blends together fittingly. The voice acting is absolutely top notch, as is the soundtrack that accompanies it. Truth be told, Omensight has a perfect balance of storytelling, combat, platforming and ongoing character development. While Omensight doesn’t last a long while, it was a fantastic journey throughout, one that will be remembered for quite some time due to its unique and superb storytelling.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Verlet Swing

I generally tend to gravitate towards the weird and abstract. Why, I’m not sure, but I did so once again as soon as I saw the trailer for Verlet Swing. Weird and abstract is definitely how I would best describe Verlet Swing. It’s premise is basic as it comes; swing from point A to point B to beat the level. Much like Spider-man, you’ll have a hookshot of sorts to do so, but simply getting to point B won’t be easy, not in the slightest.

While there’s no narrative or story at all within Verlet Swing, it’s as if you were having a very weird dream, complete with floating pizza slices, dolphins in the air and any other weird stuff you can conjure in your mind. Your goal for each stage, of which there are 100, is to make it to the end, denoted by a glowing orb. The first handful of levels will be easy, swinging from anchor point to anchor point to the end, but by about half way through the game, you better have some self-control so you don’t toss your controller through the window.

Maneuvering from point to point to reach the end takes a lot of time and practice. Sure, pro speed runners are able to do levels in a matter of mere seconds, but there’s been times where I’ve been stuck on a single stage for at least a half hour at a time. Nearly anything you see can be latched onto and swung from, though there will be a lot of curve balls thrown your way as you progress further. Eventually you’ll have many items and objects that can’t be tethered to, so you’ll need to swing around, up or under them, using momentum to propel yourself.

Playing the previous Spider-man games, you feel fantastic when you’re swinging at high speeds, maneuvering exactly how you want. Sadly, you don’t always get the same feeling with Verlet Swing, usually due to falling or dying, as touching the ground or any object instantly kills you, prompting for a restart. You’ll need to fling yourself through tight spaces, around corners and with absolute precision. Problem is, it’s very difficult to do so. I’m not sure if it’s a controller limitation, as I could see it being a little easier with a mouse to do, as I would constantly latch onto the wrong object, or one way in the distance instead of the one I intended right in front of me.

When I described Verlet Swing as weird and abstract, I meant it. You’ll start by swinging across levels with plain columns, pillars and geometry, but eventually you’ll have Easter Island Moai statue heads that break apart as you get close, allowing you to swing from the smaller debris fragments. Soon you’ll swing from pizza slice propellers, flying bubbles, giant dolphins and many other weird imagery that I can’t even begin to describe. It truly is something you need to see and experience for yourself to wrap your head around, as simple words don't do it justice.

Progress is gated by completing the stage you’re currently on to unlock the next. This means that once, not if, you hit a brick wall of difficulty, you won’t be able to progress any further. I’m somewhat near the end, but I’ve thrown in the towel after a massive amount of frustration. I wish you were able to bypass levels and possibly come back, or maybe have the teapots you earn per level (essentially stars) dictate what levels you can attempt. Either way, the difficulty ramps up real quick, and while I’m generally patient, I eventually gave up due to frustration.

That being said, not all levels are needed to be completed in a single way. While you do need to make it to the orb at the end to finish the levels, how you get there is completely up to you. One of the earlier levels has you navigating these narrow corridors, which was near impossible, but once I figured out a spot to fling myself up and over the wall, the 15 second level only took me 3 seconds or so. While not all will be laid out like so, I’ve definitely completed some levels in an unintended way.

While you are scored per level via the teapots, this indicates that you’re able to replay levels if you really want to challenge yourself with climbing leaderboards and besting your own times. Trust me though, eventually you’ll just be happy that you can complete a level, regardless of the time it took to do so. For those that really want a challenge though, there is Mixer integration, so when you stream it to your audience, they can mess with your game, throwing you even more curveballs and difficult situations.

Right Trigger is how you swing from the object your cursor is currently pointed at, provided it’s an object you can anchor to. You use the Sticks to move and look around, needing to adjust your movement slightly in the air to take tight corners. While you’ll never feel as smooth as Spider-man swinging along rooftops, when you do hit a good flow, purposely, it does feel great. On the flip side, dying for a half hour straight to the same object or corner will make you want to uninstall it just as quickly.

Verlet Swing’s appeal is going to be based on how much patience you have, if you really enjoy challenging yourself or crave climbing leaderboards. You’re going to need to persevere through a lot of frustration if you want to even get close to completing all 100 levels, but my hats off to you if you’re able to do so; at least the soundtrack is upbeat and doesn’t wear out its welcome. Sure it’s got some really out there visuals and is the definition of abstract, but patience is a virtue, and absolutely required to get through Verlet Swing.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Riverbond

Are you a fan of Voxel based games such as Minecraft? What about a good dungeon crawler like a Diablo? What if you could have both in one game? That’s what Riverbond, developed by indie studio Cococucumber, is aiming to be. Casual gameplay by design, Riverbond is, oddly enough, a relaxing experience for a dungeon brawler. Meant to be played in short bursts, and generally aimed at a younger audience, there’s some fun to be had if you’re just wanting to kill a good half hour or so at a time, or really enjoy trying to compete cooperatively alongside some friends on the couch.

Set in a beautiful voxel cubed world, you’ll take on an adventure across multiple realms alongside your friends, smashing everything in sight and defeating all enemies along the way. Since the world is voxel based, meaning made of tiny cubes, like Minecraft, everything you kill or destroy explodes into smaller blocks.

While completely playable single player, Riverbond is much more entertaining when you have up to 3 other friends alongside you playing on the same screen. With support of up to 4 players, and drop-in drop-out gameplay co-op, your kids should have no problems swiftly picking it up for a quick round of gaming. Meant for casual play, gameplay is very simplistic and the difficulty is beyond forgiving, so there shouldn’t be much frustration had from anyone that isn’t as skilled as the other siblings or friends playing.

Pick your favorite skin for your character and start hacking away. While skins have no inherent traits, and are simply for looks, there will be some interesting, and funny, skins you’ll acquire as you find them hidden in chests along your adventure. Search hard enough and you’ll even unlock special skins that are crossovers from other games, such as Bastion, Enter the Gungeon, Shovel Knight and Guacamelee! Or, if something more basic is your style, you can be a sword swinging donut, bacon, pig, or multitude of others that will surely make you chuckle.

There are eight worlds that need to be cleared by defeating their respective bosses. Each world is made up of a handful of individual stages, usually 5 or 6, and last roughly a half hour or so each. Each level also gives you a specific objective before unlocking the gate to allow you to progress. These are usually very basic and has you defeating all enemies, finding keys, destroying objects, finding hidden things or other silly goals.

Clear all of the stages and you’ll finally take on that world’s boss, which if you simply circle strafe while shooting your projectile weapon, you’ll eventually whittle them down to nothing, even with their respawning adds. These bosses may not be the most challenging encounters, but again, they aren’t really meant to be, as Riverbond is a more casual experience, meant for a younger audience.

Interestingly, you’re able to play any of the eight worlds in any order you like, and apparently they are all tied together in some way, but the narrative is so paper thin that I couldn’t even remember much of it by the time I got to writing this after finishing it. Again, this is alright, as the younger audience will simply want to hack and slash until they move on to something else.

What surprised me the most was how death really isn’t a hindrance at all. I fully expected that when I died, I would have to restart that level all over again from the beginning, but you don’t. Instead, you simply respawn at the beginning of the level you’re on, or checkpoint if you’ve unlocked one, and continue searching for your objectives. All of the enemies you killed are still dead and they don’t even reappear. For the younger players, or less skilled, this is a great feature.

Riverbond’s main hook comes from its wide variety of weapons and skins you find along the way. You begin with a simple sword and gun, allowing for melee or ranged combat, but you’ll find a ton of more weapons along the way in chests. I can’t tell if weapons you find are fixed or random, but it seems the quality of weapons you get can vastly fluctuate. For example, your starter sword may do 15 damage per swing, but the new one you just found can either be much better, or even worse, damage wise.

Sadly, there’s no way to tell how good a weapon is either until you swing, or shoot, away on a few enemies and look at the numbers. I wish there was some way to see the stats of a weapon before picking it up, as you can only hold, but rotate, a certain amount of weapons at a time. There are a variety of weapons though, so you’re bound to find one that suits your playstyle. Some may like the slower swinging, but higher damage, clubs, whereas I chose to stick with the low damage but ultra-quick dual weapons.

Even better, weapons are just as silly as the character skins. Sure, you’ll find some standard swords and machine guns, but you’ll also find bear claws, samurai swords and a few other hilarious ones that you’ll want to try out. Ammo is unlimited, though you’ll need to take time to reload when your clip is empty, and ranged weapons greatly vary just like their melee counterparts. With over 50 weapons to find and play with, my only complaint is that I wish I could see their stats before replacing them in my inventory.

Riverbond’s world is beautiful, even in its simplistic form. Smashing almost everything I see is fun, as is defeating the massive bosses at the end of each world. Audio is just as fitting and never seemed to grate on me during my playthrough of each world either. Unlocking new skins is fun and I found myself rotating new skins each level just to keep things fresh, even if they have no inherent abilities or differences aside from their looks.

If you have kids in the house, or friends that come over often, Riverbond can be a fun way to spend a few hours. While there’s little reason to continue playing after completing all the worlds, aside from trying to get a better high score, there’s potential within, even if it is basic at its core, as I know I would have stuck with it for a few more playthroughs if it had online co-op. Even still, if you have Gamepass, it’s free, so you might as well get to swinging that voxel sword.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Outer Wilds

I’ve always gravitated towards games that have a strong narrative. Some games utilize lengthy and dramatic cutscenes to tell its story, others immerse you in a living world, but in the case of Outer Wilds, it focuses on exploration mechanics for you to search and find out more about its lore. Outer Wilds is an interesting concept that took me a while to wrap my head around, but once I did, I kept wanting to go back after every 22 minutes, but more on that shortly.

If I was forced to make a direct comparison, I would best equate Outer Wilds to something that resembles a No Man’s Sky, though nowhere near in size and scope. That’s not a bad thing though, as Outer Wilds has some very interesting roguelike elements that keeps gameplay quite interesting throughout your space adventure. Normally I like to be guided and told what to do and when, but Outer Wilds is exactly the opposite, allowing your curiosity dictate where you want to go and what to do.

You’re the newest recruit for a small space program, the Outer Wilds Ventures. Your goal is to find answers and explore the known solar system with your trusty spaceship and suit. This solar system is nothing like our own though, with many moons, orbiting planets nearby and even more mysteries as to why your alien race is stuck here in the first place.

There was another race here before you though, as there are remnants littered throughout the galaxy, pieces of which you’ll find during your vast exploration. The main catch though? You’re stuck in a time loop where the solar system is engulfed by the Sun turning into a Supernova. When you die though, you simply wake up once again at your camp fire alongside a friend; something you’ve done countless times before.

Sure, once I realized there was a Groundhog Day element to the narrative and gameplay, I was intrigued, but it’s a very clever way to add roguelike elements to the gameplay. Even though the universe is destroyed every 22 minutes and your game restarts, you keep any progress you’ve made with found clues and researched lore. For example, your first task is to find the launch codes for your ship so you can take into orbit, and even though you’ll die in 22 minutes, or sooner if you have a mishap, once you’ve found those codes, you’ll already start your next time loop with that knowledge. So while it’s a roguelike with guaranteed deaths, you do constantly progress as well.

Every time you die, be it the Supernova, running out of oxygen, crashing your ship or numerous other means, you’ll always awake moments later back at your campfire. Why is this happening, what happens if you can stop the time loop? Can you even do such a thing? These are the questions that are asked and for you to solve on your own through exploration in the solar system.

You’re going to need to venture into unknown space to find answers. Where do you begin? Do you equip tools and check your map? Do you aim for the nearest planet? What’s that dark planet in the distance that looks like it’s frozen in time after exploding? Why is there ancient text strewn around nearly everywhere? Your curiosity will get the best of you, and you’re not guided in any way or another, so free to choose what you want to explore.

There’s a surprising amount of detail within Outer Wilds’ worlds, as each planet looks and feels distinct, every cave and mystery is unique and some of the landscapes you’ll come across are simply magnificent to take in and enjoy.

Getting around the galaxy though will take some practice, as you’ll need to deal with navigating all of the axis’ in your ship and suit. You’re going to crash a lot in the beginning, but eventually it'll become second nature. You can also use the autopilot to get within range of a planet before setting down to explore. There’s a steep learning curve, not only in the controls, but how to progress, and more importantly, why. Just as you discover new areas, you’ll plunge down a rabbit hole that will only open up more questions and be presented with puzzles that will almost certainly take a good walkthrough to solve. However, solving the puzzles and deciphering ancient text that reveals more about the lore is very rewarding. Yes, you’re going to die in 22 minutes, again, but all of your discoveries carries over into the next time loop.

22 minutes might not sound like long, but when you’re exploring the galaxy, I actually ended up dying most of the time well before the Supernova event occurred. Sure, a few of those were accidentally ejecting myself into space and running out of oxygen, or crash landing onto a planet at breakneck speeds, but every time you awaken at the campfire once again, it only takes a few moments to get back into space and your next destination. While you’ll only make minor overall progress in small steps, once things start to come together and uncover the past, it’s quite rewarding.

I really enjoyed that there were no enemies or combat elements within. That doesn’t meant there aren’t specific dangers that need to be avoided, but I really appreciated the exploration focus rather than adding a survival element. Your ship's on-board computer will keep track of all the progress you’ve made, laying out the ‘quests’, so to speak, in an easily visual way that makes sense and allows you to figure out what you want to do next or set markers.

Puzzles will play a large part of your exploration, as certain orbs can be moved along paths, much like switches, or finding a room where touching a crystal changes the orientation or gravity. There’s many more secrets to uncover within, many of which I could list off as immensely cool moments, but that would be spoiling grand events that truly need to be witnessed and experienced.

Visually, Outer Wilds may look basic at first glance, but once you start to take in the universe as a whole, explore within the layers of planets and appreciate the more unique moments, ‘impressive’ is only the start of how to describe how everything looks. Arguably even better is its soundtrack, with movingly beautiful instrumentals that fit a great space exploration perfectly. Witnessing your first Supernova death with the orchestral soundtrack is simply a beautiful experience.

While some may be turned off by the lack of focus and direction, Outer Wilds excels because it doesn’t do either of these, allowing you to explore the galaxy at your own pace in any way you want. Curiosity will constantly pique your interest, pulling you to new places every new time loop, with tons of secrets and mysteries to uncover for those that want a specific goal. Oh, and it’s on Game Pass currently, so there’s absolutely no reason to not suit up for 22 minutes and explore wherever you desire.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 A Plague Tale: Innocence

What if I told you that a relatively small studio that created Fuel for Xbox 360 about a decade ago would go on to craft one of my favorite narrative driven storylines I’ve played in recent years? That’s exactly what Asobo Studio has done with their most recent release, A Plague Tale: Innocence. Truth be told, A Plague Tale wasn’t even on my radar before release, yet fate dealt me it to review, and I’m extremely grateful that it did, as it’s easily gone to be one of my favorite titles in recent memory, easily up there with the likes of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

Set in 1349 France, A Plague Tale tells a narrative driven saga about the de Rune family, specifically a young 15 year old girl named Amicia and her 5 year old brother Hugo, born into a wealthy family. Hugo though has essentially been isolated from everyone since birth, even from his own sister Amicia, so they don’t have much of a relationship, if at all.

The heartwarming, and wrenching, story begins when the Inquisition invades your village, destroying everything in their path and killing anyone in the way to find Hugo for some unknown reason. Not only is the Inquisition a deadly force, destroying everything in their path, there’s a plague ravaging the lands, carried by thousands of filthy rats that infest every area where there’s no fire or light, seemingly their weakness.

One moment Amicia and Hugo are innocent children living a life of luxury, the next, they are fleeing to escape the Inquisition together after seeing everyone they know slaughtered. Siblings are now forced together as Amicia tries to take Hugo to safety, away from the Inquisition that is unrelenting and constantly on your heels. The 1300’s were dark times, and having a plague to deal with on top of the situation they are thrust in makes for an absolutely intriguing narrative that I wish wouldn’t end. From the opening moments you start to care about these characters, and by the end, I was fully invested in their struggle and did what I could to have them and their friends survive.

While the narrative and character development are the main focus, the core gameplay is a mix of stealth and action with some puzzle elements thrown in. While the adventure itself is linear, eventually you’ll be able to solve puzzles in a number of different ways. With a playtime of roughly a dozen or so hours, it was just the right length and never felt like overstayed its welcome.

You control Amicia for the majority of the adventure, and instead of a standard sword and shield combat mechanic, she instead is only armed with a sling to fling rocks at enemies and her alchemy knowledge. While being only able to sling rocks at armed guards may seem like weak design, it adds a strong degree of tension. Sure, a direct headshot will instantly kill guards, but eventually they’ll wear helmets and have shields, making you figure out other solutions to defeating them.

The first half of the game is very stealth focused, as you don’t have a lot of tools at your disposal aside from slinging rocks, but eventually Amicia will be able to craft special alchemy concoctions, like igniters, poisons and other tricks to use against the Inquisition. The Inquisition isn’t the only enemy you’ll need to worry about though, as if you allow the hordes of rats to touch you, it’s game over. But the rats are afraid of light, so staying within the light is paramount above all else.

New crafted items are almost like abilities, as dealing with the rats are essentially the puzzle elements in A Plague Tale. There’s a guard blocking a doorway, so do you use your sling and try fighting against him directly, use an extinguishing potion to douse the torch they are carrying, causing the rats to eat him, or simply try and sneak your way past? Eventually you’ll be able to solve these puzzles in a handful of different ways, just like above. Without spoiling anything, the final hour or two of the game added a new mechanic that changed things up and I absolutely loved.

While none of the puzzles were overly complex, some do take some trial and error to figure out. What I really enjoyed was that it’s almost as if you’re solving micro puzzles one after another throughout your journey, and when I felt stuck, I would simply check my abilities and what would be the best way to progress. Sometimes grabbing a torch that burns quickly to reach the next fire pit is all it takes, other times you may need to light a brazier and push it along a cart to keep the rats at bay.

Amicia will collect items during her journey, such objects like sulphur, oil, cloth, rope, etc. These are used to craft items when you find workbenches to upgrade your sling and other abilities. You’ll need to be very thorough if you want to upgrade though, as these materials are also how you craft your needed alchemy items as well, so it’s a balance of creating the items you need to survive in combat, but also saving enough to upgrade your sling, ammo pouch, etc.

Graphically, A Plague Tale took me by complete surprise. Not that smaller studios can’t craft beautifully stunning visuals, but usually cutscenes and scenery are only this impressive in top tier AAA titles. To say that A Plague Tale looks stunning is an understatement. Amica’s journey will take her from village to forests, ruins, castles and other dark settings, all of which look amazing. While Amicia’s face may look a little dead and lifeless during gameplay, the cutscenes are absolutely top tier. I don’t know what technical wizardry the developers used to have hundreds of rats constantly on screen at any given moment, but never once did I experience slowdown or framerate drops.

The same goes for the audio, as the soundtrack is brooding and fitting the dark tale of the era, and the voice acting is some of the best I’ve experienced in recent memory. Kudos to Charlotte McBurney (Amicia), as the performance was completely believable, and more impressive, was her first voice acting role as well. Logan Hannan (Hugo) also performed flawlessly, and combined, made the siblings a pair of characters I truly cared about by the time the credits rolled. Even the supporting characters you meet along the way were amazing and made the journey much more engaging and believable.

Asobo Studios needs to be applauded for creating something so stunning and fantastic in every way. It’s not easy to make you care about characters in a short dozen or so hours, and the fact that A Plague Tale will be etched into my memory is no small feat. I don’t like to loosely throw around the term “Masterpiece”, but this is absolutely one of my favorite games that I enjoyed whole heartedly in recent memory. Needless to say, this is one plague you won’t want to avoid.

Overall Score: 9.5 / 10 SNK 40th Anniversary Collection

As a kid growing up in the 80’s, I got to experience a golden age of gaming. Not only did I have a Nintendo at home, but I would plunk fistfuls of quarters into my local arcade, something I wish still existed. While I played endless amounts of home console games, I can tell that by this SNK 40th Anniversary Collection that I’ve missed out on the far superior arcade versions of games I knew growing up.

Last year was the pinnacle 40th anniversary of the legendary studio SNK, hence this anniversary collection (even if it is a year late). Not only are there a ton of classics included here, but even more impressive is how much work went into making the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection something truly special with all of its extras and bonuses.

A compilation of SNK titles from console and arcades ranging from 1979 to 1990, there’s going to be something for nearly everyone here, even though they aren’t all winners. Compilations aren’t a new thing, nor are remakes, but it truly is all of the extra work that’s gone into this collection that makes it worth the price of entry if you’re a true retro fan, even if the price is quite steep at a hefty $51.99 CAD.

With nearly 30 titles to play, here’s the list of included games:

Alpha Mission (1985), Athena 1986), Beast Busters (1989), Bermuda Triangle (1987), Chopper I (1988), Crystalis (1990), Fantasy (1981), Guerilla War (1987), Ikari Warriors I, II and III (1986 and on), Victory Road, Iron Tank (1988), Munch Mobile (1983), Ozma Wars (1979), Paddle Mania (1988), P.O.W. (1988), Prehistoric Isle (1989), Psycho Soldier (1987), SAR: Search and Rescue (1989), Sasuke vs. Commander (1980), Street Smart (1989), Time Soldiers (1987), TNK III (1985), Vanguard (1981), and World Wars (1987).

One title to make special mention of though is Baseball Stars (1989) and is an Xbox One exclusive. What makes many of these titles special is that you can play either the console or arcade versions of each (most are supported and included) and see the true difference of how much superior the arcade versions were compared to the home versions.

One of the coolest additions to each game is the options you’re given to alter how you want to play. Many games will let you edit starting lives, amount of points needed to earn a free life, how many continues, etc. There are even modern day quality of life improvements, like a rewind button we’ve come accustomed to in our racing games, so when you die to a random projectile, feel free to rewind and try again. You can add old school TV filters, toggle the border artwork, create and load save states and more. Obviously updated graphics to support modern resolutions and controllers have been added, as expected. What I would have given to have these options as a kid growing up with many of these games.

The coolest feature though, for every single title, is the ability to watch the game. I don’t mean the intro loop of a specific part in a level, I mean a complete playthrough of the game. I can’t tell if it’s from a pro speed runner, or AI, because every run is essentially perfect. This means that even though you’re never going to be able to beat a specific game, you can still watch it from beginning to finish. Sure, you could YouTube a walkthrough or speedrun, but there’s something awesome about doing it in-game then trying it yourself. You’re able to fast forward and rewind, if you simply need some help or want to see how a pro does it, but this inclusion really surprised me and I hope more games utilize something like this fantastic feature.

While Arcade is where you’ll play all the games, nerds like myself will truly enjoy the Museum section of this collection. Here you’ll see a history of SNK, much of which I didn’t know, artwork, never before seen promotional materials, manuals and fully fledged soundtracks. Yes, not just the title theme, but full soundtracks. There’s a ton of material to enjoy, and I really appreciate the time and effort that went into adding aspects like this that I find truly fascinating.

While I enjoyed mostly the side and vertical shooters in the collection, there were a few standouts that were entertaining to relive once again. That said, there’s also a few stinkers included that I played once or twice and will most likely never go back to. Sure, everyone will have a different preference, but this means that there’s something for nearly everyone if you’re into the retro genre. I couldn’t believe how vastly superior arcade versions were compared to the console ones I grew up with, something I would have never known without this collection. Nostalgia can be a funny thing, making you remember things far better than they actually were, as was the case with a title or two here for myself, but that didn’t hinder the fun I was having.

More entertaining than the slew of games themselves is the bonus and extras that were included. I really hope that other retro collections take note going forward, as SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is the new baseline of effort needed to truly grab someone’s attention, though hopefully they won’t price is as exorbitantly high as this one.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Fission Superstar X

Do you enjoy space shooters? What about roguelites with random generation of enemies? Do you thrive on a very difficult challenge with permadeath for when you screw up? If you answered yes to these questions, then Fission Superstar X is THE game for you, developed by indie creators Turbo Pelvis 3000.

Sometimes when a story is so absurd and over the top, it makes it better than when it’s trying to be super serious and comes up short. Such is the case with Fission Superstar X, a tale about a jaded Doctor Leopold that hails from Planet X. This mad scientist has created a massive Planet destroying bomb, lovingly nicknamed Celine, and the main target is Earth. Earth is very far away from Planet X though, and you’ll need to make stops along the way, including Pluto (it’s still a Planet damnit!).

Generally lifeforms don’t take kindly to being blown up, so everyone will attempt to stop you and shoot down your ship along your way across the solar system. It’s a silly story, but it’s fitting, as the gameplay is what you’ll come for more so than any narrative.

As for its core gameplay, Fission Superstar X plays out like a standard side scrolling space shooter, though like any good roguelike, when you die it’s permanent and you begin all the way at the start. Combat is interesting though, as you begin with a standard turret near the top of your ship, with options to purchase and add one on each side of your ship as you progress. What makes the shooting interesting though is that you can only physically shoot at angles that your turrets can see. This means that you’ve only got about a 45 degree angle of coverage on each turret side, which makes sense, but adds a lot of challenge.

Once you have a turret on the top, bottom, front and back, shooting down enemies will become much easier, but until then, you’re defenseless on sides with no turret, making the first few levels a challenge. This is due to the randomness of enemy placement. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and they’ll appear from off screen in an ideal spot, within your tur