MEMBER PROFILE FOR Symmetric-XBA

Total Reviews: 292
Average Overall Score Given: 7.54452 / 10
Total Forum Posts: 1863

Reviews
Train Sim World 4

All aboard once again for the pinnacle of train simulation experience, Train Sim World 4. With all kinds of simulation games appearing almost monthly, the growing trend that could be argued is that a lot of these entries are just cash grabs. Simple programming to get something easy out there where you can charge a few dollars, and that pretty much is it. Dovetail though has engineered this latest release to provide the most realistic train simulation on any platform. So, is Train Sim World 4 another quick cash out copy, or is it the pinnacle of train simulation games? Get your tickets ready because we're about to go for a ride.

When it comes to a train simulation game you need trains... lots and lots of trains. Throughout the years Dovetail has been modeling and providing numerous, highly detailed trains for you to enjoy, and this release is no different. With a focus for more inclusion of steam engines, Dovetail Games decided that this release would be the time to drop the most legendary steam engine of them all, The Flying Scotsman. A pure icon of legendary trains, this Flying Scotsman will test your nerves as you go through the in-depth process of operating this masterpiece.

This latest addition though isn't the only thing Dovetail Games has up its sleeve. If you purchased DLC from Train Sim World 2 or 3, that content will automatically be included in Train Sim World 4. This is a feature that I would love to see incorporated in other games as it truly showcases that the developer wants you to "own" your content. Speaking of content, there's a ton of it at your fingertips.

Starting your journey off, Train Sim World 4 gives you the ability to go into the training center. You don't have to do this, but with Train Sim World 4 not holding your hands, hunting and pecking for the correct order of things will rapidly become the source of tremendous frustration. These are incredibly detailed engines so don't expect just press 'A' to go and 'B' to brake. The training center is very thorough and will help you quickly become used to the various train functions, and the order in which things must be activated and operated to ensure proper function. This also applies to the steam engine trains that require some more work in order to make sure things run smoothly.

After you have passed the tutorial and are somewhat familiar with the mechanics of connecting and unhooking cars for transport, passenger pick up and drop off, switching tracks, and more, you're now on your way to a tremendous amount of railroad content, and when I say tremendous amount of content, it really is staggering. From the main menu you can select My Profile and that will load up your trains, routes, and route tasks. In Train Sim World 4 there are 385 total route tasks alone. The number of tracks as well only naturally increases when you factor in Train Sim World 2 and 3 content can also be used in this game. For a sim game, Dovetail Games has literally gone the extra mile to provide an overwhelming wealth of content that can be accessed from day one.

Dovetail Games also brings you what they call "guided experiences" within the game type Rail Journeys. Here you can undergo various tasks and scenarios that will teach you how to operate other trains within the game. These journeys provide a fun way of experiencing multiple types of trains by breaking them up into several chapters, but also grade you on your performance. I'll touch more about that later.

The content though continues with the store. There are content packs that range from $5.39 to $35.99 and even lines, locomotives, and Routes for sale. Should you also decide to jump right in, pick a train and start working away on the 1,360 services you will have to do across your train collections. If you think that adding some more "sim" to your simulation experience, the scenarios offer some enjoyable variants to experience. There's only 31 in total but hopefully this leaves tremendous room for expansion. It really isn't like you're hurting for content to play.

The content itself though is a step up from Train Sim World 3, but nothing that would be regarded as dynamic until you start talking about the train models themselves. The focus is on the trains, and Dovetail Games shows you why they are some of the best in the business. The detail of the cabins, the sounds of the switches, brakes, hydraulics, and even wheel spin add such an audio and visual sensory experience that these tremendously massive metal beasts can provide. The cabins and trains themselves are replicated with the utmost attention to detail.

Throughout the game, however, you're tasked with making sure you stay on schedule, park the train as close to the marker as you can, and then watch your speed. That last part is quite frankly one of the worst. You'll have sections where you'll be flying along at 80mph and then within moments you have to slam on the brakes and drop the speed down to 25mph. Needless to say you also get penalized if you drive over the speed limit. All of these factors into your overall grade, so it will boil down to managing your speed and stopping point above all else. Oh, and if you think "I'll just deal with the penalty and get there 10 minutes early", just remember that the tracks aren't always straight. Taking a 200-ton piece of steel and engineering to 80mph, making a sharp turn and expect to come out the other side will quickly have you wondering what other wrong life choices you made before you derail the train and go soaring off the tracks.

The only drawbacks are felt within the scenery and the online aspect of the game. The Creators Club allows you to customize your train through livery designs and you can unlock new logos and design elements through completing route challenges, but it would have been nice to offer some type of head-to-head challenge or something that would be far more engaging. Despite a few shortcomings with the graphics and the online content, Train Sim World 4 is a top tier simulator that exemplifies what it means to be a true simulation game. Recreating the experience down to the finest small detail should be the goal of any great sim game, and Train Sim World 4 by Dovetail Games is the definitive train experience.

**Train Sim World 4 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 RoboCop: Rogue City

The 80's were a decade of excess and the 90's were the societal revolution against it and this was ever so apparent when it came to movies. When it comes to iconic, almost cult like following of a movie, there are few that can stand the test of time like Robocop. The infamous "I'll buy that for a dollar" or "dead or alive, you're coming with me", the action, the sound effects and even the stop motion made the series one of those movies that you watched over and over. It became a guilty pleasure of sorts because it was far from the greatest of movies, yet provided so much enjoyment and entertainment that we as consumers of digital media have been wanting a Robocop game but in a way that paid homage to the nostalgia of the series that started this all.

Over the years we have had many, and I do mean many attempts to bring Robocop to the gaming world. History shows us that movie games do not have the best track record when it comes to producing a quality experience that simulates the movie it's based on. Now though, developer Teyon has decided to step up to the plate and deliver Robocop: Rogue City which is supposed to be a cannon story that takes place between Robocop 2 and 3. All of us moviegoers know that sequels don't necessarily bring about the best in a movie trilogy and this is the case with Robocop. Entries 2 and 3 into the series showcase a downfall in production development, story, and a loss of what made the original so great. With a game now set in the middle of this, how will Teyon fare with it? Let's take a look.

Starting off the opening menu music to me was sensational. It was a soft piano version of the Robocop theme music and for some reason it just caught me pleasantly off guard. There is more that I'll mention later but to kick things off it was very refreshing. Another cosmetic treat off the bat is how the game takes the green "80's tech" feel that we have come to love from the movie series. This is when you know that starting this game will take you on a time warp back to the 90's. The menu system is fairly straightforward, but there are a few things I should point out. Robocop in the movies was not an agile, nimble hero that jumped and rolled and was very acrobatically. Nope, Robocop instead was a direct tank of a figure and that is where you will find a lot of your gameplay involved.

To put things bluntly, Robocop: Rogue City is your traditional formula of go to point A, shoot and kill every criminal, and the move onto the next objective. The story though, is a direct tie into the events in Robocop 3 so if you were to watch Robocop 2 and then play Rogue City and then watch Robocop 3, you will see how the stories connect to each other. This was a wonderful touch because it made it feel like a continuation rather than a direct "one-off" storyline that had nothing to do with the Robocop trilogy at all. If you haven't seen the Robocop trilogy or saw it many moons and decades ago, here's a brief overview synopsis of what you can expect when you dive into Rogue City.

The story is centralized in Detroit where rival gangs have claimed "territories" and crime is skyrocketing. Police are struggling to maintain order as they are woefully outmanned and outgunned. Enter now, OCP (Omni Consumer Products) which is a company with one objective in mind, the creation of Delta City. This utopia is supposed to replace the crime infested, run down city of Detroit. This company is the primary antagonist throughout the Robocop movies/games and in Rogue City they're no different. The problem with OCP is that they also created Robocop. While under the guise of a "good will" gesture to the City of Detroit and its people and police, little did they know that it was all part of an experimental cyborg program designed to create autonomous policing cyborgs that would essentially put the Detroit PD out of business. Like Robocop, OCP sees you as its property while the Detroit PD sees you as one of their own. This is the crux behind your gameplay in Rogue City.

The choices you make will ultimately reflect what your story plays out to you. Yes, you read that correctly. Teyon has not only put in player choices but has also developed the story so that depending on your choices. Your path will be different as will the outcome of the results. This is due to two main parts of the game which are your side quests and your "evaluations" at the end of every mission. The side quests allow you to choose between your primary directives in how you handle situations. For example, if you notice someone littering that is a crime and you can give them a ticket for it. On the other hand, you can also let them off with a warning and instead of upholding the law, you are increasing your public trust. Remember, you ARE a cyborg so people will need to trust you, yet crimes must be punished. What do you do? The choice is yours.

After these side missions, you have the main story line as well. Each one of these missions is done in a quality that pays homage to the Robocop movies. Without spoiling the plot, itself, when you progress through this story you will see how Alex Murphy (the slain police officer that became Robocop) has to manage and learn how to process these intense memories and painful emotional connections. Each mission takes you deeper along this psychological journey and when you're finished you actually get "reviewed" by a specialist who dives into your actions and how these moments impact you. How you respond in these sessions will also contribute to how your story plays out along with the endings. Yes, there are multiple endings in Robocop Rogue City and the outcomes are determined by your actions.

As you go throughout the game, you'll rapidly become acquainted with the gameplay mechanics. Remember, I said you were not nimble or agile. In reality you're a lumbering tank of a weapon. Using the sticks to move and fire, Rogue City allows you to really dive into the Robocop lore with the same exact targeting system where the enemies are scanned, outlined in a green box, and then tracked. This can come in handy as some of your main missions I talked about earlier involve some combat sections where you are having to outkill either some other police officers, SWAT, and even several ED-209s. This ability to be a tank allows you to run into fire and prove to OCP and Detroit why you are an invaluable asset to the Detroit Police Department. Completion of these go towards your mission rewards at the end and based off your grade, which will determine how many skill points you get.

Which naturally segues into the how to level your character up part of this review. In Robocop you gain experience through enemies killed, documents scanned, pieces of criminal activity acquired, opening safes, side quests, main quests. Now that may seem like a ton of opportunities to earn experience, when you see how the game breaks it down, you'll know why this game forces you to explore. Each 1,000 experience points allow you to gain 1 upgrade slot. If you get an A ranking on main missions you can earn up to 3,000 points. Now that sounds great but then you realize that side missions net you 50 experience points, criminal evidence can net you between 10-100 points depending on the item. Enemies can earn you about 10 points per kill, and so you can see how the mission breakdown is so important.

Every mission has side missions within them, plus other measurable factors such as how much crime evidence did you find? Did you perform side objective "a" or "b"? Hostages saved? These are all examples of some of the factors that are in every mission. If you want that A ranking and those points, then it would go a long way to exploring every inch of Detroit. These skills range from combat, armor, focus, engineering, psychology and more. Rather than some elaborate trees, Robocop: Rogue City offers a straightforward system that provides certain benefits at the beginning, middle, and end of the skill tree for a particular skill. Some examples of this would be in Engineering where you can invest 6 points and you gain the ability to unlock any safe without the code.

Your character isn't the only thing you can level up though. Your trusty Auto-9 pistol can also be upgraded through the acquisition of new PCB boards and various connector pieces. As you browse the areas of your missions, you will come across these PCB boards which enable you to upgrade your weapon and allow some bonuses as well as some penalties. You can upgrade your pistol's magazine capacity, weapon spread, reload speed, damage and armor piercing. You can upgrade these by using chips found within some enemies and OCP containers. These octagonal chips come in different power levels, types, and shapes. For instance, you can have a chip with an opening on both the top and bottom and is at 20%. This means you can take the power current from the PCB board and have it gone straight through and provide that 20% bonus onto your weapon. Each one of these boards offers a different configuration and different bonuses as well such as automatic fire, never reload, increased armor penetration and much more. Through the use of these chips, you can upgrade your weapon and then prevent any negative penalties.

These chips can also be upgraded but a warning before you do, it's totally random what you get so let's say you put in three "L" shaped chips, you may or may not get another "L" shaped chip. Without the ability to purchase them, some of these can be pretty valuable so take caution when/if you decide to upgrade your chips for your PCB board. Robocop Rogue City also offers a nice green monochromatic map that will help you find locations to explore as well as secrets to uncover throughout each mission. This is where the genius of the game resides though. You can use the map but since you're not nimble or agile, it takes you a while to move around and when you're looking everywhere for evidence and documents etc., this map becomes an invaluable tool.

Graphically Robocop Rogue City looks tremendous in some places but highly generic and low budget in others. The character modeling for the main characters is done incredibly well with a dynamic attention to detail. Robocop, the chief of police, and even his partner are spot on from the movies and the developers have done a fantastic job of making it believable. The rest of the environment and characters you can rapidly see were using what resources were left. While this was kind of a letdown, hearing the voice acting and seeing the broken animation on those who aren't main characters in the story really shows a difference. Other sound effects though are done brilliantly. Your targeting system, pistol, walking, ED-209's mobility and voice, all of it seems like it jumps straight from the late 80's and early 90's.

Robocop: Rogue City offers an ever-changing storyline based off your character's choices while paying homage to the amazing source material found decades ago on the silver screen. While not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, neither was the Robocop movie trilogy and it has become an icon of film, so why not this game? This is when I realized that I needed this game to be imperfect to be a perfect representation and Teyon delivered that in spades. If you're a fan of the classic Robocop and would love a chance to dive into a story that links movies 2 and 3 perfectly and have it been cannon, then you owe it to yourself to pick up Robocop: Rogue City, or else there could be.... trouble.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Mortal Kombat 1

In today's world it seems like everything is getting some type of "multiverse" treatment. In true Oprah-like fashion, the same can now be said officially for Mortal Kombat 1. We dear gamers were together as we climbed the various numbers leading up to 10 (X) and even 11, but now? Now we start back at 1 due to a completely redesigned timeline. It's this blank canvas that developer NetherRealm tries to paint the next future for the Mortal Kombat series. In their design for the future, however, it seems like they focused on the phrase "less is more". In today's gaming arena though, is it wise to uproot literally everything and start from a small seed again? Let's find out.

As we begin our warrior's path, let's talk about the story of Mortal Kombat 1. In Mortal Kombat 11 you had a choice of whether or not you let Shang Tsung or Liu Kang be victorious. Now it goes without saying that the endings varied greatly depending on who you chose to be your champion, however Mortal Kombat 1 focuses on your choices on the Liu Kang side of the koin. The story is very well designed and speaks to the reboot very well. While some of the reality poses more questions than it answers, the cinematics make every moment of the game one enjoyable moment after another. It should be mentioned though that Liu Kang isn't the only one that can manipulate time. Shang Tsung can also wield the power of time and corrupt it beyond imagination.

This is thanks, in part, to Mortal Kombat 1's perception of time. Rather than a flowing stream carrying with it the very existence of everything, now we face numerous, almost countless time streams. At points in time, it almost makes me feel like Loki with all the different timelines. While the story is very well written and explained in a method that makes some of the most sense out of any multiverse expansion, as you begin the game you will start to feel like Mortal Kombat 1 is missing something and that would be found in the fighter count and their new kameo system.

In an effort to spice up the kombat of the game, NetherRealm studios has a pseudo tag team kombat aspect called Kameo. This Kameo element allows for momentary combat by another character. For example, you can play as Liu Kang and perform his dragon kick, and when the opponent goes flying back you can trigger Scorpion to appear and do some upward fire breath attack to help initiate a stagger, which will lead to a juggle opportunity and kombo extensions which deal more damage. Mortal Kombat 1 though does offer an in-game balancing system, so if you're caught in the middle of a juggle and can't get out, it's going to be OK because while you may be spammed in a 60 hit kombo, the game starts to negate a percentage of the damage every time till it's virtually nothing. This was a great way to keep things as balanced as possible and allowed for the concept of long, strung together kombos, but also giving hope to the opponent and a chance for redemption.

Each one of these Kameo fighters though have with them their own brutality and fatality, and this is in part to the new character progression system. Rather than go into the Krypt (which is now gone) and spend your koins, you have to play matches with your fighter to level them up, and in doing so, unlock new fatalities and brutalities. One thing I was missing though were the friendships and other unique things that Mortal Kombat would provide. Also, in the past there were tons of different fatalities, though now in Mortal Kombat 1 there are only a couple along with the brutalities. Other changes to the combat to offset the sparse fighter lineup and the upgrade system payouts would be the newly included air kombo system that we haven't seen in almost 20 years.

Each of the 23 characters can go up in levels as high as 35 and rank 15 for the 15 Kameo fighters and you have to almost ask yourself why? Throughout the level-up process, you unlock a lot more kosmetic items than anything, but why the 20-level difference between regular and Kameo fighters? When you take into account the sheer number of XP you will need to get to level 35 (315,000 total) you are in for an incredible grind for kosmetic items (all characters have the same path to level up and same number of fatalities and brutalities to unlock along the way).

Here's what the kombat grind looks like: In the invasion mode (more on this down below), there is a battle where you have to fight 3 opponents one after another. Should you get a triple flawless victory and end with a brutality, you will walk away with 1130 XP for your main fighter and 315 for your Kameo. How much is it to get to level 15 with your kameo fighter? Why it's 60,000 XP, and if you can earn max XP at 315 for your kameo fighter and repeating this triple endurance battle 279 times to max out your main character.

The grind has just become real. To compensate for that, Mortal Kombat 1 has instituted a new game mode called Invasion. This game follows up on the main story and should be played afterward to understand what is going on. Will playing Invasion mode first spoil the story? Absolutely not. To condense Invasion without giving too much away, imagine a map with a predetermined path laid out with numerous turns, and all of which navigated in a point-by-point manner. Each point along the path equates to some type of kombat. From test your might, to survival, towers and just a single kombat, the types of fighting options at your disposal are vastly limited. While the premise is cool, by the time you go through four massive levels which consist of over 30 fights (not to mention the ambush fights that surprise you along the way or the secret fights that can happen after you complete your first fight), the novelty of this becomes more of a chore than anything.

That's not to say that Invasion doesn't offer its own internal system and story. Each Invasion season is supposed to be one part of a random timeline and there's a story that coincides with it. In this current story, Scorpion is searching for a timeline where his beloved wife is still alive. After endless searches that came up empty, he found one where she was alive, but Hanzo was not. Therefore, she has taken up the mantle of the Scorpion and together they are on a quest for vengeance. After the time has expired on the Invasion season, another one will start, but the game became tremendously monotonous and highly repetitive due to the character upgrade aspect of Invasion.

Not only will leveling up your character unlock kostumes and a couple other ways to kill your opponent, but you can earn character points where you can invest them into various aspects. Here's a tip; I sank every single point I had earned into attack which made my regular attacks (uppercuts included) vastly more powerful. While your other stats will naturally level up with you, if you pour your main point amounts (10 per level) into your regular attacks, you literally become an unstoppable force where the only challenges you may face are the end boss of Invasion. This also helps when you realize you have to fight over 275 times to max out your character, you want those battles to be quick, very quick.

Going through Invasion though, with such a limited roster really makes it feel light on the kombat. When you take into account that a majority of the time you won't be hearing any type of character interaction at all, you start to wonder why? Why not have Babalities and Friendships again? Why would you lessen the number of fatalities and brutalities that characters can have? Why would you not have more innovative style matches in Invasion mode? Why would you remove all this past content without giving it a restart as well? This I feel was Mortal Kombat 1's biggest fault. They have what could arguably be the most in-depth fighting system, and while some may argue "same ninja, different color, different moves", and while they would be right, the dynamic of the different moves created a new fighting experience never seen before.

Some of the other changes I’m not too fond of either. These would be the removal of the Krypt, and instead now you get this gold melting dragon that you apparently put 1,000 koins into it, and it melts it down into some item for you. Whether it be some koncept artwork, another kostume, or some other item, you basically have to earn enough koins to continuously feed them into the dragon to get the item you hope to get. This can and will become very tedious, especially when you note the incredible delay in between each round. This means spend your koins frequently because if you stockpile them like I did, you will find yourself just sitting there endlessly pressing the button to melt your gold into some pointless item.

Speaking of pointless, why would you not include cross konsole fighting at launch? With today's hot word of the moment being interconnectivity, it should be priority one with any developer to make sure that your audience can connect with each other and enjoy your product (insert sarcasm here). Nothing brings gamers together like dividing them, and that is exactly what we have here unfortunately. Thankfully they said it would come post launch, but when? It was never mentioned.

I have to touch on one massive plus that Mortal Kombat 1 has going for it, and that is the sound and graphics. As the previous Mortal Kombat games have pushed graphic fidelity into new heights, Mortal Kombat 1 continues that tradition. The character modeling is absolutely stunning, and when you start talking about the fatal blow animations, they still will make you wince and go "oooooooooo" and cheer wildly when you connect for a game winning blow to setup an incredibly gory fatality. NetherRealm studios has gone above and beyond all graphic expectations to ensure smooth frame rates which permeates deep into the game's cinematic experience that truly makes for a wonderful journey.

Ultimately, Mortal Kombat 1 delivers a quality story that is rarely found in fighting games and one that naturally allows for many years of stories to be told. It can't be overlooked though the number of shortcomings that unfortunately plague this game, which is disappointing. If less is more than please NetherRealm, give us more. More kontent, more kreativity. This should be the one that starts it all over again, but unfortunately Mortal Kombat 1 feels like a step backwards rather than forwards. Despite all that though, despite the lack of content and all the shortcomings, Mortal Kombat 1 is an incredibly fun, gory, and fluid fighting game that should be enjoyed by all the fans of the fighting game genre. It may not have a lot of kontent, but what it does have is exceptional.

**Mortal Kombat 1 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Suggestions: More of everything. You have the kontent. Use it.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Forza Motorsport

In the world of games, there's one category of software that tries its best to deliver a real-world experience, and that would be the simulation genre. Rather than strive for some fantasy adventure or some arcade type experience, simulators look to not only teach, but train as well, so when and if you encounter such an experience in real life, you will have some simulated training. For years, Forza Motorsport has been the quintessential driving simulator. Since its inception, other racing simulators have been released whose main goal was simple; dethrone Forza, dethrone the king. There have been countless resources poured into this task, and while some of them came close, Turn 10 decided to release another installment of Forza Motorsport and show to the world why they wear the crown. Buckle up because it's going to be a white-knuckle review as we hunt for the apex and check out the latest Forza Motorsport.

Starting out, Forza will ask you to select your graphics output, and there are three choices to choose from:
1. Performance - this will prioritize 60FPS on-track performance at 4K resolution.
2. Performance RT - Enables on-track ray tracing at 60FPS but at the cost of variable resolution.
3. Visuals - Maximize 4K visual quality on-track with ray tracing but at 30FPS.

Depending on your setup and system you will be able to select what is best for you. I found it helpful to try out the various modes to get a feel for them, but ultimately settled on Performance RT. Once you're into the game itself the game will take you through the Builders Cup Intro which consists of three different races. This will lead you to choosing some vehicles and begin your racing education. I say education instead of gameplay because Forza Motorsport will teach you how to get better at racing, through racing itself. Once you complete the intro series, Forza Motorsport will open itself up to you and you'll get to see the path laid before you.

In the Builders Cup you will see that it is divided into 5 tours (Modern, Enthusiast, Power, Legacy, and Open Class). Each one of these tours consists of 5 series and each series is made up of 4-6 races, with each race comprised of at least 4 laps. When you start to think that each series consists of a minimum 16 laps and up, you get a sense that you will be driving for a very, very long time. It's this time though that Forza uses to train you how to drive.

In Forza Motorsport, the game itself is almost entirely different to anything we've expected or seen in the past. Let's start with the settings. While the driving assists are still enabled, how you get to configure them with the additional assists is something that will help give you a deeper appreciation for real life race drivers. The Accessibility menu allows for an absolutely extensive list of customization options that will allow you tailor your driving experience. Once you have your settings sorted out on how you would like to drive, now comes the real fun.

From the main menu you have the ability to go to the store as usual to purchase any type of car packs / passes that will unlock more content for you, however, this is where Forza starts to have faults, but not for the reason you may be thinking. There are tons of cars that fill the roster within Forza Motorsport, but the lineup feels very, very thin. When companies are priding themselves on the number of cars to choose from, Forza Motorsport abandoned that for quality vehicles that will be the pinnacle of driving excitement. So gone are the days when you have like 40 Ferrari's to choose from or 45 different Ford vehicles. Why would Forza do this? When you see the new car upgrade system you'll understand why.

For those of us who love Forza Motorsport, we usually find ourselves a small handful of cars that we actually will drive. I can admit I never drove an old Impala or a Transit van. This is because when we have like 400 cars to choose from and only really drive eight of them, then why have the other 392 vehicles? This reality and rationalization are the core behind the new car development program and also where we see how Forza strives to teach us how to be a better driver.

In previous Motorsport installments the equation was simple; save up enough money through auction house sales and races and pick any car you want and upgrade it however you wanted. That's now gone, along with the auction house. Instead, Forza Motorsport has given each car 50 levels of experience, and the more you drive the more experience you have of the car, and THAT is what will unlock the items you can use to upgrade. Take note though, by performing well you gain car points for THAT CAR, NOT in general. What does this mean?

The Car Points (CP) will not go with you if you select a different car. Car Points are tied to the car itself and no others. For example, let's take your 1980's childhood poster Lamborghini and try to upgrade it right away, and you'll see you can't. After a couple of races, however, you should have about 1400 CP to spend on upgrades. Want a race intake? 400 CP. How about a race exhaust? 500 CP. Engine swap? Yes, but you'll have to finance your home to afford it due to the cost. I'm exaggerating of course but when you start taking into account the cost of upgrades, you'll see that the credits you earn are strictly for purchasing cars while the Car Points (CP) are used for your performance upgrades. One cool addition for this entry though is how when you hit level 50 you also unlock body kit aero components. All of these upgrades are also factored into your car's overall balance which you can clearly see on the screen, and you can see how each part will impact it independently.

As you drive your car of choice and level it up, you unlock more performance options which help keep your interest pinned for several races, but if you're really looking to upgrade your cars quickly, then become a better driver. Forza Motorsport will now give you multiple methods of earning CP and leveling up. For starters, leveling up the car itself will give you bonus CP and when you drive the course there are several sections and Forza grades you on each one on a scale of 1-10 where 10 giving you the most CP boost. Should you hit a car or venture off the track though, you'll be pulling 1's all day long.

This is because the key to Forza Motorsport is learning how to drive. How to take your car and put it right to its limits throughout multiple environments. Taking hairpin turns on the inside can open you up to contact and whether you're hit or the one doing the hitting, you're going to score a 1. This trains you to be patient and wait for your moments to overtake. Sometimes it's best to abandon the racing line to pass along the outside and gain position by not having a perfect lap. Getting a 7.5 in a corner is a lot better than 1.

Forza will also allow you to gain more XP bonuses by allowing you to set personal best times within various sections. These sections are designed to see how you master your handling of your vehicle within the corners and straights to shave as much time off the clock as possible. For example, if you set a section time of 20 seconds in one lap and go through the next lap and set a section time of 19.8, then you'll get an xp bonus. This pushes you to become a better driver to find the breaking point, the apex, and the straightaway speeds in every course you race.

Another interesting feature is how Forza provides a preliminary practice round of the track. This is where your section boosts can come into play. Each session is around 10 minutes long but only requires you to complete on average 3 laps, with a bonus objective of setting a particular lap time. Completion of that will also allow you to select where on the starting grid you will launch from. You can start as high as 3rd place, but the further back you put your car the larger your credit bonus will be, but the more challenging the race will also be. Should you opt to even go for more bonuses you can increase the difficulty, penalties and realism, and here is where Forza has always shined.

Every car has an established curb weight and therefore handles differently. In Forza Motorsport you can customize your vehicle with fuel weight, and the increase weight will dynamically impact the car's handling ability. There's even an achievement for finishing a race with less than 1 lap of fuel remaining. All of this impacts how the car handles, but that's only half of the big picture. The environment of Forza Motorsport is incredibly realistic, and when coupled with an even better weather system, it's not uncommon to find yourself hydroplaning as you tackle long flat straights or the inside of a downhill corner where the water has collected.

I'm happy to report as well that the paint department has returned with force. Outside of upgrading and tuning, that's all that can be done with the cars you own. Remember how I was saying that this game is very sparse? This is in part the number of race events that take place outside of the career. There is Featured Multiplayer which is actually a scheduled event that brings the best out to play. Free Play is exactly how it sounds. You literally choose everything that happens. Rivals are back where your only opponent is the clock. Set the fastest times and let the world know. Finally, there's Private Multiplayer where you can create completely custom events that is a hybrid of both Free Play and Multiplayer.

Graphically, Forza Motorsport is absolutely beautiful. The quality of the car models coupled with the lighting once again show the world why Turn 10 and Forza continually set the standard for graphic quality. From the exterior to the interior and every nut and bolt, the level of detail is without contest. There is no other competition. The smooth menu music is looped in, and when your car takes off at the light and your engine roars, hold on to your senses because on a home theater system this game sings. Realistic pit stops where you hear the engine just idling and sounding like Thor's hammer, Forza Motorsport delivers a driving presentation that is mesmerizing.

Forza has done so much for Motorsport, and hopefully when they expand on this platform and provide more driving content we can very well see the expansion of things such as legendary races that are recreated. When you decide to set out to create what could arguably be easily regarded as the premier driving simulator, Turn 10 did exactly that. Forza Motorsport is a phenomenal driving game that combines mind bending physics for driving accuracy melded with an audio and video presentation that is second to none. When you can combine those two elements to near perfection like Forza Motorsport has done, it goes without saying that Turn 10 has done an absolutely amazing job paying attention to and focusing on making you a better driver. That is the ultimate goal of any Motorsport game, and Forza wears the crown.

**Forza Motorsport was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 9.2 / 10 EVERSPACE 2

Kickstarter games are usually synonymous with the phrases such as "lackluster" or "disappointment", where the promise of a quality gaming experience is met head on by the freight train of reality, which usually produces an experience that is sub-par at best. And then there is the company Rockfish Games and their game Everspace 2. If you've been living on Earth for the last couple months you may have heard about another space game that has been released, and while going up against such a giant may not be the most ideal launch, when you have a quality product, you just showed the world why you can go toe to toe with one of the biggest releases in the modern age and produce a product that will happily suck weeks of your time into utter oblivion and leave you smiling all the way to the nearest spaceport. Make no mistake, Everspace 2 is a serious contender for Game of the Year, and normally I do not look at games that way, as I see them as more entertainment value for dollar invested, but wow. If quality Kickstarter games are a diamond in the rough, Everspace 2 is the best of the best.

Starting out, I was excited to see a game utilize the almost comic panel type of cinematic layout and delivery. It allows the game to be presented in a way that minimizes the risk of deliverance, and at the same time allows the message to be understood. The game itself boasts an incredibly dynamic story arc that is very well written and provides some mystery and insight which is what is needed when you spend over 99% of your time flying your ship. Throughout the missions you will not only unlock the story, but other crew as well that have their own specialties and bonuses, which will get to here in a moment. It really is a breath of fresh air when you get the ability to enjoy a very long and in-depth story arc that does a great job pulling you from one area to the next.

While the story is top notch, the gameplay itself is some of the best you will ever get to experience. It could easily be argued that the flight mechanics of this game allow for some of the most enjoyable experiences of any space simulator game ever. Utilizing the methods of 3D spatial awareness, Everspace 2 takes a while to master your navigational controls, but once mastered, they will allow you to do tremendous things within your ship. There is a type of starship that could be argued is a direct rip off of the X-Wing, using the lateral thrusters and the flight mechanic buttons, I can strafe and alter my elevation in the blink of an eye and really maneuver the ship in ways that have yet to be replicated by any space flight game.

This is because the mechanics of the Left and Right Stick impact the X and Y axis of the 3D space, however the Left Trigger and Left Bumper work the Z axis. When you combine that with the pressing in of the Left Stick for your thrusters AND to the left while ALSO pressing the 'LB' button, and you will climb up while moving forward and strafing to the right. After a few moments of getting used to the controls you will be amazed at the maneuverability and navigation of the spacecraft. This reality is going to come in handy when you start realizing the balance of the ship traits themselves.

When you navigate the systems, you will see that the systems you can explore are all going to be interconnected through jump rings, and that each system contains a plethora of explorable areas. Each planet, space station, asteroid system, etc. that you explore involves using the gravity jump to propel you to the next target. What sets Everspace 2 apart though is the ability to control your own ship while flying at this rate of speed, not only that you will have spontaneous "pop up" missions such as distress calls or unexplored signals that will give you the option to find more loot/resources while on your way to your goal. It is not uncommon to have several of these side missions pop up on your way to an objective, but these do offer a great way of building cash and finding more items and resources to use. It may be worth your while to steer your ship into these and lock on to these side quests, but if your ship is not very strong, then combat may be best avoided all together.

There are multiple classes of starships that range from small, lightweight craft that are very fast and agile, to those who are large, slow, but can absorb a ton of damage. You can start to see how Everspace 2 sets the vehicles up. Each of these crafts has their own unique loadouts, traits, as well as an "Ultimate" weapon. When you are small and nimble you may only get a couple of weapons at your disposal, but when you are as big as a barge, you have a lot more real estate to pack on additional firepower. Early on I was adamant about saving and stockpiling as much cash as I could, and when I went to my ship vendor I came across Everspace 2's version of their X-Wing and I could not hit buy fast enough.

This ship came packed with three primary weapon slots, two secondary and on the slider between tiny+quick and large+slow, this fell right in the sweet spot of in the middle. While I will always have a soft spot for my starting ship, once I found this beauty I never looked back. Each ship comes equipped with primary and secondary weapons plus combines a booster (how fast your ship can move), radar (scan for loot, ships, resources), shield, power source (everything in the game takes power, how much power you have to spend on your weapons, shields, etc. is determined by this), armor plating, and multiple consumable items that you can use such as additional shields, nanobots for repair and more.

When in flight your ship will have three meters when fully outfitted. Blue is your shield, Orange is your armor, and Red is your health, and they operate in the similar way you would expect. Your shield takes damage until it is done then goes your armor and finally your health. Now you may think, 'oh that is a nice cushion', until you are at the tail end of a long combat streak of enemies and an enemy carrier warp in, unloads missiles and fighters at you, and opens up every turret it has. Your ship is not mint, you are down several missiles, and now this? Welcome to Everspace 2.

This reality is why outfitting your gear is going to be so critical. As you level up, not only do you have to concern yourself with the overall performance of your gear, but also the class of item itself. For example, if you have a rare sonar that offers you a 1KM scan for resources, you could find one that is less quality but offers greater distances for scanning. It is moments like this where you have to abandon what you typically know about RPG layouts and opt for a strategy of what is actually best for your playstyle.

How can you get this new upgraded gear? You have several options: fight for it and hope you get it, or create it yourself. Yes Everspace 2 also offers a tremendously deep crafting system that allows you to craft items from your grey common/standard items to your purple epic gear. Not only that, but you can even upgrade your components as well. By gathering resources throughout the game you can craft weapons, shields, power cores, and even upgrade components for your team skills, but we will get to that here shortly.

This is why scavenging for resources is critical. For example, if you need pure titanium, you can scan asteroids for various mineral deposits based on the scanning range of your equipped scanner, and then when you see the resource, open fire to collect it. You have to be relatively close in order to automatically draw in the mineral, and out of, let's say 10 units of titanium that you get from the asteroid, you may get one or two pure titanium while the rest is regular ore. This is how Everspace 2 keeps you hunting for more than just gear and weapons. Now, while you may want to go all gear heavy, just note that your cargo container that you have equipped will determine the number of available slots within your storage. Get too full and you will have to dismantle for parts or destroy it to make room. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a way to NOT have to do that? This is where your team skills come into play.

Now you read that I mentioned something about team skills, and this is critically important. Throughout the story you will get team members who will offer abilities and skills that can assist you in and outside of battle. Such examples of skills would be the ability to send items back to your home base so you can either collect them or sell them at a later time. A good rule of thumb is to start gathering resources as soon as possible and do not stop gathering. You can also mark the resources you need and even upgrade a team skill that allows you to see what elements are within the planet/system you are flying into.

Once you start getting to the higher levels of play you will want to start breaking down purple gear in order to gain the components you need to craft more purple gear. I found myself switching up to this after I started getting more and more blue items and started crafting from there onward. While crafting grey and green items is all well and good, you can find a lot of amazing items and once I had a blue shield that got absolutely smashed by a grey version, so that is when I only started looking at crafting higher quality of gear.

Everspace 2 has provided a quality example of how a sequel can excel from the original. While the game may be overshadowed by another recent space adventure game out there, Everspace 2 is so good and well-built that people may start to be saying "Star what?". While I still hold the belief that the majority of Kickstarter games either under deliver, fail miserably, or even cheat their backers out of money, when games like Everspace 2 come around, it's no surprise why these are the titles that deserve to be highlighted as examples of near perfection that, unlike the Easter Bunny, do exist. If you are looking for a highly polished, incredibly fluid and well-developed space combat game, don't look to the stars, look to Everspace 2.

**Everspace 2 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 9.5 / 10 ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON

When you combine the long-standing quality of a company like From Software with customizable mechs, more firepower that exists on the planet today, and a strategic methodology, you get one of the most anticipated games of 2023. You get Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. Imagine playing chess with your opponents where the right or wrong combination of skills and firepower make all the determination to succeeding and/or failure. Thankfully though, From Software has not only worked to deliver the same quality challenge you've come to expect from them, but do so in a way that encourages playthroughs, customization, and a dedication or pursuit to finishing the job. Time to take this to new heights as we look into the details of From Software's newest entry into their classic mech series, Armored Core VI: Fire of Rubicon.

With a history of games where dying is frequent, Armored Core VI: Fire of Rubicon (ACVI) lives up to that same moniker but in a colossal mech that has enough firepower to put a crater into the planet. This game's enemy encounters can be summed up in a soul crushing manner. Fight through the map with enemies that pose no significant threat so long as you use some maneuverability, then you get to resupply right before a boss fight that will make you question the sadistic tendencies of the game developers. Maps where you'll fly about encountering enemies and then the developers say "OK, enough fun, here's where the game begins." and then you're crushed. Oh, and make no mistake, this fun begins from the very first mission of the game.

As the story opens up, you have been one of the few survivors of your human augmentation armored core project and are reactivated above the planet Rubicon 3. You realize that you have been reactivated to serve as a mercenary under your handler called "Walter". This opening mission is to get you used to the controls, which will be talked about here momentarily, but also combat and a taste of what you can expect from a game like this. You initially start off trying to find some type of identity so that your handler can start getting you jobs to get paid. You will go between several interactive points until ultimately coming upon the identification you need which will trigger the first boss fight.

As you hear over your radio of an incoming ship you find out that it's from a faction calling themselves the PCA or Planetary Closure Administration, or massively powerful space government. This jet has several absolutely crippling attacks and will quite rapidly get you acclimated to the movement style of ACVI because it is here that you will get just a sample of what to expect moving forward. It's about here that you would naturally see a training montage but there's an actual method to the strategy within ACVI and learning to adapt will ultimately decide whether or not you're cheering for your success or clicking restart from checkpoint in controller shattering frustration. Let me explain.

Armored Core VI is nothing but chess in a multi-directional format that relies on your tactics and weaponry to come out on top. Let's take this first boss as an example. With it flying around, you have several options. You can fly around and chase it and shoot ranged shots on it, or you get fly right at this thing and unload everything in point blank range. What do you think I did? If I'm literally standing on the cockpit of the craft, then the ranged weapons can't hit me. I can't stay here long because it will move, but it allows me to get in close and do some serious damage. Once enough damage is done the craft is staggered and is vulnerable, and this is when you have to fire everything you can. It doesn't last long but if you can time it, you can utterly demolish bosses in a few runs if you're lucky.

That means that you can, as an example, have 2 laser cannons on your shoulders that you can charge up, plus a hand laser rifle that can be charged as well. Swing your sword, stagger the enemy, release everything and watch at least 40% of your enemy’s health instantly vaporized. Remember though, we are talking an opening window of mere seconds, so plan your methods wisely. There is nothing worse than using everything you have to stagger an enemy, only to have nothing to shoot at it with because everything is reloading. If the time window wasn't challenging enough, imagine trying to do this while constantly strafing to the sides, dodging, jumping, flying and maneuvering in a 3-dimensional space at high speeds while trying to survive. Thus enters the main challenge of ACVI.

This produces the natural cycle of "trial and error" because your strategy may not work in certain areas, but adapting to it and your environment will help increase your odds on a dramatic scale. A simple, yet great example would be this: You have an enemy controlled AC (armored core) that is fighting you and has a shield in one hand. Frontal attacks will help stagger, but attacks from above will have more impact. Now picture this question while circling around like some DBZ meets Gundam hybrid while trying to stay alive and create an opening that will allow you to deliver devastating damage. Now you ask yourself, would you go with 2 missile pods that did 10 missiles each in a frontal attack, or 2 missile pods that have 8 missiles each that attack vertically from above?

This is where your tactics are absolutely vital to your success. While speed is important in a lateral axis, having vertical superiority can and will may a dynamic contribution to your survival. Imagine your mech walking normally, while this is very slow, it uses no energy. Should you wish to move around quicker you can engage your thrusters which also require no energy. Then by pressing in the Left Stick, you can engage in a boost that is directed by your reticle, which means you can start from the ground and take to the skies while locking onto targets below you. Now while the boost is engaged and you're flying ahead, you can use that to get close to bosses, or even setup some of your biggest weapons because don't forget, if you're flying towards your opponent, they can be trying to back up which means they're right in front of you to fire any weapon you want. Again, this is weaponized chess.

There have been times when I've charged up some shoulder cannons, dashed towards the enemy, they backed up so I let lose my cannons and they hit, then I fired up my grenade cannon as an instant round to connect. Another hit registered and now he's staggered. Finally, going in with an energy sword style weapon and melee like crazy while in close to really give some damage, and after the swings, my shoulder cannons are refilled so I quickly snap off 2 shots. Then my grenade cannon is cooled down and ready, I let one shoot off quickly before the stagger wears off and the damage just broke the enemy. There are many ways to achieve victory over your opponent, but sometimes you just have to go in and literally don't stop firing.

This was how I decided to also use my 2 miniguns. Imagine having a minigun on each shoulder AND on each arm. Dashing in and just nonstop unloading it can become absolutely savage in attacking, but you have to get them staggered and have to have all weapons ready to fully fire and not partially cooled down. One boss I literally just walked right up to it and never stopped firing and it just got wrecked almost instantly. That fight actually surprised me and that's when it hit me, don't waste time on ranged attacks, focus on getting in close and staggering an enemy, because when you do, they don't attack. Why try to avoid a boss attack when you can stagger it and prevent it from even occurring?

If it seems like I'm focusing now more on the play style and mechanical controls of the game rather than the story, that's because there really isn't much of one to be focused upon in the beginning. On the planet Rubicon there is a substance called Coral and this red substance is sought by governments, corporations and even scavenger/raider type entities. Each one of these wishes to use Coral in a different way, and for different reasons. While each one has a unique reason for its development and use, your character's sole focus is that of money. There will be missions though that are choice points and will set the game moving forward based off your own choices, so the replayability of ACVI just went up tenfold.

This is when ACVI boils down the story to having you use your acquired funds to build up your mech how you see fit for your playstyle. Personally, I preferred to switch between some shoulder mounted vertical missile pods, laser cannons, or forward directional missile pods with a hand laser cannon and a sword. I would use some charged attacks from my hand weapon to build up the stagger meter quickly, then rush in, unload 20 rockets at point blank, swing twice with my blade and then fire again with my laser cannon. This damage made me a wrecking ball... when I could survive long enough to get in position to deal that kind of damage. This is because the type of enemy you will face will determine your strategy.

Most of the game you'll fight some mechs mixed with light vehicles such as helicopters and tanks. Some of the earlier classes you'll face will be either the generic weaponry class where you have a basic missile or laser pod on 2 legs, or a light MT which is a very basic and lightly armored mech that is easily disposed of. Then the game ramps up a bit by delivering some artillery weaponry. These things are no joke if they hit you and are usually set up in a grid covering position, so while you may be thinking of taking one down, just remember in doing so, you'll be the target of at least three other cannons. Finally, you get to the elite of the "standard" enemies, the other AC (Armored Cores), the Light Calvary (LC), the Heavy Calvary (HC) and the big brother of the light MT, the Heavy MT.

These later enemies are not to be taken lightly because they not only possess the tactics and speed to outmaneuver and flank you, but possess tremendous firepower that if you don't dodge, will completely wreck your mech. Outside of the bosses, the HC are ones to be legitimately feared. Their weaponry varies, like all other enemy classes, and what may work with one may not work with another. But after all this, the Bosses are the ones that will leave you absolutely in pieces in the blink of an eye.

There was a boss at the end of Chapter 1, and I thought, hey I'll go in there close, hit him with my sword and my shoulder and hand cannon, then go in for the sword attack again and just keep the cycle of damage going. Turns out this boss has an energy shield that needs to be taken down before any damage can be dealt. It took some damage but tried to keep as close to it as possible and not let off my attack. I ended up staggering it and unloaded everything I had. A nice 15% of the health down, and I keep that up till we get around 50%, only for it to do this attack to switch modes that creates an energy pulse that instantly staggers you if you're too close and get hit by it.

This second phase I thought I'd repeat what I did in the first and then it whips out these multiple flaming swords that form on the ring around the boss. Nothing like speeding into an enemy who is swinging these weapons. OK, time to think where I went wrong here. Restart from last checkpoint. Repeat until this phase and then use ranged attacks until AFTER the flame sword attacks are done then rush in and go to town. I found an opening and then proceeded to dash and dodge my way under or over it, avoided the attacks, then immediately switch to my sword and start attacking from behind at its weak spot. Now it's staggered again.

Unleash hell.

Now down to about 20% health left, I use my last repair kit and make a decision; either stay inside and fight, or try to pick apart from the distance. I reload and I stay inside and fight. I get right on this thing and never stop firing. Dodging constantly but while turning so I can keep my weapons focused on the inside I never... Stop... Firing. Right shoulder cannon empty... Left shoulder cannon empty. 30% ammo in hand weapon and I've got my sword. I charge my hand weapon, use my dashing and boosting to stay as close as I can, use the homing feature of the sword to lock in and dive right into it, hit it twice, then unloaded the hand weapon and it staggered it again. I'm swinging like crazy and shooting my hand weapon as fast as I can and BOOM. It drops and I'm barely alive... but I AM alive.

These are the experiences that you'll come across, and how you decide to handle them will be up to you, however, there is more to ACVI than just the story missions. You will have the opportunity to partake in a combat challenge based on your class that will enable you to get OST chips, and it's these chips that you can use to upgrade and unlock various elements of your mech. From damage mitigation, to shield technology, increase damage output, to even unlocking new movement abilities. Upgrading your OS is going to be vital. There are limited resources though, so invest to where it will help you the most. For me it was damage mitigation and melee damage increase, but now I'm on a quest for a shield. The arena is set up so it's a 1v1 mech fight, and as you continue on, the challenges get progressively harder, but the payouts increase as well.

What the Arena has in common with the main story progression is the ability to alter your mech after death and pick up where you left off. This quality allowed me to switch between various weaponry and tactics, however, to acquire these choices I had to replay several missions trying to get an "S" rank to maximize the payouts. After grinding out several missions I'm sitting at just over 500K and now can go into the shop and start spending. I have to point out that not all weaponry and gear has to be bought at the shop. In fact, going through some of the main story and the arena will also automatically unlock some items for your mech without you having to spend a dime. However, if you really want all the gear in the game you’ll have to find the combat logs which come through combat. While you have the option to avoid enemies if you wish throughout the mission, should you choose that, then you lose the opportunity to gain access to weapons and gear that cannot be unlocked any other way.

While some may scoff at the ability to go into a boss fight, lose, then adjust your mech and retry right from that boss fight checkpoint, it goes a long way to keeping the determination value high to completing the fight. One boss fight took me several days of attempts, but when I finally killed it and felt such an accomplishment rush which lasted all the way to the next boss fight. It's little nuances like this that go a very long way to not only attracting new gamers to the series, but keeping them entertained. If you said to someone up front, "Hey here's a game that will make you frustrated to a level you never knew existed and keep you there until you figure a way out of it." then you may get a lot of gamers turned off by that.

Graphically, ACVI has its moments. While some of the larger and more dynamic interactions are entertaining, the actual landscape of the game is relatively mundane which, when you're focused on your combat, means very little in the long run. But with such a fluid game you can easily see why they made the choice to focus on speed rather than high graphic fidelity that would eat up resources which could cause disruptions and latency, impacting impact combat and throw off the entire game. Where the graphics really shine is the customization options of the mech itself. Outside of the appearance that will change based off your legs, torso, arms and head, you have the ability to really develop some stunning paint and design schemes to truly customize your mech. Not only can you adjust the paint though, but you can also create your own decals and apply them to your own mech.

This uniqueness will carry with you throughout the game, and you can create multiple profiles so you can really get creative with your design process which will make you stand out in the NEST. If the Arena was you vs another computer opponent mech, the NEST is you vs another player. Sadly, at the time of this review there was no way to test this mode as there were no rooms created/hosted and traffic was limited. However, having said that, the NEST is where you go to fight for who's the best. You can create your own rooms, set your rules and standards, and even spectate other rooms as well. With everything that ACVI has to offer, you can expect some incredibly epic fights taking place within the NEST.

When I talk about the uniqueness of your mech, I'm not just talking about your paint job, but your loadout(s) as well. The weapon categories essentially break down into kinetic, explosive, energy and melee. Inside these categories are a wealth of weaponry options from grenade launchers, laser cannons, miniguns, rifles, shotguns and more. Each weapon has its pros and cons and should be based off the situation you find yourself fighting in. I mentioned earlier the types of weaponry, well let me break it down to you in greater detail.

Kinetic - Think of this as your "bullet" weapons. Your shotguns, rifles, miniguns, SMGs and others. These allow more rounds to be fired in quick succession than other forms of weaponry, but their damage is mitigated against it because of that very reason, except when it comes to staggered enemies when it really opens up because of the quick firing of the weapon itself. Better to be used in close range than long range, this weaponry if used improperly will actually ricochet off your opponent.

Energy - These are your "laser" style weapons and while the kinetic weapons fire quickly, these do not. While the speed of the firing may be slower, these weapons are vastly more powerful and can even be charged to create even more damaging shots. These are broken into different categories: Laser - your standard energy beam rifle that deals moderate damage in the class. Plasma - takes even longer in between shots but creates a small plasma explosion when the beam makes impact causing damage. Hands down the highest damage output in the class.

Pulse - Finally it's the Pulse weapons which fire these orb shaped projectiles which do wonders when trying to shut down any type of pulse armor or shields in lightning-fast succession. The key here is not to deliver single devastating shots, but to get in close, unload an entire clip and watch the shields melt away, exposing your target for direct attacks.

Now let's get into the crowd pleasers or explosive weaponry. These are VERY high damage but VERY high risk. These types of weapons range from bazookas to grenade launchers and even missiles. If you save these weapons for a staggered enemy then nothing will stand in your way as they utterly destroy everything in their path. But should you miss, there is an incredibly long reload time for your next shot.

ACVI also sports some incredibly powerful melee weapons for the in close fighting. These weapons are brutally fast and lethal in close range, and the lock-on effect can draw you into an enemy even while they are strafing. On top of this, some bladed weapons can string together a multiple run of attacks. So if you have a blade that does 1700 damage, but you have a blade that does 980 and has 2 swings you have a chance of doing 1960 with a 2-swing weapon vs 1700 from one swing. Some of these bladed weapons can even be charged up for other devastating moves that deliver far more power.

Protecting you outside of your skills and maneuverability are your shields. ACVI offers quite an extensive shield list that grants damage mitigation at the cost of one of your slots, unless you start talking about your core shield capabilities that you can unlock via the Arena and OS upgrades. While the OS shields do not require you to take away a hand weapon, the manual shields do require a shoulder to mount them on and their benefits are determined by the type of shield, the damage it can absorb and the time frame that they stay active for.

Now before you start picking your loadout and going to town, there are a few things you need to concern yourself with. Let's start with weight. It goes without saying that a grenade launcher weighs more than an SMG, but it doesn't stop there. The legs of your mech will help determine how much weight your mech can carry. Some lightweight legs may allow you to have greater time in the air and more maneuverability, but will prevent you from fully outfitting your mech with some heavy hitting firepower. Same thing if you decide to make your lower body a tank platform. You'll max out your weight capacity but have very limited air maneuverability and therefore spend most of your time on the ground.

Your arms will also take and share some of the load bearing, but you must remember that should your mech weigh too much, then you will have to get rid of things such as weapons. This is why I opted for my first build to be a heavier mech build because I wanted to fight in close. I wanted to just fly in there, rip the mech open and just unload heavy ammunition into the vulnerable mech. So, styling your mech is going to be up to you, but if you go light and opt for a more maneuverable mech then you should get really familiar with AP or Armor Points. Think of this like your health bar. The heavier arms, legs, and torso will give you more AP because you'll naturally be slower.

The other factor to pay attention to is your EN load/output meters. If you require more power than your generator can produce then you enter what is called an EN Shortfall and there's no bypass to fix it other than reconfigure the weapons, loadout and build of your mech. There are generators that you can buy in the shop to increase your EN output and allow you to really put on some heavy destructive toys to your mech. This is why the balance of the mech is totally in your control and based on how you play, can determine the outcome of many matches.

From Software has always strived to develop quality games that not only are some of the most challenging around, but also some of the most rewarding. While the learning curve is steep, Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon delivers a remarkably in-depth mech customization game that is less mindless combat and shooting and more tactics, strategy and adapting to hostile situations in order to survive. Every challenging moment will leave you on the edge of your seat, and should you persevere and succeed in your mission, Armored Core VI will deliver a euphoric sense of accomplishment and skill rarely found in gaming today. Think you have what it takes to take your mech combat skills to the next level? Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon awaits you. See you on the field of battle.

**ARMORED CORE VI FIRES OF RUBICON was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Redfall

Sometimes there are games that are best left alone. Sometimes there are games that offer so much potential yet fail to deliver on even half of it. Sometimes there are games that without question haven't a clue what they are supposed to be. Redfall is all of these and so much more. If you've been living outside of reality for the last few weeks, Redfall has released on the Xbox platform and almost instantly became absolutely legendary, but not for the reasons you may think warrant success.

Imagine Arkane Studios (the people behind games like Dishonored, Dishonored 2, Prey, Deathloop etc.) is given the task of developing an open world adventure that dives into the world of vampires, the occult and magic, that also packs a lot of firepower through the use of tons of weaponry. Already you're thinking, this sounds like it's going to be amazing, and you'd be right. Now take this same thought and give it some reality when you see it for the first time in 60 FPS and you're ready to mark the date on your calendar. Now imagine you wake up and you rush to your Xbox and fire up the console and you jump into Redfall only to be catastrophically disappointed.

Originally the uproar of Redfall was that the console versions were going to release at 30 FPS rather than the displayed 60 we saw when the game was running originally. However, as you dive more and more into Redfall, you'll quickly see that there are more faults than just that underneath the skin. To kick things off, the story behind Redfall offers tremendous potential. In a Massachusetts town, they have been overrun with vampires and cultist fanatics. During the day these radicals patrol the neighborhoods and work on cultivating the areas for their vampire masters who come out at night. Basically, you go throughout the game on a never-ending cycle, cultists by day, vampires by night, rinse and repeat. While the cultists can be killed with your weaponry, vampires cannot. Instead, you have to either hit them with a stake through the heart or attach one to your weapon and drive it into them to eradicate them permanently.

While this may seem mundane as all you do is try to clear the vampire infestation from your town, it's made more challenging by the sensitivity of the gameplay. When you start out, there's a phrase I like to use called "Portal Twitchy", and it applies perfectly here. I approached this mechanic with the feeling that you literally need to keep your head on a swivel, otherwise you'd lose it. Doing this however has naturally over-complicated the combat mechanics making shooting and aiming while moving incredibly challenging, almost to the point of unplayable. Thankfully you can dial down the sensitivity to something more manageable.

During the game you will rinse and repeat the same process over and over again while working your way through the vampire hierarchy, but I started to ask myself, if this game HAD 60 FPS at launch, would that really have made a difference? Would it have made the gameplay mechanics more solid? Would it have fixed the boring overall story? Would it benefit the game in any way outside of the graphical presentation? Sadly, the answer to this is a resounding no. From games like Deathloop and the Dishonored series, you have a pedigree of quality games under your belt, and this open world is a tremendously disappointing release. I know you've read all the bashing over this game, but some of it actually is justified. However, there is still fun to be found within.

That is thanks to the multiplayer, which provides the game's best redeeming qualities and also some of its worst. It's the aspect of the game that creates the largest dynamic. Without question, traversing the neighborhoods and open world is much more entertaining with friends, but let’s say you have a friend who has been playing for a couple hours, unlocked a safe house and you join in from the beginning. The two of you go through your friend's game, unlocking several safe houses, taking down a vampire boss, completing side quests and having a great time. Now, let's say your friend has to get up for work so they leave, and you go back to your game. You go back to a blank slate. The only thing that carries over is the gear and your character, as the progress you made in your friend’s game only applies to them.

One of the biggest challenges for a game like Redfall is how do you balance the loot, and there's sadly no other way to put this statement gently, but legendary weapons can look like child toys next to a higher-level common weapon in Redfall. Your weapons are broken up into categories such as stake launchers (it does what the name says), UV lasers, shotguns, assault rifles, and pistols and in typical loot grind fashion, come in different colors from white/grey to orange. But when you find a legendary weapon and see that your green weapon has better stats, you really get to asking yourself what were they thinking?

The biggest grind for loot in all games is for those epic legendary pieces that you spent days/weeks/months, etc. for. I can't recall people saying, "I did these loot runs hoping to get this white/grey weapon". Once I went from epic weapons to normal tier just to get the increase in damage and performance. The issue though isn't the grind (because it'll be a long one), it's answering the question, why bother?

To go along with the gear, each character comes with their own "special abilities" on a skill tree. While this is alright in some games, this aspect doesn't carry well into Redfall. When you team up with friends and combine abilities, you can really enjoy some moments, but again regrettably they are going to be too few and far between to gain any real substance of the game. Unfortunately, one of the most major downfalls is the difficulty of the enemies being unevenly scaled. This means while you may join a game, you'll be up against impossible enemies for you.

If that weren't enough, the bugs in the game almost make the game not worth playing. Bethesda has been known for legendary bugs that produce some startling results, and Redfall checks all those boxes. One time my character got downed, then I got revived but kept going into the 'downed' animation on my friend's screen while everything seemed fine on mine. I'd just crumple over, then pop up, crumple over, and this went on until we quit the game and restarted. Then my friend ended up with a sniper scope... on every single weapon he had. This colossal scope on a pistol? Sure. How about a UV laser? Why not? It became the Oprah of scopes where "You get a sniper scope, and you get a sniper scope, everyone gets a sniper scope!".

I just have to say this again, From the Dishonored series, Deathloop, Prey and now this? A boring story with un-innovative characters that leave you with literally little to no attachment or concern for. Sub-par gameplay mechanics, which are hypersensitive and make gameplay incredibly challenging. The only multiplayer progress that is saved is the host. Pointless legendary weapons in a game where you grind for loot. Game breaking bugs left and right. Oh, and tack on that 30 FPS while you're at it at launch.

Now ask yourself, would 60 FPS have made a difference given all that is wrong with Redfall? No. I, like many others, was so badly hoping that this game wasn't a complete and total failure, but gamers are used to disappointment. Sadly, Redfall had unbelievable potential and a dynamic studio behind this that is known for quality gaming, but under delivered at quite literally almost every facet of the game. Redfall, unfortunately, should be avoided, and in fact, I hope that the industry starts taking a look at these games and starts evaluating its processes, because if you're only as good as your last game, then Arkane isn't looking good at all.

**Redfall was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 EA SPORTS PGA TOUR

Golf has been deemed one of, if not the most, challenging game on earth. Unlike other sports, Golf tests the individual unlike any athletic trial you can think of. Taking a stick with a weighted end on it and hitting a ball across 300, 400, 500+ yards and more and try to knock it into a cup that is tucked into a green that is firm and feels like concrete can be next to impossible. Like most sports, in Golf you will fail and fail and fail again. There will be times when you think the sport just hates you and you feel the frustration pulsing through your veins, until... you hit that 'one shot'. The excitement and exhilaration felt when you get it close or even knock one in ignites your enjoyment on levels not felt in any other sport. Now personally speaking, I'm so terrible at Golf in reality that I can hit a drive and have the ball travel behind me off the tee. This doesn't stop me from loving the sport. Thursday and Friday rounds that lead to incredible moments in sports on the weekends are what will create memories and moments that will last forever. This is the essence of the sport, and it has been presented in EA SPORTS PGA TOUR in a game that, I'll come out now and say it, IS the new standard for excellence in a Golf game. Time to take a swing at EA SPORTS PGA TOUR and find out what makes it the elite golf game out there.

One of any Golf game highlights is when you get to create your own golfer, and in EA SPORTS PGA TOUR, you do get an average amount of customization from hair, eye, face shape, body, etc, but you also set up your primary game mechanics at the same time. This is where you're first introduced to how deep this game actually is. Configuring options such as lie effect, shot shaping, auto tap-in (I set this to 3 feet and LOVE IT) and even mulligans are some of the choices you'll have during the initial setup. Currently though, there is no 3 button push input and it relies entirely on your controller sticks, however 3 button push input will be coming soon at a date "TBD". Now one of the interesting things I found was that you can set your golfer to have a certain approach to playing games while you're offline. This was a thought I had years ago when Forza came out with the Drivatar; why couldn't you store your shot inputs and the results based off the conditions and make your own "Golfatar" (bad name but whatever), and now apparently you can! You can have a balanced, conservative or aggressive styles when it comes to playing in simulations.

This is thanks to the immense amount of research that has gone into developing EA SPORTS PGA TOUR. Millions of recorded shot data from all golfers from all the included courses makes you actually feel like you're playing against them. This also means that when you play like them, you also get to experience how their gameplay is set up, along with their strengths and weaknesses as well. No other golf game has done that, and the sheer amount of data is mind blowing. While the Golfers are critical to get right, the courses that you play on must also be of the same quality of standards, and I'll say it, they're better. These Golf courses are done in jaw droppingly beautiful detail thanks to the use of the Frostbite engine. I was wondering just how detailed this game was going to be, and when I saw the foliage of Augusta in EA SPORTS PGA TOUR match what is in reality, my mind was blown. Every single course is mapped, scanned and recreated in pixel perfect detail. Even attention to the right kind of grass for the fairways, greens, and even rough/deep rough have been painstakingly duplicated to a borderline perfection level.

There are though, a couple of issues with the graphical presentation of the game itself. Issues such as the lack of quality of the crowd and/or main golfer. While the main golf character does look decent, the background crowd looks laughably bleak and is almost like an afterthought. Maybe it was to preserve resources within the game, who knows, but if you're going to create the best Golf game out there, then this can't be an overlooked aspect. Another issue comes with the cut scenes. As you play on through facets of the game, you'll be bombarded with so many splash screens it's almost feels like the hole itself is its own break from the seemingly constant bombardment. A good improvement here would be to just consolidate the hole flyby from the beginning and use that as the transition to help keep the pace of the game. All of this, however, culminates into the creation of an absolutely incredible Golf game.

After you've created your character and set up the game how you like it, you'll be greeted with tons of options and menus right from the beginning. From the main screen you'll have the following game types: Quick Play, Career, Competitive, Challenges, Social, Tournaments and Private Match. Without question a lot of these are self-explanatory, however, here are some slight differences. Social, for example, allows you to play all par 3's or 5's at a random course with up to 16 other people. Competitive though offers either the front or back 9 of a random course with up to 16 other people, and they also provide feature competitions such as the current Masters 3-hole stretch at Amen Corner. While these modes are separate, the content inside them feels unsubstantial to the point where maybe consolidation would be better and the theory of "less is more" being practiced? Before we dive into career I've got to touch on Tournaments. This is where the majority of people will be spending their time outside of Career mode.

In Tournaments you have such categories as Daily, Weekly, Seasonal, Pending and Final. While the names themselves will tell you about the details for the tournament, some of the more prestigious tournaments require "tickets" to enter and yes, these tournaments often provide some of the best gear in the game. There are other tournaments though that are free to enter and some that cost Reward Points (RP), but keep in mind that these points require you to grind like crazy so, as normal, EA offers you the ability to do microtransactions to buy more tickets through a currency called "Golf Points". If you are looking to spend more money, the three tiers you have are 500 points ($4.99/$4.49 with EA Play), 2750 ($24.99/$22.49 with EA Play), and 5750 ($49.99/$44.99 with EA Play). If you went for it all and got 5750 points, you could cash in 2,000 of those points for 30 tickets. The other tiers are 1 ticket (100 points), 5 tickets (450 points), and 10 tickets (750 points). So, at 5750 you could get (2x 30 tickets = 4,000 points) + (1x 10 tickets = 750 points) + (2x 5 tickets = 900 points) + (1x 1 ticket = 100 points), for a grand total of 81 tickets. That may seem like a little amount when you get 81 tickets for basically $50, and you would be right, especially when you have some tournaments that cost 10 tickets per entry. This is a crafty way of getting people such as myself to invest heavily in these tickets because to get the best gear you'll have to give your best performances.

While we're on the topic of purchases, it should be noted that the only other tabs to be focused on in the store are the Featured and Specs tabs. Featured offers some limited timed gear for purchase by either golf points or Reward points and is the only place where you can find both ball and club effects. These are cosmetic treats that add a type of graphic effect to your ball and/or clubs. You can use either point methods for purchase, but before you go buying things in Featured, you may want to save for the Specs tab. This is where you can go to buy some specs for your clubs that can increase their performance based off the "type" of spec it is. Specs themselves come in the typical variety of tiers such as grey, green, blue, purple and gold, and can be applied to drivers, woods, irons, wedges, hybrids and even the ball itself. Now throughout the game you'll earn more naturally as you complete challenges (more on that in a moment), so these are ones though that you can purchase right off the bat. I should point out that there is no way of combining or upgrading them, so as of now it's either equipped or unequipped. There's no limit thankfully to how many items your character can hold but without the ability to even delete them from your character, meaning that you'll have a bunch of useless specs once you start leveling up your character.

This is where the main development of EA SPORTS PGA TOUR comes to life. The primary place of focus is going to be the Skills section of your Golfer, this is where you will learn various shot types and can work on improving them, for a cost. Yes, it's time to include the last piece of currency within the game, and that is Skill points that you gain 2 for each level you climb. You can spend these points on leveling up your character, but you can also retrain 1 or all of a category of your skills for a set amount of RP. Your current breakdown of skill categories and their sub-categories are Power (Power), Driving (Accuracy, Control), Approach (Accuracy, Control, Recovery), Short Game (Accuracy, Control, Recovery) and Putting (Putting). Power is by far the most expensive and will require over 70 points to max out, whereas Approach and Short Game have the most sub-classes but also the cheapest costs, so where you want to begin your focus is up to you. If, however, you make a mistake you can retrain which will refund your skill points, but the more you retrain the higher the cost, so think carefully how you want to build your character. The rest of your character development is purely cosmetic except for the ability to choose the type of club you want in your bag. This is because the various angles of the club head will produce different yardages. Thankfully when you want to make a change to your bag you can change it for all bags with the push of a button.

While I mentioned the microtransactions for the points and how each was earned, I never touched on how to earn Reward Points. To acquire these points all you have to do is fulfill various quests and challenges, and the points will come rolling in. For example, in the play mode Challenges, you have over 1,000 Golf challenges to play through. Here is where you will find the training you will need in the Coaching Academy because it will not only help you understand and grasp the fundamentals of the game, but will also allow you to have challenges with every shot type, so you get training on all the various shot types you can unlock. I cannot stress enough how important this mode is, and in fact, I spent the first two days of my gameplay in the Coaching Academy going for 3 star unlocks on the challenges. From Driving to putting and everything in between, this is your stop to learn it all before you hit the courses in Career mode. While the challenges are fairly straight forward, EA SPORTS PGA TOUR also allows you to go for various "Quests" which are broken down into 4 categories: Career, Mastery, PGA Tour, and Road To PGA.

Each one of these categories of Quests is broken down even further. In Career there's a group of Quests called Tournament Wins Pt. _, and completing each one of these three will net you 9,000 Reward Points. The Masters Quest in the Career tab will net 3,900 points for making the cut + win the masters + Score -9 or less at the Masters. Do those 3 sub-Quests of the Masters Quest and you'll get a total of 3,900 Reward points. The Mastery category of Quests are more course specific and require various feats to be performed such as the Augusta National Mastery Quest, broken into 3 chapters totaling 2,000 Reward Points. Chapter 1 requires you to complete a round at Augusta National, cover a total of 7,510 yards using Drive shots, and Eagle the 2nd hole. The PGA Tour Quests are related to the event itself, like the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am or the WM Phoenix Open, and are only comprised of a single chapter that will net you at least 775 Reward Points. The Road To PGA is set up identical to PGA Tour Quests and all quests will allow you the chance to unlock new specs for your equipment.

This is going to benefit you in the long run as you create and develop your golfer and make your career even more dynamic, however, there are a couple issues I have with the career. While you can choose where you wish to start from and whatnot, in EA SPORTS PGA TOUR you have a choice of either playing the full round, or only certain holes. If you play the full round, you're looking at 4 rounds of 18 holes, and if you're going for quick then you may only play 5 holes. The downside for quickly moving through the course is that you only get half the XP, so if you normally gain about 19,000 XP playing a full round, you'll only net around 8-9000 depending on performance. In the future I think a great addition to this gameplay setup would be to allow for 1 full round of 18 or set how many rounds you want to play in a tournament (1-4). Despite this, however, you'll make your choice of where to begin and then it's up to you to show the world why you're the best. After my initial rounds of my first ever USGA amateur event I was granted a pass to play at Augusta, which proceeded to show me why I need a LOT more work on every facet of my game. Come the end of Friday and the cut line is +2 , here I am sitting at +9, having a humbling feeling, and I can say that I have much more respect for these professionals and the courses they play on.

As you can see, EA SPORTS PGA TOUR has come back with a passion and purpose, and to help them achieve that goal the audio of this game is unbelievable. From the menu music that varies from a breakbeat/hip hop style rhythm to rock guitars, to jazz pianos, the scope of the music for the menu is vast and eclectic, but the real detail comes from the presentation itself. Watching the opening of the Masters introduction and hearing the iconic music just made everything fit perfectly, and with each hole preview you hear the music and see the course open up to you, almost daring you to try. Combined with the equipment noises and ambience help deliver an immersive gaming experience. The best though, by a mile, has to be the crowd noise. You'll hear them talk and whatnot and then when you're ready to swing it dies down, but once you hit the ball you'll hear people say "Sit! Sit! Sit!" or "Get in the hole!", and it's a wonderful bonus to hear the people in the crowd shouting what I'm thinking.

This is because the gaming mechanics of EA SPORTS PGA TOUR allows you to customize your experience all the way up to full simulation mode. The basic mechanics of the swing are reliant on your Left Stick or Right Stick, based on your settings, and the arcade feel of adding power before the strike and developing spin on the ball while in mid-flight are back in full swing, but the biggest setting you'll want to contend with are things like your forgiveness in your swing. Trying to make sure your swing follows the line perfectly while maintaining power and measuring for our old friend the wind, and you have yourself an incredible challenge that faces you every shot. Thankfully, as stated earlier, the 3 click input method will be coming soon. There have been some comical moments throughout my career so far. For example, in my US Open performance I tied with 3 other people and we went into playoff holes. After the 3rd round of playoff holes the announcers were saying ".... and that's going to be it for all of us here at EA Sports. Thank you for playing and we'll see you next time on EA SPORTS PGA TOUR.". Here I'm sitting at the tee box thinking "Ummmm.... what?". Other shortcomings existed as well such as I'll have a severe left to right break in the green, yet I need to move my cursor to the right of the cup so that it breaks right to left? I'm hoping bugs like this can be fixed quickly and easily as they did detract from the overall experience.

The rest of the mechanics though are your standard fare and should be easy to pick up and play. The 'Y' button acts as your zoom, 'X' is your reset of your aiming, the D-Pad moves your aiming marker around, and the Right Stick determines the spin/angle of the shot. The big focus though here is the Bumpers will choose your shot type (if you've learned it), the Right Stick to dial in the spin, Triggers to select the club and 'Y' to see where you're aiming for. Once you think you got things dialed in, swing away and then join every single other Golfer alive to hold their breath while your shot is in the air and hoping for a good result.

Good things come to those who wait. We waited years for EA Sports to deliver a quality golf game, and not only have they delivered a quality golf game, but they have delivered THE golf game by which all future games will be judged. EA SPORTS PGA TOUR isn't just a new golf game, it's the standard. Deep character development, tons of different shot types to master, focus on accuracy and experience and the deepest collection of utilized data pertaining to golfers and their shots and performance are just a few innovations in EA SPORTS PGA TOUR that make it the uncontested king of Golf. The question shouldn't be are you getting this game, but when. A few slight blemishes within the game do, exist but now that the bar has been set, all of us Golfing fans are eager to see where the future goes with this sport's representation in video games. Congratulations to EA Tiburon for creating the best Golf experience any gamer could ever play.

**EA SPORTS PGA TOUR was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Suggestions: Fixes would be:
1. Improve the crowd graphics and character modeling.
2. Allow for the user to pick the number of rounds in a tournament in career mode.
3. Various bug glitches.
4. Give us gamers some value in these old/low quality specs for the gear by allowing us to upgrade them through combination or destroy to get resources.

Overall Score: 9.2 / 10 Atomic Heart

Greetings Comrade! Welcome to a world full of endless opportunities and possibilities. A world where individual thought is banished as your very thoughts are poured together into the Kollektiv and shared with all of society! Welcome to a post WWII scenario where Russia defeated the capitalist United States and cemented their dominance to the entire world. Imagine a world where robots exist to not only help you understand science, life, art and other philosophical elements, but also to free yourself from the bonds of menial labor so that you may pursue your dreams and ambitions to forward Russian innovation and improve the lives of everyone in society. Developed by Mundfish, Atomic Heart sets the stage where this fictional utopia leaves many questions and many more enemies in your path. Imagine taking games such as Bioshock Infinite and Fallout and brought with it an open world sandbox that it quite massive in scale, and then let you run wild with guns and special powers and abilities? How about we take a stroll and see if Atomic Heart is strong or if you need to bypass this one.

You just read that I mentioned games like Bioshock Infinite and Fallout because that is what the environment in Atomic Heart is like. You can almost feel it ripped straight away as you ascend to these floating islands in the sky, full of civilization and life and all mechanically connected to each other. These islands are connected by a rail system which you'll utilize as you progress through the story, but these large sandbox areas are broken down into 2 distinct areas which I'm calling above and below ground. Above ground, the landscape will vary from farmlands, little villages, to massive complexes, research facilities and everything in between. The below ground aspect of Atomic Heart will focus on you trying to utilize your skills and abilities to solve puzzles and navigate your way through chests and unlocks for your weapon upgrades. These varying environments may provide hours of exploration, but the sad reality is that, you really don't have to.

This is because Atomic Heart is setup to where you don't have to explore off the beaten path, in fact you can take a lot of linear progression straight through from point A to B to C, etc. Given this reality, the majority of what you will fight will be irrelevant. This is kind of disappointing because these sections offer weapon upgrades that you won't get otherwise, but you really don't need them, and their upgrades are incredibly limited. Regrettably though, this means that you have really two options to pick from: either follow the story directly going from A to B or increase your time in the game by going for upgrades that really aren't meaningful in the game at all, and then progress on. Whatever you choose, also bear in mind that the environment isn't "perfected". What I mean by that is that if you're not careful, it's possible to get caught in an "endless fall" where you're frozen in place and you can't jump, dash, or do anything to help your character move. This will cause you to load your last save, so heed my advice and save frequently.

As you venture throughout the areas you'll start to see what kinds of enemies you'll be facing. One of the biggest annoyances will be the sunflowers. Think of these things as a surveillance camera that is shaped like the head of a sunflower and is attached to a standby a flexible pole so it can pivot and shift to scan a wide area. If these catch you, you will see the outside ring start to fill up with red. Once it does, it triggers an alarm which increases the enemy robot quantities for a time being. If you still take out the enemies without destroying the camera you will increase the warning level until it becomes almost like a tidal wave of enemies coming at you at once. This can become frustrating as you have to keep your head on a swivel and watch for attacks and enemy positioning. However, despite all of this, you can use this to your advantage thanks to the one robot, the OWL. These robots originally were the biggest pain to deal with, and not because they attack you, but because they repair all the robots and things you've destroyed. It can become incredibly frustrating to take down a strong robot, only to have the OWL come by and repair it back to normal. But that's when I made Atomic Heart work for me.

Early on in the game, you'll come across an area that has a couple robots that you can take out but then you have these OWL robots that will come in to try and repair them. You can use your melee weapon and knock them out of the sky and just literally stay there and swing away. I quite literally did this for HOURS and it was the most incredibly boring experience I've had with gaming in quite some time. But there was a reason I did this. When I couldn't take the monotony anymore I went over to the pile, held down 'Right Bumper' (we'll get to mechanics here shortly) and collected an incredible amount of resources that allowed me to level up my character early on to an almost unfair level. As you progress, while you're given the illusion that this game allows for exploration, you're going to rapidly discover that the game structure is incredibly linear. You can almost say that this illusion is Mundfish's greatest accomplishment in Atomic Heart.

As we talked about part of my adventure and exploiting the game, you read that I would hold down 'RB' and that is because it is one of the primary buttons you'll use throughout the entire game. By holding down 'RB' you can do an automatic mass collection of items around you which is a wonderful addition to the gameplay and makes life much more enjoyable. Now if you double tap and hold the bumper instead, you'll go into what I call X-Ray mode and you can see through walls and floors, as your screen will show you enemies that appear orange in color, searchable items are blue, and interactive items in white. I will also say that it's this mode that you will most likely be in 98% of the time if you decide to explore the areas. While in this scanning mode, you're unable to fire your weapon or use any other abilities, but this mode is vital if you wish to see all lootable containers.

Inside these containers you will find elements that you can use to upgrade your existing weapons or build new ones if you have the blueprint unlocked. While this upgrading does seem enjoyable, there also is a finite limit to what you can accomplish, so after that happens, all the resources do become completely worthless as there is nothing more to build or upgrade. The same goes for your abilities unfortunately. Since your "GLOVE" is where your abilities come from such as shock or freezing, it takes a type of polymer to upgrade it which you can get from every single enemy in varying quantities. Now I should point out that upgrading your abilities will take FAR MORE material than your weapon upgrades, but doing that little trick I talked about earlier, I was able to get the more expensive energy upgrades out of the way first, and then focus on less expensive abilities, so upgrades went by a lot quicker.

Not all mechanics though are done properly and it can become disorienting. Jumping for example is not always reliable. Jumping to a ledge may or may not allow you to grab onto it, and there have been times when I've jumped to a ledge that was at an angle, only to turn and have my hands above the ledge and the game still say "no ledge for you" and I fall and take injuries (yes fall damage is VERY REAL in this game). Walking/running is also inconsistent in Atomic Heart as many times I've tried walking straight and my character will go a certain speed, but rotate my character and do more of a strafe and he seems to travel much faster. It's almost like Atomic Heart chooses when to have you run or walk. The interesting thing about all this is that the guidance you do get is next to non-existent and what guidance you do get is not always correct.

Despite the flaws of the environment, upgrade system and the mechanics, Atomic Heart does deliver a very beautiful experience despite how twisted the experience may be (sisters I'm looking at you). Going through the various dungeons and on the top, you'll see a bunch of reused materials but that material is tweaked just enough to give it that unique feel which made exploration quite fun. The enemies themselves will vary, but make no mistake, 99.9% of them will try to kill you. Delivering a quality shooter experience is one of the primary goals of Atomic Heart and thanks to the graphics, this is one goal that hit its target. To compliment the graphics, the audio fidelity quality of Atomic Heart is also enjoyable. From classic songs done with a Russian 'twist' that are heard on the radio, to the ambient sounds of automated machinery nestled deep within an underground dungeon, every note helps the gamer become more absorbed into this utopia. There is one aspect though that doesn't quite sit well with me and that relates to when the combat is over. You just killed your last enemy and you're safe for now and the game will still play the dynamic combat music for far too long almost to the point of annoyance.

We've covered a lot of ground but one thing we've never touched on is the plot. This is because the Atomic Heart plot is one filled with twists, turns, and of course, backstabbing. Basically you play the role of a special forces operative that suffers from memory loss (you can probably start to see where this is already going), and during the launch of Kollektiv 2.0 something goes horribly wrong and the robots that were supposed to aid in humanity now are set on eliminating it entirely. Throughout the game you'll find out what this Atomic Heart program is, the history, and more importantly, the future that's in store.

Overall, Atomic Heart is an enjoyable FPS title that sadly misses out on being great. From issues that were stated above, Atomic Heart had the potential to be up there with games such as Bioshock, but in the end came up short. While the plot does offer some amazing moments that seem to raise more questions than they answer, Atomic Heart fails to deliver any meaningful reason to go explore and in that reality, shortens the gametime to about 15 hours(ish). Despite all that, did I have fun playing the game? Without question yes. Atomic Heart may not be perfect but it does deliver an enjoyable FPS experience with a plot that will take you on a rollercoaster ride.

**Atomic Heart was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Shatter Remastered Deluxe

In gaming we find ourselves amidst an endless supply of cookie-cutter titles that struggle to find their own identity and innovation, all the while charging top retail figures and expensive DLC. Shooters, sports games, RPGs, platformers, all of them require identity and innovation to stand out amongst the crowd, but there's one game that has done just that. Shattered Remastered Deluxe by PikPok (insert legal joke here) has taken the brick breaking sensation of games like Breakout and married it with classic concepts found in games like Tempest, sprinkled in some side-scrolling magic and physics and topped it off with some power-ups, and ultimately in the end created a $9.99 wonder that I can easily see taking the mantle of the best brick breaking game that's ever been made.

First and foremost it has to be stated that this game does provide a challenging amount of story related content, and by story related I just mean there's levels you go through then fight a boss and then you repeat it nine more times and then game over. But you just read you have boss fights? How could you have a boss fight in a brick breaking game? Well, the simple answer is, because. Honestly, there isn't much of a story at all, but what there is, is innovation. So the big innovation with Shatter Remastered Deluxe is that the 'LT' and 'RT' triggers push and pull objects, gems, power-ups and even blocks towards or away from you. Now this concept is fairly straightforward, but how you utilize the innovation mechanics will make or break your game.

I say this because the game itself sets your craft on some type of axis either vertical or horizontal, and while your craft will glide along this axis reflecting your ball(ish) projectile, it has several features. For starters, you have a shield to protect your craft from being knocked off axis. Now you are thinking, 'why a shield?'. Well when you use suction to draw gems into be collected, there's a great chance that you will have some blocks that will come along for the ride. If they hit you and knock you off your axis, then it's one life down. Now to generate your shield it requires energy, and this is where the gems fall into place. Breaking blocks will create multi-colored gems that will remain on the level for a little while, and when you manage to draw a bunch in, your energy bar will charge up, and this is where you can activate your shield. Each block that it hits will be destroyed but you'll lose energy in the process. It is a small price to pay to save a life though.

The energy meter however is not just for your craft's shield. The energy meter also provides you with a massive multi-streamed projectile laser blast that lasts several seconds, and drains the meter completely down (already knowing that this is the primary weapon for taking down most boss fights). The toss up though to this weapon is that not only can you only use it sparingly, it takes a while to collect all the gems to fill the meter, so if you happen to use it the level before the boss fight and you can't replenish it in time, well... you get the idea.

I keep talking about the bosses though because that is where the innovation really takes hold. Some bosses require you to use suction and pull the weak spot of a boss downward into a position where it faces you and forces you to attack it. You don't really see boss fights where you get to control the boss's weak point exposure through manipulation of the environment, let alone in a brick breaking game.

The other tool at your disposal throughout the levels is the ball itself. Through various power-ups that appear after breaking certain bricks will transform your ball into various forms such as an unstoppable form where your ball enlarges slightly and will travel in a straight line, uninterrupted. One of my personal favorites though is the highly maneuverable form where you can quite literally hold down 'RT' and keep sending the ball down the level destroying tons in its path.

Now earlier I mentioned that this game put your vehicle on an axis that was either horizontal or vertical. In Shattered Remastered Deluxe though it seems that PikPok has tapped partially into an old classic game, Tempest, for its inspiration. So rather than those type of axis to move on, some levels will actually have you in a quarter circle. While the same rules and mechanics apply, you now have to be extra careful of your position within the circle arena. These were my least favorite levels, by a mile, because of the mechanics of thinking within a circle rather than square or rectangle.

As you play through the story mode you'll unlock other modes for you to enjoy but are completely self-explanatory. Endless Mode, Boss Rush and Time Attack are all exactly as you would think, but what was a massive ding in my eyes, is the Couch Co-Op. In today's interconnected society, how often are you going to call your friend up and say "Hey would you like to come over and play some couch co-op on Shattered Remastered Deluxe?". Having the ability to connect online is critical in today's gaming world, and omitting that very feature is a risk that only pays off if you're developing a single player game. All in all however, you're going to be going through over 70 levels throughout all the game modes and in 4K 120FPS quality, so to say this game is smooth is an understatement, and the remastered soundtrack makes it sing on a 5.1 system or a quality headset.

While you may be thinking that this game originally came out in 2009 and how could a game that is over 10 years old possibly be worth $9.99? With the amount of content provided and the increased audio and video fidelity upgrades, Shattered Remastered Deluxe will provide you with some of the best quality brick breaking action you will ever play. Challenging, rewarding and always entertaining, PikPok did a fantastic job remastering this game and it's definitely one that should be strongly considered given the quality for the price.

**Shatter Remastered Deluxe was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 New Tales from the Borderlands

When you limit player interaction within your game you are taking one of the biggest gambles in gaming. This is because you are essentially selling an interactive story that is laid out in cinematic cutscenes. This type of technology has been around for decades, but Telltale managed to develop it to near perfection. With previous releases such as Batman, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and more, Telltale delivered a narrative that captivated gamers and provided an incredible depth to their storylines by often developing multiple endings which end up creating the modern day version of 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books, but in digital form. Recently however, things have shifted in the gaming industry. While Telltale has done Borderlands before, The New Tales from the Borderlands game is done by Gearbox themselves. With a whole new author at the helm of this project, how will Gearbox fare?

Well, that depends actually on what your values are. Let's get back to that in a minute. The primary focus of any of these games in the genre has to be on the story. The narrative needs to captivate you, draw you in, create emotional bonds with the characters, look to have you make an emotional investment into the game, things of that sort. Telltale Games in the past have been renowned for their stories, character development and a deep player connection to the story. In the New Tales from the Borderlands game though, you'll find very, very little, to none of that at all. In fact, Gearbox has dropped the ball so badly on the story that there is a playthrough that I had where the ending quite literally made no sense and didn't tie in at all to the previous scene. Imagine going through Empire Strikes Back, and when Vader asks Luke to join him he's like "Yeah, sounds fun. Why not?". It literally would make no sense, and that is the type of ending that should never happen in any medium, yet it unfortunately occurs here.

That's disappointing, and you can see why this is the cause. See, in the past, Telltale games have been story focused and used the medium of the subject to form their stories, no matter what the cost. Gearbox however has taken a far 'woke' stance on their story which utterly destroys it entirely. The character development is incredibly weak, and some of the supporting cast, like Stapleface, actually detract from the story due to the execution of the character. This story seems more about enforcing an agenda than trying to make sure there's a quality story to tell, and that's the biggest heartbreak of all. I want to make a connection with characters that don't follow stereotypical tropes and that are poorly executed. Anu, for example, is one continual anxiety attack mixed with poor writing. Her character becomes more of a nuisance than anything and it follows the typical 'come to terms' with their own self story path.

There are some moments of humor in the story which come from an ongoing gag where a Tediore guard continually challenges you to a game of Vaultlanders, an entertaining minigame that parodies Skylanders by making these figures such as Handsome Jack, Brick, Mordacai and others and you go through QuickTime Events (QTE) to dodge and land attacks. There was an issue though in which the computer never dodged the attacks, so it literally became mash the 'A' button, press either Left, Right or Down, and then repeat until the match is over. Plus, not all Vaultlanders are equal in strength and defense, so once you found one that hit hard, it made no point to ever switch characters, which in turn made the rest of the figures pointless. This provided some moments of humor amongst the story but were few and far between. Despite their best efforts though, Gearbox's story isn't even close to how Telltale would present their narrative. This is because even though the story does have disconnecting moments, the biggest weakness is the character development.

There is an initial 'core' of 4 characters: Octavtio, Anu, Francine and LOU13 "Louie". Gearbox tries to introduce us to these characters through their environment, however never fully develops them into any character you could care about. I touched on Stapleface earlier, but one of the most pointless characters has to be Brock. Think of this character as a literal Tediore rifle with little legs and an AI processor which speaks and has emotional outbursts of narcissism. Yes, all this from a rifle. Now while the angle was unique, it was poorly developed, and by the end you really didn't care.

Speaking of pointless things, I have to mention the money and skins. This is quite literally worthless. New skins don't impact the story in ways and are 100% cosmetic, but they cost money you find in game. So if skins are like this, what about equipment? Sadly, that too is in the same category. If that is the only thing you can do with the money... why does it exist again? They could have easily done the skins through character choices or something like that, but nope.

Like I said before, New Tales from the Borderlands is absolutely heartbreaking to play and experience. I went in with a hope and optimistic belief of a good quality, story based Borderlands experience. Sadly what I got in return was a 'woke' story devoid of character development, emotional investment or any drive to really connect to a player through the Borderlands environment. As of this writing though, I'm trying to decide which is the greatest loss, that it was released, or the game that could have been that never will be. If you're looking for a quality story experience then go with the Telltale games instead. When you limit the player interactions and focus on the story, you take a big risk, and sadly this is a risk that didn't pay off for Gearbox and certainly didn't pay off for fans of the Borderland experience.

Suggestions: Please drop the 'woke' from your stories and pay more attention to how Telltale developed stories, characters, etc.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Family Man

Take the 80's video of Money for Nothing by Dire Straits with the serenity of Minecraft and Roblox and inject a heavy amount of dark humor and unending stress and twists and turns, and you get Family Man by Broken Bear Games and No More Robots. It's rare when an indie game with a small development force can create a game that can bring more enjoyment than those AAA blockbuster titles that cost hundreds of millions to develop, but this $19.99 release does just that. So, I'm going to go for a pack of smokes and tell you why this budget indie game should be on your radar. Don't worry, I will come back, I'll only be gone a moment. I promise.

Family Man begins its tale through a weird Twilight Zone style opening sequence. While some games are introducing you to vast areas and sweeping landscapes, Family Man starts out by sending you through years of your life, but contained in only minor interactive segments. Such moments would be when and where you meet your significant other, family Christmas, etc, and each one of these storied moments in your life plays a dark and direct connection to the rest of the game. Without spoiling too much, Family man is a game that prides itself on your ability to manage life itself. From doing illegal activities to pay off a debt to the mob, to flipping burgers and doing odd jobs around the house, time management is going to be your major challenge.

On one hand, you have your family who if you neglect and don't feed them, give them medicine, spend time with them, then they will leave you and your game is over. However, if you don't work and gather enough money, then the mob will kill you. How can you justify to your wife that you're not going to make it home to tuck your child into bed so you can go assassinate someone at night to pay the mob not to kill you?

This is the very balance that you will quickly come to terms with throughout the entire story. Now while that may seem like an easy task, you should note that you will be doing chores around the house, however there is a tradeoff. While time stops while you're in your house, it then advances upon completion of the chore to simulate time that had passed. Outside of your house though, time figuratively flies by. The clock ticks down very rapidly, almost to the tune of 1 minute = 1 second in the real world, so 1 hour = 1 minute.

Now your jobs outside of the house take time to complete, and don't forget, you may have the jobs done to pay the debt for the day, but you also have to feed your family, tuck your kid in, tell them a story and spend the night in with your spouse to keep them healthy, happy and fed. Based off this revelation it's 100% clear that the clock is quite literally your biggest threat.

Most of the time this game will be about trial and error. I lost count how many times my family left me because of some neglect or I opted to spend more time with the family at the cost of my life. Thankfully though, Family Man allows you to restart from the beginning of the day. If, however, you find yourself unable to manage your way out of your situation, then you may want to start over. This is probably one of the most repetitive functions you will do when you play.

To add to this replayability, Family Man boast multiple endings. Yes, while some AAA titles only have one story that is a premade path through the game, Family Man boasts four. Four endings that you can experience should you complete several criteria that are outcomes of various missions. Yes, morale will play a dynamic role on how your game unfolds for you and it's this combined with your choices in the missions that will determine what of the four endings you get to experience.

Family Man, despite its deep and robust moral gameplay, is relatively simplistic in design. The characters look like they were the spawn of the characters in the Dire Straits video Money for Nothing and practically every character in Roblox. All of this graphical joy comes with a very tranquil, almost Minecraft style of music that really is a stark contrast to the tension that you will naturally feel when you're trying to complete these missions in time, and then your phone rings and it's your baby girl asking when daddy is coming home to read a bedtime story. The contrast fits the narrative of the game as well, because if you're trying to race the clock, having these local characters take their sweet time talking to you can really bring about some unnecessary stress.

I have to admit that normally I pass on indie games because I feel that the entertainment experience to price point actually devalues the game when you have something that may not be as polished, interactive, or even enjoyable, but priced out of the market. We've all had that game where we've bought it and then kicked ourselves later for doing so. Family Man isn't that game, and in fact, I can say that it's this game itself that has made me take a more serious interest in indie titles. Priced at $19.99 USD, Family Man should definitely be on your radar if you're looking to enjoy an amazing gaming experience that is innovative and refreshing, yet incredibly challenging and stressful.

**Family Man was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Cult of the Lamb

Imagine sitting there at work one day and thinking, "you know what? Let's make a game where we have a really cute lamb as a main character and a bunch of really cute animals that follow this lamb. We'll have pigs, goats and all kinds of cute animals, and they'll all look towards this lamb for guidance; it'll be great! Then let's have this lamb turn out to be a cult leader that was created by a demon during a ritual execution and fill the game with satanic imagery, rituals, religious doctrines and have them all work together in this demonic setting for a better life." Now imagine everyone else at work saying, "GREAT IDEA!" And thus, Cult of the Lamb was born. Imagine taking the Woodland Critters of South Park and mix that with Lamb Chop and sprinkle in some Hades and top it off with some lighthearted village building elements, and you essentially have Massive Monster's latest hit. Now normally I review things from a cost versus value perspective because in today's world money is tight so quality gaming is essential, and Cult of the Lamb could easily be a contender for Game of the Year.

So, in the beginning our little lamb was doomed to be sacrificed in the name of everything unholy and evil, however just as the ritual was coming to a climax, our lamb was saved by none other than a demon who has been imprisoned and requires your help to build a cult that will follow in its name. The lamb is tasked with formulating enough influence to spread devotion to other souls that will pray in its unholy name. Should you succeed, you will not only create a flourishing community devout to a demon from hell, but you will have proven your worth (probably) to the very demon that saved your soul. Ready to sell your soul for your salvation? Everyone has a price.

Cult of the Lamb is setup to combine a lot of hack and slash elements with base building community management, and from the beginning you have to start with the basics, and what's more basic than creating your name for your cult? For me, I chose The Cult of Personality for my first playthrough and for my second I chose Blue Oyster Cult for more of that cowbell flavor. In your community sandbox when you start you'll have rocks, berry bushes and trees all to harvest. This sandbox is where your cult will literally do everything from eat, sleep, work, build, poop and die. Your cult will only consist of those who you choose to save. You are quite literally the savior of these animals, so they become devout followers, but only for a time being and that depends on your actions.

It's entirely possible for you to save someone and recruit them into your cult, only to have them turn around and think you are weak and that your gospel is that of lies, and they will do whatever they can to spread disinformation against your cult and try to get more people to turn. This can happen through things like not enough beds or food, to even failing missions. In one mission I failed my followers lost over 40% of their respect for me which seemed ungrateful given that I did save them from a future filled with unending torture. This is also when I found out that followers will leave. Yes they will be thankful you saved them, think your weak and then leave. Really makes you think twice of who you will let into your cult. One of the things I did was always keep a few followers waiting to be inducted into the cult in case I had to perform a sacrifice to raise my follower’s impression of me.

I mentioned sacrifices because your chapel where you perform your sermons once a day will develop over time as you start to gain influence. Essentially your chapel is arguably your most important building given that it's within here that you build your satanic beliefs through choices in your doctrine that you preach. You'll get 5 classes of doctrines, and each features 4 levels of devotion which you can chose a side/pathway, and these will be beliefs and rituals that you can perform within your cult to gain favor with them. Keep in mind though, these rituals do have a cooldown process so it's not like you can fight to the death in your chapel every day. To create these doctrines, you will need to collect tablet fragments so you can form these magical stone tablets. There is so much more to upgrade in the chapel such as your character cape and abilities that you'll need to think and plan carefully so that you maximize your balance between yourself and your cult.

This is when you'll start to see just how deep the Cult of the Lamb can be. Another very critical object is your prayer shrine. Here your followers will gather and pray their essence into this shine which you can collect and through this, upgrade your camp with various buildings that can do things such as give your cult places to sleep, farm and mine. It's through this shrine you'll also unlock buildings such as prisons to house heretics who dare spout blasphemy against your divine following and your rule as their leader. I can honestly say I had fun with this one. I started small and maintained my resources and kept my cult small so I could maximize my storage of materials. This also helped by keeping the levels of poo low. Yes waste management is one of the joys of this game.

So, your followers will poop just like we all do, and if that builds up in your community your followers will get sick, and if they don't rest to get better they can die. Remember how I kept a stockpile of followers who want to be saved? Cue the work till you die and then clean the land, then recruit more people. Hey, if they can preach against me I will have no problem literally working these dead spirits to um... death? If I felt sporty and I had some sick followers, I'd just have them fight to the death and winner would get bedrest to get better. How badly do you want to get better? Now this was my mindset until I started to unlock some of the better buildings such as outhouses and fertilizer and huts for sleeping. Once I started to develop more quality buildings I started expanding and growing my cult.

Now your time isn't always going to be spent in the confines of your community. You will have to venture through four dungeon doors, each of which corresponds to one of the spirits who has imprisoned the devil who saved you. Each one of these doors can be opened by having a certain number of followers in your cult. Through these dungeons you'll come across your basic rooms of hack and slash glory, but you'll be able to find rooms like ones that have tarot cards that will help unlock various temporary bonuses such as extra health or extra damage. Other rooms you come across will unlock various regions around your camp that you can travel to and partake in various quests from fishing mini-games to finding mushrooms to deliver to someone, all the while rewarding your lamb with items for your cult's survival and growth.

Ultimately you could easily say that you have a 3-way scale that you have to balance, and focusing on one area too much could easily lead to failure. While the adventures will either boost or sink your follower adoration, spending all your time in the camp will drain your resources quickly and the world doesn't open up rapidly, so finding some balance between exploration and cult management is essential. Each doorway that you must vanquish contains four levels and each level consists of a multi-room layout that ends with a boss fight where you get to choose your pathway through these levels. Let me dive a little deeper into this.

You pick the first doorway; you go through it for your first of four sections which ultimately ends in a boss fight on each level until you get to one of the four main gods. Here you are given a path to choose. On the left you have a square that is a market where you can buy things, on the right you have a path that leads you to get a new follower. On the left path, after the market you can go to the boss and on the right, after you get the follower, the path takes you to the boss. You are the one that makes the choice of what path you follow. Do you gather resources? Do you focus on gathering followers? The pathways you decide will ultimately shape how your game plays out.

Thankfully navigation and the control mechanics are very simplistic where 'B' is your dodge, 'A' is attack, 'Y' is magic, with your Left Stick controlling movement. This helps keep your combat mechanics in order when you have a screen full of enemies and you find yourself doing some attacks, dodging and repeat until room is cleared. Your magic that you can wield is capable through fervor that drops as small red orbs when you defeat an enemy. The premise is simple, collect enough fervor and you can launch your magic, but be careful because sometimes it can take a while to recoup enough fervor to launch more magic so use it wisely.

One of the most pleasant surprises of Cult of the Lamb has to be the art style. Without a doubt the expressions of the followers and the overall presentation of the game is both over the top adorable with a heavy, and I mean HEAVY, dose of dark, satanic comedy bits. From marriage to the sacrificing of the elderly to make sure you have no dead bodies; Cult of the Lamb delivers a vibrant yet distinctive graphic presentation that makes playing the game an absolute joy. This is complemented by sound effects that have a dark, almost twisted presentation and these sound effects that attempt to be "dynamic" but end up being present in an adorable way, so the edge is lost, but in a hilarious way.

I can honestly say that Cult of the Lamb was a pure enjoyment with every minute of gameplay and worth every penny of the $24.99 price tag. Massive Monster Studios has an iconic hit on their hands with Cult of the Lamb and that is thanks to a simplistic yet fluid gameplay mechanic, combined with a creative community management balanced with exploration and depth that rival some mainstream titles. After playing this, I am looking for something this year that can come close to touching this for Game of the Year. I can say that I'm a devout believer and 100% converted follower to fan.

**Cult of the Lamb was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Sniper Elite 5

One of the greatest weapons ever used in any shooter game is the Sniper Rifle. Being able to send a round down range that normally would be impossible to shoot is one of the greatest thrills we can experience; and Rebellion Developments have been working hard at bringing that very experience into your life with their Sniper Elite series. Recently their latest installment of the Nazi hunting sniper game, Sniper Elite 5, aims to shatter organs with greater detail and provide new features that breathe new life into this series. Is it enough though to make this game a crack shot at a distance or does it miss wide on the target and reveal the flaws that keep it from succeeding?

For those new to the Sniper Elite series, you play the role of German sniper Karl Fairburne who has defected to the United States to fight against his homeland during the events of WWII. The stories told throughout the series are ones filled with dramatic moments and this one is no different. While on mission you discover something about Operation Kraken and then the game opens its sandbox up to take you through multiple missions to uncover some of the German's most devastating and secretive operations that, if successful, will hand the Nazis and other Axis nations an almost certain victory in the war. The story itself is done well in unfolding throughout the levels and you can definitely see similarities to the Marvel faction, Hydra, to the point where it's almost time to get some IP lawyers involved. Some issues that were faced during the pre-launch of this game were severe stuttering of the screen during the loading sequences but those seem to have been remedied.

The campaign consists of eight missions and a ninth that is setup as your 'ending'. Each one of these first eight missions plays out in a massive sandbox area that, even though incredibly massive in size, Rebellion Developments ended up finding ways to direct or funnel your movements, so while the map size may be very large, your actual traversal will be very limited. The best way I can describe this would be to imagine the map broken into 'sections', and while these sections are separate, there are multiple paths to go from one to another. While this greatly narrows down your options I would have liked to have a little more freedom in my movement choices. If you decide to go through the maps you will discover secondary quests that will allow you to earn not just XP, but in some cases weaponry and achievements as well.

These secondary quests are purely optional and the game does a great way of outlining that for you. Yellow targets circled on the map are primary targets where blue markers equate an optional mission objective. You'll also notice a red marker which is the mission's "Kill List" objective. This objective is also optional, but fulfilling the Kill List by completing the kill challenge requirement, will unlock a new weapon for your use. In one instance, fulfilling a Kill List objective by completing the kill challenge in one mission will automatically net you a weapon you need for a kill challenge in a later level.

These levels are unique and visually there are some distinct differences which make every level feel special in their own way, but for the most part Sniper Elite 5 seems to switch between lush, beautiful scenery such as countryside and woods with meadows to broken down and destroyed as you go throughout the war efforts and see the outcome of them. While you may be thinking that these maps are limited in movement, and with only eight, rather short for a game, and you'd be right. Having these limitations could be forgiven if it weren't for the gameplay mechanics that you have to deal with every moment you play. Let me explain.

You have your basic controls as before, and similar to ones you'd find in third and first person shooter. With limited customization options, your Left Bumper can bring up a wheel for quick selection of your weapons and items. 'B' button crouches and held can lay prone if possible. Your empty lung is now more prevalent than ever. With different rifles reacting differently under various conditions, it's almost critical to make sure you have the right weapon for the mission, but not really. You see, this is a tactical game, well, it should be played as one. Granted yes, you can use your SMG and start emptying clips left and right and clear out areas loud and violently but being an army of one is where this game's soul resides. Being able to throw bottles, whistle and incite little distractions that will grant you an upper edge in battle can make all the difference and therefore make weapon selection AND your perks completely irrelevant. Here's why...

One mission I did a stealth kill takedown, now this enabled me to lay a grenade trap on the body, then a wandering soldier came by and saw the body, went over to it, examined it and blew himself up. Being nearby this allowed me to go search the new dead body, find a grenade and lay a trap on that one. Now with the explosions being very loud this naturally sent surrounding guards into investigating mode. So, they wander off and what do they find? A fresh dead body that they go to examine. As you can guess, the body got blown up by the trap. Which again sent more people looking, however, this time I loaded up subsonic rounds which are quiet and enable you to fire the Sniper in close quarters without risking much in terms of detection. Up comes the first muppet to look at the body, he kneels down and BAM, headshot. No one hears the round and they continue their search until another discovers the body and kneels down and BAM, another headshot. Tactics such as using your own enemy's body almost as a beacon can be highly effective. With tactics like this you can easily dispatch numerous enemies throughout the levels so there's no reason to really ever use your SMG. While you may have the weapon, I never found much use for that or the pistol. Think through your missions and you'll just need your rifle and some good aiming.

That's not to say that the gameplay is perfect mind you. Flaws definitely exist within. For example, you will need to hide and find cover from the enemy from time to time, however when your character goes into cover you run a high chance of the character failing at this move which can cause your character to be seen. The same inconsistencies apply to the foliage as well. While you may have bushes that are above your head, your character is somehow visible, yet go into some tall grass and they're not. Shipping crates act as an object you can hide behind, however, metal plates along a walkway that block you from the enemy's field of view do not. While these situations do exist, like the statement above, if you are tactical in your thought process of how to bait enemies, how to maximize your silence while getting the most eliminations, then none of this is really an issue to contend with. Remember, if you have an enemy 90m away and your gun can only be heard from 60m or closer, then have fun.

Finding that audible range though is all part of the customization of the weapons which are done via the workbenches in the level. Each level contains three workbenches (1 for rifle, pistol and smg) and throughout their discoveries you'll unlock new attachments that will give you the ability to shrink the weapon's audible range. Suppressors can dampen the sound, but overpressure chambers can increase your damage, so finding combinations that work well together can truly make you lethal. Get yourself a 'Kar 98 Rifle' and you can have a weapon at max damage and an audible range of 60m, combine that with the M1911 which you can equip a 6x scope and with more power than any other rifle than the Kar 98 and nothing will ever touch you. Sound plays another important role in the game by allowing you to mask your actions so that you can actually go as loud as you want and not worry about it. There was a time I even was able to destroy a tank under a raid siren and have the sound completely masked so no surrounding guards were ever alerted to the explosion. This is why tactical approaches can lead to quicker and quieter mission accomplishments.

While going through these missions you can play through the campaign or co-op but the new addition is the Axis invasion mode which means you can have an enemy player jump in and act as a Jager Sniper who will have a set amount of skills and can see their own troops, so this is a good thing, however, when pinpointing the sniper location you can also see which troops are being dismantled so you can get a feel for the direction and location of your target(s). You will find a phone in various locations which you can use sporadically to call out a general area where the enemy sniper is located but in turn can also give away a general position of you.

One of the best things that I love about this is how the game forces you to actually move to avoid giving away your location. While some will say that snipers don't move much and are more stationary scouts than frontline warriors and, in this game, though movement will keep you from being detected. Even if you camp thinking that you will get the enemy Jager Sniper and see them running the game will actually punish you. Rarely do we see games punish you for camping and being stationary, but this game does which is a refreshing aspect that forces action. If both of you never moved, then none of you would ever find each other. Sniper Elite 5 also offers your basic compilation of multiplayer options such as team death match etc, but the most excitement is felt in the Axis invasion, especially if you invade a co-op game. Good luck with that.

There is a lot that Sniper Elite 5 has going for it that makes it a quality experience. There are some graphical glitches though such as weapons being invisible and some other shortcomings that ding it, and one of the biggest gripes is the actual in game audio. There are moments when you need to listen in on a conversation to get intelligence for something nearby, but the music becomes a dramatic loop of annoyance that if it weren't for subtitles, I probably would have missed out on the information. This applies to every level but can be avoided should you be tactful like I mentioned earlier, but should you go loud and proud, your ears are going to hate you for listening to the same dramatic loop over and over and over and over and over again. Despite all of that however, Rebellion is well on their way to turning Sniper Elite games into tremendously enjoyable sniper experiences and one that I'm personally looking forward to seeing where Sniper Elite 6 takes us.

**Sniper Elite 5 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 ELEX II

In the entertainment world you have the big AAA blockbuster releases that have millions in marketing being pumped behind them for support, and then there are those titles that I'm calling "straight to DVD" which almost regarded as the neglected stepchild of the entertainment world. Upfront, it should be noted that ELEX II is 100% straight to DVD material, but does that make it bad? Some entertainment has become a bigger hit later on in its career. Can ELEX II do the same thing? Let's take a look at the latest offering by THQ Nordic and see whether or not ELEX II warrants the $59.99 price tag.

Before we begin, I should be upfront with you and tell you that this game has its flaws. When I say flaws, I mean this game has a LOT of flaws. Some comical, some nonsensical, some game breaking. Despite that though, ELEX II brings a lot to the table. For starters, the fundamental core of this game revolves around a dynamic choice/morale system. What really sets this apart is how it sticks to its dynamics. While some games will let you get away with things, I've had followers who admire me before a conversation and despise me afterwards, but we'll get to that in a moment. ELEX II wants you to make the hard choices. It won't hold your hand and even the random chance encounters with the side missions (there's a lot of them) will play a key role in shaping what kind of character you decide to become. This system is sort of faulted because the negative side is called "Destruction" and basically there's a meter that will tell you how 'bad' your character is. While this is very simplistic in its design, it's functional to a point. You can actually buy your way out of your Destruction. Yes, pay a large enough fine and that innocent person you murdered because they caught you stealing something in their safe will all be forgotten. Doesn't that though negate all morality? If so, then the fundamental core of ELEX II is flawed. Does that take away from the gameplay experience though? No. You don't know the outcome (unless you cheat and look on YouTube, but in doing that you're already exercising bad morals by cheating so the outcome has already been determined).

If ELEX II is a game that you think "There was an original ELEX?", it's totally understandable. Quick recap for you: In the first game, you play the role of Jax who is a military commander for a group of people known as the Albs on the planet Magalan. This planet was impacted by a gigantic comet that brought to the planet a mysterious substance known as Elex. This substance was sought after by multiple factions (Including the Albs), but for various reasons. The other factions fighting over Elex were the Berserkers (these people purified the Elex by converting it into Mana to gain access to magic), the Outlaws (these renegades only care about profit and using whatever scrap and weaponry they can find to make it happen and they use Elex to make more potent drugs), and the Clerics (this faction believes the comet came from their God, Calaan and use Elex to power their technology). These factions fought the Albs over Elex because of its properties, but for the Albs, the Elex was the focal point of their people. The Albs are cold, merciless, calculating and are the antagonist group of the game who are ex-Clerics that decided the best way to use Elex was to consume it directly, thus granting them exceptional powers and strength at the loss of emotions and free will. The game is about you learning about these other factions and making your choice as to how you will proceed and which faction you will join. Along the way you'll have companions (as you almost always do in games like this) and your choices will impact how the game unfolds for you.

In ELEX II, all four of the factions return (Berserkers, Outlaws, Clerics, Albs) but now you have a new faction to consider, the Morkons. This is nice and all, but only one new faction? Anyways, moving on... You have the ability to join each faction, but as you guessed it, joining one can close the door on others. There's also some more familiarity brought into the game from the original. In the original ELEX, your character Jax is shot down in the beginning of the game and knocked unconscious for a time. During this time the Elex was drained from his Alb body and he became weak (it's how the game justifies you building your character) and unable to contend with the newfound emotions that flood his body when it's off Elex (consider this the ultimate drug withdrawal). In ELEX II, apparently almost everyone on the planet has forgotten about you (yup you literally save everyone, and they say "Thanks, bye") and you have neglected your family and moved out to the wilderness to be alone and... fish, I guess? Anywho, your character has let himself 'go' in regard to physical conditioning (this is ELEX II's way of saying you're back to square one and aren't all powerful again) and you spend the game killing enemies, completing quests, reading books and more for experience. Gain enough and you'll level your character up which lets you upgrade your character's stats such as strength, dexterity, intelligence, cunning, etc. Along with that you gain the opportunity to learn abilities such as ranged or melee proficiency, lock picking, hacking, and even faction specific skills such as fireballs and chain lightning.

This all seems well and good and everything, however, there's a bit of a flaw here as well. When I did my playthrough I literally did NOTHING but side and companion quests, and by the time I was done with Act One I was already pushing over level 25 and was stockpiling skill and attribute points like crazy. Along the way though I discovered a secret; shotguns are your friend. To be more precise, the enhanced double barrel shotgun is a game changer. While I was doing these side and companion quests, I noticed there were enemies that had skulls next to their health, and just like you would imagine, one hit and it would be game over man, game over. I needed to figure out a way to beat these enemies and that's when I found the damaged double barrel shotgun on a Reaver (think of these as like the token enemy just thrown in there with so significance). The gun itself is powerful and when taken through the upgrade process can become quite lethal. Learning this I sank my learning point (LP) balance into these categories: Ranged weapon proficiency (and the corresponding branches of it), Weapon building (so you can build the best weapons in the game), Health (more hp), and when health was maxed, I went into Health regeneration. This was by far the best path I could find because I found three damaged double barrel shotguns (don't waste your money buying them) along my journey which I then combined into a singular double barrel shotgun. Three more damaged double barrels latter and I have another double barrel shotgun. Here's where the game's building mechanics take over.


You can then use the scrap you find lying around (that you're hopefully picking up) and combine that with some type of element, plus 2-3 regular weapons and create an enhanced version. Now I have constructed my enhanced double barrel shotgun I needed to try it out, so I venture north where some of the strongest enemies are. I go to a cyclops which has a skull icon, and I proceed to bring the pain. Because of the build I'm gaining about 50 points extra on my ranged damage, my enhanced shotgun is doing close to 200 damage already and the fire rate is unreal. You only get four shots but sometimes that's all you need. On the cyclops though it took a little over 2 full clips, but after that, nothing touched me. I found myself abandoning the quests and instead going right into these alien bases and focused on leveling up, and with my healing regeneration I almost became invincible. I then decided that with this new level of power I needed to gain as much XP from this as possible, so I sought out trainers and put my focus into experience increase, experience from reading books/letters etc, and skill and ability point increases. After that I headed back out to the alien bases and notice what was once giving me 500 XP was now giving me over 550-575 depending on the beast. Now the game was set in basically God mode. I had no enemy that could beat me. Health that never went away and I was leveling up like crazy (because the XP increases also apply to missions, so those 2000 XP you earn get a bonus as well), and it came down to trying and max out my character then. The story really didn't matter to me at that point in time.

Before I go on I have to mention a flaw with the weapon enhancement system that can work to your favor lining your pockets with a ton of elexit. Oh, yeah you have Elex and Elexit in the game, where one is cash (elexit), the other (elex) is a material everyone wants. Yet Elexit is made from Elex... it's confusing for no reason. Now, back to the weapon enhancement. Remember that shotgun I told you about that I made? In ELEX II when you have one of these enchanted weapons you will gain the most Elexit you can get per weapon, but ask yourself if you want to get rich quick, is that the best thing? Nope. Let's say you have an enchanted weapon that will fetch you 3500 Elexit, yet you have to make that with three regular weapons and each one of those pays you 1900 Elexit.

While considerably less than the 3500, the quantity is where you get rich. 1900 x 3 equals out to 5700 Elexit which is 2200 in straight profit. This is why making the weapon you want to use for the rest of the game is critical because then you can literally just start making these normal weapons in quantity and then getting wealthy. I hear you; you're saying that two of the enchanted weapons would net you 7000 Elexit which is 1300 more, and you're right. However, to get that second enchanted weapon you would need three more regular weapons which would be an additional 5700. You can start to see here why building these enchanted weapons is only good for the one(s) you want to use, but to get rich quick? Sell normal weapons. One quick tip I also learned, set the NORMAL WEAPONS to default to trash, along with every "other" item that you pick up in your miscellaneous inventory along the way (cigarettes, toy cars, claws, bones, etc.). The reason for this is because as you go around Magalan, you become like a hoover of items. You will acquire so much 'stuff' in your time it's like a George Carlin skit. You ONLY select the normal weapons to be trash because you use the damaged weapon versions to make normal ones, so you just keep making trash that makes you rich.

If you find it hard to make Elexit in the game use that principle, and then when you stop in villages or see merchants you can click one button to sell all your junk and just watch the currency roll in. What did I buy with my Elexit? Two things. Armor and shotgun rounds. I found three merchants that I could stop by and pick up a total of 700 shotgun rounds every day to the tune of 4,500 Elexit a cycle. I stockpiled my ammo constantly and always kept over 2,000 shotgun rounds in my inventory, which made ELEX II a walk in the park. This did make the game quite easy, but there were still moments of enjoyment. The big issue here is that the hitboxes in the game's combat system aren't very well defined. I've walked right up to a forest troll's leg with my enhanced shotgun, put the barrel to its leg, pulled the trigger and hit absolutely nothing. Then the troll got mad, turned and tried to embed me into the crust of the planet. Other times I'll see a flying beast off in the distance and I'll pull my shotgun out, pull the trigger and drop its health by 20% from over a mile away... with a shotgun... This made the combat system very repetitive because when faced with multiple enemies, just walk backwards. shoot and strafe side to side if projectiles come and you'll literally kill anything in the game.

If you're finding that you need some help and want to power level quick? Get yourself some Elex, Moonshine and bottles of Wine, and start making potions to give you skill and ability points (You'll need the chemistry level 3 ability first and a recipe which you get at merchants). The story did bring some familiarity because a lot of the companions you have in ELEX II are part of the original ELEX, and if you didn't play it, no worries, there are moments of flashbacks where they give you the cliff's notes treatment and you learn a little about the companion and their backstory and relationship to Jax in a short cutscene. In case you're already wondering, yes there are some repetitive companion quests (go here and kill everything) but they give you opportunity to grab some XP and loot, so take them whenever you can.

The biggest innovation of ELEX II has to be the modifiable jetpack. Yes, now you can play Iron Man as Jax since he now has a jetpack that can allow him to fly through the air so long as your rechargeable fuel tanks let you. Want to hover in the air and shoot down on enemies with your shotgun? You can. Want to fly across a massive chasm to another side? You can. Want to die horribly because you forgot to conserve a bit of gas in your fuel tanks for the landing from 100+ feet up? You can. Yes, this jetpack will quickly become your favorite mode of transportation and it's customizable where you can upgrade things like the range, speed, gas tank and even retrorockets. These little gems will be your saving grace and fire if you forgot to keep some gas in the tank to prevent you from becoming a stain on the ground.

When I was going through the game I did find the various lands to be diverse in their atmosphere and design, but sadly again, not to the level you'll find with other third person action RPG games, and that's disappointing. The graphics do not feel like something you'd expect to find on an Xbox Series X console. The detail in the character models and environment was lackluster and there were numerous glitches in the game's map section that was really disorienting. I was also treated to many graphical glitches such as rocks that looked solid but weren't, seeing the inside skeleton of my companion, and others that made the game feel like I would have enjoyed this more had it been released seven years earlier. With games coming out that provide breathtaking visual artistry, games like ELEX II simply can't compete.

All of this could have been overlooked if it wasn't for the biggest pain of ELEX II, and that is your inability to pick up items with your weapon drawn. Oh yes, you have to put your weapon away EVERY SINGLE TIME you want to pick something up. When you start to play and you witness just how much 'stuff' there is to pick up this becomes such a nuisance that it's singlehandedly the biggest fault of the entire game. Not the mediocre story, not the last generation graphics, not the clunky and unrefined combat system, none of that. The biggest flaw by a mile is the reality that your weapon has to be put way just so you can pick up anything in the game.

Despite all of this though, I really enjoyed ELEX II. As I was going through playing and thought that given all the negatives that ELEX II has going against it, am I still enjoying playing? The answer was a resounding YES. ELEX II is like the direct to video category that only becomes popular with a niche crowd, but that crowd loves it. Now the big question though, would I spend $59.99 for it? Absolutely not. I would for sure though, pick this up for $29.99 without thinking. ELEX II offers a continuation of the foundations that ELEX was built upon while providing you dynamic story options to choose your path, new characters and factions that enrich a narrative that thankfully continues. Faults and flaws aside, THQ Nordic created a game that was fun to play and, in the end, that's the only thing that matters.

**ELEX II was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2

Over the years there have been many weapons in first person shooter games, but arguably the one weapon most sought after and talked about as a "skill" weapon is the sniper rifle. This weapon is designed to deliver halos to unsuspecting individuals from hundreds and thousands of meters away. In the past we've been fortunate to have amazing sniper games that highlighted the stealth, decision making and even targeted kill shots, and now CI games has taken this beloved weapon and opted for a different approach in their latest release, Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2. This is a different approach from other sniper games, so let's dive right in and figure out what is a hit and miss with this newest entry.

If you haven't played any of the Sniper Ghost Warrior games, you take control of an operative named Raven. This individual is quite literally an army of one who is handled by a voice-only contact who provides mission intelligence pertaining to the various targets within your mission. Think of your handler as your guardian angel who is designed to do one thing, make sure you succeed. Throughout the missions you will engage in conversations with your handler about target acquisition methods, troop layout, movement patterns and much more. In Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 your primary objective is to dismantle an organized crime syndicate from seizing power over territory in Syria and Lebanon and are actively making strides to seize power and establish a corrupt foothold amongst the population. This is how the game breaks up your missions in to several different "segments".

You will see that there are only a few of these missions to select from and that's where this game's first blemish comes into play. It's not really a blemish because that describes something that tarnishes an object, but more of a deprivation move. The levels in other sniper games are wide open sandbox areas that offer a ton of options at your disposal as to how you wish to approach your situation. This game takes that concept and severely limits your options making things seem incredibly linear despite having a small sandbox map. This is caused by having only a few designated "pathways" that your character can move through, so total exploration is completely impossible. Let me explain a bit more.

You start out at an insertion point, from here you have multiple options or "paths" to take which is totally up to you how you wish to handle your objectives. You take whatever path you choose and that leads you to a sniping vantage point, which you then you can begin your reconnaissance of the surrounding environment and start tagging your enemies and noting their location, movement, etc. Once you've made your choice as to what your targets are and how you're going to proceed it's time to execute your plan. Once you've completed your tasks, it's up to you to choose another limited "path" choice to your next engagement zone. This literally makes the game feel like you're choosing your starting point but from there you just go from point A to B to C etc. whereas other games allowed you to explore other areas and were truly an open sandbox to play in.

During these missions you'll have not only multiple targets to eliminate but you'll have numerous challenges as well which is the heart of Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2. This is where CI is betting their chips on you replaying the levels to fulfill these challenges because this is where your primary source of income and unlocks come into play. Let's say you have a mission where you're supposed to kill a drug kingpin and the corrupt politician that is in league with them. You may have several challenges such as kill the kingpin with an explosion, kill the kingpin without raising an alarm, kill the kingpin while trying to escape, you get the idea. These challenges offer a wide variety of payouts such as $50,000 for killing with an explosion but $300,000 for killing while trying to escape and $25,000 for killing without raising an alarm.

However, going for one may lock you out of other challenges in the level because in every level there is a challenge for killing people in various "zones" without raising an alarm. So, for example, you may select to go for the higher payout of killing the kingpin while escaping. Well, for that to happen you have to have troops set off an alarm that will trigger the kingpin to make a run for it and allow you to kill them while escaping. The bad thing about that is there a challenge for killing everyone within the "zone" without raising an alarm. This is where the game will force you to replay the level as the game will lock you out of certain challenges depending on how you play the game. While this allows you to select how you want to play the game, you'll quickly learn that Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 limits you to your options in order to fulfill challenges within the levels.

These levels are basically broken up into three different types: close engagement, medium engagement, far engagement and that should tell you the range in which you're going to be taking on your enemies. There is an issue though that I have with the game and that is with the AI, no matter the distance. Let's say you're 1,200 meters away from a target and you line up your shot and drop them. Congrats, you killed someone, now a roaming guard you didn't tag before shows up out of nowhere, sees the body then sets the whole compound on alert. Now, magically EVERYONE knows apparently where you took your shot from. This is, I'm assuming, because every enemy secretly knows the angle and trajectory of a round that just blew off half of an opponent's head. Now you'll get incoming fire (which also magically starts to hit you for whatever reason) and if that wasn't enough, you'll get a patrol unit to come to your area and start scanning for you, and should there be a mortar launcher in the compound then it'll start raining death upon you as well. How is this possible again? I understand it's the game's way of going after you, but this is ridiculous. You can't tell me some random guy who just finished having a smoke and stumbles across a fallen soldier and now instantly knows where you are. This is a big flaw in the game, especially when you realize how non-realistic the enemy interactions are.

Let's stay on that example of the soldier who discovers your body and instantly showcases their PhD in forensics by identifying your location. A security patrol is dispatched to your exact location and enemy fire starts pouring in on you as well. This continues for a couple tense minutes and then *poof* everything is back to normal again. The body of the soldier you killed is still laying headless on the ground but what once was an entire base alerting event now just turns into your basic "meh" moment and people just go back to their basic routines. I know this is a habit amongst MANY games and it never made sense in those games either and I'm guessing that I'll just have to sit and wait till some company takes a shot at correcting that. This type of discrepancy is highlighted the further out your contract is located.

That's not to say though that everything about this game is unrealistic because there's one thing that Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contract 2 does well, and that is the actual bullet mechanics of the sniper rifle itself. In Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 you can use the money you earn in the missions to buy different rifles which are classified into 3 categories such as light, medium and heavy. And I'm guessing I don't need to point out the differences and tradeoffs (power for silence, stability for maneuverability, etc.) but this game allows you to customize your weapon from multiple areas such as the magazine, barrel, and what you'll be using the most, your scope. I should point out that I'm all for giving players options, but let's be realistic here, I have never known someone to say, "boy I want that ****ty weapon because this one with such maxed-out stats just makes playing the game less fun". This means that in Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 you can make do with a medium rifle for almost everything and after you save enough money you can outright by the best weapons in the game and go to town, but in doing so, will you honestly ever buy the lower quality weapons? No. So why have them then?

This concept also applies to a scope. You'll have one that offers 3 different magnification levels and no distance adjustment and then you'll have one that will enable you to see the individual eyes of a fly from 10 miles away and adjust to everything in between. I wonder what scope you're going to buy. Same with the clip. Your killed enemies will provide resources when you loot their bodies which can include refilling your primary ammo, pistol ammo, equipment and more. What this means is that you will always have 'options' for restocking and refilling ammo, so why again do you need to hold more rounds if you're almost always going to be full? Having completed the game I can say that I never once ran into an issue where my ammo went dry so I don't know why someone would waste an upgrade on being able to hold more ammo of which you'll never run out of. The game though does a fantastic job at showing you how your upgrades will impact your weapon stats, but being a sniper game we all know that sound suppression is key, firepower follows that next then stability and so on. To me this is a concept that many games have adopted and to this day I'm still puzzled as to why.

The upgrading though doesn't stop at your weapon though, there are new gadgets as well such as a sniper turret that can target up to 3 enemies, drones that can hit enemies with poison darts, and that's pretty much it. You have a mask throughout the game (in fact the only time you see any sort of face is in the artwork for the game itself) and this mask allows you to activate what I call "batman detective mode" as you can see your environment blanketed in a geometric pattern of orange lines that can highlight interactive objects, climbable ledges and that's about it. This mask can also be upgraded along with all your gadgets but there are a few issues with items such as the drone and remote sniper turret. The drone is a wonderful option for stealth, however, to combat this obvious avenue of potential spam, the developers put up "anti-drone towers" (clever name) that emit a signal that will not only block your drone signal but also destroy it should it get too close. Throughout the game I honestly barely used my drone, not because I didn't want to, but because there were so many of those ****ing towers that it made use of it almost worthless. There's another issue as well with the sniper turret and that's it's firing mechanism.

So let's have this example: You're 1,000 meters out from a compound. You see 2 guards patrolling the grounds, a sniper up on a high perch and a guard at the back gate. You scan these enemies and mark them for your turret (which maxed out in this example will go after 3 enemies) and you decide that out of the 4 targets you're going to go after the sniper. You fire off your shot to engage and you take out the sniper, now you need to press in the Right Stick to fire your sniper turret, FOR EVERY TARGET. What does this mean? Your turret doesn't just fire automatically on the targets after you pull the trigger, YOU have to control that. This means that using it to target groups of 2 or more enemies together is not ideal unless you're going to target the other enemies within the group because before you have time to pull the second shot from your turret, they have already sounded an alarm. This is where killing two enemies with one shot quickly becomes a skill you will have to master if you wish to remain undetected.

This brings me to the kill sequences of Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2. There are moments when you will be engaged in hand-to-hand combat with enemies and have the ability to interrogate them. This, in theory, should benefit your character by pointing out troop locations, supply depots, collectibles and more. I say in theory because normally after the first two enemies you interrogate, you'll find that the rest literally have nothing to say, and you start getting the same type of conversation loop and animation sequence which can be repetitive. Side note: This is why I just went to upgrade my close quarters combat to automatically loot enemies I kill from behind. We all know though that the highlight of any sniper game is to see the impact of your round upon the flesh of your enemies and graphically this game delivers on that front, but again, comes up short.

I was debating whether or not I would mention this, but I believe it has to be said. The targeting of the individual organs of Sniper Elite series is FAR superior to this game in every possible way. Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 does a fantastic job recycling similar kill animations that boil down into 3 categories:

1. You blow half a section of your opponent’s head off in grotesque fashion.
2. You create a nice linear stream of blood from an exit wound.
3. You see a faint red splatter and the enemy just drops.

That pretty much sums up the kill sequences using your sniper rifle and the bullet animations also become tediously repetitive to the point where I turned them off after the second mission and that's a massive disappointment to me. That's because Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 is a beautifully stunning game and delivers quality sandbox environments that feel unique to each mission. The little details of the environment such as running rivers, trees and even server rooms really help you submerge yourself within the role of your character. With all of this beauty at your disposal why couldn't you target an enemy's lungs? Or throat? Eyes? You get the point. Why graphically limit yourself to one of three outcomes? This monotony is why I ended up playing through a lot of this game using just the basic silenced pistol they give you at the beginning and trying to just harness my inner John Wick and just fluidly and rapidly dispatch enemies and use the sniper rifle when I need to.

This also isn't the only element I'm calling wasted with this game. The game itself gives you the option to have a secondary weapon which can range from SMGs to Assault Rifles and I'm here thinking, what's the point of that? Your regular silenced pistol will eliminate almost anyone within 20 meters that isn't a heavy soldier, so why again do you need a loud assault rifle? One may argue that it's for protection should you be spotted and a squad sent after you, but my claim is that if you're good, then you shouldn't BE spotted, so again, that makes the weapon worthless. I can honestly say that throughout my gameplay I never used that secondary weapon and primarily used my pistol and only occasionally my sniper rifle.

That got me thinking, why would this be more entertaining to NOT use a sniper rifle in a game designed for sniper rifle use? While the gameplay mechanics of Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 are quite clunky with regards to climbing, all other movement is relatively smooth. This is a blessing when you're trying to line up that shot at 1,500 meters on a moving target. This is also where I rapidly became aware at just how bad of a shot I am. Let me paint you a picture here. I've managed to work myself into a position where I have a view on a drug compound. Enemies everywhere including two snipers. I decide to target the snipers first and on Easy mode I have a nice white cascading line that showcases me what the wind is going to do to the bullet after firing, plus I get this nice bright red circle that indicates a kill shot. This then basically simplifies the game to "pull trigger only when red circle is lit up". Ok, so here I am thinking I'm so good that I decide to put it on extreme difficulty to see what it was like. I look through the scope and *poof* nothing. I have my basic lines from the scope itself but that's it. So I thought, ok no problem, I vaguely remember the direction, wind, elevation, and so on so I should be good. I decide to go after those snipers again.

I line up the shot to where I think it's going to go. Hold my breath to steady the shot, and BAM! Fire off a round. I see the bullet travel through the sky and the wind taking it where I thought it would go, but I noticed something. The trajectory of the bullet was dropping a lot faster than I had planned. Then the next thing I know *PING* the bullet hits a roof tile of the compound below the sniper position. Within a blink of an eye both snipers see it, instantly lock onto my position and fire. Upon my respawn I thought I would try it again. This time I hit a window which again, caused my location to be aware to everyone and my life was considerably shortened. I put the controller down and started to contemplate my life after that one. Not because I'm a horrible shot and the difficulty is off the charts, but that this game delivers absolutely fantastic realism when it comes to the firing mechanics of the sniper rifle itself. It really made more aware of the brave men and women of military forces who choose to become snipers and the skill required to hit a target over one mile out. That's where this game really shines.

Even though there are only 5 missions, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 does a wonderful job highlighting the actual mechanics of what it takes to be a sniper when it comes to planning your shots. Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 takes a lot of what was fantastic of the original game and improves upon it in many ways. A graphically beautiful sandbox game that blends strategy and gameplay into an incredible tactical experience and a realistic firing mechanism that immerses you into a real-world situation. This game does have its faults and shortcomings, and yes, sadly it has a lot of them, but that didn't stop Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 from finding the target even if it wasn't a bullseye.

**Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries

I've always been fascinated by mech games. From my childhood days of Voltron (yes, I'm that old), I've always enjoyed being able to control massive robots from within and unleash an absolute torrent of weaponry against adversaries to save the day. Now though, when someone says to me, "Hey there's a new mech game coming out", my initial response is one of reservation due to the history of mech games and what they've been able to accomplish. Recently, Piranha Games has released Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries onto the Xbox Series X and it must be said up front that this game is basically a port of a 2019 PC release. Let's dive right into the good, the bad, and the 'W-T-F' of the port of Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries.

In today's world we are interconnected to multiple devices, platforms and people, so when you port a PC game over to console, one would venture to say that you would also adapt your game to fit the platform it's releasing on, but not here. When you hit the main page of the game itself, you'll notice in the top left-hand corner that there is your gamertag with a long number underneath it. This is what I'm calling your pilot ID. That ID is what your friends will have to type in to add you to their friends list so they can invite you to a co-op game. I know you already have a friends list on Xbox, but this is more complicated and serves for multiplayer support. You can't invite friends to play through your Xbox friends list, so it's either utilize your pilot ID code and play or stick to single player. This is a feature that I felt could have used some refinement and adopted the use of the existing friends list.

Sticking with the co-op, should you go through the numerous steps to find someone who wants to play this game on your friends list, add their code to your friends list in the game, you can then have some control of content, but it basically boils down to if you want someone to be able to help you or not. Should you opt to be the dictator of your party, you have say over every setting, every repair, every upgrade, every purchase, you get the idea. This also means that all the responsibility is on your shoulders, however, if you don't have proper management of your resources (cue big upcoming foreshadowing moment here) then you have no one to blame but yourself. Should however your Grinch heart grow three sizes that day, you can give access to your teammate who can repair, upgrade, purchase, etc. This actually makes them engage in the game rather than just sitting there as you do all this behind the scenes stuff. It's not all frustration and dictatorship though with co-op, as you can take your single player progress into your co-op experience with you and build off of that with your team and then jump back to single player and vice versa. This is a clever feature that actually makes playing the game worthwhile in single player mode, especially when you take into account how poor the AI actually are in this game.

You have the ability to hire up to three other pilots, but it should be noted that you need to take into account not only their weapon proficiency but also their ability to grow and learn and improve those skills. While having a pilot that is 4/4 for energy is good, it's not as good as a pilot that is 0/7 because the growth isn't there. As you go throughout the systems, you'll encounter various areas where you can hire pilots, so keeping an eye out for potential quality help should always be on your radar. Having a quality AI pilot though doesn't always translate into having a reliable teammate though. Using the game's ability to issue commands to either all the AI pilots or an individual one, I find myself trying to ask them to form on me, and when some mechs that are used go really slow you can easily find your squad separated and not very helpful when surrounded by 4 enemy mechs and light assault craft.

Going into single player mode you will be choosing a faction which offers various types of mechs from light, medium, heavy, and assault. Each of these mechs not only are tailored individually and look independent but also provide varying types of firepower on board and maneuverability options. The overall map when you first see it is colossal in scope and at first can seem very overwhelming, especially when you dive into the details of the various sectors within the system. There will be conflict zones where you can do missions and earn resources (cue 2nd foreshadowing moment here) and you will find friendly outlets within your system of choice that will offer you deals on mechs for sale, certain weaponry and much more. There is a major difference between these two areas (conflict/other regions vs. friendly/home region) and that is with your repair work.

Let's be honest with each other here, you're going to get bombarded CONSTANTLY by incoming fire from various light attack craft to other enemy mechs and there were times when I would watch as one of my arms got severed off by a laser blast, or worse, both arms. Depending on your mech that would normally spell disaster but thankfully I had one rocket pod and some mediocre AI to help see me through the mission. When I was finished, I had to not only repair the missing limbs (which cost money) but also the weaponry attached to said limbs which also costs money. Now earlier I mentioned about managing resources being a foreshadowing moment and here is why that is. MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is primarily about managing resources. When you do a mission, you have your choice between cash or salvage or a mixture of both for payment. You also have the ability to buy damage insurance which will pay you for damage occurred on the battlefield or call in a bombing run from above.

Here's a scenario. Let's say you have a friendship with another faction and they like you, so when you do a mission for them you will have, for example, 7 negotiation points. These points can be spread out or focused depending on what rewards you want. So, when you are in the mission screen you will be able to increase the value of each of the factors (cash payout, salvage shares, insurance, or bombing run). Let's say cash payout has 0/4, salvage is 0/4, insurance is 0/3, and bombing support is 0/1. With 7 points you can do things like a max payout and full insurance or do 2/4 for both payout and salvage shares and full insurance, or any combination of how you want to play.

You may be thinking why salvage shares? Well, when your weaponry gets destroyed, where do you think you find replacement weapons? From the battlefield and market. However, some weapons can run in excess of 400,000 credits so when you're only getting a payout of maybe 1.2 million, to sink 400k of that into replacing one weapon can be a tremendous setback for your resources. This is why salvage shares will allow you to pick weapons from the battlefield to stockpile for when you need them. Not only can you get weapons from the battlefield but you can also get enemy mechs as well. Mechs, you destroy on the battlefield can be reclaimed as salvage. This is especially valuable when you take into consideration that purchasing some mechs can cost well over 4 million credits and a lot higher. To get them for free from salvage allows you the option to either sell the mech outright and get what you can from it (think of this like a bonus payout), or you can repair the mech completely and replace all the weapons on it and then either sell it or use it.

You do have a limited amount of space that you can store your mechs, but should you need extra room you have the option to put a mech into cold storage which will strip it of its armor and weapons and put it in a holding section. It won't be counted as your inventory but will be available if you wish to use it. The reason I just went through the incredibly long description is because should you be in a conflict/enemy zone rather than your own, the repair work will cost more and take longer to complete. Normally you can expect anywhere between 10-40% increase depending on where you are and the faction's respect for you.

All of this deals directly with the single player campaign where you can dive through the story missions and explore vast areas of space. I should point out here that the further you travel in your jumps, the more money it costs you as well. It's not uncommon to sink over 900k into a long flight, so make sure that you have enough cash in reserves. One point I need to touch on is the cantina. As you level up, you'll gain access to the cantina and its missions. Here you will have the ability to complete various side objectives to earn upgrades for your mech and reputation increases. You can unlock things like an increase to your energy weapon damage, heat reduction, weapon range extension and much more. These cantina missions can vary as well from collecting so many of a particular type of weapon, to killing a certain number of "X" type of mechs, etc. and are critical for improving your mechs for the latter missions in the game.

As you may have noticed though, in the beginning, I mentioned this is a port of a PC game that came out two years ago. There are still issues with it such as notifications when you have human teammates that they can hit "Tab" and other computer key combinations. This is minor in scale but is a lazy oversight and shouldn't even exist to begin with. Other issues as well would be that the lands and map layouts feel recycled with slight alterations to map layouts and level design. One of the biggest learning curves though, by a mile, would be movement. Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries utilizes a two-stage movement where one stick controls your legs and the other controls your torso. While those familiar with mech games will take a fair amount of time to acclimate themselves to the controls, for someone just starting out though, the experience will be a bit frustrating.

Learning how to manipulate both parts of the mech is going to either determine your victory or send you to the scrap heap, so to help me I spent a lot of time in the opening areas trying to do weaker missions but allow me to practice maneuvering in low combat threat conditions while managing a party. The game itself does do a good job bringing to life the scale of these massive machines, but the overall graphic detail of the game is something you would have marveled over seven years ago. While the graphics may not be all that impressive, the audio is clearly lacking as well. Poor voice acting and a soundtrack that isn't dynamic or memorable leaves you focused on the combat in order to maintain interest and that is few and far between when you take into account how much managing you will be doing in this game.

Despite all of this, Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries is a game that I love to fire up, sink some hours into and call it a day. Yes, the graphics aren't up to par, the AI is bad, the port at times tells you to input PC commands and there's so little combat that the game turns into a managing resources simulator. Regardless of all this, Piranha Games delivers an enjoyable single player mech experience that will keep you playing for many months to come. If you're a fan of mech games, then this should definitely be on your radar.

**MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 NBA 2K21

One of the absolute hardest genres of any game to keep fresh are sports. While shooters can rely on an entertaining (albeit short) campaign and thousands of multiplayer games going on to keep things fresh, sports games have a greater challenge because most of the time they seem like minimal improvements for full retail price which can come across as a cash grab, and that really upsets the gaming base which is something you never want to do. With that being established, NBA 2K21 from 2K is trying to do multiple things with this latest release. Improve upon the incredibly rocky release that was 2K20 through gameplay improvement, pay homage to a legend that was lost and deliver an incredible amount of content that will allow the gamer to spend countless hours enjoying their NBA experience. Has that happened? Lace up because we're going to find out.

As we kick off this review it's got to be said that the 2K NBA games have become the definitive bar that is set for all others to follow for NBA sports games. Over the years the series has taken the globe by storm with incredible graphic presentations, gameplay mechanics that become almost second nature after playing and delivering what could easily be regarded as the premier NBA gaming experience. A lot of familiar modes will make their return from the previous installments. Modes like MyTeam and MyCareer return, and already you will see that this is a basketball simulator, not an arcade style basketball game. What do I mean by that?

Well, in MyCareer you will take on the role of "The Long Shadow". Basically, you're going to start from the beginning of High School on your quest to become an NBA legend. Throughout this adventure you'll realize that your character isn't going to be some incredibly dominating player. You're going to have to grind it out and work your way through High School to one of the 10 officially licensed college programs: West Virginia, Florida, Gonzaga, Syracuse, Texas Tech, Michigan State, UConn, UCLA, Oklahoma and Villanova. Just like in life, when you start something you want to excel in you'll quickly realize that you're not that good and you need to put in the work to get out the results you want. In MyCareer that is through earning Virtual Currency to spend on upgrading your player. Microtransactions DO exist and sadly you get the feeling that unless you spend your real money to gain virtual money, your character will not amount to much of anything. This makes the initial grind of the game very tedious, and you'll rapidly see that the importance of that virtual currency (VC) is a heavy focus on making sure your character actually is somewhat talented. If you wondered why some of the pre-order bonuses were 100,000VC, now you know why.

Me personally I'm not a fan of this at all. I think using microtransactions to improve a character that you control is not the best way to move forward. I can understand a company uses microtransactions as a revenue stream to fund updates and future content, etc. however, to have your character development basically hindered unless you spend a ton of VC on it seems like a bad way to go about it. I understand the grind of life and what it takes to accomplish a lofty goal such as making it to professional sports, however, I feel that 2K missed the mark on this and I hope that moving forward they focus more on actually giving you the ability to make the same rapid progress without having to spend money on VC for your character. In the future I hope that there is greater incentive to actually grind out the character rather than pay to boost your stats and be done with it.

MyTeam also makes a return but there's a new twist with this that involves the next generation consoles. If you're making the switch to the Xbox Series X, then you'll be happy to know that your MyTeam collection and progress will carry over from one platform to another. Other things that will carry over are your VC (thank heavens for that), your pulled cards, Tokens and your MyTeam Points, so when you get that next gen console you can pick up where you left off with your MyTeam. MyTeam also tends to follow a similar feel to MyCareer in that you are trying to upgrade your team of players rather than your individual athlete. To do this you'll need some player cards and thankfully, unlike MyCareer, there are multiple ways for you to earn and unlock new cards, but there are times when it's still a gamble. Let me explain.

Think of this like a trip to Vegas; you sit down at a progressive slot machine and the more you play the greater your chances of winning are. That is the principal behind MyTeam and its cards. There are different tier cards that you can earn and once you hit that "jackpot" you're going to be hooked. To earn these cards, you can play online in full games or even 3v3 style games, plus you have the single player challenges. If you think you have what it takes to dominate you can enter for a chance to play in a real money tournament, and on the weekends 2K will be featuring a MyTeam Limited mode where you can earn a championship ring. If you earn all the championship rings during a season you'll then unlock the best rewards. The Unlimited MyTeam mode also returns with 9 leagues that you will need to triumph over in order to reach the premier rewards of the top tier. Also like life, there will be times when you will get cards that you don't want, no worries because now you can trade cards away, and since every card has a value attached to it you will be able to get the cards you do want.

One final note about MyTeam is that now the hunt will be on for the IDOL Series Collection. These cards consist of the NBA's legends from the past to the present and contain valuable cards such as a Pink Diamond card. These cards will ONLY be collectable through 15 special releases so make sure, if you want the best, to keep your eyes out and grind for those limited-edition cards!

All of these new modes though mean very little if the gameplay of NBA 2K21 isn't up to par. This release sees a shift in the shooting mechanics and has been known to be the feature that is the most critical of anything in NBA2K21 and it makes perfect sense as to why. What good is dribbling the ball when you can't hit water if you fall out of a boat? Basically, what good is the rest of the gameplay controls if you can't shoot and make baskets? This new shooting mechanic is called "Shot Stick Aiming" and fundamentally changes how your shots are going to be made. While this will understandably frustrate gamers, it will make the gameplay more realistic. If your character is covered, your target window will be smaller. If your character has poor shooting percentages then the window will be smaller still. There are many factors that contribute to the shot's difficulty and that is the same that would happen in reality. So, while this statement may offend some gamers out there, this is setup to make your game better so quit crying and devote some more time to actually getting better and you'll be happier.

The Pro Stick has also been revamped and now offers a wealth of dribbling options that make the play mechanics feel more natural. Crossovers, break down dribbles, various steps and fakes and so much more are at your disposal, and going through the 2KU (NBA 2K21's tutorial) teaches you all about this, shooting, defending and more. I strongly recommend that you check this out so you can get a feel for the game first and then adapt your play control to match the new features found on the court. Defense though still feels a bit weak with the primary focus involving you almost running into your opponent’s ala Bill Laimbeer Combat Basketball style. Hopefully in future editions there will be more of a way to break this down into a way that allows defenders the same type of play control that we have when we are dribbling the ball.

Graphically speaking, NBA 2K21 is once again in a league of its own. Visuals in regard to the players themselves look stunning, including the WNBA players. Even though the announcers and whatnot seem like a rehash from a previous release and the soundtrack isn't anything that is going to be standout or memorable, the visuals are absolutely incredible. Over the years the NBA 2K series of games have worked hard to provide an incredible realistic experience, and as the technology improved, so have the standards by which the graphics are delivered. What personally blows my mind is that the graphics now on the Xbox One X look incredible but what will the upgraded version look like on the Xbox Series X? With such tremendous potential at their fingertips I can see NBA experiences that will defy anything we ever thought possible and I can't wait for that day to arrive.

While 2K has done a fantastic job in delivering the standard in the basketball simulation game, that's not to say that the game is flawless. Actually, it's far from flawless if I'm honest. One thing for example is the difficulty set in MyTeam. It's uncanny how it seems like everyone controlled by the CPU seems to make impossible shots on anything higher than the lowest difficulty setting. So you could be leading a close match in Superstar difficulty and then it's like the AI could do a bounce pass that gets tipped like a volley ball, hits the backboard, and then the AI grabs it in the air, throws it back to mid court where the water boy steps in, grabs the basketball, turns around with his eyes closed and throws it over his shoulder backwards and makes it in. Also remember how I said you can earn cards and whatnot through single player challenges? Well if the challenges are online based and your opponent quits, your work toward the challenges don't count.

Yes, even in today's world you still can become the victim of rage quitting. Also remember I mentioned about the pink diamond card in Unlimited mode. Well apparently, you can only get rewards once. So, once you get 12 winds and unlock the pink diamond card, that's it. You literally can't earn more rewards in Unlimited mode. So... Explain to me again the reason I would keep doing this after I gain all the rewards? These are a few of the numerous bugs/glitches that plague the game, but thankfully 2K will go to any lengths to update the game and get things dialed in perfectly. Out of all gaming companies, I do have faith that 2K will keep updating NBA 2K21 until it's near perfect. The sad reality is that it takes quite a long time to update everything. As we know, NBA 2K20 was being updated for MONTHS after the release to make things perfect. You would think that after making such improvements that some of that quality would transfer over, at least in the main structure of the game. One of the fixes in 2K's patches involve a problem with apparently clothing that was causing glitches. Yes clothing. So apparently you could not have "Tall Scrunch Socks" while wearing "Compression Pants". Of all the things to have a problem with, no one from QA ever thought that this would be something important?

NBA 2K21 from 2K is the bar setting standard for NBA simulation games. It delivers the closest thing some of us couch warriors will ever experience when it comes to playing in an actual NBA game. It has faults and flaws for miles, but it also has a company that cares about its customers and wants to keep supporting the gamers with massive updates that improve every facet and function of the game while listening to the feedback from you the gamer. Not many companies do that in today's world and would rather consider you to be just a dollar figure to them. 2K on the other hand values your input and honest feedback, which is why I feel comfortable knowing that moving forward with NBA 2K21 you're going to get a fantastic basketball experience. Rather though than buying it new at launch you may want to wait until the updates have improved the gameplay and functionality. Please though 2K, GET AWAY FROM THE MICROTRANSACTIONS and work on a better, more entertaining way to get player upgrades and improvements. That is one of the things that will forever stain something this good. NBA 2K21 is a good, but severely flawed game. Once those flaws get fixed though, there won't be a better basketball game on the market.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Wasteland 3

What if there was a game that you never knew existed, yet when you played it, wondered how in the name of everything that is holy, did this game slip past you. That my dear readers is Wasteland 3 by inXile Entertainment. If you've never played Wasteland or Wasteland 2, then Wasteland 3 is surprisingly a great place to jump into the story. Hoping to deliver a strategic RPG experience, Wasteland 3 is priced at full retail price $59.99. At that price however, can this be the RPG experience we have all been waiting for, or does this game leave players out in the cold? Let's take a look deeper into the realm of Wasteland 3.

On the surface, Wasteland 3 looks to be an incredibly in-depth RPG game that offers you an opportunity to jump right into battle with your premade character pairs, or you can spend a lot of time going through and customizing your characters and their traits that best match your gameplay. Do you spend all your points on AP so you can always have tons of moves per turn, or do you focus on defense and become an agro sponge to your enemies and in turn save your friends, or do you spend it all on toaster repair skills, because what's worse than some bread with oil on it right? Here's a rough breakdown of how the character development becomes so important for Wasteland 3.

For starters we have the backgrounds. This is a new setting for Wasteland 3 and provides various bonuses (along with some backstory) to your character. Bookworm gives you +5% Experience Bonus, Goat Killer gives you +5% Critical Chance, Mannerite gives you +1 to Kiss Ass and so on and so forth, you get the idea of where this game is going with this. Now, you're probably sitting there going, "did I just read that a bonus you can get is called Kiss Ass?". Why yes, my astute reader, yes it was. Those are but a few of the many skills you find to choose from. Skills such as brawling, sniper rifles and big guns are very self-explanatory, but skills such as Sneaky S*** which improves your ability to approach enemies undetected for stealth attacks or Weird Science which unlocks science arms and allows you deal elemental damage to your enemies, is less descriptive. Choose these skills carefully because some of them will unlock various story moments throughout the game which I will get into later.

Next on the character creation tour we have our attributes. These provide various stat modifications such as Coordination which contributes primarily to your AP and Max AP stats which allow you more options in combat (a knife attack may only take 1 AP point in a turn, but a sniper or rocket can take over 5 AP points in one turn). Awareness increases your hit chance, as well it impacts your perception and ranged damage. Strength will allow you to use the biggest weapons and the heaviest armor, but you will have an impact in Constitution, Melee Damage, Throwing range and more. These skills, without a doubt, will help shape your character and your gameplay experience.

The last element of meaningful character development comes within your Quirks. These can wildly alter your character and experience in Wasteland 3. You have the option to not even take a Quirk, but sometimes the risk is worth it. For example, the Quirk Death Wish gives your character +3 to Max AP and gives you +3 AP, but what's the cost to your character? You can never wear any armor of any kind. Ever. The Sadomasochist Quirk gives your character +33% to both Melee and Ranged damage but in turn, you receive +33% more damage. Towards the later parts of the game, that can be quite severe. As you can see, creating your character will take quite a long time given the sheer number of customization options at your disposal. And that's wonderful because in an RPG experience, the more customized character you can create, the more unique and independent experience you can develop.

Wasteland 3 enables you to almost become lost in all the customization options that are at your disposal, but if you thought that was deep, once you get out of the character creation and into the cold, vast wilderness of the game itself, you'll quickly see that this game offers so much more than you could possibly imagine. Now as for myself, I can say that I haven't played Wasteland or Wasteland 2, and the post-apocalyptic setting of Colorado delivers an ominous atmosphere of both savagery and hilarity. You play the role of the last standing member of a ranger squad called Team November that is tasked with bringing peace to the states like Arizona and Colorado, but first you must deal with the offspring of The Patriarch. Think of it like this, a dad has offspring that grow up to be real a-holes and have amassed their own armies and power, seeking to take the father down and the other siblings as well to obtain total control of the region. Your task is simple; stop that from happening. Along the way you'll gather various troops to aid your party including a foul-mouthed parrot, a half cyborg/half chicken... Yes, chicken, and other animals that contribute to making your party highly entertaining. And in the end though, you need that because the setting overall is a post-apocalyptic Colorado that looks remarkably cold and miserable.

While the plot is fairly direct and to the point, and the combat of this RPG is familiar and one that will require little time to become efficient in. Being a turn based combat system, you will have to not only manage your AP between movement and actions, but you'll also quickly become familiar with the cover system which can either provide half or full protection. If your cover can provide full protection, then your character will receive a maximum bonus for your defense and can only be flanked to receive any credible damage, so you'll know where to look for enemies. This is part of the in-depth strategy that Wasteland 3 brings to the CRPG realm. While this may seem to create a combat system that is overly simplistic where all you need to do is create a choke point and focus your attention on eliminating your enemies as they funnel their way towards you, the open levels of the world prevent that.

Instead you will have to balance your cover, hit percentage, AP point usage, critical change, any penetration percentage, enemy cover (yes the enemies will also seek out cover), environmental interactive pieces and more just to stand a chance of making it out alive. Remember how earlier we were going over characters and all the details surrounding them? This is where all of that becomes critically important. If you like to try and tank your way through enemies and overpower them, then tailor your character to wear heavy armor, have a lot of strength, specialize in melee combat or short arms combat and literally agro the opponents and go smashing while your team hits them off from other areas of the map. And believe me, you'll be glad you have your team when you're in combat.

Throughout the game you can build this team however you wish and that's in part to how you play the game and your interaction with characters. Through intimidation you can force weaker characters to bend to your will and submit to your requests, but hard headed and stubborn NPCs will see that as a threat and could potentially turn violent against you, forcing you to eliminate them and thus possibly taking them out of your party, and the game permanently. Other times however, a few choice words can smooth over an intense situation which can lead to valuable intelligence and even a possible teammate or two. Wasteland 3 though does have its "decision" points where there are times when you will have to decide if terminating an alliance with someone is worth it to ensure the safety of others, including yourself.

While you're travelling and exploring the lands of Wasteland 3, you'll come across various items for crafting gear, weapons, items etc. and this again is where it is valuable to have competent team members who have unique specialties. What this means is that you don't need to have everyone with an ability to craft armor and upgrades if one person in your party is already very proficient in that skill. As you can see this once again points back to where developing and selecting what type of character you will have, and their skills, is critical. Now you will have to be cautious. For example, if you are controlling the only party member in your group that can do armor upgrades and they die and you don't revive them (because you're out of health packs, etc.) then you have no one in your group that can make armor upgrades. If I've said it before, I'll say it again; character development in this game is fundamentally critical. One way that Wasteland 3 allows you to deal with this is by granting you the ability to play with a friend through co-op. This way you can spec your character one way and your friend can complement or break away from your character with regards to skills and development.

One of the biggest surprises I found was the audio of Wasteland 3. From the dialog, which can be comical in its delivery at times, to the dynamic soundtrack music that kicks in between overworld navigation and the battles you'll face, every note seems to have been crafted with the same level of quality that we see in every other aspect of Wasteland 3. You can see where inspiration was found throughout the soundtrack and it goes a long way to making your experience in the game one that you'll remember.

Outside of combat the gameplay mechanics of Wasteland 3 are very simplistic where you have a camera control mapped to one stick and movement to the other. You do have the ability to map certain items, weapons, etc. to "hotkeys" on the controller which can be priceless to you both in and outside combat, especially on the harder difficulties that Wasteland 3 offers. The biggest challenges I found were navigating the environments. At first I would take my entire team with me and then when I would accidentally trigger a trip wire or step on a landmine, a lot of damage would go to my entire team which forced me to utilize a ton of my health packs. To solve this I would only control one individual on my team (who would be able to scout for traps) and they would go throughout the pseudo open sandbox areas and explore for various pieces of loot and disable whatever traps they found.

Wasteland 3 is about adapting to a situation and environment while managing a "choose your own story" adventure. While the main story is fairly straight forward, how you experience that story is totally in your hands. This is why I can say that Wasteland 3 is one of the best CRPG games you will ever come across. It provides a depth that would allow you a seemingly infinite way to experience the game without being overly complex and hard to manage and all the while not taking itself too seriously in its delivery. If you want a good RPG there are a ton out there that are a dime a dozen, but if you want one of the best CRPG experiences you can have, then you absolutely have to purchase Wasteland 3.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Railway Empire - Complete Collection

Before the days of interconnectional flights and transoceanic shipments, nations were dependent purely upon rail transport for almost everything. From vacations to employment to farming and commerce, the railroads became the vascular, nervous and skeletal structure of every growing nation. Game developer Kalypso decided to not only show how powerful the rail system was to developing nations, but create a massively deep experience in doing so. Going into this game I thought "oh I'll just hook up some stations, send some trains out and call it a day.". I've never been more surprised and more wrong in my entire life. Having missed out on this title back in January, I was excited to see what this game had to offer, and it turns out it was more than I ever imagined.

Real Time Strategy games require you to balance expenses with the resource management, then expand and dominate your opponents. This quintessential core function is Railway Empire's strongest feature. Starting up you're greeted with a long list of options at your disposal, and every one of them is going to happily drain countless hours of your life away. I started out with the campaign and decided to see just how Kalypso decided to tell their tales, and the campaign is broken into chapters where each has with it a set of objectives where some are required and others are optional, but all are time sensitive. This small adjustment forces play and requires you to start thinking of a plan and how to properly develop your company.

Railway Empire is more about managing your railroad company against your opponents. However, there is more to this game than just developing faster. You will have to manage your business by paying attention to things such as the stock market, your competition and the needs and wants of the various towns and businesses. This is how the campaign attempts to get you to focus on the basic methodology of the game itself. Every town has supplies they stock for shipment while at the same time are in need of others. This way direct lines of transportation are established that ship from one city to another dependent upon the need. However, as you will see on the map there are various businesses that provide things such as milk, cattle, corn, wheat and more, and it's these places that need to be connected to various cities so that goods can be traded.

Should these businesses fall on hard times you have the ability to buy them, but auctions are also available but can become more intensive with your competition. While you may see it as a way of blocking an opposition from expanding their grounds, they may see it as a necessity and will bid high for this, putting it possibly out of your price range depending upon your cash reserve. You can also play the stock market though, which can provide you some ample cash injection should you strike it big. To adequately manage this side aspect of the game though requires tremendous diligence as you will constantly have to micromanage the investments, but for now, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Back to the campaign.

Railway Empire's learning curve is steep; very, very steep. I hit the start button and I said to myself "self, why is there a highlighted blinking circle on the Tips & Tricks part of the game?". 10 minutes into the tutorial and I'm digging deeper into that than a colonoscopy. The game itself will go through a tremendously shallow introduction that will teach you about connecting cities, supplying trains with resources, setting up side tracks with switches, establishing a maintenance building and that's what the game basically covers in the beginning. Now as you progress, the game will take you through the rest of the menus in again, a very anemic way which will, once again, have you looking at tips and tricks to see if there's something that can help you.

One of the big aspects of the campaign involves the research tree. Before I get into the research though, let me touch on how the game expands and some resource management. Throughout the game your cities will grow in size based on the happiness of the people. This comes by meeting the needs of the city while setting it up to sell its goods and have an economy stream of its own. When the population expands, the city grows, and when it grows you can start to generate some businesses that can start producing better quality items should the resources be available. All of these take time to produce and require large sums of cash to begin with, plus as stated earlier, the resources required will be tremendous, so start thinking of warehouses. These act as massive storage facilities and can house resources from other trains. For example, let's say you have an area that has about 5 production businesses near a town. Create a warehouse and have those businesses funnel their resources into the warehouse, then send a train from a warehouse to a city station. This way you don't have to worry about congestion, as you can have a dedicated line for a warehouse and a dedicated line for transportation between cities.

Now as you progress and grow you'll have the ability to expand into the research tree of the game. What this will do is allow you to unlock permanent bonuses for your trains, unlock new main trains, and even acquire specialized train cars as well. The main train unlocks will grant you access to more specialized and bonus upgrades that you can acquire by spending what is called "innovation points". You get a set amount of points every month, but you can also do things that increase that amount. A lot of these permanent bonuses can mean fantastic things for your trains such as shortening the time for repair work (yes your trains will break down), resource increase (your trains will need to have resources feed them along the lines otherwise they will not run efficiently), to increasing the fares you get when transporting passengers. This research tree is fairly expansive and will require a lot of playing to unlock but that's the beauty of it.

You'll already be engrossed into hours and hours of the game, and once you start to get over the learning mountain (no hump here), you start to have fun with your strategies and how you network the cities and grow your business. Which reminds me, earlier I touched on the stock market. When you take a look at the company tab you'll notice your competitors, see the stock market and banking activities. If you want to dominate your competition, you'll need to buy their company. To do that you'll need to buy shares in the rival company. Doing this early will undoubtably set you back tremendously early on, however, would you rather buy Apple shares when they were $20 or $400? Exactly. Should you wait, the competition's company will grow and become more valuable. Now you're getting money for your percentage ownership if the company grows, however, the stock shares become higher value as well. Once you gain 100% of the company you own everything.

To acquire the capital you can have some options at your disposal outside of just grinding it out. You can buy stocks as well and you have various fields such as consumer and industrial goods or food and raw materials that you can invest in. These can net you a tidy profit but take time to grow, so don't look to this to make you an overnight millionaire. You can also gain extra cash through bonds which act as loans for your company. While this sees a tremendous increase in cash, you will have to pay that back after a set time, and yes, there are even prepayment penalties as well. Going after your competition has always got to be on the top of your agenda because throughout the game your competition can do some serious damage. For starters, they can completely take over your cities. They can buy out businesses in your cities and take it over from you. Next, just as you can buy out their company, they can buy shares in yours and make money off your efforts. Yes, you can actually fund the bankroll of your competition, but that's business. Then they can even hit you hard at the auctions or even steal your employees away from you.

Yes, in Railway Empire you will have to manage your crew on your train. When you observe your train you'll see 4 slots for personnel. The train personnel are the two squares on the left while next two consist of your office worker (who impacts things such as faster unloading times, lower construction costs, etc.) and the last slot are your commission personnel such as the about to be mentioned Saboteur. There are many different types of personnel that you can employ including characters like a Saboteur. What does it do? Well you can deploy one on an opponent's industry or city and cause damage to the company which can lower the share prices of the company. Not bad if you want a quick way of cutting the competition, but beware because they can do the same to you. Your train personnel has to get along with each other which means you have to be mindful of the stats that each available personnel carries with them. If you have a good crew that will work well together and get along, then you can expect a more efficient train with bonuses to your income. Should you though have a train where arguments and fights break out then you will run the risk of them leaving, or being targets for your competition to steal them from you.

There are other personnel that you can acquire that provide interesting bonuses such as Promoter, Spy, Auctioneer, Bandit and many more. Each one of these is on a limited time availability and can cost a nice bit of coin for a high quality personnel. You should consider what personnel to look for and employ based off the needs of your situation, but I can't stress enough to always be mindful of your competition and how they headhunt employees away from you. Should you take on regular employees you will have to pay out regular sums of money but it will be smaller than the one time large payment to a commissioned employee.

Everything I've covered so far pertains to the game mechanics themselves, but doesn't begin to start talking about strategy. Trying to navigate these menus and options will take some time to get to become comfortable with as the buttons can feel a bit cumbersome as they change context from menu to menu. As you progress though and become more comfortable (I've personally played a bunch of practice and campaign sessions to familiarize myself with it) you'll get used to networking, managing and micromanaging all at the same time. And you'll be doing all of this while looking at some beautiful scenery. Railway Empire looks absolutely beautiful and Kalypso has done a fantastic job in all the details from the bridges, to the tunnels and the cities themselves. You can see how cities expand and how the citizens evolve with their transportation and society and all of which blanketed by an ambiance that fits the area you're looking at, encompassed by a soundtrack you feel is plucked straight from the 1830's itself.

The other modes for Railway Empire consists of challenges and scenarios as well as a free mode sandbox that allows you to experiment and try out new strategies and methods, but I strongly suggest you go through the campaign to get used to the game, the mechanics and the initial strategy of the game itself. Once you progress through the game and become comfortable with how you plan your operation, then think about venturing into the scenarios to test your abilities.

When you start to think of the depth of involvement that trains played in the beginning years of any developing nations, Kalypso has done a masterful job in delivering an experience that will leave you captivated and challenged for hours. Railway Empire is beyond deep with the amount of content and management that you will have to commit to, but at the same time it looks beautiful, sounds authentic and provides a level of strategy that will have you wonder where the last few weeks of your life went. Now when you combine all the DLC that has been released since January, Kalypso has bundled this incredible experience together for only $40 which makes this one of the best investments you can make on the Xbox One and should definitely be experienced.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 F1 2020

Lauda, Senna, Schumacher. What you just read are three names that have changed F1 racing for eternity. Just as teams such as McLaren and Ferrari have impacted the automotive world, the drivers of these very cars are the quintessential key to understanding the potential power that is quite literally in your very hands behind the wheel. Codemasters for years has been trying to develop a quality F1 racing game, and this year they put Schumacher's name to the game. For those who need to be brought up to speed, Michael Schumacher is arguably the greatest F1 driver ever to have existed. He started in 306 races during his career, winning 91 of them and taking 68 pole positions. Sadly, on December 29, 2013 Michael Schumacher suffered a skiing accident and spent 6 months in a medically induced coma, and while alive, his status as of today remains shrouded. If Codemasters is going to put this legend's name on their game, personally speaking, they better do it right.

They surpassed all expectations.

While Codemasters' F1 games have been decent in the past, you kept feeling like there were things missing and things weren't polished enough, but in F1 2020 you get the sensation that everything you ever wanted in and F1 game has finally come to fruition and in a way that is purely spectacular. Normally you can expect racing games to rehash familiar resources which can produce a game that almost feels like a cash grab that we see in other games every year (Madden I'm looking at you), but not this time.

Loading up F1 2020 you'll see that Codemasters included a mode called "My Team" which is hands down the biggest success of the game. Yes, the basic driver's career is still included where you can go through as you always have, or you can jump straight into racing and time trials, etc. But My Team is the mode that takes this game into stratospheric heights. Normally, F1 games make you the driver of a team and you go about your career, however this time you are not only the driver but owner of the team as well, which means you will have to contend with all the logistics of being a team owner. You'll have to manage your budget, performance, schedule, drivers (yes, you'll have to sign a teammate), R&D, sponsors, strategy and so much more.

This literally added a depth to the game that felt like it had been missing for the longest of times. So, when you begin, you will have to first sign your sponsor. Here you will have to determine your initial cash allotment which needs to be divided up between hiring your driver and building your power for the car. Now, your sponsors will give you an upfront amount of money, however, they provide bonus payouts should you complete the secondary goals of the sponsor. These bonuses should be a priority for you considering that every week you have your weekly expenses for your team (divisions of your race team, drivers, etc.). As you progress and win races and level your team and drivers up, you will be able to select more sponsors with more secondary goals and more payouts.

One of the sponsors I selected had a secondary goal of do 75 laps combined from the start of the first practice day to the end of race day. I thought that things were going to be going well for me but then when the end of the race came and I saw that out of 75 laps required, I only did 74 and I was gutted because I missed out on over $130K because I needed 1 more lap during a training or qualifying session (races are set amount of laps). The negative here is that there's no real way to tell how much progress you've made throughout, so if you have a secondary goal like that then you have to pay attention if you want that bonus. Some secondary objectives can be simple such as lead the race for four laps and you get an extra $160K. These secondary goals may seem trivial, but are essential for your development of your team. How do you develop your team? Well...

After you've begun your team, you'll be tasked with generating a schedule. These activities are spread throughout the upcoming week and can range from 1 - 4 days on the calendar. You obviously can't do them all, and if there are any events that take a day or two out of the week then you'll have to make some tough choices. After you've planned out your week, you'll need to take a look at your facilities. This is where your team is grows and is divided into 6 departments (Aerodynamics, Powertrain, Durability, Chassis, Personnel and Marketing). Each facility generates weekly resource points that you can use to develop new upgrades for your vehicle. These upgrades take time and are not guaranteed to be successful, so if it fails you can install a lesser version at a higher success rate. The rate of success is determined by your upgrade and morale of the individual facility.

To boost morale you can invest into upgrading these facilities which increases the weekly running cost (remember you have a budget to think about) which also increases the number of resource points you can generate. If you can't keep your facility open, you may have to shut it down to make sure you don't bankrupt your own team. When you invest you can spend millions, so if you're thinking of emptying the bank early on then you're going to be hurting when your cash reserves are almost nonexistent. When you upgrade you can purchase things like decrease failure rate by 10%, decrease development time, work on multiple parts at once, etc. You can also boost morale by saying complimentary things about the different departments during interview sessions. When the mic gets thrown in your face and they ask you about how the car handled, if you give a positive answer then your aerodynamic team will take notice and they will get a boost of morale which will slightly decrease the development time of an upgrade and slightly decrease the failure rate.

After you've managed your facilities then it's time to get into the R&D of the game, and this is where you can branch out in Powertrain, Aerodynamics, Chassis and Durability. Each branch gives you the opportunity to improve various functions and features of your car, but as I stated earlier, these upgrades are not guaranteed to succeed and they do take time. Some of the upgrades you can't even get until you get through your first season, so if you want to really develop your team and make your mark on F1 glory, then you'll be racing for many seasons. To purchase these upgrades, you'll need resource points, so here is where your department management is critical. You can also earn resource points for your actions during the race weekend.

Your vehicle tab will keep track of your components of your car, the status and wear of each part. Here you can see the overall wear and tear on and how much performance you can get out of it before it needs to be replaced. The Corporate tab will allow you to manage your drivers, contracts, sponsorships and more. Starting out, my driver was beyond poor and finished in 21st place as his highest placing, which earned my team nothing, but if I want to sink 19.5 million I can buy Lewis Hamilton who is currently rated the best driver in the world. This plays a massive role because throughout the season if you're saving your money, when contract negotiation times come around you can either replace your driver teammate or negotiate the current driver you have. The reason this "Driver Market" is important is because it's based off performances. Meaning if you notice that a top tier driver is going through a slump you will watch their price drop significantly, which means you can get a deal on amazing talent (better than what you can start with obviously).

After you have managed all of this, it's time to race. You have 3 practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself. Now you can go straight to the race and bypass everything, but here is everything you miss out on. For starters, you will have various team objectives during the training session that you can complete for resource points, as well there are numerous challenges such as tire wear, fuel economy, pace setting, track acclimation and more. The better you do in these challenges the more resource points you get to spend and after these events you can be greeted by a news reporter who will ask you various questions which will give you an opportunity to boost morale in your various departments.

You can also tune the various aspects of your car such as your Aerodynamics, transmission, suspension, suspension geometry, brakes, and tires. The level and degree that you can adjust these dynamically impacts your car and your experience. The beautiful thing about this is you can read a description of what each modification will pertain to and you can test it out on the track during these practice sessions to see what best fits your method for driving and car development for the track itself. When you actually get to the race itself you can also customize your race strategy to either pit earlier and be on the track for longer periods of time or stay out longer and risk wear on the tires.

Other modes such as the Career mode offer the identical experience to everything you just read about the My Team except you're not the owner, you're simply the driver and can select if you want to start in F2 or jump straight into F1. You are also able to customize your race season all the way up to a massive 24 race season. Everything I've written so far is easily enough to make a phenomenal racing title but Codemasters isn't done yet. They have improved on the handling tremendously, so the car feels far more responsive, and you can really feel a difference when you start switching tire compound and go from medium to hard tires. This difference also applies to wear and tear on the tires themselves and can find you losing tremendous amounts of time as you start to lose your grip. This plays a massive role when you take into account the dynamic weather, and God help you if you're caught on the track with racing slicks and a storm opens up. I'm speaking from experience because one time I ignored my pit telling me to come in and switch tires and a storm opened up and the rain came down in sheets and I was stuck going like 20mph around every corner just trying to limp back to the pit lane.

Another neat feature that surprised me is that this F1 game can utilize Kinect. Yes, the dead peripheral of massive wasted potential can actually be used to deliver commands to your pit crew. You can order up new tires, new strategy, etc, all with your voice, or a headset if you're like the millions who don't use Kinect. This is one of the downfalls of the game because you have to hit the B button to open up the in game menu where you can make all these changes, but you can't do it when the game is paused so you actually have to slow down, take your eyes off the road and examine your options and which can be very costly.

F1 2020 also ticks the boxes when it comes to graphics and sound. The pit crews sound authentic and the engine noises (especially when you upgrade them) sound like angels blasting their trumpets with hundreds of horsepower under your right foot. Also, the menu music is sensational and really does a fantastic job at not being annoying, but rather melodic and soothing. This audio contrast is pure blis,s and when combined with the amazing graphical work, helps create such an immersive and dynamic racing experience that you'll never forget.

Oh, and did I mention that this isn't a full retail price game? This was truly inspirational to see the quality and depth of work done on this title. Many have tried to make a good F1 game, but Codemasters not only did so incredibly, they just became the new standard for F1. F1 2020 has exceeded any and all of my expectations and Codemasters has not only set the bar the gaming world was hoping for, but has generated a new standard of improvement and innovation that the rest of the racing game industry should take note of if they don't want to get lapped.

Codemasters put Michael Schumacher's name to this game and delivered a racing experience worthy of the greatest F1 driver in the sport's history. An incredibly deep and extensive game, F1 2020 has very negatives which is why Codemasters has released what could arguably be called "The Defining F1 Experience" ever to be found on Xbox One. If you are a fan of racing games, pick this up and you can thank me later. Are you in the market for an F1 racing experience that is quite literally second to none? I give you F1 2020 by Codemasters which I'm calling "A Thank You to Michael Schumacher".

Overall Score: 9.5 / 10 Assetto Corsa Competizione

So here I am bounding through Forza Motorsport, making tremendous progress thinking I'm a good racer. Then I hit up the Project Cars series and I think, OK I'm probably not as good as I thought. Finally, I hit up Assetto Corsa Competizione and I realize I'm like the John Snow of racing, in that I know nothing. Released at the end of June 2020, Assetto Corsa Competizione (ACC) by 505 Games hits the track and it catches the gaming world by surprise, not just with the amount of content, but how exacting this game actually is. Start your engines and hold on tight because I can guarantee you're not ready.

Starting this review off, I cannot stress enough how much of a simulation this game is. Read that last sentence again. Assetto Corsa Competizione is without a doubt the absolute undisputed king of GT3 racing simulation. Driving games are all about physics. Once they get too comical, they start to become "arcady" in feel. Not here. Nope, in Assetto Corsa Competizione you strive to master the physics. When I mean strive, I mean you will devote hours upon hours to this game for the quest of completing 1 clean lap. Let me explain.

When you start the game, you can go instantly into one of the championships (think of this as stepping on to a 747 plane for the first time without any training and flying it, thinking you'll make it, or will you crash and burn?). This is where you can recreate actual championships that have races that range from 1 hour, to 3 hours, to even the infamous 24 Hours at Spa. Don't worry you can pause and save and come back to finish the race so don't worry about having to block off an entire day to finish a race (unless you wanted a realistic experience). All the teams from GT3 racing are here with over 200 drivers, 120 teams, 24 cars and of course 11 racing circuits that were duplicated using laser measuring for accuracy. If the track is like that in real life, it's like that in the game.

If, however, you wish to gain a feel for the game first, you can try out the career mode. Here you start at the beginning at the Lamborghini test track. You'll be racing alongside a few other cars, but your main quest will be to set the fastest CLEAN lap time you can. So, this is where I decided to start my ACC adventure. I went through the settings that made me feel... well, insulted. I went through and customized my setup for a dry/safe condition rather than fast because I wanted to get a feel for the car before I worked on performance (sounds legit right?). So I use the Y button to switch my view to outside the car (the controls aren't really explained to you but I'll touch on that here shortly) and away I went out of pit lane to start my 10 min training session.

Yes, I had the course arrow on, but you know what, it didn't matter. By the time the arrows went red my car was already flying past 180 mph into a series of tight 90 degree turns. Having literally cut that entire corner not only was my lap time invalid but my car and its tires were already damaged not even a quarter mile out of pit lane. Oh, this was going to be fun. So, I approach the next corner which is a medium sweeping curve to the right and try to keep control of the vehicle. In doing so the back end kicks out which I over correct and end up in the gravel. I manage to get the car back on the road and lower my goal bar from finishing first to just get around a corner.

This is because the driving physics on this game are absolutely incredible. Yes, it's very, very hard to manage at first, but after a while, you still won't get it. I played 30 minutes of training and out of that time I only completed 4 clean laps and never got higher than dead last. This mind you, was accomplished with all driving aids on and the difficulty set to practically newborn. This is how unforgiving the game actually is. So, then I thought it was the way I had the car setup. Of course, it couldn't be my driving skills, right? *insert rolling eyes*

So before the 2nd 10 minute test run session, I go over and configure the car and what you can adjust is literally everything, right down to how the aerodynamics of the car impact the air around you as it drives. There are menu setups for tires, electronics, fuel & strategy, grip, dampers and even aero. The tuning options of this game is unbelievable. You can tell where the air makes the most impact as well as the downforce generated which help create grip as it pushes the car down onto the track. So, the trick is to find the right balance between grip and speed. Other things you can change are the controls itself of the game. ACC allows you to bind various factions within the car to buttons on your controller and/or steering wheel setup. Sadly, we were unable to test the steering wheel functionality, but ACC has partnered with Fanantec to deliver a realistic racing experience wheel specifically for ACC. Of course, since this is a simulation, I fumble around like I know what I'm doing and then I take off out of the pit!

Up comes the series of 90 degree turns and I'm thinking I'm going to take this like a pro and teams are going to be knocking on my door to lead their racing team. Well, in reality I made the car totally unstable, and as soon as I went to turn my car basically had a seizure, locked up and I never knew a car could slide so much. Oh yeah, I had made it totally worse. Restart and reset to default settings. Yeah, the customization of this simulator is incredible and not to be taken lightly. Now I'm off for my 3rd restart of the training session.

Opting for safety over speed I get out of the pits and I start breaking a little earlier, using more inertia in the corners to allow my car to accelerate through them. I start racking up the clean laps. One, two, three, four! I couldn't believe it, and let me tell you that this is a WONDERFULL STRESS TEST of the Xbox Elite controller... WONDERFUL. I felt like I was on top of the world and I crushed it! I was so happy, and then the standings came in. Dead last. Yeah, thanks. Not by like a tenth of a second or anything, no. More like 7-8 seconds ahead of me which is enough time to read War and Peace backwards, twice.

Since I finished clean I thought I could just do some slight tweaking on the next practice session and I could shave some time down right? So, the game gives me a pop-up that basically says I suck and should play the game on easy with everything turned on but traction control. See, to fully experience what racing is like you HAVE to have the traction control turned 100% off, not even 5% and the game points this out to you VERY clearly. So, I crank that TC all the way up to 100% on. Just try and stop me. Now the next session loads up and guess what, it's RAIN! Oh happy day.

Naturally now my friends decide to hit up a multiplayer match. Sure, why not? I've been doing so well so far. So, popping over to the multiplayer server side, you're greeted with the server list at the bottom, Quickjoin on the left and competition server on the right. In the middle is where you can select what team and car you use when you drive. The entire roster is here for you to choose from and you can also set your livery and your racing number as well. Once you've selected your team and you're back to the main multiplayer menu, the Quickjoin is what you would expect, but the competition server is where the real racing is and your access to this server depends on your rating within the game itself.

One of the interesting aspects is how ACC tracks your progress in the game with the cars and the tracks. This data is found in the main menu under driver (bottom left) and then click the rating menu. You'll see a vertical menu on the right-hand side that details various stats of the game. For example, Track Competence is about how many clean laps have you done on the tracks. Each track has medals to win, and when you win the medals, the track competency grows. Consistency pertains to how often you can post similar lap times, and should you see lots of yellow and red, mixed with green, that's not very consistent.

Then car control is interesting because ACC is grading you on how often you put the car into a position to get the maximum speed and grip out of the vehicle and essentially crashing or overdriving the car and spinning out. Again, unlike golf, a higher number is desired here as well. Pace pertains to completing events and leaderboards. The next is a big one... SAFETY. This monitors how safe of a driver you are. Again, you want a high number here because that can affect you joining multiplayer matches. As you can see there's a ton of data being logged throughout your gameplay and all of it is important for multiplayer. So anyways back to the friends and the multiplayer.

We head into a match from the server list as we were clearly not ready for a competition server and we wanted control of what to play. We start off and there's a moment just like the beginning of every race where you have to stay within your limits for a rolling start. We learned that the hard way as all 3 of us hit the gas and practically failed instantly. Once you complete the rolling start and the green light drops, the gas pedal gets planted and the race begins. I kept clipping corners and kept getting penalties, but I remained within the top 3, but then I was called into the pit and was disqualified because I apparently didn't know the rules of racing.

Being disqualified just meant I had to wait till the next game so I would go into camera mode and look at my friends and how they were doing, and that's when the sheer beauty of this game shined through. ACC is an absolutely beautiful game to behold. The car models and cockpit views look painstakingly detailed and the racing environments themselves are so detailed that you almost wish you could stop and look around you, especially when you hit up legendary tracks like Spa-Francorchamps and Laguna Seca. The only downfall I could see would be when you're in the cockpit view, the slightest move of the Left Stick causes your steering wheel to almost go into convulsions it becomes so jerky. You could be smooth on the corner but inside your driver looks like they are experiencing a serious cerebral medical condition event. But damn does it sound good.

The main menu music and all that is meh, and if I'm honest, I turned it off after a while. Why? Well for starters it's nothing that stands out as quality, and the real beauty of the sound is to be found in the cars themselves. Get into a McLaren and go through the various views including the cockpit view and listen to the engine sing. Now hop into a Ferrari and listen as everything is tuned perfectly to be unique. This is the best soundtrack to any racing game if the engine noise is authentic, and thankfully it is. Everything from a low rumble growl to a high-pitched humming can be found on cars such as Bentley, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, Lamborghini and so much more.

We decided to play another race and I was racing clean until towards the end and I got disqualified again. Yes, I know I need to work on that IF I want to actually finish a race. After that I decided to confront my training session which, may I remind you, is now in the rain. I set my car up for default on the wet setup and lap after lap I managed to finish 1st! I could not believe it, so I took a picture for recorded evidence. It goes to show that the best thing that you can give this game is time. If you can give ACC some devotion, it will make you a better racing driver, period.

Despite being horrible at Assetto Corsa Competizione, I have no doubt in my mind that this is the best pure driving simulator that you can find on Xbox One. That's a big statement I know, and I'm sure you Forza fans are sharpening your pitchforks, but hear me out. The main focus of making an accurate driving simulator IS the physics and ACC delivers a racing experience unlike any you can find on the market. While other racing games may be fun to play because of their entertainment, ACC can actually help you become a better driver because of its realism. Don't get me wrong, I'm terrible at this game, I mean absolutely horrible, but that's just because I have limited knowledge, which is a nice way of saying I know nothing.

If you don't mind being SEVERELY humbled by your talent and skill behind the wheel, Assetto Corsa Competizione hits your wallet with a bill for $39.99. Huh? From incredibly gorgeous graphics of the cars and tracks, to the detail of tuning and adjustment, to the engines that scream as they fly down the straights, to the physics that take the handling of this game to new levels,and more, for $20 less than big named racing games. I guarantee you right now Assetto Corsa Competizione just made Turn 10 and others take notice, and they should. Assetto Corsa Competizione is one of, if not arguably, the best racing simulator you can find on the Xbox. Sure, it may serve you some humility with a side of humble pie, but if you stay with it, it will become one of the most rewarding racing experiences you can have on the platform.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Disintegration

Have you ever heard the phrase; a jack of all trades is a master of none? It's a phrase that signifies that while it may be tempting to do a little of everything, the lack of focus will prevent you from mastering anything. This is the same theory that directly applies to Disintegration from V1 Interactive. In an attempt to integrate both FPS and RTS elements within the game, you can already see going into this the ambition on the table. Does this game though break the mold and find a way to harmonize both genres together in a fluid gaming experience? Let's find out.

For starters, Disintegration was directed by one of the co-creators of Halo, Marcus Lehto and his V1 interactive studio. This instantly perked my attention being a titanic Halo fan, but such aspirations have burned me in the past and led to disappointment, but I was hopeful. The backdrop of Disintegration takes place roughly 150 years from where we are now. Science has figured out a way to let our "existence" carry on beyond our physical bodily limits. We've seen similar plot lines in science fiction movies before, and like those movies, a race of integrated machines called the Rayonne rise up against humanity and without anyone to stop them. They work on enslaving the rest of mankind and forcing people to turn and become members of the Rayonne army. Cue heroic music now.

You play the role of Romer Shoal who used to be a celebrity grav cycle pilot. Shoal was not some ordinary pilot though; we are introduced to him as arguably the best (he'd have to be right?) pilot ever seen. These grav cycles can be outfitted and modified to increase speed, damage, etc, and the Rayonne saw this as a threat, so grav cycles were outlawed. Shoal though wasn't having any of that though, so he started smuggling grav cycles and thus broke Rayonne law. Well, it's not long and he finds himself imprisoned in a mechanical Rayonne structure called the Iron Cloud, which was run by the commander, Black Shuck. A daring jail break and rescue operation commence, and you not only manage to cripple the Iron Cloud, but also escape the grip of Black Shuck.

As your team makes it to the ground you come across a massive ship that acts as your team's base of operations. With a crew that consists of characters that we typically see in a party system game, although this time, they're robots, but with personalities. You've got your mechanics, scout, big tank brute, etc. Before each mission you can go throughout the area and talk to all your members to get a deeper sense of the story, as well as these "helper robots" that give you challenges for the upcoming mission. It's here that I found my first flaw. There is a LOT of dead space in this sort of "gathering area". I find myself literally quick walking throughout this massive structure just to talk to one NPC, and should you just press 'A' to trigger the conversation and then walk away to save time, the conversation won't register so you have to walk your *** back to the NPC, hit 'A' again and literally sit through the conversation.

When you play the game, you will see how the entire area has probably about 70% wasted space. This trend continues throughout every gathering point, whether it be in the ship or not; By far one of the worst aspects of Disintegration. After you've talked to everyone (or not if you don't want challenges) you will go to a designated point in the gathering area and load up the next mission. Here you can also hit 'RB' and switch to configuring your team members and upgrading their abilities and yours as well. To do this you need to find upgrade chips as you scan the environment, but more on that soon. Once you're good to go you can press 'LB' and go back to the mission and launch it.

The loading times aren't terrible, which is surprising given the sheer size of the maps and levels. There is though one aspect that really didn't sit well with me though, which was the lack of a map of any kind... at all... ever. These wide expanse levels and I'll be trying to go off the path to find secrets only to be given a pop-up saying I'm out of the mission zone and I have 8 seconds until I'm dead. Thankfully, this is solved by pressing 'A' for a boost and directing your grav cycle back in the direction you came from to return to the map. Would have been nice to have A MAP so that didn't happen, but I didn't make the game.

Speaking of the grav cycle, you'll need to get accustomed to its mobility, and fast. Think of these like flying command centers with weapons. You can direct your team and their actions through it, and you can cue up special abilities such as a concussion grenade, ground slam, mortar strike and more. You can also have them team up and target enemies. This helps a lot if you wish to focus your attention rather than let the Muppets roam free and shoot things. The handling of the grav cycle though is sluggish so it may take some time to get used to its maneuverability. You can scan for loot and interactive items by using the 'B' button to enter a scan mode that is similar to the scan feature we find in the Batman Arkham series. The downfall of this? You can't use weapons in this form, but you still have full tactical control of your team and their skills in this mode.

Managing the crew almost becomes your primary focus throughout all the missions. There is a button combination 'RB + B' and that will bring your team back to you, which can be advantageous, but also risky, as no one on your team seems to be able to walk backwards and shoot. They all run back to you, exposing themselves and not firing back. Should your teammate fall, depending on your difficulty, they will respawn near you after a set amount of time with limited health. Or if you play on the hardest difficulty, they're dead and will not come back. This is where Disintegration tries to excel in its RTS capabilities, but there really isn't much worthwhile to it as it feels unpolished and almost segregated. You can do either FPS or RTS but you can't do both. So rather than trying to work on molding the two genres together into some type of super hybrid awesome type game, you're left with a game with one hell of an identity crisis. But oddly enough, it's enjoyable.

This is the basic format of the campaign itself. Go between enormous gathering places with tons of wasted space, to a level that's vast and open and doesn't provide ANY MAP, complete the goals, back to enormous gathering place and finally onto a vast level with NO MAP. You get the point. If you want to achievement hunt, you'll need to really grind out some of it. When you scan with the 'B' button you can see that lootable objects show up with a green outline. Well, on these massive levels there will be well over 15 hidden loot boxes, and trust me, you need them. These containers can hold upgrade chips which you use at the party screen where you can upgrade your team members, as well as scrap which is needed to collect to level up. The kicker though is when you kill an enemy, they drop scrap; Yay! But if you don't move your grav cycle near the scrap, it will disappear and it won't count to you leveling up; Boo! This means in a heated battle, when there are dozens of enemies on the screen at once and all of them are firing at you and your team, trying to come out of the battle with all the scrap you need can be quite difficult.

These levels though provide some fantastic detail and beauty, and the artwork you see throughout the game and in the environment is stunning to behold. The music feels a little canned at some points, along with the voices of your teammates. While trying to create some type of unique character in the robots, the dialog doesn't feel natural and it almost seems like they were trying to create comical moments that don't fit the narrative. While it's nice and all, there isn't much in terms of character interaction with your team to create any sense of bonding which is kind of a big disappointment. They're your team and you don't really get presented with a reason to care about them. Not very human.

Outside of the main campaign is also a very anemic multiplayer system. With a stable of varying grav cycles to choose from you get the familiar sensation of "heavy, medium, light" vehicles that we have in other games, each of which comes with their own unique weaponry. You also get to design your character, and just like the campaign, you get a crew with you as well. While you may sit there and think, "Oh OK, I'll take out the smaller enemy team members and then focus on the grav cycles!". Well, if you destroy the cycles then the enemy team that follows them is also destroyed. So, there's literally no reason of any sort to go for anything but enemy grav cycles. Since you have a team in multiplayer, you can also give orders to that team as well, but remember it will be challenging to get your team to target enemy grav cycles with abilities since there's only so many with range.

In multiplayer there are only 3 modes to select from: Zone Control, Collector, and Retrieval. Zone control requires you to occupy a zone to "claim" it and is the basic fare that we've seen throughout many, many years. Collector involves you killing an enemy and collecting their "brain can". Think of this like Dog Tags in Call of Duty but with less enjoyment. Retrieval is a remarkably similar mode to capture the flag and will require the most teamwork to complete it successfully. Another massive knock against it, outside of the sheer lack of enjoyment found in all three modes, are the lack of multiplayer levels. There's only a few, so the repetition can become, well... repetitive. What sent me over the top was the microtransactions for the skins. Yes, you can spend real money or grind this multiplayer matchmaking for an exceptionally long... long time. So rather than unlocking via merit, these cosmetic items unlock either via grinding or cash only.

Disintegration had amazing potential and it still does. I do enjoy the campaign, but I can't forgive or overlook the sheer number of faults and flaws that exist within. I hope that V1 Interactive genuinely takes the feedback from the community and improve upon this game because I see the potential, but the execution is what prevents this game from taking flight. Would I recommend this game at its current $49.99 price? No. Half of that and below though? Every day of the week.

Suggestions: In the name of everything holy can I please have a map in the sequel?

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 World War Z - Game of the Year Edition

Last year XboxAddict got the opportunity to review the zombie game World War Z. While there were some who didn't enjoy this, and probably don't like puppies, or kitties either, we found it a wonderful zombie game that was a diamond in the rough, which is almost "unicorn status" given that it's a game based off a movie; and we all know how successful those can be (insert sarcastic eye roll).

Now that the world is gripped in a viral pandemic of Coronavirus, we here at XboxAddict found the timing a little eerie that we get the opportunity to review the Game of the Year Edition (GOTY) of World War Z. So naturally a game about destroying an obscene amount of zombies while a virus rampaged the world and claimed countless lives in reality, provided an interesting backdrop. I guess this sort of 1up's 'Dead Island torso' controversy, but let's move on.

Without going back into the detail of the core game review, this article will more focus on the content that you get with the GOTY Edition. Priced at $49.99, World War Z GOTY Edition comes with the game, season pass, one extra mission that is split into 3 levels, all the character skins from both sides, weapon skins, and also a weapon packed to be named later. On top of that, you also get some game modes to contend with (challenge and horde).


When you step into Challenge mode, take note that like Walter said in The Big Lebowski, you're entering a world of pain. Now, I'm not saying you're going to die a lot, I'm saying you have a very slim chance of survival given that this game mode offers up some pretty insane random gaming modifiers to make your experience more memorable. This mode has weekly goals that will set you in the levels you're used to, but the modifiers is where you can really get the short end. Modifiers can and will alter the game dramatically. What if you were playing a game and everyone but 1 person on your team were invincible, not just that, but all the damage taken from the invincible 3 went to the 1 normal team member. Or what about increasing the damage to friendly fire? How about the game producing literally endless waves of zombies and you having to literally run and gun your way through? These are but a few of the over 40 modifiers that exist within the challenge mode.

If you're lucky enough to make it through, you'll be rewarded with challenge coins which you can use then to modify your character's appearance. You can't purchase these through the store, so everything, and I mean every character customization option, will have to be painstakingly earned. But if you want that special backpack charm, like Rupaul said, you better work.


If you're thinking, "oh I really wish there were other ways to earn challenge coins!", well, wish granted with the new Horde mode. This is where the developers literally want you to last as long as you can before you die (which you will over and over and over again). You know those moments in the game where you have to defend swarms of zombies from overrunning your position? Well now take that same experience, but never have it quit and get progressively harder. In between each wave you'll be rewarded with loot that you can decided how/when you will spend it on upgrades (that will continue to carry over). If you can save some loot in the earlier stages, then that savings will come back to become invaluable later on.

Yup, in this mode you're going to be dying quite a lot, but that's the point. You collect what you can for your character, grind out the loot and experience, die and repeat the process from where your character left off. Now you may be thinking, well we have defenses that we can fortify and if we work together we can survive right? Wrong. First off, this new version adds some new "special zombies" to the mix.

You have your enemies like the zombie signal beacon and the screamer, but now you have this zombie called a Bull which is a massive zombie covered in police riot gear who will lumber towards you, but shoot it enough times and it'll get angry and like the Hulk will want to smash things, including your skull; very, very violently. Then you get the Bombers who... I don't want to get into trouble... so I'll just say blow s*** up, but they do that by running right into your group. As Aragon said to Legolas; "Bring him down, and do it quick." Other zombies such as a Lurker are now in the mix and these Adidas pant wearing zombies love to hide around corners and sneak attack you, so when you hear a snarling growl, start checking corners from a distance in case it leaps at you.


In some sadistic world, the developers thought, "Hey, let's make this experience more rewarding to the gamer. So how can we do that?" Well that answer came in the form of a Horde update back in February that applies to today. The list is extensive and can be found onliune(https://forums.fo3852/patch-the-profe020) but here's a small snapshot of a few:

• Rewards for beating wave 10 and higher are greatly increased
• Wave difficulty increases much faster
• The amount of resources player get is slightly reduced, especially after wave 20
• Introduced a limit to the number of defense kits of the same type that can be deployed simultaneously

Oh you're wondering about those challenge coins again? Well while normal difficulty Horde mode will allow you to grind and upgrade your weapons and classes, but doing Horde on hard mode will allow you to earn challenge coins. As if you needed to increase the difficulty to have more fun with this game.

One slight problem I came across, which wasn't mentioned in our original review, is that sometimes there is this graphical shifting hue that seemed to make focusing on navigation and targeting a real challenge. It didn't happen often but was distracting and really took away from the feel of the game itself. I wish it wasn't there, but it's a small price to pay for a fun and entertaining experience. For $49.99 World War Z GOTY still brings about a lot of enjoyment. I do though wish that they dropped the price to $39.99 (which oddly it is if you get game pass ultimate) because the content that is technically "new" outside of the zombies and the 3 stages is all cosmetic and things that have been released already.

Suggestions: Visual rating would have been higher without the graphical distortion.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Darksiders Genesis

Ever since there was recorded time, there was the story of Good Vs. Evil, Heaven Vs. Hell and God Vs. The Devil; the stories have echoed throughout all of recorded human history. Throughout the Darksiders games, we have always been treated to 3rd person games that were littered with impressive cut scenes that depicted the horsemen of the apocalypse and their battle to maintain balance at behest of the Charred Council. Now though, things have changed. Developer Airship Syndicate Entertainment has opted to go a completely different pathway and give us a top-down isometric view, akin to a Diablo style game experience. A complete shift from the games we've come to expect from a Darksiders game, but with such source content at their disposal, what could possibly go wrong? (Insert foreshadowing music here)

In Darksiders Genesis we get to take control of Strife, who is, for lack of a better phrase, the "Deadpool" horseman. His primary weapon are his two guns which are basically two handheld machine gun pistols. These have tremendous range so they work well in targeting enemies from far away, and as you go through the game you can customize their damage, but more on that shortly. Strife is paired up with War and the two are sent to deal with Lucifer and Samael as the Charred Council claims that they have been conspiring with each other. In reality though, Lucifer has offered a price that no demon would ever be able to resist; anything they want for the death of Samael.

The story behind Darksiders Genesis IS a Darksiders story that is done well. The game consists of you literally teaming up with Samael (as you always seem to do) to go after Lucifer. The game itself boils down to doing the errands of Samael in an attempt to get closer to Lucifer. It's something similar we've seen before in the original Darksiders, but on a much larger scale. There are over 15 levels and each one of them is a very large sandbox world that is laid out and designed to offer rewards to those who go exploring. However, there is a massive problem here. The map sections.

This thing is one of the absolute worst abominations of any map structure. For starters, you have absolutely no icon to show where your character is on the map itself. Think that may be a helpful thing? I do too. Instead of a very logical pointer icon, they have sections of the map flash to indicate that is where you are. That makes absolutely no sense and there were times where I had to go to previously opened chests or collectibles and gain my bearings from there. Why? Because as you navigate, the map doesn't rotate. You can shift the map around and even zoom in (which is literally the most useless feature I've ever experienced in a game... ever). If you don't even know where you are, the point of zooming in is to what, see a larger flashing area that you don't know where you're at? How hard would it be to get a simple icon that said "you are here" and put an arrow or a dot, or ANYTHING other than this. Sigh... This is a big blow, especially when you gather how large these maps actually are and all the intricacies within them.

Now onto another thing that is kind of pointless, but for other reasons. The characters Strife and War. Now you're thinking, why are these pointless? The reason is, when we first see Strife, we see a fleeting glimpse in Darksiders III of him going to wage war on an oncoming demon army. Now, in Darksiders Genesis you get to upgrade your character and unlock abilities, but that's the problem. War isn't how we left him and there’s no sort of "backstory" as to why he now needs to go around upgrading his abilities. Strife is the exact same way.

There are three abilities that each character must unlock by obtaining them, 3 distinct gear slots that you have to obtain to unlock, and finally, each character also comes with a unique skill wheel that pertains to their character. You have to also obtain these as well. If these are supposed to be the horsemen of the apocalypse, then why are they always so weak to begin with? I understand that developers want to give something the gamer should work for, but you could also increase the challenge on a fully powered character and get the same effect. Alas, in Darksiders Genesis you'll be forced into navigating the levels and figuring out how to access these upgrades and unlocks. Good thing you have a good map system to guide you right?

The game controls are pseudo simplistic. The Left Stick moves the character while the Right is where you aim your focus for your attack. Your bumpers and triggers do different things depending on the character you're controlling, but your Right Bumper calls up your skills menu where you can select X, Y, or B to perform a unique skill. For example, if you're controlling War, pressing RB with X performs a massive AOE attack that sends blades up in circles around him that deal massive damage and knock enemies back. If you're controlling Strife though, pressing RB with X causes Strife to move out of the way exposing a shadow clone of himself that fires at enemies with ammo that can not only pierce through, but also bounce off surfaces and draw the aggro of surrounding enemies.

The transformations into Havoc forms exist, and while we are accustomed to War, Strife's form is interesting, as he seemingly turns into a massive demon with some truly overpowered swords and what appears to be a minigun. Along with the havoc form, since there are two horsemen to play as, there is a special link attack as well. Let's say you're playing as War. You're killing enemies left and right and this little bar builds under your character's wrath that is your link gauge. After you've done enough action your meter will be full. During this time, you can hold down A and Strife will come in and essentially perform a screen clearing, Quentin Tarintino shooting scene that decimates everything.

There is a new tree that focuses on Demon orbs. These orbs come from fallen enemies and consist of both minor and major quality. There are three classes for these orbs which I'll call health, attack and wrath. This tree allows you to insert these Demon orbs into these slots that will grant you upgraded powers such as increased damage, increased wrath time/power, more souls, etc. Now should you match a slot on the tree with the corresponding orb (attack slot + attack category orb) then you will receive an extra bonus to your enhancement. This is particularly helpful when you also realize that the slots range from tier 1 to 3, where 3 provides you the biggest bonuses. This means you have to choose your orbs wisely, but the customization options are endless since you don't HAVE to go for these extra bonuses if you don't want to. This tree is a wonderful addition to the game and one of the best parts of it. To obtain these orbs you can either farm through the game's levels or you can enter the arena and go through all the stages for a really easy way to max them out.

The graphics of the levels are nice sometimes, good most of the time and meh sometimes. There's one massive flaw though in this game's development and that comes with the boss fights. Once you get Strife upgraded through the tree, he literally becomes a one-man wrecking crew with his guns. When he fires and hits, he builds a meter that when full, unlocks his full shooting ability and you can unlock a charged version of his secondary ammo. Secondary ammo? Yes, outside of the infinite standard ammo (which honestly, you'll use 99.5% of the time and be perfectly fine with), you get the ability to have different types of shots from your guns.

You can fire chain lightning like a Sith lord, you can fire a gravity shot that acts like a mini black hole on enemies or how about healing shots that act like a shotgun blast that converts shots landed on your opponents to health orbs (this is a GREAT way to survive long rounds in the arena but you don't get this shot till later on in the game). When you reach a boss, Strife literally just needs to go in a circle (if possible) and strafe and shoot until the enemy is dead. This makes the fights incredibly boring. What about those who you can't orbit while firing? Simple, switch into Strife's havoc form, target the boss and literally do not let go of the trigger. The damage inflicted will be incredible which will allow you to simply mop up the rest when you break from the form.

This hurts the game because Darksiders is always about the massive boss fights and you don't really get that sensation here. Sure, the character models themselves are big (sometimes) but there's no real grand scale since we are looking from the top-down. This is where I felt a detachment from the Darksiders genre. I would have given anything to switch into a 3rd person point of view for the boss fights and just alter the controls for a time being and really produce something incredible. Sadly, that isn't found here. Just like Dark Helmet said, "Keep Firing" and you'll beat any boss with very little trouble.

Another letdown are the cutscenes themselves. Done in a scenic still display with narration rather than actual movie cutscene, these moments helped showcase the grandeur of the characters and the roles that they play. I'll even admit it, I miss the old Vulgrim. Darksiders Genesis could have done so much with all the characters, especially with Samael. However, we do get the voice actors at least (thankfully) so I guess that's something? Speaking of the audio, that has to be my favorite part. There are scenes of choirs chanting, melodies ringing, beats driving and I loved hearing every minute of it. I think it was easily the part I enjoyed the most.

I would talk about the camera system but honestly, I don't want to beat a dead horse... I'll just say that it's fixed position would be OK if there was absolutely never any level design feature that would have served better through a rotational camera. Say when trying to traverse around poles, ledges and performing jumps and glides that require precision. Think of the camera system like the quality of "map 2.0" and that should sum up how absolutely terrible it can be at times. OK so I did actually talk about the camera, you'll be glad I did.

Darksiders Genesis is heavily flawed. If you're thinking it's simply Diablo with a Darksiders skin you're going to be disappointed. Darksiders Genesis is a cheap Diablo knockoff that doesn't provide the same spectacle that made the previous 3 games the iconic status that they are. Despite all of that though, I LOVE DARKSIDERS GENESIS. Yes I'll tolerate the worst map ever, a camera and movement system that makes me want to hunt down the developers and deal with all the problems of level design and boss development, because I enjoyed playing the hell out of it. A game doesn't have to be perfect to be fun and Darksiders Genesis proves that to be true.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Zombie Army 4: Dead War

Zombie shooters have been popular for ages. Wielding weapons that unleash tremendous amounts of punishment, caution is thrown to the wind and you live and die by your ammo count. Rebellion has thrown their hat into the ring with Zombie Army 4: Dead War, and if you ever wanted a game where you literally killed everything you see, this is it. Stealth has been replaced by survival and Rebellion has decided that while killing Hitler in the Sniper Elite games was fun, killing zombie Hitler and his army of the dead would be even more so. Because why not right? Let's see if Rebellion can take a bite out of the Zombie shooter genre.

The premise of the game itself couldn't be simpler. The main hero from the Sniper Elite series returns, Karl Fairburne, and he has been called into action because of a "Plan B" that Hitler was working on; a way to raise the dead and have an unlimited army at his control. Well, in war, there's no shortage of bodies, so you can imagine the size of the army that you're up against. It’s up to you to go back into the fight and this time, kill Hitler... umm... again. I guess make him more dead this time. If we are honest with each other though, playing this game for the story makes as much sense as having a screen door as your boat hull.

That story will carry you through vast, detailed terrains that follow a basic formula, to create chokepoints and force action upon you. It sets the pace of the game well and allows you to have moments when you can catch your breath and reload. While you navigate these sandbox levels you'll come face to face with some of the most incredible undead enemies you've ever faced. Hitler wasn't playing around, and because this game doesn't take itself too seriously you can expect some insane, over the top moments. Sure, you have your basic walking zombie, but this is Zombie Army 4 and it's time to go big. Ever face a colossal zombie great white shark? What if you had a zombie tank coming after you? If you want to survive you have to balance your stamina and utilize your environment to your benefit.

The environment itself is unique throughout the levels. With a wide-open sandbox at your disposal you have many paths before you. Each level provides it's unique "feel" and that really helped break up the monotony of go here, shoot everything and repeat. Also, I was a big fan of the lighting effects in the game and yes, being a zombie game doesn't mean bright and colorful, but what is done with fire and the light sources is done brilliantly. The levels do look amazing, but at the same time, provide some shortcomings. For example, they are done with such detail that there were some incredibly creepy moments right from the start. However, on the negative side, there are graphical glitches sometimes with the kill cam along with the environment itself. None of the glitches were anything that became game breaking, but even though there were some negative ones, there were some weird ones as well.

There was a typewriter that was sitting in a room that had debris in it and I could interact with it, so I did and the type writer prints up a message on a blank page that says "They want to play with you..." and then the paper goes back into the typewriter. I interact with it again and it says "HAHAHAHAHA...". I repeat the process and this time the message says "Don't look behind you...". So of course, I do and there's 6 Anabelle-like dolls with a pentagram in blood on the wall behind them and they screamed so loud it almost made my ears hurt before they vanished. I went back to the typewriter and it kept giving me different messages (over 20) but no repeat of the dolls. This level of detail is amazing to experience all throughout the game and really adds to the enjoyment. You know what else adds enjoyment to a zombie game? Guns. Lots of guns.

This is Rebellion and their Sniper Elite weapon customization makes a wonderful return in Zombie Army 4, and being a zombie game, we just can't have weapons without ways of customizing and upgrading them. Through the use of upgrade kits you can go to town on your favorite weapons and really turn them into items of immense damage. Thankfully you'll be able to see what the stats are of weapons so you can choose which one works best for your style of play. For example, some weapons allow you to opt for "healing bullets" over increase in damage output. Yes, shooting your teammate with bullets will heal them. It's a zombie game, I don't know. Even handguns can become powerful hand cannons if upgraded properly, so make sure to keep an eye out for upgrade kits. You can find upgrade kits throughout the levels, but you can also gain them for completing challenges. Each level gives you challenges and upon completion of them, you can earn upgrade kits as well. I found that this tremendously helped the replayability factor for the story levels.

I cannot stress enough though how your chances of survival increase dramatically with the increase in ammo storage. As your character levels up themselves you'll be able to use perks which will become a blessing as you literally will have moments when you see no end in sight. Use these perks wisely and you will make it out alive. Thankfully to do that, your control scheme from previous Sniper Elite games makes a return, and the more modern setup makes for a hell of a lot of fun, especially when that kill cam gives you that zoomed-in-gan-explosion.

Although, what would a good zombie game be without a horde mode right? Rebellion has you covered. Their horde mode is what you would come to expect from other games and requires tremendous teamwork to survive. You get an option to leave around wave 12 and this is the game basically giving you that last chance, because once you get into wave 13, you're there till you drop. This mode is incredibly fun, and I can easily see how this will drain many, many hours out of your life and each one will leave you smiling ear to ear.

Rebellion absolutely killed it with this release of Zombie Army 4: Dead War. Everything we love from the Sniper Elite series is tailored into an intense yet amazing experience that will satisfy any zombie craving you could ever want. When you take a game concept and simplify it, you have a greater chance at perfection and Rebellion came damn close. A few graphical bugs were really the only negatives, which is honestly, an amazing thing to say given how other top tier games have far more going wrong for it. Priced at $49.99, Zombie Army 4: Dead War is one of the best shooters for value that you can find on the market.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition

Hot on the heels of the groundbreaking Baldur's Gate I & II Enhanced Editions, Beamdog is at it again bringing the spectacular world of D&D to life in both Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale, and both releases are getting the "Enhanced Edition" treatment. Both games offer you a top down view that we all have come to love, but there are some dramatic differences between the two games. This means that there are some new tweaks and changes, but is this going to be enough to deliver a quality gaming experience, or should we retire these titles to the oblivion of the past?

I say the past because these games both came out around the turn of the century when many of you who may be reading this now weren't even born yet. Back in the gaming days of old, game developers needed to keep people playing their games even without DLC to purchase. They did that by making their games incredibly challenging, and we find that tradition hasn't been broken in this bundled release, also offering options for gamers to experience the game utilizing real D&D 2nd Edition rulesets. Without question, one of the largest innovations relating to difficulty to come from this new release has to be the Story mode difficulty in Icewind Dale, which actually eliminates the chance for your character to perish. Think of this as the ultimate easy mode for those who wish to enjoy the story of the game itself.

In Planescape: Torment however, you may wish for that ease of difficulty. Planescape opens with a classic computer-generated introduction movie that sets the stage for your character who wakes from certain death with amnesia and can't remember things such as, who they are, how they got there or whom put them there. Utilizing the guide at the beginning that happens to be a talking skull named Morte, you'll be guided through the walkthrough and then you and your team will be diving into the story which unfolds as you experience some of the best quality writing that can be found in a RPG.

Planescape: Torment's graphics don't appear to be as dynamic as Icewind, or even Baldur's Gate, so out of all the recent D&D releases, this one stands out as the weakest graphically, but the real downfall of this game involves the combat itself. With the hidden roll system determining your fate, there are numerous times when you think your character will easily defeat an enemy, only to suffer mortal wounds as your blows miss wildly and yet, somehow, the opponents you face don't seem to be so unlucky. This type of imbalance isn't found in Icewind and is a dynamic contrast in gameplay that may not have aged so well. That isn't though to say that there's no joy to be found though.

With what could be argued as one of the most dynamic storylines ever written, the audio that blankets this game comes to life by the dialogue that is presented throughout the game itself. While the combat may be challenging and the graphics on the mediocre side, it goes a long way that the audio of this game actually does more for the delivery of the story than anything else. These details are very apparent as well when you start talking about who should join your party and jumping into their histories. The level of detail far exceeds what we will see on most modern-day games today and highlights something that seems to have been lost over the ages; quality storytelling.

The companion title to Planescape: Torment is Icewind Dale, and as stated earlier, offers a little bit easier setting for those who wish to just pick up and jump right in. This is also where you will find a more traditional D&D experience with character creation, party creation and so forth. The gameplay does offer some areas to explore, but for the most part, gamers will find themselves more along a predetermined pathway with the core focus being combat. Already graphically better than Planescape, Icewind Dale tells the story of Jerrod who makes the typical ultra-hero move and sacrifices himself to save the land from an army of evil creatures, and then picks up the story right with your party.

While Icewind Dale packs a tremendous amount of new content, the biggest inclusion has to be cross platform multiplayer. Yes, you read that correctly. Now you can play with other people on other platforms right on your Xbox One! In today's world when we have games that come out that don't offer multiplayer even on the same platform, to offer this on a game that came out back at the turn of the century is pretty amazing and should sound an alarm to all developers that if a game that is almost 2 decades old can do this, so can they.

There are a couple of gripes though that I must touch on. First, in Icewind Dale, the combat can become so hectic at times that it's not uncommon for you to lose all objectivity within the battle. This makes party management absolutely critical and can make you more than dependent upon the ability to pause, survey the action going on and then queue up commands. The next issue is shared amongst both titles, and that is the menu system. While both share a similar menu system, both are equally cumbersome and derail a lot of momentum that the game itself builds for the audience. While these may seem like small issues, when you take into account how often you'll be trying to navigate the menu systems or pausing to direct the combat and make sure you don't lose your grip on the battle, they rapidly become pretty large over time.

Despite these faults, Beamdog has done something that, until it was released, was only a myth. With the release of Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Editions, Beamdog has once again delivered an experience that will last well over 200 hours combined and produce stories that will captivate your imagination and leave you spellbound. What would normally cost you $49.99 is currently on sale and can be found for only $29.99, which makes this release from Beamdog a must have for anyone who is a fan of RPG games.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts

There are few first-person shooter games that prioritize stealth, adaptation and military tactics. For the most part, it's the same methodology that we've experienced for decades. Spawn in, run around, kill people, die, respawn and repeat. This formula is literally the foundation of a lot of games, but what if there was a game that challenged that status quo? CI Games tries to tackle that very notion with their latest installment of their Sniper Ghost Warrior games, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts. Let's take a look through our scope and see just what this latest release is all about. Stay focused Seeker.

The last word of that title should already tell us a few things. First off, this really isn't a sequel to Sniper Ghost Warrior 3, and the word Contracts indicate multiple options/targets. In Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts (SGWC) you play the role of a Seeker. One who is contracted out for a variety of specific tasks and paid accordingly by your boss, The Handler. Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts takes place after Siberia went to war for independence against Russia, and in typical fashion, once the war was over, the corrupt took over, which is where you come in. The game is split into 5 massive sandbox areas, and while you may be sitting there and think, "only 5 areas?", what you would be missing is the fact that the size of these areas permits you to actively pursue multiple targets however you wish. To do that, you'll need some gear.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts offers up a few pieces of kit. You have throwable items such as throwing knives, frag grenades, EMP grenades, flashbangs, etc. and you have items that you can plant such as warning detectors (you plant them and when an enemy gets near, they're tagged and you're alerted) and mines (which can also be used in a gas form to target enemies and is very useful for patrolling enemy pairs). However, there are two items that will become invaluable to you; your drone and your remote sniper turret. Yup, in Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts you can outfit and even upgrade a sniper turret that can take out multiple enemies with a few button presses.

This turret can make small groups of enemies drop in moments and will become crucial to some strategy, but we're not done yet. There are still two more pieces of gear that are essential; your mask and your rock. Your mask is used by pressing 'LB' and acts as what you would use as your heads up display, as it allows you to see traps, highlight enemies, auto tag enemies, and when you upgrade it, even follow footprints of enemies to see where they went. Your last bit of kit I want to touch on is your rock. This tool will help you guide enemies to locations you want to use as a kill spot or steer them away from your location. Moving from cover to cover and utilizing a rock, you can gain access to even the hardest fortified areas without firing a shot. And speaking of shooting...

You're going to do a lot of it, but you need to learn the mechanics of the game in order to be successful. First, let's talk about your scope. There are multiple scopes for purchase, so I strongly suggest checking out the distance measurements as well as the magnification range. The more of each, the more detailed a shot you can get. Now that your scope is selected, you need to focus on what rifle you wish to use. Naturally you can expect a trade-off between power and noise suppression, and another trade-off between handling and preferred range. While some rifles are tailored for incredible range, I find that only a few times will I be engaging targets from over 400+ meters out, so based off how you play, this should be something to consider.

With all this gear and weaponry, you may think you're an incredible shot, but unless you practice the mechanics of shooting, all your gear means nothing. Let's say, for example, you have an enemy that is far away. You break out your binoculars or drone and tag the enemy and notice that the icon above his head reads 335m. Now you switch to your sniper rifle and take aim. You can manually adjust the zoom on the higher end scopes, so let's say you take the magnification up to 10x. Now you need to adjust the distance markers on your scope with the D-Pad until the number on the right of your scope reads 300.

You'll notice that the first tan line underneath 300 is either 325 or 400 depending on the scope, but let's say that it's 325 for this example. So, you make one final adjustment on your distance and cue up 325, and while you're doing this, you notice a dotted white line appearing intermittently about an inch from the center of the scope. This is the path of the bullet when it will be at the target, after factors such as elevation, distance and wind are factored in. Now, since your target is at 335 and your scope is dialed in to 325, you put the head of the target a little bit below the sights and line it up with the dotted line. Next, we hold our breath and pull the trigger. The 'bullet cam' doesn't always activate, so even if it doesn't load, you can still get an enemy kill.

All of this is important if you wish to take on your contracts which is what the bulk of this game is about. Each sandbox area carries with it at least 5 contracts. These contracts range from assassinating targets, retrieving items and even freeing prisoners. Within these sandbox levels also come with various challenges such as get 10 double kills, 2 kills with 1 sniper bullet, blow up 5 enemies, gas 3 enemies and so on. Each challenge will also pay you for your performance, so if you're looking to score some extra cash, this is the way to go. Also included in these levels are rival snipers (hey you thought you were the only big gun in town?) who are after you as well. If that weren't enough, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts also pack in a few bounties as well.

Just to do a quick recap, in one area you have your contracts, challenges, bounties and rivals. Completing all of this will seem incredibly daunting at first, but after a while you'll get the hang of it and how you need to go about planning your mission. Each one of these areas is prefaced with a video that goes into a generalized overview of your mission's contracts only. This lengthy introduction movie is also followed by a rather lengthy loading screen. Ultimately you will find some rather long load times when you play this game, however, should you have to reload a checkpoint the loading time is remarkably quick.

Now you're probably thinking that this game is incredible, and if it wasn't for the glitches and faults of the game, you would be right. For starters, the game has three difficulty modes. One of them I'm calling Blind mode, another I'm calling Normal mode and another I'm calling cheating overly sensitive mode. In their easiest mode, the field of view is relatively narrow and limited and takes a long time to 'dial in' on your position. This is thanks to a simple outline on the bottom right of the screen showing your character. Solid white means you're open and exposed. Solid black means you're hidden. This basic visual principle even applies to standing, so you can literally stand next to an enemy and have them not detect you as long as your character at the bottom right is solid black.

In normal mode, the field of view widens and the detection happens more rapidly. In cheating overly sensitive mode, every enemy becomes an omnipotent being of all knowledge that will be able to pick you off of a mountain edge at 400m with an assault rifle should you fart while crawling. This mode is what I like to call, comfort with restarting checkpoints mode and it's quite simple; either you kill your target with your first shot, or your position is then relayed to every enemy within the sandbox and they all descend upon you at once.

There are other issues as well that pertain to trying to navigate the levels themselves. Quite often I found myself getting stuck on invisible objects, or what I found to be the worst, instant running. I should point out that this happened quite often. I would take out some perimeter troops no problem, but then I would walk in a crouch position to eliminate sound (there's an upgrade where movement of any kind is silent). I would work my way to a point where I was just outside the target area and I wanted to do one last recon. Still crouched, I find some cover and send out my drone. I scan the area and realize that there's an enemy about 10m to my left. He's my target. Then, I go out of my drone and load up my rifle to see if there are any stragglers that I can pick off for engaging. With the coast clear I turn to go after my enemy that was just 10m away, but then it happens. Instant running.

Now, for whatever reason, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts thinks that I want to sprint as fast as I can to the target, so my character literally starts running towards the enemy. I was crouched but as soon as I started moving, my character it was instant running. Well of course the enemy heard that, turned towards me and opened fire. This caused me to restart my checkpoint and became a real pain in the ***. However, when you talk overpowered glitches, the enemy AI takes the cake hands down.

Let's say you're 800m away from your target and on top of a hill looking down at an industrial complex. You start tagging enemies and notice that there are some enemy turrets stationed throughout the place. They don't detect you as you're too far away; remember that fact. They... Don't... Detect... You. So you load a round into your rifle and shoot the turret that's oh say 750m away. Instantly, the turret starts locking in on your location and can see you with pinpoint accuracy. Just to quickly recap, these turrets go from not being able to see you at all to having the accuracy of Robin Hood in the form of an automatic gun turret, leaving me wondering"What the hell?". So now this turret is locking in on your position and you try to find cover, but in doing so you get stuck, because apparently the Sniper's feet get stuck on ledges? This stops all movement and also allows for the turret to lock in on your position and start firing. Now your cover is blown and it's time to start looking at restarting the checkpoint.

Other traversal issues arise as well. There were missions where I had to traverse side to side across ledges that I was hanging on. The problem with this is that the game doesn't allow your character to 'jump' to the next ledge at all. Instead you almost have to turn your field of view totally to the side to 'activate' the jump feature, and then you're jumping literally to the side and not to the ledge. Oh, and I forgot to mention that there IS fall damage. A LOT of fall damage. You may be a lot of things, but a sure-footed mountain goat that doesn't get hurt from a drop of 20 feet isn't one of them.

Another glitch comes from having a computer system that doesn't apply the same rules to the AI enemies as they do to you. Case in point, being in Siberia, the water you find there is obviously going to be freezing cold and you suffer tremendous damage should you have to swim in it for any period of time. That is, of course, unless you happen to be an enemy. There was a level where I was observing enemy positions on a dock where some boats were kept. I missed a shot and that sent the enemies into cover. Well, one of the enemies ended up taking cover behind a floating crate in the water. He was completely submerged in this water that damages me if I touch it, but yet he can camp there unscathed without any repercussions. This happened a few more times in the area and it became annoying because I was unable to try and interrogate them or even loot their bodies after I shot them in the water. However, I tried to loot their bodies thinking that there was some glitch in that area that I could do it and not get damaged; I was wrong.

Even though Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts has its share of faults and is far from perfect, it still has its moments of beauty. The sandbox levels feel unique and offer a variety of terrain styles to navigate through, the lighting effects are done well and the game offers a lot of various options for how you want to actually pursue the contracts. When you get down into the details though of the items in the game, you get the sense that this could use some more time in the oven to cook as it feels a bit unpolished at times, especially when observing the military vehicles.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts offers a lot in a surprisingly small package, however, with all the glitches and errors, there is just some guilty pleasure I get when I drop a sniper from 500m+. With a lackluster story mode that means relatively nothing, some graphics that are good but not great, an army of glitches at its disposal and no bullet X-Ray kill cam, this game is far from perfect, and at $40 maybe even a bit overpriced. When you think of all the content you get for that price however, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts just may be on your radar.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Baldur’s Gate & Baldur's Gate II Enhanced Edition

Growing up a child of the 80's, it's fair to say that I've developed a unique perspective of the gaming industry, and more specifically, the RPG tabletop style games. This came in the form of an iconic series that's still played to this day; Dungeons and Dragons. What started in book form with physical dice has digitally transformed into what could be called a "genre defining" title, Baldur's Gate. This game released back in 1998 (some of you reading this weren't even born yet) and it become the definition of an icon, legend, myth or whatever word best befits a game that helped shape CRPGs to this very day. Many moons have passed since the game's original release and now RPG games are focused on player UI, graphics, story, or at least they should be.

Very few games have made such an impact on the industry as Baldur's Gate, and it's easy to see why. Baldur's Gate offers an immensely in-depth character creation and gaming experience that always feels fresh and very challenging at the same time. This is because Baldur's Gate focuses on delivering the quality classic experience that made it legendary. Rather than bowing to the community that would demand "pretty" graphics and a more "modern" take on the game, Beamdog decided to bring this iconic staple back to life in all its original glory, and I love that.

That means that this game isn't some hyper reality visual masterpiece that you find in current RPG games that have 15 entries, but rather 1998 graphics done in beautiful detail. Yes, the pixels are back and very tiny! The environments are steps above what you would find back in the 1980's, but nothing like you have come to expect from today's games obviously. While other games have incredible lighting effects, Baldur's Gate does not. I cannot stress this enough, as this is classic gaming at is absolute finest, so if you're expecting something different, then you're going to be disappointed.

As I stated before, Baldur's Gate is a pure Dungeons & Dragons experience. You start off by choosing your difficulty. There are 7 levels to select from which, as you may have guessed already, get progressively harder. Just as you would expect to have variety of difficulty, you also have more choices when pertaining to the type of character you want to play as. Not only do you have your basic single class characters, but in Baldur's Gate you have 2 and even 3 class characters. Now, before you go off thinking you're going to be some trifecta God that can steal anything undetected, pick any lock without fault, slay any enemy with more physical power than a deity, and conjure up the most devastating magic by selecting these multiple class characters, you will have drawbacks including not being able to master weapons, etc. This is because Baldur's Gate is setup so that you can play how you want.

While you may be able to play how you want, Baldur's Gate will implore you to play as a team and as you progress along in the game, and you'll be glad you did. You're guided along your quest by a narrator which acts as the game's dungeon master, and throughout the game you will be faced with moments that will define your character. How you choose to interact with these moments will encapsulate how your character is viewed by your party and will affect the dynamic in which they interact with you. These are all mechanics we find in today's top of the line RPG games that capture our imaginations for days, weeks and months, but games like Baulder's Gate is where we can trace some of the earliest examples of this.

To say that the customization level of the game is deep is like saying there's a few grains of sand on a beach. If you're familiar with D&D and those massively detailed character sheets, you'll understand and appreciate just how well they transferred over to the console, but if you don't want to spend all this time creating your character from scratch there are tons of presets that you can activate and just jump right into the game. This aspect helps cater to the hardcore and casual fans simultaniously.

Earlier I touched on how the graphics of Baldur's Gate seem dated, but when you dive into the realm itself you'll see just how open and expansive this land really is. While the visuals of what you can see will be shown via a revealing circle, the fact that you can see the land itself and plan is paramount when talking strategy. One thing I have to make note about, the one thing that has aged like fine wine is the soundtrack. I found the voice acting to be better than average, but nothing, and I repeat, nothing compares to the soundtrack itself. The chords and melodies that construct every second of audio within this game is reason enough to make it one of your top favorite games of all time.

With this "bundle" you get Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, but if you jump right into 2 you will effectively ruin all of the first story, and if you have never played the first release, the game should almost lock you out of playing the second because the story is one of the best ever experiences in the video game industry. This "experience" however, wouldn't be possible unless the great minds of Beamdog figured out a way to allow the user to interact with all the endless menus and selections and sub-menus all from an Xbox controller. It really is a tremendous feat to see what kind of UI interaction Beamdog created using the limited controls that you find on a console controller rather than a keyboard with many more keys.

This new interface is an absolute blessing but it's not the only new thing in town. Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition also brings to the table some brand new classes and characters than what was available back in 1998, but guess what makes its debut after all this time? MULTIPLAYER! Yes, now you can dive into this D&D experience with your friends and really enjoy everything that Baldur's Gate has to offer. These upgrades help solidify why Baldur's Gate 1 and 2 became iconic staples and foundations of an entire genre of future gaming.

In today's world, you can pay full retail price for a RPG experience and most people expect a grand cinematic interactive experience, and an overwhelming majority of the time they are disappointed. Not in the pretty graphics, or the sounds, but in the story. Baldur's Gate 1 and 2 provide what could arguably be called the greatest RPG experience ever found on a digital platform (even better than Final Fantasy VII). Yes, the graphics are dated, but now they are 4K dated, and the audio sounds better than ever before, and the story you find in both games is the reason why for $49.99, Baldur's Gate Enhanced Editions is the best value for money that ever existed on any outlet to date.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Surge 2, The

When game sequels come out, I'm always cautious as to how the developer took the input from the community to build the latest release. I will openly admit upfront that I never played the original Surge before so jumping into The Surge 2, so I wondered if I was going to be confused or if there was some type of backstory that I needed to brush up on first. Thankfully, this sequel has nothing to do with the first game, so if you're like me and haven't played the first game, then don't worry. In this sequel, developer Deck 13 doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, but rather deliver a more robust experience to create an entirely new and enjoyable experience. How do they do that? Well, let me explain.

The Surge 2 starts you off by selecting and customizing your character. In the previous Surge you took control of a character named Warren, but rather than continue a story that ended on a cliffhanger, Deck 13 lets you customize your character. This new hero awakens after a crash into a place called Jericho City, where you have no idea as to what is going on, but yet for some reason, you're directed by a sort of phantom little girl. The main story behind The Surge 2 opens up throughout the game with more of the mystery being unveiled, but your choices will determine the outcome of the ending.

The Surge 2 follows along the "Souls" style of gameplay where your ability to block, dodge and parry will become your saving grace. Along from the previous entry returns the dismemberment system that, some could say, is the entire crux of the gameplay system. In The Surge 2, you're able to auto lock on an enemy by pressing in the Right Stick, then you can move the stick to target various parts of your assailant (head, left or right arm, chest, etc..). Now when you select the various targets you may see a blue circle or a yellow shield, which represent either armored sections or not. While you may be correct that a non-armored section of the enemy is weaker than an armored section, if you want the gear, you got to break the armor.

When you are fighting an enemy you may see the 'X' button appear during your fight, and it's at this point that if you hold the 'X' button down, a killing sequence will occur and you stand a chance to gain blueprints for gear that you can craft using the scrap. So, let's say you see someone wielding a plasma cutting torch and you want that weapon. You press in the 'RS' to lock onto the enemy and slide the stick to the left to select the opponent's right arm (remember you're looking at them, so your selection would be reversed). Then you proceed to attack, and during your combos you see and press the 'X' prompt and now your character goes into a sequence that dismembers the arm off the body and kills the enemy. Your spoils for this fight? Why your own plasma cutting torch that you can craft and then upgrade throughout the game.

This is how the game essentially functions and this is also how grinding should be. Case in point; when I first started out, I worked on my blocking, dodging and parrying skills in the very early moments on weaker opponents. Once I got my defensive skills down to where I was comfortable, I would progress onward to the next medical station (think of these as your "checkpoints") where I would spend my scrap to upgrade what I could, construct what I could and level up my character, and then I went back to the grind.

I would go back through my earlier areas, as the enemies respawn every time you enter a medical chamber (much like a Dark Souls bonfire), and in doing so, target other pieces of the enemy. If I got a weapon one time, I'd go for the chest and try and get an armor blueprint, or I'd go for the head and go for an implant blueprint. I would literally work on these types of cycles in an area, and once I had the blueprints, I would then go back through the cycles some more and go for upgrade parts and more scrap. As I said before, this is what is regarded as the currency of the game and is used for basically everything.

When you spend scrap to level up your character you can upgrade your health so you can take more damage, or you can upgrade your stamina so you can do more attacks, or you can upgrade your battery charge capabilities for your exoskeleton so you can hold more charges for health (like a health potion that essentially charges based on combat, so the more you fight the more you can heal yourself). Upgrading your character also allows you to equip more implants that your character can use to improve themselves. One of the implants that I have grown fond of is one that allows you target any "area" of an enemy and no matter the angle at which you attack, so that you will always hit that designated spot. This is invaluable because if you target the right arm, but swing and hit the left, then you'll just damage the enemy, but you won't hit your target.

Scrap is also used to construct items from blueprints. At medical stations you can make any item from blueprints so long as you have enough scrap to make them. Scrap is also used in part to upgrade your items, but the main ingredient for that would be an "item specific" scrap. What do I mean by that? Certain scrap from level 1 items, level 2, etc. This is what I was gaining by grinding these cycles over and over again. Now, as you level up an item, you obviously have no more use for the certain level scrap, so you move onto the next area. Should you die though, your scrap remains where you perished, and you respawn back at the nearest medical station along with all the enemies between you and your scrap. As you fight your way back, and acquiring more scrap along the way, you'll notice your scrap is on a timer, which when expires, will vanish. Should you die again as well on your way, you will lose that scrap. Plan wisely.

This scrap, as you progress, will become your most challenging balancing act, because as you increase in levels, so does the cost of scrap. Meaning you'll be finding yourself taking bigger risks thinking that you can stretch yourself just a little further, and that's when you'll usually expire. While it may seem a bit overwhelming at times, early on in the game you'll come into contact with your new best friend; your combat drone. This little guy can be dispatched by pressing the 'Y' button and then pressing the button again to fire. Whatever you have locked and targeted (for example, and enemy's head) the drone will shoot at. You can find ammo scattered throughout, but the real fun comes when you start upgrading the weapons on the drone. That's when The Surge 2 really has you feel like you're an unstoppable force and the game really kicks into gear.

There are a few downsides however, but they aren't game breakers by any means. The first drawback has to deal with the graphics. When you're on the Xbox One X and trying to bang away at 4k resolution, the game doesn't look that smooth and the character modeling doesn't seem to be at current gen levels. To compensate though, the game does offer some very nice effects and a new RPG choice system in your dialogue that will affect the outcome. I'm OK with that. There are some other points to note as well. Graffiti makes a return and throughout the game you can place tags around and rate them, point towards hidden items, etc. Also, just because you may be alone, doesn't mean that you're alone on the network. Whenever you see an enemy that's designated a Revenge Enemy, that is an enemy that has killed another Xbox player in their game. Should you kill it, you'll gain bonus materials. I'm sure I've already got an army out there for people to vanquish.

When you have a fairly well-done RPG element, story choice, character upgrades and development, smooth combat and a gameplay system that allows for a fluid experience, you have The Surge 2. If you're a fan of "Souls" style gaming, then Deck 13 has a very solid title for you to experience. It may not be on the same level as other "Souls" style games, but what it does deliver is amazing amounts of entertainment and fun. Bring on the sequel.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint

Tom Clancy has, arguably, one of the most popular IP stables in the history of gaming. Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon are all iconic series that push adventure and excitement to entirely new levels. The latest installment, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, provides us with a diverse adventure on the tropical island of Aurora. It goes without saying that Breakpoint has very big shoes to fill, given that it’s predecessor, Wildlands, was a wonderful game. Does this trend continue in Breakpoint or do the hopes of this latest Ghost Recon game go up in smoke? Lock and load because we’re going to tackle the latest Ubisoft game in the Tom Clancy series.

Starting things off, you’ll notice that this game has a gigantic day one patch, so to save time on the install I’m suggesting you take your console offline (if you have the disc version) and install the game, and then bring the console online and then download the patch. If you’ve got the digital copy, my condolences. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint follows the adventures of Nomad and Walker. If you haven’t played the connective mission in Wildlands that gives you some background insight into the relationship here between the two, I strongly suggest you do so, otherwise you will essentially be jumping into a story that is partially told already and things may not make sense. In Breakpoint, Walker has essentially formed an army of ghosts that are called the Wolves. These characters travel in packs (just like ghosts), wear protective gear that makes them harder to kill (again, just like ghosts) but use the same tactics you would (for instance, flash bang an area to blind your opponent before going in guns blazing). You will find that these enemies practically require precise head shots to drop them (or a helicopter rocket fire is another great way).

Walker has structured his Wolves just like you would expect any other military bad guy to do so. Of course, Walker is at the top, but below him are a few select Wolves called, Alpha Wolves. These are your sub-bosses that unlock the main boss Walker. It’s a structure that we have seen before in the past and allows for nice organization of missions, and it’s here on your mission board where you can dive into everything Breakpoint has to offer. Like Wildlands before it, Breakpoint allows you to tailor your mission selections so you can work on what you want, when you want to. If you want to prolong the 28 main story missions, then dive into over 25 side missions and explore some of Aurora’s best kept secrets, or tackle the faction’s missions and help the Homesteaders reclaim their island.

I’m not going to dive into the story too much, but if you don’t want to play the mission in Wildlands, here you go; Walker felt betrayed by the CIA and the country he swore to protect. He leaves and joins a private military group (Sentinel) and basically becomes the general of the army. This army became employed by Skell Tech, a company on the island of Aurora that is fixated on creating a Utopian society. Free from disease, poverty, hunger and violence, Aurora was supposed to be a paradise. Until that is, Skell Tech partners with Sentinel and their technology is used to create drones of incredible power and lethality. It is this very tech which managed to sink a ship that was headed towards the island, and that’s where Nomad and his ghosts are brought into the picture. They depart with several helicopters from a carrier that’s sitting offshore and are on their way to investigate the island and figure out what sank the ship. This is when the helicopters are attacked and are torn out of the sky by hundreds of these tiny drones. You survive the crash (got to have a main character to play right?) but the status of your own crew is MIA and presumed dead. What does this mean? This means get ready for a solo fight.

In Breakpoint, you’ll tackle this adventure alone. Personally though, I miss the team. While the AI was a times “less than efficient”, when you combined them with the drone and decided to play the game from a tactical position, it made Wildlands incredibly fun. You don’t have that here. Rather than use your drone and team to sync up your shots, now you have these sync shot drones which are a pain to use. Normally, you would think you could just mark enemies from your drone like last time. Nope. Instead you have to spend a slot in your utility wheel and equip a sync shot drone and then target your enemies through your scope, not your drone. This becomes quite cumbersome and detracts from the gameplay that we had before. This is sadly, a step backwards for me, but what’s even more regrettable is that this isn’t the last step either.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint offers you a central location which acts as your “hub” if you will. Here you will find various individuals that can deal with missions, a store that allows you to buy items, weapons, etc. and locations for PvP actions in Ghost War. This mode pits two teams of players against each other and can get really intense if you’re not in a group relaying information to each other. It’s here that you see that this Ghost Recon is trying to be almost like the Division game of Ghosts. Where Wildlands had its own unique identity, you feel that they literally tweaked some mechanics of Division and just stuck them all on an island. To me this seems lazy because it loses the feel of what a Ghost Recon game should be. Rather than develop on the Wildlands identity, it feels like Ubisoft took everything they had from Wildlands and literally just threw it all in the trash. Unfortunately, there’s more broken about this game than good and there’s very little “Ghost Recon” and quite a bit “Tropical Division”.

One of the qualities of Breakpoint is that it allows you to pin up to 3 missions that you want. They can be any kind, just mix and match however you want. The problem here is that when you’re looking at your character and you have your missions pinned to the screen, there is well over 40% total coverage which blocks and inhibits your field of view, ultimately leading you to have tunnel vision as you can’t see your peripherals very well. This could be solved by backing the camera a little further away rather than close enough to do a colonoscopy. This clustered view continues onto the map as well. When you call up the map, you’ll notice how it is divided into several regions. These regions will range in difficulty and character level, but like your field of view in the game, become so overly populated and crowded with information that you would literally pay someone at Ubisoft to code in a map filter, but sadly you get none.

This means that when you go and look to where your mission objectives are, you have tons of little circles of all various meaning that are sprinkled throughout your view and finding out where you have to go next can be quite challenging. The best way I’ve found to help quickly identify the area(s) I need to go to, I turn in the game to face my objective, call up my map, and then move the cursor in the direction I’m facing. Otherwise, I’m zoomed all the way out trying to find what little circle is my next objective. It can be challenging at times. I wish I could say this was it for the problems folks, but there are other issues I discovered with the gameplay as well. Multiple times I found that vaulting over an object when there was another object on the other side led to my character being frozen within the vaulting animation (so basically my character looked like he was falling with his arms in the air) and I was unable to move. I tried crouching using the 'B' button but that didn’t work, I tried running but that didn’t work and I even tried vaulting with the 'A' button, but that didn’t work either. You know what did work? Completely shutting the game down and restarting it.

There’s another gameplay bug that ties right into the new leveling system of Breakpoint. Now, you have the option to select various classes, and each class unlocks with it, its own perks that alter the game in unique ways. Each one of these classes can be ranked up by going through the various stages of the class by doing various challenges. For example, in the Assault class you may have to kill 3 enemies within 20 seconds of each other which you’ll have to do 5 times. Well on Level 8 of the assault class, you have to kill over 20 enemies with an assault or shotgun without reloading. I killed my first guy, second, third, and worked my way up to 15 and then old habits kicked in and I reloaded. My counter then reset to 1 instead of 0 and now I can no longer advance my class. I tried things such as switching classes at a bivouac and then switching back after a kill, but no such luck. Apparently now, if I want to go for level 9 or 10 in the Assault class, I have to start a brand-new character. Yeah, that’s not going to happen.

While we are on the topic of gameplay, the cover system in this game is downright horrible at best and non-existent at its worst. Trying to get into cover will find you fidgeting constantly with your character, and God forbid you wish to shoot someone while you’re in cover, you’ll find that your aim (when you peek around corners, not over boxes) that your sights are half covered by your cover and find yourself trying to lean further out which eventually will break your cover and leave you exposed. I would rather see a snap-to system where you can enter and exit cover with a button press, that way it would be more manageable when you’re playing to effectively utilize cover. Other bugs that pertain to gameplay involve going into prone position, and when you lay flat you fall straight through the ground (I have a clip of my character doing that, it’s pretty interesting), having mission characters unable to move or talk to you which prevents you from completing missions so you have to restart them, and so much more. With all this talk about bugs, glitches, and disappointment, I figured I continue the tradition and talk about something that really gets to me. Breakpoint requires you to have an online connection to play. No offline playing for anyone.

Outside of the gameplay bugs and glitches, Breakpoint fails as well with the weapon customization. 7 years ago, Ubisoft unveiled a system to modify aspects of your weapon and show any/all benefits/bonuses in real time, and it had a tremendous amount of customization options. Now fast forward to 2019 and you’ll find nothing but a shell of what it used to be. Why was this included this way? Here’s the more important question: who at Ubisoft looked at this and thought that this skimmed down version of weapon customization was a good idea? This shortsightedness may go unnoticed for so long until they decided to go and put their entire inventory of EVERYTHING behind in-game purchases and real currency. Are you impatient? Don’t want to tackle a Behemoth to try and gain a weapon blueprint? Ubisoft is here to offer you a way you can bypass all the grinding and just become “instant soldier” by giving Ubisoft more of your money.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint’s character customization is broken down into a few areas. For starters, your gear score becomes your best friend. This is taken from other games, but if you’ve never experienced it, your gear score is a summary of all the gear you have equipped (clothing and weaponry). There are also various typical tiers of items that range in colors of value such as white, green, blue, purple and yellow. Each weapon can be broken down for components to upgrade, or it can be sold for credits at the store. Your character can carry 300 points of inventory, and one gun counts as 1 point. When you dismantle a weapon you gain components, and like you’d expect, if you dismantle a high-end weapon, you get high end components. One issue I talk about later involves the gunsmith itself, but while we’re talking about weaponry, if you want to be able to max out your weapon’s potential, you’ll need to invest skill points into the MK2 and MK3 tiers of the skill tree which are immediately on the right hand side.

What is the skill tree you ask? The second aspect of your character is your leveling system. In the next menu over from your inventory is your player skill tree. Here you will unlock the 4 classes (Assault, Panther, Sharpshooter, Medic) and be able to branch into numerous trees from a central hub. Each one of these classes have their own unique item and ability. Assault carries with them gas grenades and their skill of True Grit which offers healing of your character with every kill. The Medic carries a medkit into the field and has a unique skill of a healing drone. Panther class is equipped with a cloaking spray that can make you invisible from drones for 60 seconds and has a skill called cloak and run. Finally, your Sharpshooter packs a sensor launcher that is basically a recon grenade that outlines enemies in range, with their skill called armor buster, where you get 3 rounds of increased damage and penetration (this is VERY nice to have when you go against a Behemoth). You gain skill points through leveling up your XP level and finding them in chests. Once you hit XP level 30 though it stops as that is the cap (for now). Some skills in the tree are equipped automatically while others have to be equipped to gain their benefits. You can equip up to 3 skills so make sure you chose wisely for how you enjoy playing. One of the perks allows your mini map to highlight nearby resources for collecting. This is a great bonus as you can see resources for crafting, but again, is relatively pointless and let me explain why.

In Breakpoint, your Bivouac becomes your temporary base out in the wilderness, and it’s here that you can equip perks, buy things at the shop (because it magically appears at every camp somehow?), but the two options that are interesting are the garage and the crafting. The garage is nice because you can request vehicles be delivered whenever you are at the Bivouac and when you leave, poof, they are there! This is convienient and all, but if we’re honest with each other, once you start getting the attack helicopters for 54,000 credits, this will be the only vehicle you request, ever. So basically your “Garage” option is just a way you can summon a helicopter. Now to crafting that’s essentially useless. There are recipes that your character can use to make various consumable rations that do things such as increase damage resistance or increase your stamina, etc. These types of rations have 3 tiers with their effects being greater and lasting longer in the other tiers. You can also craft consumables such as frag grenades, rocket launcher ammo and more. However, as you play Breakpoint, you’ll realize that this is one of the most pointless features in the game.

When you take on enemies at bases, or even checkpoints, you’ll quickly realize that enemies drop ammo and explosive consumables almost constantly. Plus, when you are out exploring and come across a small group of soldiers by a car, or buy some vehicle, you’ll also come across many resources there as well. If you didn’t want to deal with gathering resources, you can always save money by obtaining a perk that decreases the cost of consumables at the store at your main hub base which will enable you to buy more for less money. What this means is that with the abundance of ammo and consumables I can’t see really any point to waste on these rations. Sure, you can gain some damage resistance, but if you’re sniping from 500m away, it’s not like you’re going to need to take less damage.

Ok, things are getting a bit negative, so why not dive into some positives? Breakpoint’s island of Aurora is absolutely beautiful. The dynamics and contrasts of environments that can be found on the island will be some of the most impressive sceneries you’ll ever see in gaming. Waterfalls crashing, fog rolling in through the forest while the sun shines through as you catch all the individual rays of light popping through, and even the character models in the cut scenes look amazing. Ubisoft has done an outstanding job delivering more dynamic environments in a beautiful presentation. Couple of issues though. First, during the cut scenes sometimes the focus of the character is off, so it looks out of frame for the scene. Second, can someone at Ubisoft PLEASE IMPROVE YOUR MOUTH MECHANICS. I don’t know what has to happen, but sometimes the mouth moves, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it doesn’t even look like they are speaking the words of the voiceover. I’ve seen better work on old dubbed Kung Fu movies. The environment is this game’s saving grace, and if I may make a suggestion, get to the highest point and just sit there and look at your surroundings and take in every bit of it as it’s truly breathtaking.

Breakpoint does offer some type of comedy throughout the game. For example, apparently people of Aurora think it’s wonderful to put almost every chest in the game on the roof of buildings. Very rarely will you ever come across a chest on the ground, so be prepared to look for ways up. While we are talking about loot, these chests contain things like weapons yes, but you’ll also find boots, pants and other articles of clothing. Yes, you can get through a massive firefight, navigate your way to a chest only to pull out some boots as your reward. This also goes for enemies, on top of collecting ammo and explosive consumables from enemies, you are rewarded with items such as pants, boots, and honestly, I’m not trying to take a dead guy’s boots to wear, and it’s kind of morbid if you think about it. Plus, with the microtransactions you can just buy your guns, and not have to fight Behemoths for blueprints.

Now, I know you’re probably reading this and think “wow this guy must not like the game”, and you would be wrong. I’ll say it, Breakpoint is broken. I think for a full retail game, it’s unpolished, underdeveloped and inexcusable for the poor choices in its development. It’s an incomplete game, and what is there is full of gameplay glitches, numerous bugs and game breaking moments that really make you wonder why you paid your money for this. Despite all of this though, I love every minute that I play. I know these issues will hopefully be addressed in upcoming patches, but for now despite all these issues, the core of Ghost Recon Breakpoint still delivers an amazingly entertaining experience. While it’s far from perfect, it’s not far from fun, and in the end, if a game is fun, then it should be played and enjoyed right?

Suggestions: There's honestly so much to list, I would need a database.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Meow Motors

Racing games are quite honestly one of my biggest addictions in life. I love the ability to race vehicles I'll probably never see, let alone drive, but outside of the realistic racing games, I LOVE games that put the arcade combat racing on the forefront, much like what we see in games like Mario Kart. In fact, recently a game came out that seems to take a LOT of cues from that very game, but does so with a feline twist. Time to start those cars and get those motors purring because ArtVostok has released Meow Motors for the price of $14.99, and if you're telling me I can get a Mario Kart experience with cats for under $15 bucks, then I could be looking at the game of the year for me here. Time to get this review into gear right meow.

When you start Meow Motors, you'll see a rather barren menu system that consists of Continue, New Game, Quick Race, Options and Quit. This is where you'll enter your career under New Game, as Quick Race is a mode that just lets you do local co-op racing only (I'll touch on that here in a moment) on various tracks. Meow, your career mode will be comprised of three different modes: Race, Strike and Drift.

As your career begins, you'll come face to face with your nemesis in a sort of comic scene layout as your villain in black (think a Darth Vader-like cat) comes through and crashes your car, gets out, taunts you mercilessly and then jumps back into their car and drives away to victory. Your character watches teary-eyed as all the other racers speed past, which lights a fire within your character, and you're now off to the races as you work to form a team of cat racers to go after this main villain. The premise of the story is one that doesn't fail, but what really stand out are the racers themselves.

All different species of kitties, each one of them provide some benefit to you such as being immune to oil slicks on the road, a damaged car automatically repairs itself or more power for jumps and collisions. There's an achievement for racing with each character but you'll want to tailor your driver to match the race you'll be driving. For example, if you're doing a race mode, it'll be in your best interest to pick a racer that has an immunity to an oil slick. What this ultimately means though is that even though you have many different racers, you have only 3 types of races, so you'll only have the need to race with 3 of them. This red flag sadly is just the tip of the iceberg.

Meow Motors has a very simple control scheme. Your Right Trigger is your gas, Left Trigger is your brake, 'B' button is your handbrake, 'X' is for boost, 'Y' button is for your oil slick and 'A' button is used to fire your weapon. As you drive along, you can throw your car into a drift fairly easily, and the more you drift, the more your special meter fills up. This meter will allow you to either use your boost or your oil slick. So you essentially have one tank to draw from and you decide how you want to use it, as it's pretty self-explanatory (boost makes you go faster, oil slick causes them to crash behind you). Drifting charges it up, so go sideways as much as you can and you'll always have something in the tank.

As you progress through the story, based off the number of stars you gain, you'll automatically unlock various cars, drivers and weapons at multiple milestones. To say that this game is pun crazy is an understatement. Instead of a Lambo you get a Leo, instead of Ferrari you get Purrari, and so on. The tracks are done in a very light-hearted way with a cartoonish feel to the layout and design. They provide instances of jumps and "secret" pathways that you can explore for shortcuts, but each track also offers obstacles that can naturally hinder your path and slow you down.

Earlier you heard me touch on weapons, and they are your lifeblood on the track. They range from your basic machine gun, to a great white shark missile launcher, to a freeze ray, dome shield, land mine and so much more. Thankfully since you'll be sliding around the track at high speeds, the targeting system auto targets for you, so every weapon will automatically target your nearest opponent. This is a blessing when you're trying to avoid obstacles while you're drifting, yet want to blast your opponent with a great white shark. Each weapon though does have a limited range, so if you're fast enough with your boost, there's a good chance you can outrun them, however, you will practically need a full boost to do it, and not... hit... anything. If you hit anything, your speed drops and the weapon has you.

This is a great feature to have, despite one tiny flaw, which is the AI rubber bands like crazy to keep up with you. One race, I had a full boost and buried my paws into the gas pedal. My tail hit the boost button and I launched. I was flying along the course and drifting (which kept my meter building after each completed drift) every chance I could, and I pick up a Nitro power up and use that as well, which adds even more speed, and then I look back and magically the whole pack is somehow just a couple seconds behind me and charging up fast. Huh? This is a bit annoying because you can race flawlessly and still be under fire from weapons from behind. What really rubs salt in this wound is that the ONLY weapon you know that will be coming for you is the great white shark missile. Everything else will be a total surprise because the game doesn't tell you anything.

There is though one gargantuan problem that almost immediately made me turn the game off completely. No online multiplayer. Excuse me? In today's world when you have lesser racing games that are worse to play, released with online connectivity, it's kind of a shame. But with Meow Motors, it feels like a knife in the back that totally blindsided every ounce of joy out of this game. It's by far the biggest failure of potential ever. In fact, had this had online multiplayer I would have struggled to give it less than a 90% because the quality is good, but if you can only enjoy it in your own home and not with friends elsewhere online, then what's the point? Oh, sure you can have people over and do local co-op, but this is a textbook example of a colossal failure to capitalize on quality and enjoyment. I'm not sorry I said that because it's true.

In today's interconnected world, everyone wants to play with other people. Look at the most popular games now that are out there and what is one of the most common threads they all share? ONLINE MULTIPLAYER. Why, in the name of everything that is holy, would you release an amazing kart game and NOT provide it? I can say this, I'll play through, get the achievements and then I'll be deleting this game from my hard drive, because if I can't play with my friends around the country and the world, then why would I pay $14.99 for a game that should be the cat's meow, but instead, Meow Motors puts the "CAT" in catastrophe.

Suggestions: Unless you can somehow come out with online connectivity, this is basically a $14.99 waste of time. You broke my heart over this game.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 PC Building Simulator

At the turn of the century (wow that makes me feel old), I had opened up a computer business with a partner and we took it upon ourselves to build computing solutions for both individuals and small businesses. This was an amazing experience because we realized that everyone uses a computer for different reasons. Now though, developer The Irregular Corporation, has tried to bring this PC building to a virtual environment with the aptly titled: PC Building Simulator for the price of $19.99. The goals here are to provide you with a realistic environment to build the PC of your dreams and take a peek behind the curtain of what it takes to run an actual PC business. So, does PC Building Simulator overclock the competition and deliver an amazing performance or does it get a blue screen of death (BSOD) and crash spectacularly? Let's find out.

At first glance, PC Building Simulator seems very sparse with not a lot of content on the surface. You're granted only a couple options which are career and free build modes. I'll tackle these individually, but the primary difference is that with career, you have to work your way through the trudges of the business to unlock new components and build opportunities, whereas the free build already has everything unlocked for you and you can build whatever you wish, however you wish. Other than that, the mechanics of each mode are identical, so let's dive into career mode!

In career mode you play the role of a nephew who's Uncle owns a PC repair/building business. This Uncle has decided to venture out in search of another business to start up and has left you in charge of the PC business. This Uncle also decided to take $15 out of the drawer (for gas he says), so you find yourself starting out -$15 in the hole and left with a business that you don't know where to begin. Thankfully the game's tutorial will take you through step by step as to the procedure which is as follows:

1. Check emails for PC jobs (repair or builds) and figure out what they need.

2. Load up your "Store" and browse through the various components (CPU, CPU cooling, Memory, Storage, etc.) that you will need to complete the various jobs.

3. Select 2-day shipping for the components so they will arrive the next day (should you forget you can get your components on the same day for an extra $100).

4. With your components ordered, go back to your emails and accept the jobs that you ordered the parts for.

5. Now leave the store and you'll advance to the next day. If you select "Go to work" then you'll arrive in the hallway and you'll see your parts and the PC's that need work.

6. Pick up the individual computers and follow through the necessary repair/upgrade work that needs done, then place it back in the hallway to pick up.

7. Go back to your emails and find the job you just finished (I use the subject line as a good way of recognizing what PC needed what work done and what needs to go out) and click "Accept" to have the PC picked up and money deposited in your account.

8. When you're finished with that PC and the money has been deposited, you can get rid of the email to make things less cluttered for you.

9. Move onto the next PC and repeat steps 6-8 until everything is all sorted and completed for the day.

10. Now go back through steps 1-5 to get new work and more components.

One thing to make note of though, just like life, customers have certain "requests", and your business can make a much better profit by paying attention to the customer's requests. For example, you may have a customer who states in the email that they want you to build a PC and they'll state: "I've heard Intel CPUs are the best." If you build this customer a PC with an Intel CPU then you'll have an extra happy customer and your review will reflect it and this is important.

It's important because some jobs will only unlock when/if you have a certain star rating, so the more you make your customers happy, the better the reviews and the higher rated your shop will be, thus more business you will be able to do. The more business you do leads you to level up and unlock new parts and equipment (this will be especially helpful when you try to go for that achievement of hitting a benchmark on the amount) that you can use on upcoming builds/repair work.

This aspect does inject a lot of real-life situations in it. For example you'll get emails that say things like "my son was using my computer and now it's slow and pop ups are everywhere", or "my computer doesn't work and I don't know what's wrong with it", or even things like "I got this from you a while ago and it doesn't work, can you fix it?". These represent the bulk of the emails you'll be addressing and will tend to represent a typical business deal. You will also get the occasional email about how some Nigerian Prince wants you to build him a PC and once you do, you'll be rewarded with $4,000. Things you can expect to appear in your spam folder will appear and I'm not going to tell you what happens if you build the Nigerian Prince his PC because you should experience it for yourself.

This simulator also provides a great deal of components to use and, should you not be familiar, will teach you about overclocking your CPU, GPU and RAM, and will take you through the details regarding water cooling systems as well. It's quite possible when you've unlocked everything to build a system that is easily over $10,000 worth of components and make it a legendary behemoth of a machine. The nice thing about this is that if you manage to screw up your overclocking you can actually test your machine beforehand and see if/where errors will occur, and you can also test your water cooling system as well to make sure that there are no problems within.

I do have one colossal gripe though. For instance, when you're doing ANY work with repairs, just like life, you'll have to connect the power cable, the cable to your monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. Now this normally wouldn't pose a problem, except for the reality that moving these cables to connect can be a painstaking process due to the movement sensitivity of the cable. Granted, there is a benefit by seeing an orange(ish) outline on the area the cable gets plugged into, but moving the cables to their connectors can be a pain (again, like life). To solve this, you can spend thousands of your hard earned dollars on "quick connects" that will instantly connect peripherals, internal components and even the wiring outside as well (all the cables described above), and that seems like a cop out to me. It seems like the game makes doing the work more tedious than it has to be, so you almost feel compelled to invest in these types of "aids" to help make the work feel less strenuous.

The reason I'm talking so much about the career mode is because that's where the heart and soul of this game resides. The free build mode just gives you all the toys to play with and you can create and experiment at your leisure, but that's it. There's no bill paying, no customer emails, no jobs, nothing but building your own PC at your whim. This doesn't seem like much but there are a couple of achievements you can snag in this mode since everything is unlocked already and you don't have to work for your levels.

The graphics are decent and provide detailed views of the actual real-life components. The cases are all modeled correctly and the game is setup nicely to help those who don't know what they're looking at, understand what the component is and what it does thanks to a small pop up dialog window that displays the information. Now, for those who may already be a pro and understand what everything does, this may not be a worthwhile thing, but for those who wish to learn, this is invaluable. Sadly though, there isn't much of a quality soundtrack, and thanks to all the PC's I had to clean and dealing with the sound of the compressed air can (which is realistic by the way), I ended up turning the sound effects and music completely off and just put on my own tunes and went to work.

If you're looking for a simulator that offers a taste of real-world PC building and customer interaction, then this game is a must have. With some relatively easy achievements to compliment the experience, you'll quickly realize that the only thing that isn't real world about this simulator is how your screws magically vanish whenever you need them. I'm rating this game just shy of 90 because outside of the graphics and the audio, but the entire composition of PC Building Simulator is near flawless. For $19.99, PC Building Simulator is one of the best, and unexpected, sims the Xbox platform period.

Suggestions: Could you please not charge so much for the "auto-connecting cables"? Maybe make it an option that you can toggle on and off? Also include bags of screws in the shop because everyone already knows that they will go missing.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Pawarumi

One of the original styles of video games that gained tremendous, almost god-like, acclaim in the video game world are shumps (shoot-em-ups). From the days of games like Space Invaders, Galaga and even Tempest, massive shoot-em up games have always worked to deliver an experience that was easy to pick up and play but challenging to master. As technology has advanced, so have the games within the 'shump style". With much competition from other titles, developer Manufacture 43 has released Pawarumi for the Xbox One for the price of $14.99, with the hopes that we find a game that is captivating and stimulating. As a big fan of the genre, I'm expecting big things given that the competition has set the bar very high. So, to stand out and make gamers want to spend their own money, Pawarumi has to bring its 'A' game. Right; enough chat, let's see what is under the hood.

Starting out you'll notice a few things, but the big standout is how sparse the game actually is. The opening screen has you pick between the Play, Leaderboard, Settings and Credits. Selecting Play will open up another menu where you have the choices of: Tutorial, Arcade, Training and Back. I strongly recommend you spend quite some time in the tutorial though, because Pawarumi offers a different twist to modern shump games, mainly being the inclusion of a 3-way color system interaction.

While other great shumps have included color themes before, this takes it to a whole new level. The enemies of Pawarumi are going to be designated colors of Red, Blue or Green, and coincidentally, your weapons are Red, Blue or Green as well, mapped to the coordinating buttons on the Xbox controller (since there's no yellow color, the Y button is used for your "special attack" or basically a screen clearing massive explosion). Now this is where Pawarumi shows off its individuality.

If you have a red enemy on the screen you can use various colored weaponry to eliminate it, however, what color you decide to use will determine what also happens to your ship. For example, if you shoot a red enemy with your red weapon, you'll regenerate any lost shield power you may have taken. This is CRITICAL when you're finding yourself with a screen full of enemies and energy shots all around you. Being able to repair your ship by just eliminating enemies is a massive help, rather than waiting for a power-up to appear.

Now let’s say you use that same red weapon against a green enemy. That is how you fill your meter to unleash your special attack. This means that once you use it, you can use your appropriate color attacks to rapidly build it back up so you can use it again (great to use for boss fights, etc.). So now we've seen what your red weapon will do to a red and green enemy, but what about blue? This is where you find that your red weapon will actually deal more damage than normal, so think of it like a damage boost.

So, your one red weapon has multiple different uses depending upon the enemies you decide to terminate with it. Now if this seems confusing to you, rest easy, because it is. This is why the tutorial is so important, because it will get you acclimated to thinking along the lines that the game wants you to. There is though, a slight flaw in the execution of this, and that is it provides little to no incentive to ever switch from the 'B' button (red weapon). So, your blue weapon ('X' button) is a narrow stream that looks like an Ice Laser, and your green weapon ('A' button) is about 10% wider but still isn't the width of your craft. Your 'B' button though (red weapon) is this wide scanning cone that fires missiles at those it tags. Basically, you can get through most of the game simply by holding down the 'B' button and moving back and forth. The reason for this simplicity is thanks in part to Pawarumi's own unique color balancing trait. Let me explain why.

With the 'B' button being the best weapon in the game outside of your special attack, any red enemy you kill with it (where there are a LOT of them), then my shield is always going to be refilling. With green enemies dying to it, I'm gaining more special attack power, and with blue enemies I'm obliterating them almost instantly because of the damage boost. Quite frankly, because of this, Pawarumi's own weapons and color balancing system has taken what was supposed to be a unique feature that made the game stand out, and made the game more boring. Literally holding down the 'B' button constantly and strafing from left to right, you should be able to tackle 99.9% of the game without any problems; and that made me wonder: Why even have this? Why have the other weapons if they are rendered relatively pointless? Why even have the color scheme at all?

By having the three colors Pawarumi is trying to innovate, but instead has created a game that offers no upgrade in your ship or weaponry, and generates no real reason to switch from one single weapon. This type of reality made me wonder what else Pawarumi has to offer, and that's when I noticed a continuing trend... of sparseness. Arcade mode is your Story Mode and is broken down into three difficulties. Now it's been said that the story is unique for each one, but having experienced it, there's no real story to begin with that is of any worthwhile value to the gamers. There's no connection with the gamer, and Pawarumi doesn't give a reason for the gamer to care, but the story is laid out in very beautiful painted imagery. The main difference between the difficulties is that the levels you experience are in different order, the enemy’s patterns are different, they take more damage and their shots hit harder.

There's a MASSIVE problem though with the story of Pawarumi. Let's say you spend the time and get all the way through to stage 4 of 5 and you die. Since you only have one life in Pawarumi, should you expire on level 4, you have to start ALL the way over from the beginning and fight your way through. Forget starting out where you ended, or even have another life to play. In Pawarumi, once you die you have to start your journey all the way over again. This became a massive source of annoyance throughout my time playing the game, but then I thought to myself, why not train on the levels so you can beat them in the story? This is when I started struggling to look at positive things for Pawarumi.

Graphically speaking, the game looks wonderful with environments that range from industrial, volcanic areas to digital warfronts and areas that reminded me a bit of Bespin from ESB. I'm sad to report however, that the music though is not on par with its competition and actually became something I turned off. Unfortunately, there are other flaws that have to be mentioned as well. For starters there's no co-op system, so Pawarumi has no way of pitting you with your friends, except for the leaderboard. So, unless you have a strong desire to climb the leaderboard, Pawarumi only offers up some insanely hard achievements to get (at least they are based off multiples of 5).

For $14.99, Pawarumi offers up a weak story, overly simplistic gameplay, very sparse content and a gameplay system that offers up no reason to continue playing, ever. This game is actually a heartbreaker for me because I wanted to love this, but I can't overlook the sparse content and all the flaws that come within the game itself. If you're a fan of shumps then look elsewhere for a quality title and pass on Pawarumi until a big sale.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 SAMURAI SHODOWN

Being a child of the 80's had its advantages when it came to video games. Sure, the games weren't as advanced graphically and there was no internet connection gameplay, so playing online was out of the question, however there was a system that became mythical in terms of status; Neo Geo. While others had their Sega and Nintendo, Neo Geo pushed the boundaries of what was possible in gaming back then. SNK had prided themselves in developing an iconic fighting game called Samurai Shodown back then, and when you saw it, and then saw games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, you wondered what these people at SNK knew that others didn't. Samurai Shodown became a staple on the system and held its own fighting crown because no other system could touch it. Now though, times have changed.

Gaming platforms are exponentially more powerful today, and while we have seen groundbreaking revitalizations in both the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter series, the gaming world had heard of nothing from Samurai Shodown since 2008. Since then, we have seen beautiful, fluid fighters from Dead or Alive and Soul Calibur, to completely new mechanics in games such as Mortal Kombat. How can a game that hasn't been seen in over a decade be now worth full retail price? Can Samurai Shodown come back and deliver the same performance that left it light years ahead, decades ago? With the hardware being relatively equal, it comes down to the game itself. Let's take a look at SNK's latest version of Samurai Shodown.

Right off the bat I should make this a point. Samurai Shodown was never a controller destroying button mashing fest, but rather a more tactical "chess" style of fighting. Rather than beating someone repeatedly with a stick, you look for the slightest opening (or make one yourself) in your opponent's guard and deliver unrelenting brutality with every swing of your weapon. Samurai Shodown delivers a type of fighting that is less hectic and more strategic, but once your opponent has an opening, you can guarantee that a lot of pain is coming your way rapidly. Because of this, I can't stress enough how important it is to go through the tutorial. While going through the actions is OK to get you through it, I would recommend repeating these short exercises until you feel comfortable with how the mechanics of Samurai Shodown are.

I say this because Samurai Shodown's gameplay involves intricoes that can literally turn the tide in an instant. For example, one of the methods of defending is to dodge your attack. Dodging an attack takes your character and shifts them into the background for a moment which then allows the opponent's attack to miss entirely. Benefits of learning how to do this effectively will not only keep you alive and provide you no damage, but also create an opening that you can exploit for massive amounts of damage. This simple little mechanic provides a whole new dimension of fighting as you could be getting demolished, then dodge one attack, trigger your rage meter with Left Trigger and do a lightning blade attack with the trigger again; and if the enemy's health isn't full, then you stand a good chance of winning the match. All of this happens within mere seconds, just like how a sword fight in reality is like.

Samurai Shodown's mechanics ride on an edge that’s as sharp as the swords in game. While dodging is an invaluable skill to learn, trying to open up counters requires timing that would make you the master of any dojo. Counters require you to perform your move within the window of movement of your opponent's attack. So, if your opponent is winding up for a massive heavy attack, getting in close to land a light or medium attack can counter with some bonus damage applied. If you miss however, you're going to be cleaved in half, but what is life without a little risk right? You can find similar techniques used in timing your character's blocking ability. While you can block attacks and stave off tremendous damage, you can time your block which will cancel the attack of your opponent and give you an opening to counter. Again though, if you block to early, you'll defend the attack, but if you block to late then you're going to be annihilated.

This approach to Samurai Shodown's gameplay mechanics is just one example of how it's more of a thinking game than wildly slamming buttons, and why I must stress again how important practicing your timing can be for your survival. What's more interesting is that while every character has their own style of attacks, they also each have their own style of attack if they are disarmed as well. Samurai Shodown offers you ways and techniques to disarm your opponent, and in the heat of battle, a quick disarm can confuse your opponent who would normally rely on their weapon attacks and is now resorted to attacking with punches and kicks. I know now you're thinking if I'm unarmed and my opponent has a massive sword how can I block it? Well, if you time your block correctly, you can actually catch the blade and disarm your opponent. This will create either a balanced playing field or an opportunity for you to get to your weapons and pick them back up.

I keep harking about this I know; however, a fighting game is as only good as it's gameplay mechanics, and Samurai Shodown practically demands a more cerebral approach. This type of gameplay though is split between a few modes, such as online fighting, story modes and even the dojo. The dojo is probably my most interesting mode outside of story because it puts you against the ghosts of real opponents. You can have multiple difficulty level,s but fighting against someone who is better than you will condition you to improve yourself, figure out what areas you need to work on and formulate a strategy for victory.

There is, however, a minor knock against Samurai Shodown which involves the story. I'm sorry, but there are elements that seem to be directly ripped off of other fighting games (I'm looking at you DoA glowing blue energy boss character). To me this has always been the biggest gripe about fighting games, that being that the story doesn't always fit the narrative. When you have a roster of over 15 characters, writing story arcs for each has to involve something more than an opening splash scene with some text to read and a final ending sequence. With all that has been created here, it feels like the story itself got dealt the short straw.

Despite the ding, that doesn't stop Samurai Shodown from delivering absolutely beautiful graphics that equate to a beautiful piece of evolving artwork. Remember when Street Fighter IV came out and the new art style took the gaming world by surprise and people fell in love with it? This is another one of those moments. The levels to compete in are absolutely stunning, and when you start getting into these super special moves, the screen becomes ignited with various colors and effects to compliment the weapon's use. I also must touch on the audio, as it made me feel like I was in Japan and going through these different levels. Upfront, I'm already a massive fan of wind and string instruments from Asia, and the sounds they make in Samurai Shodown felt like I was transported elsewhere, and I loved every moment of it. Speaking of moments, I need to take this moment to say thank you to everyone at SNK who worked on making this game possible because you delivered a graphical masterpiece for fighting games.

Thanks to the hard work of SNK, Samurai Shodown has become the emperor of the fighting game empire. Breathtaking graphical deliverance of tactical, cerebral fighting that can be over within the blink of an eye, thanks to the balance and content of Samurai Shodown's gameplay mechanics. I do wish there was more in terms of content that would keep me drawn into their world, but what is there is nothing short of mind blowing. I tend to base my reviews off of value for money, and at $59.99, Shamurai Shodown is worth every penny, and for a limited time, the season pass is FREE to download, so make sure you pick that up as well. Who knows when, or if we will ever have games that have free season passes (looks around at all the other gaming companies and developers)? For an unbelievably entertaining fighting game experience that is far beyond simple button mashing, Samurai Shodown is where the real fighters can be found.


Suggestions: Provide better story content that is unique to each character and have it evolve throughout the story mode. It will take time to do it right but will be better in the end.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 MotoGP 19

Being the avid racing fan that I am, I tried my hand at Moto GP a few years back and quickly came to a few realizations. For starters, I couldn't control a bike, know anything about how physics work and the list continues. Now though, Moto GP 19 is out, and I thought I would like to see how the game has evolved throughout the years, and I have to say, I was surprised. Priced at $49.99 I was wondering how this would hold up compared to other bike games out there, and it feels like Moto GP 19 has had major improvements throughout every facet. How about we take a look and see what you get for that $50 bill shall we? Get ready to ride.

Moto GP 19 comes right out of the gate and delivers a tremendous career mode, where the overwhelming majority of your time will be spent. There are going to be a couple options you can select for your career, those being standard and pro modes. You could call this more of arcade vs. simulation, where in arcade mode, you can tailor the driver assists, number of laps, weather, etc. You also have access to the rewind feature (which I'll be the first to admit I used from time to time) that is plucked straight from Forza, so if you happen to mistakenly take a hairpin right at 150mph, you can rewind to a position that allows you to break in time.

Now in standard mode, the laws of physics are somewhat forgiving. While this won't allow you to distort them in some Matrix, "I know kung fu" fashion, it will keep your bike and your rider upright for a majority of the course. It will still brutally punish you though should you wander very far off the striped paint on the sides. Also, you can expect your fellow CPU riders to act accordingly aggressive dependent upon the difficulty you set it to. You can also tailor your race weekend with multiple practice sessions so you can get used to the track before qualifying, should you opt for it. You have the option though to just jump right into the race, but I will stress that having the practice sessions to get used to the corners and the speeds you need to be at in the entrance and exits makes the qualifying sessions that much more valuable when you can start at the head of the pack, rather than skipping everything and going straight into the race from last place.

In contrast, the pro career mode locks in what drivers aids you will be running on and turns the physics up to an unholy level of pain. This means you have to be on your game if you think you can compete at a quality level. While standard was more forgiving, pro mode will take the slightest challenge to physics and immediately toss it, forcing you to have a spectacular crash. Now, normally in standard mode you would just hit the rewind button and adapt so you don't have that problem again. However, in pro mode, no such rewind exists. This could pose a monumental problem should you crash late in the race itself. See, in the standard mode, you get to set the laps you want, etc, but not in pro mode. Nope, in pro mode you're locked into the full race amount, so it's not uncommon to have a race last over half an hour.

One massive benefit of this career mode is that you can start, should you feel brave enough, to begin competing within the actual MotoGP Cup, instead of having to work your way throughout all the previous tiers of racing. Once you move on from the Red Bull Rookie Racing Cup though, the game will open up and allow you to upgrade your bike through the completion of various research and development tasks that your crew will set for you at the beginning of a race. Completing these mini tasks will allow you to upgrade various components within your bike and also allow you to customize the ride of the bike even further.

While the gameplay mechanics have improved as these generations continue, sadly the weather of all things doesn't seem to play as dynamic a role as you would find in other games. In other racing titles, there's dynamic weather that impacts the control and handling, and in MotoGP 19, that doesn't seem to be the case. It's a shame because this game looks jaw dropping beautiful on the Xbox One X. When you have the Unreal engine pushing beautiful graphics at 30fps, it's easy to see that MotoGP 19 appears to finally have a winning formula on the console. I took some photos in the game and was honestly surprised at how amazing they looked given the limited camera control/options at your disposal.

With the career out of the way, there really isn't that much more to MotoGP 19 unfortunately. Of course, you have multiplayer modes where you can go in and manage the independent aspects of the race before beginning, but it really becomes self-explanatory which is similar in nature to MotoGP 19's quick race mode. There is one small caveat though, and that is MotoGP 19 does include some very historical races that you can compete in. Think of these as situational challenges much like you would find in other games of racing and sports, and once completed, you are graded on your performance and earn stars, unlocking new material within the game.

There were a few hiccups as well. While I did enjoy being able to select what events on a race weekend I took part in, I did not enjoy the loading times at all. The loading times felt a lot longer than they should be and became a setback. Also, while I loved the look of MotoGP 19, I didn't enjoy hearing it. This is thanks to the bike noises which, by the time you get into the E bike series, will have your ears bleeding. Not because of some non-authentic noise, but because the sound seems like it has 2 modes: Off and blasting full on.

Overall MotoGP 19 is a fantastic racer that delivers the quintessential motorbike racing experience in a way we as gamers have never experienced before. Despite this though, I do feel that $49.99 is a bit too high. Let me explain why as this pertains to how I value the content within the title itself. For me, MotoGP 19's multiplayer and quick race options don't really interest me. Its pro mode career is something that not only will leave me frustrated to the point of not playing the game, but also provides such an experience that it doesn't keep my desire to continue playing.

Where MotoGP 19 really shines is in the standard career mode and its historical challenges. So, for me, with only 2 parts of the game that stand out as a must have, I feel that $49.99 is too high a price to pay. I will say though, $29.99 and below makes this a pickup all day long, and twice on Sunday.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Sniper Elite V2 Remastered

Over the past 10 years, the Sniper Elite series of games have tried to establish a new level of production when it comes to being a one man army that's tasked with herculean efforts to stop a war. Originally, Sniper Elite V2 launched way back in 2012 on the Xbox 360, but now has been given the "Remastered" treatment in an attempt to bring this dated experience to be on par with what would arguably be considered the best release of the series so far, Sniper Elite V4. Having done the review for V4, I was anxious to dive in and see what was behind this new remaster that warranted a $39.99 price tag. Like a sniper, this remastered V2 has one shot to hit its mark. Let's see how things shape up.

For starters the plot behind V2 is essentially the same that you experience in every single other Sniper Elite game. That's not saying it's bad, considering this game was one of the first entries to do it, so being almost the original counts for something here. Sadly, though this game's story misses its target for one simple reason, the inability to vary the mission platforms. For instance, one mission you have to fight your way to a vantage point where you snipe the main bad guy and then have to run away to the extract location. Then the very next level, you do the same, and then again and again. You start to feel that the missions become all about shooting, but then again, you are a sniper, right? This mundane trudging through the various missions means that you have to get creative to stay interested, that's where the fun begins. Let me show you how.

Let's say you're at the top of a multi-level building and that there are hallways and stairs between you and your goal down below in the extract location. Maneuver your way behind a random guard (who provides some of the weirdest movement patterns I've ever seen) and silently take them down. Then I move the body to a doorway and set a booby trap on it with a land mine. I then move down the hall and place a trip mine at the end. Afterwards, I then turn to go down the stairs to the landing and put another trip mine at the bottom of the stairs. I then turn left again on the landing and go down and repeat the process. Now I have three trip mines placed and a booby-trapped guy above me that's by a doorway. Now, I fire off some rounds from my machine gun, which of course will trigger the enemies to come find me. This is where I run back up to the platform and fire off some more, this sends the bulk of those enemies near me to rush to my location. At this point they funnel their way into the trap, and it goes off. I take the body from the bottom of the stairs and bring it to the top of the stairs. This causes the next enemy to see a man down and rush to it.

The enemy then upon rushing to the top of the stairs will set off another trip mine which blows him up as well. Carrying the body to the top of the stairs from the original hallway I was in, I repeat the process until they all have fallen, and then I proceed to the next area and repeat the process until it's all done and work my way to the extraction point. You don't have to play it that way though. The beauty of these games is you can play how you wish. You could choose to just go through as stealthy as possible, or you could be like Rambo and go in guns blazing. However you decide to play Sniper Elite V2 is up to you, and that's always been a wonderful staple of the series. There are times though that you will have to fight, and that's when this game's mechanics start to take a long walk off a short cliff.

For example, there is a level where you start on a street that's seen the aftermath of a bombing run from above. The houses on either side of you are blown into mere shells of what they once were, and you have to navigate your way down the street and then turn the corner and continue onward until you reach the tank at the end. So, you start to take things slow and crouch walk through these homes, and that's when the game will automatically get you caught on invisible items that prevent you from walking. This doesn't sit well with me considering that when you're in combat, you have to be allowed full mobility because the battle is fluid and ever changing, and if you can't adapt, then it's not a question of if you will die, but rather, how quickly will it happen. There are other gameplay issues that unfortunately hinder this game, and sadly one of the main ones involve sniping and using the binoculars.

Since weapon customization isn't a factor, the game centers around you being able to use your binoculars to scout the land, pinpoint enemies, and you sniper scope to lay in the kill shot. I'm going to first start with the binoculars. Utilizing them isn't smooth because of the controller layout. The second problem with the binoculars/sniper scope is that if you try to adjust the magnification, you will find yourself fighting the overly sensitive controls, and therefore be left with only 2 forms of magnification; either no magnification or magnification so intense it's like you're deciphering the atomic structure of the enemy's uniform. These devices can magnify in between but you will spend a good amount of time trying to get them 'just right', and by then your target will have moved on and you'll have to start this process all over again.

You have the option to 'lock' in your magnification settings but there's a problem with that as well. Let's say you're on a sniper perch, and you go to zoom in all the way on another sniper you locate off in the distance, you mark him and your settings are set to keep the magnification. Now let's say you move from your location and you try to maneuver your way throughout the level when you come across another patrolling enemy that's unaware you're there. You find cover (obviously) and attempt to mark the new enemy with your binoculars, well your magnification is locked in from before when you were going for your sniper, so now your magnification is locked in atom mode and you'll have to fight with it to get back to where you want. The problem here is that the game will allow you to do that but only after you've gotten out of cover and exposed yourself. So, while you're fighting with the binoculars or scope, you're leaving yourself exposed and a very big target.

You can definitely feel how the system has progressed throughout the games and how the Sniper series has moved on in over a decade with refinements of the newer games become a much missed aspect of this title. This is disappointing because you feel that this is a missed opportunity to take the refinements of the newer games and apply them to make your older releases better, but sadly that didn't happen here. Instead, though, we get a beautiful makeover of the game, and when I say beautiful makeover, I mean a stunning graphical overhaul of the entire game. The environments look incredible compared to the original, and even the enemy models themselves look almost life like. What else got the updated graphical blessing? Well if you're a fan of the sniper shots that give you an X-Ray image of your target getting destroyed, then this game is for you.

There's nothing like firing a sniper round and hitting a grenade attached to a belt of an enemy, watching as their body turns their bones into a sticky messy paste (that's an achievement by the way), or counter sniping an enemy sniper by sending your bullet through the scope of the enemy to take out their eye and blow a massive hole out the back of their head through their eye socket. Or chain your kills by sending a round through an enemy's heart and have the round exit the enemy and enter his fellow soldier's chest cavity and blow out his heart as well. Yes, these killing sequences that you create will be the main reason you start getting creative with your dealing of the afterlife.

Sadly though, this isn't going to be enough to overcome Sniper Elite V2's shortcomings and certainly doesn't warrant the price tag associated with it. If you're a fan of the Sniper Elite series of games then this game is going to be one you want to have in your collection, though only when it goes on sale. Instead of thinking of this as a complete ground-up rebuild of the game, Sniper Elite V2 Remastered just got a brand-new plastic surgeon. So, while the game looks revitalized on the outside, on the inside it's still a 7-year-old game that maintains the internal faults.

Overall Score: 7.4 / 10 Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark

If you would have told me that a $45k Kickstarter game could grow into a game that would not just be a decent game, but one that future games would be judged upon, then I'd say you were lying. I've never been happier to be so wrong. If you're a fan of RPG tactics games (ala Final Fantasy Tactics), then let me introduce you to Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark. Developed by 6 Eyes Studio, Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark is priced at $29.99 and attempts to deliver a deep RPG experience across 2.5D stages on a story that is filled with action, emotion, plot twists and so much more. I'm liking this game so much I'm breaking from what I normally do and am going to say "BUY THIS GAME NOW" if you're into these types of turn based RPG tactics games. Now that I've told you that you should buy Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark, let me tell you WHY you need to buy this game. In order to make a great tactics RPG style game, you need to have the correct type of components, and Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark tick all the proverbial boxes.

First off, the story is intriguing. Not the best story I've experienced, but at the same time the story itself is incredibly well thought out. Imagine a world that is ruled by a Council of Immortals who use justice and law to establish peace, and one of the many tools of the Council are the use of Arbiters. These individuals could be considered the authoritarian figures who do the heavy lifting in the field and maintain peace and order. Should crimes be committed, these Arbiters are sent to investigate and deliver culprits and suspects to various chapterhouses in towns to await trial and sentencing. When the time comes for an Immortal to step down (I don't know why anyone who is Immortal would want to step down from a rule of complete authority and power, but alas it's in the game, so we go with it) from the Council, each Immortal gets to select an Arbiter and brandish them with a special mark. These new "Marked" individuals then are set out on a pilgrimage to complete, and after that, will be judged upon who will take the newly vacated place as an Immortal on the Council.

These Marked though are above any and all laws. They can literally do anything that they want and cannot be stopped, as it's a crime to prevent the progress of any Marked, especially while they are on their pilgrimage. As we see today from our own governing bodies, corruption has a way of entering the Council in an attempt to gain more power and control. You play the role of one of the Arbiter's, and through your 40-50+ hour adventure, you'll be uncovering corruption, deciphering its source,solving if any member of the Council is involved, forming character bonds with other party members through events that feel like a nice way to break from the grinding (more on that in a bit) and provide greater detail as to "why" we should care about these individuals. The story itself is very impressive and easily has outshined even some larger AAA titles as well with regard to story development and execution. Box ticked.

One of the characteristics that Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark prides itself on are the classes. While we are used to the various classes such as wizard, thief, knight etc, Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark offers over 20 classes to choose from which produce over 200 skills at your disposal. Each class carries with it a unique skill tree that provides passive stats that you can unlock for your character, offensive/defensive abilities/spells (depending on the class) and counter attacks. Each character can switch to an unlocked class at any point and time, so I started getting really creative with some characters in terms of their abilities. For example, I created a group that was pure magic and they were devastating. Since this was more of turn based chess match, I wanted to prepare my team while allowing my opponents to move closer (putting them within range).

I started off by buffing my characters to give my party shields against physical and magical attacks, granted haste and all the while storing up my magic each round. My enemies would advance, and after about 2 rounds of my preparing, I literally had them in a kill zone. I had 6 magic wielding bad ***es that hit them with maximum damage spells that effected the 5 square area (think of a + symbol) and would be crushing hundreds of points of health. Outside of the basic spells of fire, water, earth and lightning, Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark also deals with Holy and Dark Magic. These two types can wield tremendous power if you structure your character properly. The right gear produces the right results and Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark is no different.

Your character can equip a certain number of items, but it's up to you to decide how you outfit your characters. For example, you can have gold armor (heavy), a gold helmet(heavy), a gold shield (heavy), 2 handed hammer (brutal weapon), gauntlets (boost physical attack power), poison ring (blocks poison) and be all set to rampage the field of battle, but what if you removed the helmet, the armor and instead, equipped more accessories to boost your power. I experimented with this thought process with my group of hybrid magic users, and now they can go full Palpatine as I used wizard gloves to boost the spell power ability. This customization aspect is hands down one of this game's strongest points. You have full retail priced games that provide not even half the quality and quantity of content, yet charge double the price. Here's the fun thing though, you can build your team how you see fit. Box ticked.

Throughout the game, as your group begins to level themselves up and you go throughout the story, you can hire teammates from various towns and cities. These new hires will be at your level, so if you're characters are around level 20, then you can hire your next character at around level 20 also (again depends on your character). These characters can also mix their classes, so you can really be creative with the team and the character builds. You can only use a Main and Sub class, so remember, while being able to sling damaging spells may be cool, you have only 1 other tree you can draw abilities from at a time, so making sure you select proper abilities is crucial to success. But you can mix any passive abilities you've unlocked from any classes. So, let me explain it like this. You can have a knight main class, a wizard secondary class, with passive stat abilities from an assassin class along with another passive ability from a witch doctor class, and even a counter ability from a scoundrel class. This level of customization of over 20 classes puts Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark in a whole new level of entertainment. Box ticked.

You learn these abilities either in battle or sitting out. Yes you are only allowed to take up to 6 characters into battle at a time, so if you have 12 people in your "team", then those who aren't selected to battle will still get a portion of the AP (Ability Points) at the end of the match. This way your characters who do not fight won't be completely useless and can still level up their abilities considerably. This is because more classes are unlocked the deeper into every ability tree you go, and by doing it this way, Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark immediately makes going through every single class almost a requirement that you'll enjoy. This is thanks to the different abilities that unlock with each unique ability tree.

The reason this is so critical is because combat is the backbone of this tactical game. Should you be unlucky and have one of your members fall in battle, they will receive an "injury" and will suffer decreased stats. Should the individual be revived (even to full health), the character will still have an "injury" stat and should they fall again, the injury will stack and your character will now have to sit out for 2 entire battles before the injury is healed and your character stats are brought back to normal. To compensate for that, it's wise to have characters ready to go (or hire one) as backups so that these sit out periods don't feel much like a punishment. Still, this feature makes you pay attention and when you have classes like the Mender that can cast healing spells that can restore groups, you start to get the sense of the whole "strength by numbers" mentality. Box ticked.

In terms of gameplay, it's your basic turn-based structure where the individual gets the option to either move and then do an attack/ability/item, or do either attack/ability/item and then move. Every action that you do generates EXP and every 100 EXP you gain a level, so when you have teammates that need health and you heal them you could earn, for example, 17 EXP for that. Only actions that don't result in any net outcome (for example, healing someone with full health), or turns that are ended prematurely, will fail to generate EXP, otherwise, you will always gain at least 1 EXP per action. Now remember, the characters sitting out will NOT gain EXP, but WILL gain a portion of AP points at the end of the fight (for a while I had those mixed around). Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark also dives into crafting in a big way. Throughout your fights you'll come across chests, stage specific resources, end of fight resources, and even their version of a loot goblin-like-thing, and all of it provides resources that you can use to craft items and upgrade consumables.

In Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark, your battles start out with a pre-determined amount and quality of usable items, however, through crafting you can increase the quality and number that you have in battle. For example, you can upgrade a basic healing potion which you can use only 2 of, and as you progress through the stages, you can increase its use to 3 and even upgrade its potency to what is known as a heavy potion. These resources are highly sought after and will be where you completionists out there will love the grind for these. It will take some time, but I found myself literally spending hours upon hours of fun, grinding away at abilities while upgrading gear and tweaking various elements of my group till I found some methods that work wonderfully for me.

Another fun experiment I tried was I have massive physical power groups that all have a fleet of foot ability to increase walking distance, and they literally wait to get everyone near and send them right into the mix and attack with incredibly powerful physical abilities. The reason I would put them right into the fray was that should they be attacked, I had them equipped with a counter that dealt my main weapon as a physical attack counter on an adjacent tile and would deal another smashing attack should they receive damage. It was a brutal massacre that deserved its own History Channel special. Box ticked and ticked.

If there was going to be any gripe I had about the gameplay it would have to be the camera system with the sections of the game that were below others. What I mean by that is you could have an enemy standing in a grave, for instance, and a character standing in the square directly below him, and you won't be able to see the enemy in the grave because the character standing outside the grave will be blocking them. I think having a camera system where you can push a button and have the axis rotate could provide a solution to that while increasing the strategic value of the game, but that I'll put in the suggestion box below. While I do wish for an option for different camera angles than the fixed one provided, everything about the gameplay of Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark is done to perfection. Box ticked.

There's more good news as well. Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark is a beautiful game. The map itself is laid out into different areas, such different shops, guilds, numerous wild land encounters and even an Arena and Tournament sections. As you progress, you can patrol any wild area you've already completed and harvest more available resources, as well as unlock any chests you may have missed before. Occasionally you'll see a small square with an exclamation point inside it (!) which indicates that there's a side/story event that you can witness. Some of these events are time sensitive, so it's in your best interest to interact with these when they occur.

Every step of the way is done in a retro nostalgic feel. The stages feel unique in their construction and 8-bit execution and the artwork that adorns every square of these levels look defined, vibrant and is complimented by a soundtrack of synth goodness that delivers that classic RPG experience that we know and love. Fanfares, combat music, event music, overworld music; every note fits this genre and every pixel feels purposeful. In fact, I'll even say that the soundtrack of Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark can go toe to toe with Final Fantasy, and in some cases, surpass it. I can honestly say it's been too long since a tactics game looked this good and sounded this amazing. Box tick and another tick.

Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark got its birth as a Kickstarter game and delivers everything you want in a 2.5D tactics game to produce an experience that delivers such an enjoyable gaming experience that it surpasses a lot of bigger games at full retail pricing. Beautiful graphics, an incredible soundtrack, a decent story and exceptional gameplay and character development that holds no equal make Full Seal: Arbiter's Mark one of the best RPG tactics games you can ever play.

Want to know something else that's amazing? This entire masterpiece was crafted by only 2 people. Not multiple teams spread out across the globe and interconnected through a digital network. 2 people. For $29.99 Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark is one of the best experiences you can have on the Xbox platform. Box ticked.

Suggestions: Adjust the camera to maybe allow for a rotation on the axis.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Vaporum

It's been seemingly years since I've had the chance to dive into a dungeon crawling adventure game. Lately I feel that this genre is in desperate need of some fresh blood, and Merge Games has decided to step up and deliver Vaporum from its PC format to the Xbox One platform. Filled with puzzles, enemies and dungeon exploration, Vaporum is poised to deliver a Bioshock-esque steampunk RPG adventure priced at $24.99. Yes, you read that right. Merge Games released a budget friendly, dungeon crawling RPG game that delivers a haunting steampunk environment for $25, and to say I'm excited for this is an understatement. Let's dive right into this and see what we can piece together of Vaporum.

Starting out similar to Bioshock, the story of Vaporum involves you taking control of a man who has no idea who he is, where he is, or more importantly, where everyone else is. This controllable character is who you'll use to navigate the Arx Vaporum. This is a spire like tower where each level constitutes a different map, different enemies, and hopefully provides insight as to the murky details that remain a mystery. This story is propagated by numerous reading materials and audio diaries that try to give more of a backstory behind the Arx Vaporum and its previous inhabitants. I found the overall design of the game itself to be a Bioshock meets Bruce Lee's Game of Death with traps, enemies and an ever growing and shifting layout between levels where the main character tries to discover more about himself and solve an overall mystery. Starting out, Vaporum isn't shy on delivering potential and possibilities for quality gaming.

Even though the character will climb through the Arx Vaporum tower, the story itself will not. This is because the narrative itself isn't very well constructed and/or executed. Yes, the main character does have a full voice script, but whether you're reading it or hearing it, the story must be built that actually makes the reader/gamer want to experience it. This is a tremendous setback because while the environment is set in this dystopian steampunk setting, the story can't match the quality of the environment of the Arx Vaporum. This, however, isn't the only major drawback against Vaporum. The controller gameplay is remarkably poor.

This, I'm willing to wager, is because Vaporum originally was launched on the PC, and when you start factoring in the differences between the mouse and keyboard interaction vs. the console controller input, it seems as though the transition hasn't been good to Vaporum. The gameplay mechanic is setup in a grid style movement system, but the controls feel both hyper-sensitive and clunky, but thankfully you will be able to manage time as needed, turning it into an almost turn based experience, and you'll need it. The combat is incredibly clunky and very challenging as well. This doesn't bode well for your character when you take into account that pushing to rotate the camera one direction will more than likely cause you to rotate two spaces and not face the direction you want to. This is especially bad when you're trying to navigate traps, environmental hazards and fight enemies simultaneously. The other gameplay controls as well feel cumbersome and clunky and all of this was quite honestly the knockout punch of Vaporum.

In Vaporum, instead of leveling up your character, you spend your time leveling up your rig. In the beginning you're going to select between 1 of 4 different rigs, each of which provide their own specialty and range, from your basic tank setup where you go looking for the fight, to traps where you try and navigate your enemies to their doom. These exo-suit rigs are now your lifeblood. Vaporum sports a basic grid inventory system and provides multiple skills that your character can develop throughout your adventure, but ultimately at the end, Vaporum has an uncanny focus on one principle; don't let your rig break down.

All your skills and items won't matter for anything if your rig becomes broken. All this means is that you're going to want to watch your repair kits and the damage you take in combat. While you may want to play a more ranged or crafty style of gameplay, the vast majority of the combat you'll encounter will be up close and rely on you either swinging wildly away with a melee item or shooting a firearm. Whatever the weapon though, get ready for a lot of close quarter combat, which means that there are some rigs that naturally put you behind the 8 ball when you're starting out.



While Vaporum does post some entertaining puzzles, they quickly become more of a change of pace tactic than actually something worthwhile. This sad reality combined with the previous disappointments and letdowns means that in all good conscious, I cannot recommend purchasing this game for $24.99 when you can get better dungeon crawlers for less money. When your game thrives on a quality story and entertaining gameplay mechanics, and both of those areas become lackluster and suffer, thus hindering the enjoyment, then it's time to move on. Vaporum may be set in a steampunk environment, but the game itself ran out of steam.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Tom Clancy's The Division 2

Years ago, Ubisoft unveiled a game that set new standards of sandbox gameplay. From exemplary combat and in-depth character customization, The Division released to critical acclaim throughout the gaming world, and now Ubisoft has released the next installment aptly titled Tom Clancy's The Division 2. Poised to set new standards and provide more of everything to the gaming community, The Division 2 just got a massive number of steroids shot into it, so let's dive right in as we see just what is going on in the streets of Washington D.C.

Yes, this time The Division 2 takes place right in the United States' capital, Washington D.C., and your base of operations is, of course, The White House. Keeping with the same theme of the original game, you're thrown right into the middle of the same type of attack but from the standpoint of the United States Government. Factions such as the Hyenas, True Suns and the Outlaws have taken hold over various outlets of the city, and it's up to you (because honestly who else would step in and help right?) to solve the city's woes and vanquish the foes and save the city from the brink of annihilation. Washington D.C. is broken up into various sections and each one of them has a designated character level range that should take notice of, since venturing into them too early will almost guarantee certain death.

Throughout Washington D.C. you'll come across various monuments and historical sites where civilians have taken up places of shelter, enemies have established control points (think of these as fast travel points to save in walking) and areas of resources that have been distributed for collection. What would such a game be without collectibles though right? In The Division 2, you'll notice that cell phone, echo and SHD collectibles return but also now you have to recover historical artifacts and paintings, of which there are quite a lot. When you think about the sheer size of the sandbox and the multiple vertical levels contained within, the total area that you have to search is actually quite immense. Ubisoft did a tremendous job incorporating Washington D.C. into the Division fold with wide and diverse environments.

In regard to the story though, there really isn't one. The overall concept is about saving the city and its people by killing bad guys, but sadly there isn't much of a plot that keeps you entertained. Let me explain why. From the beginning there's no real emotional connection to any character in the game. Understandably that reality is because it's a whole new game itself. However, any details relating to the characters comes from your ability to find things like echo recording devices that will help uncover more of a back story of some of the people you're working with. Sadly though, not you. The Division 2 does feel like they focused more on the environment and the player interaction with it, rather than any real plot of value, and you know what? That's what makes it perfect.

The Division 2's main purpose is to try and get you to band together as a group and play this game with your friends through multiplayer, and when you don't have such a strict narrative to follow, you allow the focus to be on whatever you want it to be. Don't want to play a story mission? Then go capture a control point, loot crate drops, hostage rescue mission, stop a public execution, stop a propaganda broadcast, collect resources, do a bounty hunt, complete a project or even do side missions that are separate from everything I just mentioned. This is easily The Division 2's greatest strength by a mile. The amount of content that constantly evolves and develops throughout your time spent is truly massive. Yes, the Dark Zone does exist again (this time it's divided into 3 sections), but the amount of continual content within the main sandbox will keep you locked in as the hours drift by and your days blur together.

This is due in part because the gameplay structure of The Division 2 is remarkably complex, but at the same time, just barely manageable. It's your basic cover system that we have experienced before, however at the same time, similar control glitches occur that can make the game very disorienting at times and even unplayable. Multiple times my character would try and climb down a ladder and would get stuck in the transition motion and be unable to bring up any menu or make any input. This caused me to have to restart my game completely. Other gameplay glitches include the mod section of your inventory. As you collect mods, you'll want to either sell or destroy some for resources. However, when you do that, it automatically locks you out from scrolling through your mods and instead goes section by section. To cope with this I would go into my mods section and press RT to make items my favorite and back out and continue the process (there's only a few you're really going to keep anyways), then press the Left stick in and bring up a menu which I can mark all as junk, and items that are favorited will not be marked as junk.

Another gameplay glitch comes as well as my character slides down the ladder. When my character climbs down a ladder (successfully) and it reaches the bottom, the GPS seems to know where the positioning of my character is within the world and all is well. However, should I slide down the ladder, upon impact the game doesn't know where the hell I am and instead sends my character walking in odd directions until I relinquish total control of the character and allow the game to sort itself out. Given how much of The Division 2 takes place on different levels of action, having issues traversing vertically isn't a good thing to have.

These are all types of glitches that were also apparent with the original game as well, so you get the sensation that the control scheme was carried over but only slightly tweaked (going into cover seems more responsive), but if the gameplay feels recycled, then what is actually new in The Division 2? The short answer is practically everything. One of the major reasons you'll play The Division 2 is because you love to grind for loot; it's nothing to be ashamed of, millions of others have the same symptoms. The gear in this game has changed in dramatic ways. First off, the whole "set" style returns, and as you collect more of the set you gain more bonus stats. However, this time there are actual "brands" of gear which give you unique and immediate benefit. Similar to the sets, the brands will give you more bonuses as well. Keep in mind though some of the brand bonuses require you to be wearing so many of that brand, so pay attention to your inventory because equipping that new gear may remove your bonus if you're not careful.

The gear can also be manipulated through the recalibration station. This station (which is unlocked at the White House through missions) allows you transfer a stat from one piece of gear or weapon to another. Now there are some limitations to this. First off, the item that you are pulling the stat off of will be destroyed (well you're not using it anyways, so it doesn't really matter). Another limitation is that you can only transfer the same "type" of power. So, you can't take something like a 3% chance of critical hit and replace it with +300 skill power or +1,000 health. This limitation prevents you from creating items the way you want to create them, but the limitations continue.

You can only recalibrate 1 stat EVER on an item. What this means is that you will be unable to EVER adjust a secondary stat on your item once it's been recalibrated. Then the last limitation is what makes this whole recalibration station a complete waste of time. The cap. Yes, you ARE capped as to how much you can transfer. Let me give you an example. I had a high-end chest piece which I wanted to recalibrate with a health stat which would in turn bring up all three of my character stats. I had a junked piece that had a stat bonus of +7,787 health and thought that this would be perfect to add. So, when I went to recalibrate, I see a message that states, "Capped at +1,987 Health". What? So, you can't alter other stats, the stats you want have caps on them, and you can't switch out other stat categories. So, what exactly is the point of this again? I'm sorry but this is one of the worst parts of the game because it was such an opportunity to allow you to tailor your gear how you wanted it, and now what is presented is a watered-down version of something that is supposed to resemble optimizing gear.

Another aspect that received the steroid treatment involve your skills. Now they can be customized with individual mods themselves that provide their own bonuses. Sounds good until you realize that you have to have your skill level at a certain point for the benefit to be active. With so many ways to develop your character, this directly forces you to focus on your skill level if you want to utilize them, and that I feel is another missed opportunity. You see, with your weapons, you can craft and fit various scopes, magazines, grips etc, and with your skills you don't have that luxury. I would rather want to construct items that improve my gear naturally, rather than rely on focusing some of my character's gear towards a skill level. I feel that you should be able to modify your skills just as you would a weapon because they are weapons themselves. The Division 2 attempts to rectify this situation by allowing you to unlock various versions of the same skill (so various versions of the turret for example), but the overall modification system for your skills seems lacking tremendous substance. While there are some dings and bullet holes though, The Division 2 is a game that keeps on giving.

This is because when you think you've completed everything and you've hit level 30, The Division 2 changes completely. The way you view your gear will change completely. New threats arrive. It's like you almost start over from the beginning. So, think of this time as your introduction to adulthood. This whole "shift" that the game goes through helps keep the PvE section fresh and full of challenging content that will keep you addicted for hours upon days, and during all of this you'll be loving what you look at.


This is due to the amazing graphics that permeate every aspect of The Division 2. The cut scenes look almost life like in their presentation (the actual "acting" could be done a bit better) and the environment looks like a realistic depiction of a nation's capital city trying to recover and survive after a horrible viral attack. I will admit there are definitely some recycled bits from before, but the amount of original graphic content is quite astonishing. While The Division 2 is a beautiful game to see, it's not such a beautiful game to hear. The soundtrack at times takes on this horrific style of what I would call death metal and it doesn't fit the mood of the game itself. Sadly, there isn't much in regard to any redeeming factor about the soundtrack, but the environmental sounds are astonishing. Hearing the coo of a dove, the weather crashing down with torrential rain and lightning, all of it helps you really transfer you right into the game itself. I actually turned off my music and have loved it ever since.

Now onto the Dark Zone. This area returns from the original and was one of the main reasons I quit playing the game. The Dark Zone is The Division 2's main PvPvE section and is also where the best loot in the game can be found. In the original game, players found a way to cheat their way into having overpowered weaponry that would kill you instantly. Thankfully this time Ubisoft has employed 3rd party software to severely cut back, if not eliminate all cheating. This was good, because as you would try to extract your collected gear, you would be instantly shot and killed and then your loot would be stolen and collected by others. It will be interesting to see how this battle between cheater and company will ultimately prevail, but my money is on the cheaters. If this turns out to actually work though, it'll be a blessing that keeps the game going for many years to come. Putting the Dark Zone aside, The Division 2 needed to deliver more content outside the Dark Zone, and they did exactly that.

The many teams that made The Division 2 put forth an incredible amount of work into making this sequel and it shows. Ubisoft decided to take what worked and keep it untouched, then increased the content for the main PvE section of the map and allow it to continuously update to provide more content for the gamers. Yes, there will be bugs and glitches but those can be sorted out (provided Ubisoft knows about and cares to fix them) and that doesn't take away from the crux of the game which is done to near perfection. Outside of some terrible soundtrack music and gameplay mechanic hiccups, The Division 2 is everything you hope a sequel should be. In today's world it's rare to see a sequel deliver a better experience than the original. The Division 2 does just that. So, to sum things up, buy the game. You can thank me later.

Suggestions: Really open up the recalibration station to gamers. Please get a better soundtrack.

Overall Score: 8.9 / 10 Pipe Push Paradise

When it comes to the world of puzzle games, the gaming world isn't really spoiled for choice. With the focus shifting into shooters, racers, fighters and other genres, the puzzle games tend to get overlooked. However, Digerati Distribution developed a puzzle game for the Xbox One called Pipe Push Paradise, which attempts to deliver a challenging plumbing experience. With a price tag of $10.99, you won't be pushing the wallet very hard, but is it worth the price? Let's find out!

The plot of Pipe Push Paradise is relatively simple; this island that you're a part of has apparently had a colossal plumbing problem. Every part of the island's plumbing became undone and it's up to, the island's premier (and only) plumber to fix it. The problem though is that he's been asleep for a long while, so the task of fixing the entire island's plumbing is up to you, his niece. I don't know why you're staying alone on an island with your Uncle (maybe punishment from your parents)? This concept makes up for 100% of the entire story, and so now that you know everything, you should know that this puzzle game may look cute, but sometimes looks can be deceiving.

This is because the gameplay of the pipe puzzles starts off with some easy and fairly manageable puzzles. This is done to get you used to the physics of the gameplay, and let me explain quickly why that's so important. Unlike other puzzle games, you can not rotate objects or alter them without taking a movement space. A movement space is what I like to call a part of the puzzle area that you have to work with. So let's say you want to flip a piece on one end; when you roll the piece, you actually will also move the piece forward (instead of rolling it in place and then moving it). This extra space means that you need to plan your positioning carefully if you wish to correctly solve the puzzles ahead.

And there's a lot of them as well. 47 puzzles that are designed to make you swear unholy allegiances to complete, break controllers in frustration, and give you the ultimate satisfaction upon completion of an incredibly hard challenge. This is thanks to what could be described as an incredibly steep learning curve. As you progress through the island's puzzles, you'll come across various island dwellers who literally mean nothing to the game at all. In fact, they are actually more useless than the terrain itself, but anyways... These people speak a garbled mess of noise, but provide no real benefit so again... Pointless.

Should you make a mistake in your puzzles (and we both know you will a LOT), there's a handy reset button to revert the puzzle back to it's original layout. Speaking of the gameplay, it's remarkably simple with buttons that allow you to go forward and backward through your steps of solving it (this came in handy when trying to figure out how to solve the harder puzzles). This gameplay will become essential when you start trying to solve puzzles in 2.5D by trying to rotate pipes to deal with overhead leaking.

There is a MASSIVE problem though; that your character moves at such a blinding speed (even when you use the D-Pad or sticks) that she will undoubtedly knock into pieces and operate in a hyper spastic way. This cripples the game and makes it not fun to play, because while the puzzles can be fun to accomplish, having to deal with a constant hyper-speed character that naturally causes gameplay issues within itself, is not something I care to spend my money on.

The graphics of Pipe Push Paradise are simplistic, as in child cutting shapes out of construction paper after nap time kind of simplistic. There's sadly nothing remotely beautiful about the island, and that's depressing because while Pipe Push Paradise is going for a more cartoon feel, I think they nailed their target audience in the 3-5 year range. However, I would have been far happier to ditch the pointless people who do nothing and instead increase the graphical assets. The same nightmare exists for the audio as well. It became so bad I turned everything off regarding sound because it literally drove me to knock back massive amounts of Advil to kill the headache it caused.

So as a quick recap, the movement controls that you deal with constantly are over sensitive, which making controlling your character through the pipe puzzles relatively difficult. There have been better graphics through Mario Paint and the sound was terrible in every aspect. However, the pipe puzzles in 2.5D were both frustrating yet delivered a tremendous amount of satisfaction upon completion. Should you spend your $10.99 on Pipe Push Paradise? Quite simply, no.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Stellaris: Console Edition

Space based adventure games have always been one that sparks a journey of mythical lands and incredible experiences. What if though, you could formulate your own journey? What if the incredible experiences are yours to create rather than scripted plotlines that follow in sequence? Enter the real time strategy game Stellaris: Console Edition, by Paradox Development Studio. Stellaris attempts to bring one of the most in-depth real time strategy experiences to the Xbox One and at a wallet friendly price point of $39.99 USD. Normally, I would insert some clever transitional phrase here, but let me just start out by saying if you're a fan of real time strategy games then this is a must have for you, and let me tell you why.

Loading the game up you're witness to some incredible cinematics and presented with a start screen that boasts some simplicity mixed with and incredible soundtrack that really helps set the mood up for this immense experience. Upon hitting Start, you'll be tasked with choosing your race to play as. For the social justice warriors of gaming, you'll be happy to know that there exists a vast and incredibly diverse number of races to select from and that each one is unique in its own way.

You could have one type of government be a democracy while others could be classified as military tyrants. While one race may be open to new species as a method of working together, another may be looking at them as targets that they can occupy for resources to fuel their own civilization. I found myself actually going through each individual option and checking out how some benefits of the passivist style governments, set them up with bonuses that adequately correspond to their own ethos, where as an enslaver style of ruling would grant bonuses to military power and be less "diplomatic" when it came to be interacting with other races in the universe.

After you've selected your race, you can go to customize the game as you wish. You can designate how many AI are playing in your level, their difficulty, how many star systems there are and much more. This type of tailored customization works wonderfully instead of the typical branded "easy, normal, hard" pre-configured motives. Once you have all that configured, kiss your foreseeable future goodbye, as the game starts up and your experience begins. I strongly recommend going through the tutorial and keep the hints on, as there is so much to discuss that you'll find that 90% of Stellaris: Console Edition is centered around menu management.

First, you'll find each border of the screen is a menu. The right side is what I'm calling your quick selection menu, where you can select individual items within your entire content. Selecting a science ship or construction ship is as easy as pushing Right on the D-Pad and then moving the cursor to the ship and press A. The bottom menu is your alert menu. This is where you will get notices about your completed research, any sort of scientific discovery, election results (if applicable, will discuss later), and any other point of interest that comes up pertaining to your game. The Left menu system acts as your reference point where you can review your completed logs (quests) and current ones that you have available. The top menu acts as your resource’s menu.

It's important to note that every one of these menus have multiple menus within them, and multiple menus within them that lead to yet, more menus. And that's just on the main screen edges, because every ship, building and planet that you can use has another menu that can lead to other menus and more menus after that. For instance, there are multiple types of scientific research that you can pursue, and each one of these three researches breaks down into 3 more possible research options. You can easily find yourself lost in tasks and spend a lot of time trying to figure out what, or more importantly, how, to do certain tasks, which is why tips should be always displayed until you feel comfortable with the enormous amount of content that you have to cycle through.

It also must be said that you have to also manage your citizens/slaves as well as explore other systems and enter into either diplomatic relations, or try to conquer them, or let them be their own sovereign species and act as an alliance, etc. This is where the depth of Stellaris rests. Not only are the customization options numerous to the point of almost madness, but the having to simultaneously tend to the needs of your people and see to their happiness means that this is like a steroidal version of The Sims at times.

The goal ultimately is to beat your adversary(ies) through the use of researching technology and expanding your civilization's boundaries into neighboring stellar systems. Each system is unique with their own mix of planets, moons, asteroids and much more. One really cool feature I loved was how the game notified me if there as a celestial event, such as a comet, and I was able to watch it as it traveled through space. These types of events really help bring the universe to life and I'm actually excited to witness other items such as black holes. Should you encounter a neutral planet (one that hasn't been occupied by the enemy), then it's up to you to turn the system into your fold. If, however, you come across enemy terrain, then any sort of confrontation could lead you to war.

When you're at war you'll be going up against other civilization(s) who are trying to either defend their own territory or expand into yours. To achieve victory in War, you'll have to decimate your opponent, and to do that you'll need to be building ships, researching technology, relying on allies and neighboring systems and much more. The formation of a technologically advanced army is crucial to winning a War. I found that it's best to start small with Stellaris in terms of your game creation, and once you overcome the 90-degree learning curve, you'll be in a much better position to go against multiple civilizations at once and utilize the old phrase, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

If you thought that was it for the depth of Stellaris, you'd be quite wrong. Stellaris though continues to go deeper. In peacetime through War, each race has their own sets of beliefs. How they perceive their own civilization, how they perceive other civilizations, etc. These beliefs bring about Edicts that affect the civilization. More Edicts can be learned over time and development, but these should be regarded because they can help shape the development of your entire race and possess unique trait bonuses. It goes without saying that Stellaris makes sure that there is just as much focus on intergalactic politics as there is in collecting resources or researching new technology.

This is one aspect that makes Stellaris one of the most in-depth RTS games you can find now on the Xbox One. Another aspect is the absolute brilliant graphic system that you find throughout every facet of Stellaris. It took some time to adapt to working in a pure 3D styled environment, but once I started to get familiar with the control scheme, it became far more manageable. I will say though that I can see why a keyboard and mouse for this game would be a massive benefit when compared to the controller. While I get the reality of the controller being the primary input device may not be the ideal situation, Paradox Development Studio did a fantastic job converting the user interface to fit the controller like a glove.

While the PC version came out in 2016, Stellaris: Console Edition delivers one of the most amazing individual experiences to be found on the Xbox One to date. Full customization and so much content that you will easily wonder where the last two weeks of your life went. Stellaris is a game that allows you to become a benevolent leader, interstellar overlord and everything in between, and tailors a graphically beautiful real time strategy experience that shouldn't be missed. For $39.99, Stellaris: Console Edition is one of the best bargain priced titles you can find to play.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Haunted Halloween '86

In the time I'm calling the golden era of gaming, children around the world flocked to their NES systems to engage the cartridge and set off of their adventure. Retrotainment Games set off on a task to help recreate that exact sensation. Priced at $9.99, Haunted Halloween '86 (The Curse of Possum Hollow) is designed to deliver the 8-Bit nostalgia that will hit us older gamers right in the feels and take us down a memory lane of Saturday morning cartoons with cereal, sunny days that turned into nights of playing outside and so much more.

I'm about to say something that is going to make some people very upset. I feel that a lot of gamers today are spoiled in gaming thanks to innovations that have evolved over the decades. Back in the 1980's gamers had a handful of lives, and even less chances to increase them throughout the entire game. If you failed? Then you got a game over and had to start all the way over from the beginning. Haunted Halloween '86 delivers the same twitch happy platforming experience that we have seen back in those golden ages of gaming.

There is a steep learning curve for this, and I know it sounds odd for me to say about some 8-Bit platformer, however, since you don't have analog support (big drawback for me), you'll have to get used to some very sensitive D-Pad action which will almost certainly be the difference between losing a life or getting through the level. This type of hair trigger jumping style is only complicated by the numerous types of enemies you'll face. However, it's up to you to figure out how enemies are dispatched.

The controls though of this game are incredibly simplistic. Just as before with the NES controller, you will only need to use the A and B buttons, as A is your jump and B is attack. To take advantage of the extra inputs on a more modern controller, gamers are given the ability to switch between fighters, each with have their own special abilities. To say that mastering this is easy would be a lie, so to help make things easier, Haunted Halloween '86 allows you to collect green cans that apparently act as lives. Some people have green mushrooms, some have green cans.

The story follows up the Haunted Halloween '85 tale and brings back the main character in a new adventure that happens to be very similar to their last. This time however, there are many... many differences... in many... ways. I never played Haunted Halloween '85 so I can't really compare the two plot lines, but if you and I are honest with one another, that's not why you're playing this game. You're playing it for the achievements.

Yes, that is the best thing, by a mile, about this game; the achievements. You can rack up 1000 Gamerscore in less than 15 minutes without any hassle. To be fair to this game, I did end up playing through it past the 1000 Gamerscore to give the plot a chance to entertain, and I can honestly say that it did deliver that nostalgic feeling that I was looking for, but not the quality I was expecting. I did enjoy the classic feeling, but even games released back in 1986 delivered better stories than this.

All throughout this review I've stated that this is an 8-Bit graphic layout, and both the visuals and audio pay significant homage to the time period. One of the hardest things to do would be to simulate shadowy areas, however, thanks to the graphical restrictions, you'll find yourself pausing while trying to distinguish what you can and cannot jump onto. Even the classic Super Mario Bros did their underground areas in a method that was easy to identify, but sadly not here.

While yes, you'll get a sense of a period of time when life was simpler and much better, the execution of Haunted Halloween '86 leaves little to be desired. While attempts are made to deliver that experience, the execution seems to be lacking intently. I would identify Haunted Halloween '86 as that one cartoon that was in the middle of your "Saturday Morning Cartoon" block that just didn't deliver that same "wow" factor as your favorites did. Remember, this is costing you $9.99 to experience this yourself, but is $9.99 worth 1000 Gamerscore boost in less than 15 minutes? That's a mystery you'll have to solve for yourself.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 ACE COMBAT 7: SKIES UNKNOWN

It has been over a decade since Bandai Namco allowed us to take to the skies and engage in non-stop air combat over fictional terrain set in a time of absolute war. Ace Combat 6 was Bandai Namco's attempt to bring about a quality flight/air combat simulator, and their Project Aces team excelled. Then as quickly as it appeared above the clouds, it vanished... for over 10 years. During this drought, the Ace Combat badge did resurface, but the thrill of the experience disappeared as it was put on hold for a more arcade type experience; however, the spiritual successor has been released, and once again we take to the skies in Ace Combat 7. Now grab your flight suit because it's time to earn your wings pilot.

As we taxi to the runway, Ace Combat 7 opens up to us and delivers a simplistic, yet beautifully designed layout. The options and menu are very simplistic, yet designed in a way that makes navigation through multiple options very manageable. You will make selections to play in the main campaign that consists of 20 missions (more on that here in a bit), multiplayer, go to the Microsoft store, game options and more. I started by going over the flight controls and found that if you're an Ace Combat veteran, then setting the flight controls to "advanced" allows for way more control over your aircraft. I also noted that there is an extensive flight control setup for those who should be lucky enough to have flight stick and throttle (I always wanted the old Ace Combat 6 flight stick bundle).

After going through the setup, it was nice to see that Bandai Namco and the Project Aces team kept a lot of the controls very similar to those of Ace Combat 6. The 'Y' button switches targets (though it should be pointed out that pressing 'Y' may not select the target immediately in front of you) through a sort of "list" of prioritized 'bogeys'. The B button is what you press if you want to unleash hell. The A button fires your guns. You can see where the rest of this is going, but I am very pleased to report that everything that was wonderful about the gameplay mechanics of Ace Combat 6 (AC6) made their return, but this time everything was tweaked to be better in every way.

If you've played AC6, then it should be no surprise that the same style of story follows here in Ace Combat 7. There's a war that breaks out between two rival nations and you are tasked with essentially bringing that war to an end. To do that, you'll have to essentially shoot everything down that you can. The story is hands down the weakest part of the game and provides little enjoyment except for the fact that you get to watch lengthy cinematics done in amazing quality and detail. Other than that, you fly and shoot things. It really doesn't get more simplistic than that. While I'm glad that the story does exist, the cinematics will sometimes go on for a long time, that your controller will actually turn off from non-use. I wish though the story was done in a manner that made more of an emotional connection, but sadly I wasn't involved in the writing process.

Trying to find innovation in any game is challenging; however, when you talk innovation in an air combat simulator, then you're going to have an even bigger challenge ahead. Ace Combat 7 put this challenge in their sights and blew it out of the sky thanks to one thing; weather. While you're flying, you'll notice things like rain, lightning, and even wind will make a dramatic impact on your aircraft. Lightning will temporarily short out your electronics (good strategy if you're looking to evade a lock on your tail), while you'll find that the wind will actually push your plane around so you will find yourself having to adjust your controls accordingly. This added realism was a much-welcomed blessing for this game, but what really took me by surprise was the new and innovative Aircraft Tree.

Think of the Aircraft Tree like your typical skill/character tree(s) that we find in most games today. This one, however, deals with planes, upgrades and weaponry on a colossal scale. Starting with an F-16, you will accumulate points/currency by each multiplayer mission you compete in, as well as each campaign mission you finish. This currency is used to unlock new aircraft, special weaponry and upgraded parts. YOU CAN NOT RESPEC YOUR POINTS USED, so be VERY careful as to how you decide to spend them. I find that it's best to plan by seeing what aircraft are on the path you initially want to take and then look for other upgrades that you wish to unlock at a later time.

When you purchase a new plane from the Aircraft Tree, you will automatically get one special weapon unlocked for that plane, but you will need to spend more currency to unlock the other weapons. For example, if you want to unlock the F-22A Raptor at the end of the tree, not only will you need to buy your way to it, but at the same time it will set you back 920,000 credits, and each special weapon you unlock can cost over 100,000 credits each one, so get ready to spend like crazy. This method allows you to feel like there are goals to reach and progress to be made while you grind away hours of your life flying in multiplayer.

Not only will you unlock new planes and ordinance, but you'll also unlock new parts which is another new innovation for the Ace Combat series. You'll be able to equip your plane with various parts that fit into the slots that impact different aspects of your aircraft. The first tab allows you to focus on things like maneuverability, stability and so forth. Your second tab relates to your armaments, and it's here you can tailor things like increased or standard missile homing, reload speed, etc. Your third and final tab deals with what I'm calling the technology aspect of your plane, by allowing you such options as enhanced deicing, decrease in enemy lock on and more.

Each plane has the same number of slots that you can use to equip these new parts (or as I call them "plane perks"), however, there are costs that are involved with each plane and part and that can impact what you face in multiplayer. You see, in multiplayer you can set up what types of planes you want to fly against. Not by type of plane, but rather by cost. Case in point, when you setup a multiplayer match, you can create your room with restrictions on aircraft cost, and there's options such as under 2000, unlimited and more, but here is how this works:

Let's say you join a room and its cost restriction is 2000 or less. An F/A-18 can cost a little over 1900, and each part that you put on the plane (not weapon but parts) costs between 20-50 credits, so you'll have to choose wisely if you want to maximize your aircraft under the 2000 limit. Or you can take a less expensive plane and load it up with tons of parts, so the decision is totally up to you on how you wish to approach multiplayer.

Graphically speaking, Ace Combat 7 is stellar. It takes everything from AC6 and enhances it in every way. The cut scenes are jaw dropping beautiful and the environments you fly in seem to be straight out of photographs. There was some screen tearing though, but it was incredibly minimal and didn't detract from the overall aesthetic of the game. There is one issue that I have to mention, and that is that I was hoping for a way to save some of the replays to watch later, or find some way to make clips of my flights, but the camera system was average at best in the replay sector and no such option exists to actually save your replays. A minor gripe, but when you're playing at such intense speeds, having to record your own manual clips can be a bit disorientating since you shift your focus to record some moment that went flying by you at 1000 mph... virtually of course.

Just as the graphics deliver an experience that makes your jaw drop, the audio surpasses any of the games that came before it and stands in a class on its own. Sure, the audio from the cockpit returns in its classic glory, but the actual soundtrack is what surprised me the most. Classical harmonies and a symphony of melodies bombarded my ears, while the tempo and direction of the music changed dramatically when the action became intense.

Without a doubt this IS the Ace Combat experience fans around the globe have waited over a decade for. Bandai Namco and Project Aces have done an incredible job delivering a truly remarkable flight combat experience that shouldn't be missed. With 20 story missions and a multiplayer that will leave you wondering where all those hours went, Ace Combat 7 deserves a medal of commendation for the execution of a near perfect flying gaming experience. If you're a fan of the Ace Combat series, or just flight games in general, then Ace Combat 7 should be on your radar to purchase.

Suggestions: Please do not wait over 10 years for another entry like this. This is the version of Ace Combat your fans want to enjoy, and feel free to make another one sooner than later.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Asdivine Hearts II

Following up on the release of the classic RPG game, Asdivine Hearts, KEMCO has decided to roll the dice again and deliver the sequel, aptly named Asdivine Hearts II, for the price of $14.99. Now, the first one really won me over, so is it possible for lightning to strike twice with KEMCO delivering a game that is built upon the solid foundations of the original? Let's find out.

The original Asdivine Hearts was an amazing shot of nostalgic RPG gaming that offered a surprising amount of depth to it. Fittingly, KEMCO went the smart route, as they were of the the mindset that if it's not broken, don't fix it.

In this sequel, you will find much of the same that you have before, should you have played the first game, albeit this time with a slightly different twist. In the original, we learned that there was a clash between Light and Dark deities, however, in the sequel you will fight alongside both. It seems a bit confusing, but should I completely spoil the story of Asdivine Hearts? Believe when I say that there's a reason for the deity partners.

With regards to the actual story of Asdivine Hearts II, I have to say that this is where one of the biggest faults of the game resides. In the beginning of the game you have the option to observe an incredibly abridged description of the plot and story of the original Asdivine Hearts so you can get caught up to speed, however, while that provides somewhat of a backstory, it does very little to help set the stage for this adventure. Then, throughout the game, you're going to encounter the obligatory side quests, but the main quest feels watered down and almost forced this time around. Sure, all the quirky mannerisms of your characters return in their awkward, pseudo-erotic nature, but after going through the new story, it doesn't captivate me as the original did.

Your characters from before return, so there's some form of familiarity. Zack is apparently the only male in the story and is surrounded by women who fall in love with him, and throughout the game you'll be subject to some really subpar emotional writings based off how these characters trust Zack (which can be altered by giving gifts as well). You can essentially bribe women to fall for you, and a big way to do that is by giving said gifts. Hmmmm... any how, each character has within themselves a special ability to examine objects and items while venturing in the overworld. Some can read ancient inscriptions within stones, some can use a whip to bring the party across gaps to reach hidden areas and so on.

A classic RPG game, such as this, depends on the story to make it worthwhile and enjoyable, and with what I experienced, I do feel the game takes a hit here. Despite this, there is still quite a lot of redeemable qualities within Asdivine Hearts II, starting with the battle system. As you venture forth, you can have a support character that can do actions for you, such as using spells to defend fellow teammates, decrease the cost of spells for the main character, increase damage dealt to the enemy and more, so you get the idea. If you decide to utilize both your main and support in the same turn, you have the potential to do an incredibly powerful combined attack that is known as a union attack.

These attacks should be used sparingly though. In order to properly use one, you first must select a spell with your main character, as this will be the base for your attack. Next, you will want to see what support spells have a question mark next to them and select that. Should you do everything properly, you will see a tremendous magical spell (which is delivered in some amazing retro goodness which I'll touch on later) that deals an incredible amount of damage. Your attacks (of any type) build what is called the trust gauge, and it's from this front that you will utilize these immensely powerful attacks.

Visually, Asdivine Hearts II seems to be in the recycling business. Not only do the graphics feel identical to the previous release, but each house/cave/business/castle feels similar to every other one and looks completely identical too. What's even worse is that the game's enemies also are almost taken straight from the original game and only given new facelifts and colors. There is very little originality and thought into this area, and to me it indicates that not a lot of effort and innovation was utilized to create a unique environment. I will state however, that if you're looking for a pure trip of nostalgia, then Asdivine Hearts II delivers but for fans returning from the first game it will seem very limited in scope.

One of my favorite aspects from the first game makes its return, and that is the Rubix system. For those who haven't played the first, or read my review, the Rubix system is what allows you to develop your character's bonuses by socketing jewels. You start with a basic grid layout, and through your battles and collected chests, you will be able to socket various shaped jewels that will grant bonuses to your character's stats. Also, you can combine jewels to make more potent ones, or if you're lucky, utilize them as one of your new companions.

Not all jewels are made equally, and some do contain monsters within them that, should you use them, will actually fight alongside you, or can be called upon to access their own skills for a fight. How you decide to use these types of jewels will impact your battles greatly, so make sure you get accustomed to trying different arrangements with different characters to see what works best for you. Should you also feel the need to battle these monsters, you can use them within an arena in the game where the more difficult the battles, the bigger the prizes are.

All of this aside, I must make a note here that the control system of Asdivine Hearts is just as hyper sensitive as it was before. What that means is that your 8-way directional movement when walking doesn't always function properly, and you find that walking around becomes a challenge in and of itself. Not really the best thing to do when you spend 1/3 of your time reading, 1/3 fighting and the other 1/3 walking around. Then when you factor in the random enemy occurrences and you are left with the reality that your movement now is broken, and you will have to start it all over again.

Asdivine Hearts II tries to deliver a sequel, but the story isn't as captivating as the original, the graphics feel recycled and the movement feels jerky as opposed to fluid. While some attempt at innovation tries to bring about some wonderful new aspects to the game, sadly Asdivine Hearts II falls short of bringing an adventure that felt fresh and new. I wish I could recommend this game, but at $14.99 it breaks my heart.

Overall Score: 6.8 / 10 Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden

One of the best ways to get your game to stand out from the rest of the pack is to be innovative, and apply said innovations to multiple facets of the game itself. For many, many years we as consumers have faced the repetition of numerous styles of gaming that all have similar functions, but all of them delivering an experience that doesn't seems to always capture the gamer because of its "more of the same" approach. Funcom has released a game called Mutant Year Zero, developed by The Bearded Ladies and priced at $34.99. So, while technically considered in the range of budget retail and not indie, Funcom had their work cut out for them to deliver a product that not only was entertaining, but worth the price tag as well. Did they accomplish this? Let's take a look inside and see what is offered.

In Mutant Year Zero you have a post-apocalyptic world that is the aftermath of a tremendous global nuclear war. During this war, humanity has almost been completely obliterated, the surrounding environment, which is called the Zone, is a mixture of dilapidated areas of residential and corporate buildings, destroyed tunnels and multiple areas that are all impacted by the aftermath. From the destruction though comes a sliver of hope for humanity, as the last major city structure is built in the sky, called the Ark. Like the story about how Noah saved the animals, the Ark's purpose is to try and save humanity. To do that however, you need scrap materials so they can be collected and converted into useful items for people on the Ark. However, where there is hope and good intentions, there's also another flip side to the coin.

Down in the Zone, you'll come across Ghouls, which are humans who have survived the war but have been turned mad and are devout followers of the Ancients (what passes for humanity before the war). These Ghouls are under control by a company called Nova Sect who want to utilize the fabled powers of mutation that were discovered by the Ancients, and use that ability to power new weaponry to wipe out the Ark and everyone inside it. To prevent this from happening you'll be taking on the role of a Stalker, who was originally tasked with finding materials in the Zone to bring back to the Ark, but now has a more important mission. Right from the beginning you'll be introduced to Bormin and Dux (no not the Bloodsport Dux) who are two mutant Stalkers, whom will be your primary players. As you progress, you'll unlock more followers, each of which have their own special abilities and powers, but I'll get into that more here shortly. Eventually you'll have formed a team, and it's this team that needs to confront Nova Sect and find out more about the Ancients, and more importantly, how to save humanity.

As you traverse the Zone and get a feel for the interconnectivity of the areas, you'll also note that the characters have their own unique weapons in a fight. Dux for instance, has a silent crossbow, while Bormin uses some loud but devastating shotguns. I made the deliberate notion to point out what weapons are silent and which are not, because that will make a world of difference in your game. Let me explain why. Mutant Year Zero is a turn-based combat game, and should you arouse the suspicions and be caught by the ghouls and their machines, you'll draw the fire of every ghoul in the area that you're in, so learning how to be stealthy and quiet will exponentially increase your chances of survival. However, for the times that you have to go loud, make sure you drop your target as soon as possible and you cover your flank.

The gameplay of Mutant Year Zero is setup to be a grid system during combat. You can get close to enemies and then press 'X' to ambush them. This will essentially pause the game and freeze opponents in their tracks while you navigate to your position of choice before engaging the enemy. The game will also let you know if moving to a designated place will result in your character being detected, so you can get a feel for where you want to position your players. Now each character gets two turns, and it's up to you to decide how you want to spend those points. Reloading your weapon takes one of the turn points, as does walking, however, firing your weapon ends your turn, so you'll have to balance how you want to approach different scenarios and adapt accordingly.

If you have the walk selection highlighted, you can use the Left and Right Bumpers to switch between party members, but if you have your weapon selection highlighted, the Bumpers switch between different enemies. Depending on your position, you'll be able to get a percentage of what your weapon will hit, and obviously the closer to 100 then the more chance you'll have to hit the target. Now remember that this is based off of line of sight, so while a direct approach may be more efficient, you may have a better tactical advantage from a higher perch, so plan accordingly to your environment, your enemy position, the strength of your weapons, etc.

There is a lot to consider with regards to combat, and one aspect that I'm ever so thankful for is the auto save after combat. This is because Mutant Year Zero is almost pure tactical combat, and should your strategy fail, you can reload after your last combat encounter. So, let's say you have an area of 15 enemies, and about 6 to 8 of them are in places around the perimeter. Every time you take one of them out and do it silently, the rest of the enemies are not triggered AND you get an auto save. So should you decide to engage with the quietness and subtlety of an air siren, you can reload and the game will pick up right where you left off after making the last kill, which will allow you to rethink your strategy and hopefully work through it. I found that using silent weapons to dispatch the surrounding enemies of an area worked best, but when it came time to deal with the bulk of the forces, then grabbing yourself the biggest, loudest and most damaging weapons possible is going to be your best option. Sometimes you have to just bring the noise if you want to survive, and while a silenced pistol of damage 5 is good for low level enemies, a rail gun with a damage of 8 is far better.

Should you make it through combat alive, you'll start to level up your characters. The leveling system is done as a team, so one experience bar dictates all characters so there's no uneven leveling (even for members who aren't in your 3-person party). As you level up your mutants you'll gain points that you can spend on your character for passive skills, as well as minor and major mutations. These types of mutations require a cooldown to use, but not a cooldown in time, but in kills. So, for example, Skull Splitter, a minor mutation, may be able to grant you 100% critical chance, but you'll take a 25% hit in accuracy. This requires you to kill 3 enemies after you use it to reset the mutation for use. What this means is that, while some mutations may be worthwhile to use, I like to consider saving them for massive enemies like Tanks and other larger opponents.

Just as you have the ability to upgrade your character, you'll also have the ability to upgrade your weapons. This is done through scavenging for weapon parts and collecting loot drops from fallen enemies. While the main combat mechanics of the game take center stage, the parts in between the fighting bits revolve around you walking through the Zone searching for items such as scrap, weapon parts and even what is called Ancient Artifacts, such as a defibrillator or a telescope. The scrap allows you to buy items from the store in the Ark, and things can get expensive quickly, so make sure you stockpile your scrap and buy what you need when you need it (medpacks I'm looking at you). The Ancient Artifacts allows you to upgrade all your characters at the Ark with abilities such as an extra grenade slot, increase in hit percentage, 20% off the store so you can save more scrap, etc. These items are hidden away in the Zone, so you'll have to scavenge the area to find them.

The last little bit of upgrading on the Ark deals with your weapon upgrades. Here you'll be able to modify your weapon through 3 stages of power with each stage requires a set amount of weapon scrap. On top of the power level, you'll have the opportunity to equip items such as scopes that will grant weapons passive abilities such as increased critical chance, increased weapon range and more. The last little bit could be the most important, and that is your damage modifier. You'll come across numerous enemies within the Zone and it helps to have weapons that are equipped to deal with the particular types. For example, one damage modifier can grant you a 50% chance to burn your organic enemies, which is great when you start talking ghouls, but when you start battling robots, then not so much. For that you'll need shock weapons that will help disable them and can be a life saver. One gripe I had about this is that you can ONLY swap out items on your gear at the Ark, so if you find an item in the field, you won't be able to equip it until you get to the ark. A small flaw but can become annoying should you come across amazing pieces of gear and have to fast travel back to the Ark just to equip it.

Another little gripe involves the actual walking around and exploration of the Zone, as it is incredibly SLOW. Now I'm not asking for racing style speed, but I've seen snails move faster than the characters do. Maybe this has to do with making sure you don't inadvertently trigger enemies, but when you have large areas to explore, and it literally takes you minutes to walk from one exit to another because of the speed, the game loses some of its impact, and even though the dialog occurs while you're walking through the different areas of the Zone, it does very little to remove the monotony of slowly walking around and exploring a large area for scrap and items. To rectify this, you'll be able to fast travel to any point on the map (once you unlock it by travelling there on foot) which will save a tremendous amount of time, but at the same time, if you're missing some Ancient Artifact, then you'll have to go through each area anyways to look for them. So while fast travelling is a good thing, if you're wanting to collect scrap, upgrade your characters and more, then you're going to be forced into the long walks of boredom.

That's not to say that you'll be walking through an environment that looks horrible. In fact, the graphics of Mutant Year Zero are done very well with amazing lighting effects. The camera system is also sufficient and not over complicated or cumbersome. The character models are unique and detailed, but the real graphical power stems from the Zone itself. Another joy I found was that the music really fit the experience of the game in a manner that I was quite skeptical about. However, from the moment I started playing, the ambient audio and musical soundtrack were a treat from start to finish.

From an innovative way to incorporate on the fly tactical strategy into an action adventure game, to a simplistic yet robust upgrading system, Mutant Year Zero is one of the best experiences you can have on the Xbox platform. A few setbacks though can't diminish the tremendous amount of enjoyment I found trying one strategy, failing miserably, reloading the save, trying another strategy, failing miserably and repeating the process until I was successful. This feeling of accomplishment means that every battle of Mutant Year Zero means something, and thus a fantastic and challenging experience from start to end. Due to all this, it's easy to say that Mutant Year Zero is well worth the $34.99 price tag and should be on everyone's radar as a must have.


Overall Score: 8.3 / 10 Ashen

When someone tells me a game is along the lines of Dark Souls, I instantly picture myself spending an exorbitant amount of time dying and respawning in a seemingly endless cycle until a checkpoint or goal is reached/obtained. I personally am incredibly poor at games like this, so when I had the chance to dive into Ashen, I thought it would be best to begin the game with an open mind; and I'm ever so thankful that I did. When I saw that the price tag was $39.99, I was optimistically cautious that what we could be looking at is an amazing sleeper of a hit. Let's get right into it and find out what we have here in Ashen.

Ashen refers to a god-like entity of light. This light radiates from the Ashen and bestows upon the various kingdoms its radiance by which each culture adapts it to fit their needs. Ashen boils down to a generic 'save the light from the dark by killing the dark' experience that we've had before. I'm not going to spoil the plot because it's one you have to experience to enjoy. I will say though that you'll experience all of this in the opening segments, and be thrown right into the story where you'll learn about Ashen's core, the creation of bonds.

Ashen thrives upon you developing relationships with others that you meet. Individuals will help you along your way, but require a side quest in order to gain their favor. Throughout your questing you'll come across items that will fulfill side quests, and you can choose whether or not you wish to complete the quest and give the items to their designated people, or you can keep the item for yourself. Should you decide to relinquish your item, then they will provide you with various skills that you can utilize.

These bonds that you create are unique to every character you meet, so you will get to experience a number of diverse side quests that most of the time will boil down to just go somewhere, kill something, collect reward and repeat. As you complete your quests and grow your home base, Vagrant's Rest, you will find that more abilities will open up for your character in regard to crafting and upgrades. While you make your progress and tend to others, you will watch as your base begins to grow not just in population, but also in development. As you help others, it become startling how you see your base almost blossom in front of your eyes. Now remember, these quests are optional, but they do serve a critical purpose, and that is to teach you to work together.

Yes, you'll have an NPC character accompany you, however, that AI can be replaced by another human in a seamless drop in/out method. You'll rapidly become to realize that to access various areas of the map itself, you will be required to work as a team to traverse and explore the wilderness and caves. It must also be noted that if someone joins your game, they can go off on their own and completely leave your side as well. While this doesn't bode well to fostering good teamwork, remember that you will also be needed should the other person wishes to access areas that require cooperation. This harmonic balance is what will keep people working together and is a remarkable trait that is rarely found in gaming today.

Should you decide to go at Ashen solo, you will be granted your AI teammate, but their playstyle will forever be less than a human controlled character. There is a knock against the co-op though, as if you want to have a dedicated friend join up rather than a random player or an AI counterpart. To accomplish this, you must first go into settings, then after you adjust your settings, you then must enter a code which you have to give to your friend so they can link to your game and join you, then you are required to essentially stand in the same spot in the world. Should all of this work flawlessly, then your friend will be directly linked to your game. I don't know, but I thought a simple invite system that's found on almost every other game that allowed for co-op would be a lot more simplistic, because, should one step fail, then you have to do this all over again. Also, should you fast travel on the map or perish, then guess what you're going to be doing again? For a game so centered around developing bonds and cultivating friendships and teamwork, Ashen really puts a lot of confusing steps in place to do it.

Outside of the cumbersome steps needed to partner up with a friend, you'll quickly come to terms with the Right Stick and the B button, as you realize that a majority of the game involves combat, and the Right Stick allows you to lock onto an enemy, so you don't end up flailing your weapon around hitting nothing but air. Your B button is your infamous dodge move which will save your hide, provided you have enough stamina, and that is also another sad reality; that Ashen boils down to simple stamina management for its gameplay. Your Right Bumper gives you a light attack, Right Trigger gives you a hard attack, and each take away their own amount of stamina. Your dodging as well takes away stamina, and if you have to dodge twice you may not have enough left in the tank to engage your opponent right away. This technique of managing your dodging with your attacking, and stamina amount, will be of the upmost importance to master, especially when dealing with the game's bosses who can one shot you without a successful dodge.

After you perfect your mastery of the controls, you'll be able to enjoy the incredible lands of Ashen. Beautiful scenery blankets every unique area and adds an artistic flair to the realistic graphics we have come to know and expect. Caves and underground labyrinths feel enclosed and can be tricky to navigate, while the wide-open space of the world of Ashen can leave you vulnerable to unseen spear and arrow attacks from a distance, so I learned quickly to always be aware of your surrounding areas. I will say though, that one of the biggest surprises to me, by a mile, is the soundtrack. An acoustic wet dream of harmonies that play off the lands and your actions make every single moment of Ashen an incredible experience. After playing games since the early 80's, I would easily rate this within my top 10 gaming soundtracks of all time. While the tedious grinding of enemies after I expired would become mundane after doing it so many times, it allowed me to listen to more of the soundtrack, which was a perfect tonic to my depression over my failed gameplay.

There are some technical issues though that plagued Ashen. For instance, I would encounter some screen lag when multiple moving items were on the screen at one time. I also would experience game crashes should I spin the camera around too fast and for too long. I also encountered some more game crashes when I tried to do a trade with some of the NPC traders. Each one of these crashes involved me having to restart the game entirely. Thankfully though, all of my currency and items were still there when my character got back into the world. I must make note though, if you're a purist when it comes to achievements, brace yourselves because there are numerous 17-point achievements that you can obtain.

For a hack and slash game that adapts the traits of a Dark Souls, to focus on the formation and cultivation of bonds between characters, Ashen is a game that came out of nowhere to positively surprise me. Despite the technical glitches, the grinding and the dying, I found the game beautiful to behold, angelic to listen to, and a story that delivers a tremendous punch. A44 did a tremendous job developing a game that is worth every penny of the $39.99 asking price. It goes without saying that if you're a fan of adventure games, hack and slash games, or Souls type games, then Ashen needs to be on your must buy list.


Suggestions: do away with the 17 point achievements.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Darksiders III

One of the greatest sources of all story material relates to the eternal battle between Heaven and Hell, where Earth and humanity is caught in the middle. In the past, THQ (who is now THQ Nordic) has provided us such tales in the Darksiders series. With little to no advertisement, Darksiders descended upon the public, like the horseman that they are, and was so surprisingly good that it spawned its own cult following by being the literal definition of a sleeper hit. Dark times fell upon THQ and the company dissolved, and in doing so, caused uncertainty in the future of the Darksiders’ stories. While the stories were told for War and Death, there were two stories whose fate was now up in the air, until now.

News came of Darksiders being picked up, and with THQ Nordic now being at the helm of the IP, and it seemed like everything was green lit to be moving forward with the tale, all while everyone was clamoring over their Red Dead Redemption 2's, Call of Duty, Battlefield, etc. THQ Nordic casually released Darksiders III, and it literally picks up right where we left off from the previous two titles. This time though, the horseman you play isn't War or Death, but this time you tell Fury's story.

Fury is the female horseman who is quite literally the most impatient and conceited horseman we have experienced to date. While War was tormented, and Death seemed arrogant, Fury wants it all and wants it now. Should anything delay that, and Fury will annihilate anything preventing that from occurring. While the council deliberates and investigates War's actions, Fury's job is to track down the Seven Deadly Sins who have broken loose from the Council's grasp and return them to the council so that order may be restored to the precious balance so eagerly sought.

The story is what primarily made Darksiders such an iconic tale. Describing the balance between Heaven and Hell with humanity locked in the middle, and thankfully this story keeps to the same grounds. Each sin is represented in a manner that suits each representation: Wrath is a juggernaut of vengeance and power, Sloth is a lazy overweight character that would rather sacrifice his minions to do its work than exert force of his own and Lust is an enchantress of desire that will make you obtain everything you ever wanted for a price. There is one character that thankfully makes their return to the game, the merchant Vulgrim; a humble merchant of trinkets, consumables and artifacts for Fury.

Now the same principal background of obtaining new powers throughout the story also applies as well to this latest Darksiders entry. While you play a rider of the apocalypse, you are without the necessary powers to complete your mission. As Fury is tested, and passes, she will obtain new powers. Think of these new powers almost as elemental enhancements. The flame enchantment will allow her to a propelled jump to reach new heights, the lightning enchantment will allow her to perform a glide move at the height of her double jump and can make use of wind vents to help propel her into the air and cross greater distances. These new elemental powers are mapped to your A, B, X, and Y buttons, and can be called upon instantly with just a simple button combination such as LB + A. As Fury also eliminates enemies, she will be able to call upon 2 additional forms of attack. One of them is based off the selected element she is currently using, which is activated with LB+RT, and the other one is her wrath form where she becomes an unrelenting powerful force of pure aggression but only does Arcane damage (you’ll hear more about Arcane damage later), and it only lasts for a short while.

It goes without saying that these new abilities mean one thing. Going back to the beginning and finding new areas to explore that were once unreachable for you. This sense of grinding has been at the forefront of Darksiders since its inception, however, it's taken to a new extreme level in this latest release. One of the most notable downfalls has to be with their lurcher currency and how it's lost upon death. Let me give you an example.

Say you're wandering around and slaughtering enemies left and right for over an hour, but then you get caught and you end up dying. Now not only will you spawn at the last Vulgrim location, but your lurcher (currency) count will reset to 0, and as such, EVERY ENEMY you killed will also respawn. So, what I found myself doing is going back and re-farming from the beginning over and over again. The tediousness of this is indescribable, however, when you get back to the same place you died, you'll find a massive blue lurcher element that you can hit with your whip and reclaim all your lost currency that is now added onto your new total. While very time consuming, very profitable in the end. However, you're going to be dying quite a bit in the beginning, so maybe save this till later.

The reason you're going to be dying a lot is that Fury, even for being a Horseman of the Apocalypse, is incredibly weak. I don't know why. The Charred Council that helps control the balance, and who created the Horsemen, made them fragile and powerless for whatever reason. You'll be falling in love very rapidly with the RB which is your dodge button. Should you time it right, not only will you dodge the attack and receive no damage, but you'll also gain a window to unleash an arcane attack that can cause severe damage (pending you upgrade your skill; more on that later) but also open up a window of vulnerability against your opponent where you can chain together more attacks. However, while getting accustomed to the RB and it's timing of the enemy's attacks, you'll suffer a lot of damage and die quite frequently. You've been warned.

The gameplay itself is decent, however, there are some issues that plague it. One of the issues I found most annoying dealt with the lack of a mini map. This took a long, long time to get acclimated to because with no map of any sort to guide you, you find yourself wandering around levels like that Pulp Fiction meme trying to figure out where to go next. Another issue with the gameplay is the whole lock on feature never felt right. You can use the LT to lock onto an enemy and then use the RS to cycle through enemies attacking you, so you can select which one to focus on. Sounds great, however in doing so you can lose focus of the other 4 enemies coming at you and dealing damage to you. While the focus is great for a 1v1 engagement, it becomes irrelevant and damn near suicidal if you decide to use it in a group. Other drawbacks include pressing in the Right Stick to engage in an over the shoulder targeting mode, which is ok, but you lose your peripheral vision, so it becomes more focused. Again, this is great if you need it to go 1 on 1, but if you use it in a group setting, you're cutting off at least half your vision which will certainly lead to death.

As I was progressing through Darksiders, I did notice that music and soundtrack sadly was quite forgettable. There was though, one section of the game and that is when you get to the maker's building that has some absolutely incredible music. I found myself actually pausing there for a while just to listen to it. In case you were wondering, the maker is where Fury goes to upgrade her weapons and her enhancements. Each enhancement carries with it two properties. So, for example, one enhancement would be 1: Rejuvenate health per minute and 2: Increase lurcher count spawned by destroying objects. Now you can only select 1 path to upgrade the enchantment, but when you do the 4th upgrade in your path you'll find that both paths combine at the end to create a balanced enchantment. While the lurcher may be good for currency, health is always a blessing, so it's always best to prepare for the long term. Now as Fury progresses and acquires new powers, so too does she acquire new weapons. Outside of her whip you’ll find she will have spears, some form of fire nunchaku and much more. All of which can be upgraded.

As the maker is used for upgrading your equipment, Vulgrim the merchant is used for upgrading your character. Using the lurchers you collect you can feed them to Vulgrim who, after enough have been acquired, will grant you an ability point which you can use to upgrade one of three classes: Health (how much damage you can take), Strength (how much damage you deal) and Arcane (how much damage you do when going into arcane mode and perfectly dodging attacks). I found that it was in my best interest to focus on building my character's health and strength, but as I approached the later levels, upgrading the arcane stat has been incredibly valuable.

I must take a moment now because I have to say that the graphics of Darksiders III is something that not only pays homage to the style that we have become accustomed to throughout the series, but has provided moments of incredible beauty. There was a moment where I explored and found my way into a cave that was only lit with soft blue bioluminescence pods which looked like a blanket of blue stars in the night sky. There were enemies there that were a greenish tint that glowed like a blacklight, and the whole area was drop dead gorgeous. Each area has its own distinctive feel to it which gives it a very unique feeling as you move from level to level, but it's more than just complete a level and move on, as you are essentially exploring a world. Think of it as an origami piece that you unfold and discover one crease at a time until you unfold everything and see the final picture. While frustrating at first, the concept is wonderfully executed. Sadly, when it comes to the graphics, there were numerous times when the frame rate did drop significantly and there were other graphical hiccups that didn't occur at the most opportune times, but in the overall scheme of things, they were few and far between.

There was something though that was missing from the classic Darksiders games of the past, and that were the puzzles. While they do exist in Darksiders III, they are few and far between and much more simplistic than what came before them. This shifts the focus to be more about combat than puzzle solving, which can be OK should you favor more action; however, the game is about restoring balance, and yet Darksiders III seems heavily out of balance. Instead of thinking how to get a multi-step puzzle completed, it usually boils down to hack your way to a point, do something relatively simplistic and repeat until the puzzle is solved.

Overall my experience of Darksiders III has been one of a rollercoaster, full of highs and lows, which is to be expected since that seems par for the course. I have to tip my cap though to everyone involved in bringing Darksiders III to life, and if you have played War and Death's story, then you will be more than excited to know that Fury's narrative is every bit as incredible as you have come to expect. Darksiders, when it was released, became the definitive example of a sleeper hit, and like the Phoenix that arises from the ashes, Darksiders III has been resurrected in a fashion that lays the ground work for a tremendous conclusion to the series should we get Darksiders IV and the final chapter of the horsemen and the apocalypse. If you're a fan of hack and slash adventure games with an incredible story, then this should be on your list of must have games to purchase.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Chronus Arc

When you say to me that you have a retro RPG game that involves time manipulation, my mind instantly puts you up against the legendary game Chrono Trigger. When you name your game Chronus Arc, that almost guarantees you to be under the largest magnification possible. KEMCO has done a great job in delivering classic RPG games with a retro feel before, but now with so many releases, is it becoming more of a cookie cutter approach rather than a unique individual story that delivers an iconic experience? With a price tag of $14.99, KEMCO has high aspirations with this game, but let's see if it's worth it, because in reality, we can't rewind bad decisions.

Right off the bat I have to unfortunately knock this game. While a classic SNES JRPG styled game sounds amazing, the reality is that this game falls incredibly short on the one thing that it should excel at, and that's the story.

There are items called the Chronus fragments, and once every 10 years, the god Houra (creative naming...) essentially rewinds the time of existence, which in turn will repair broken items such as weapons and heirlooms. To do this you have to think of the past, as a copy that is temporarily overlaid into reality. While the foundation seems to have substance that would make Stephen Hawking excited, the delivery leaves it a watered-down experience at best.

You play the role of Loka, who is training under a sorcerer knight named Tech. You both set off and attempt to gather the Chronus fragments when all of a sudden you are ambushed, and before you know it, your master is gone and the Chronus fragments are missing. Now, here is where you think that the story is going to dive into some grand adventure, but unfortunately this is where I sadly crush your dreams by telling you that the experience is a little over 8 hours long and relatively meaningless.

Throughout the game's narrative, and what I'm calling a McAdventure, you are joined by some unoriginal characters that you develop absolutely no connection to for any reason. They join you for their own mysterious reasons that aren't well detailed, so their impact is relatively minimal to the overall narrative. So maybe the story isn't the best thing, but how is the gameplay? Classic JRPG's from the SNES days had great gameplay, but does Chronus Arc have it as well?

Short answer, no. Yes, the classic turn-based battle system returns in all its nostalgic glory; however, that's where the enjoyment ends, and the trudging begins. There is a total of four classes that you can choose from: cleric, sorcerer, warrior or assistant (yes that's an actual class), yhough later in the game you can unlock a special class, but should you feel compelled to achieve it, I'll let you enjoy uncovering it. Each class provides unique pros and cons to battle, but the real problem here stems from changing classes. Let's say you grind (I'll explain that later on) your characters up and learn some new abilities, but low and behold, when you switch your class you are reset back to level 1, but you do keep the skills and abilities you learned before, but your stats take a hit.

In order to do all of this though, you'll need to purchase a tome which costs a whopping 50 mana, which is the currency in Chronus Arc. You'll gain 1 mana for every 5 opponents killed, so grab some popcorn, because you'll be grinding for a VERY long time considering at most you can have 4 enemies on the screen per each individual battle. So, get ready to grind 250 enemies just to switch your class. But let's say you want to open up your character's own special class? That'll set you back 100 mana. This happens to go hand in hand with the game's internal quest system that forces you to find items which enemies drop in battle, so this is how the game justifies the long and drawn out grind of mediocrity. Oh, how I wish I was done now, but you need to know the whole truth.

So, you have your irrelevant characters and you're marching about doing pointless grinding for things that are relatively meaningless, and that's when it hits you: Chronus Arc's ridiculous brick wall of difficulty and XP. Chronus Arc starts you off with enemies that will naturally pose a challenge to your team, though you should be able to dispatch them with relative ease, but as you progress, the difficulty level takes a trajectory path that would have NASA cheer as it goes into orbit.

Me and my jolly band of misfits were walking around some woods, grinding enemies for quest completions by one-shotting enemies, and then we enter a cave about 2-character widths away when me and my team are instantly crushed in a single blow. The difficulty curve is beyond anything I've ever experienced in all my decades of gaming, and when compiled with a lackluster story, it really drains all the would-be life out of the game itself. Or so I thought.

The nail in the coffin belongs to the XP brick wall you'll face. As you grind by killing enemies, you'll naturally level up. As you level up, and you gain more material, you can obtain items that can give you up to 2x experience. However, the real issue comes when you hit level 30. This, for whatever reason, almost forces you into microtransactions just to proceed. Chronus Arc offers microtransactions to make elements and aspects of this game more manageable, and when you face the reality that not even a 3x experience boost means relatively anything, you start to feel like you got taken to the cleaners by the ShamWow guy; however, while you may be upset, there is actually a bright spot to Chronus Arc, and that would be the puzzles.

Chronus Arc fills its dungeons and caves with their version of puzzles. These puzzles are found in three basic forms including hitting switches, moving blocks/jars, or a combination of both. This is a fantastic break from the monotony of grinding enemies for materials or trying to learn whatever you can from the watered down back stories of your fellow team members. There is something that needs to be said though, and that is when you are manipulating a puzzle you HAVE TO, and let me repeat that, HAVE TO, work it out ahead of time in regards to how to reach the solution to the puzzle. The reason for this is that you can only push blocks and cannot pull them, so think of this is as basically managing a massive 1-way puzzle. Should you get stuck and need to reset, which will happen a lot, that's easy to do, but with proper planning you should find no difficulty with the puzzles.

Regrettably, Chronus Arc can easily be considered a cash grab by a company who believes in the quantity of games rather than the quality. Chronus Arc was first released in 2013, and unlike a good wine, it doesn't get better with age. It's unfortunate that an anemic story that had tremendous potential got overshadowed by numerous setbacks and problems which make the already short gameplay an even less entertaining experience. When you start factoring in the recycled audio that you'll hear constantly due to your need to 'grind', the desire to even finish the game feels like a waste of time.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 V-Rally 4

It's no secret that I'm in LOVE with rally racing, as I have followed the WRC for over 20 years like an addict. I regard it as some of, if not, THE most difficult driving in the world. While others take to tracks to pass each other on smooth tarmac, nothing will put hair on your chest faster than doing 90mph on a narrow gravel path where on one side you have a mountain face and the other side is a drop of a couple hundred feet. Recently I had a chance to review the latest V-Rally 4 game by developer Kylotonn and hoped that this would be a rally game that went toe to toe with such icons in the genre as DiRT. Given that the last V-Rally game was over 15 years ago, how does it stack up in today's world? Grab a helmet.

Shifting into first, we see that V-Rally 4 is quite anemic when it comes to its game modes. You have the V-Rally mode which is regarded as your campaign mode. Your other options are quick race mode and multiplayer. For the sake of this review I'm going to primarily focus on the V-Rally mode. Your campaign is actually broken up into various styles, and while it may seem to possess a wild bounty of options, in reality there are only two basic styles of racing; against the clock or against opponents. Your basic rally race will consist of you taking your car through fictional courses (more on this later) and trying to beat the time set by your opponents.

The hill climb rally function is the same thing, except you're literally going up a seemingly massive mountain side road with tons of hairpins and steep cliff drop-offs. Kylotonn has included a mode that is called the Extreme Khana, which is heavily focused on taking your car and drifting it like crazy throughout developed centers. Now, if we shift our focus to the other racing style we have two practices, Buggy and Rally Cross. These both involve you on a shortened track competing in lap-based races where the only difference between the two is that one involves Buggy vehicles and the other does not.

So, it's safe to say that Kylotonn has done a great job trying to incorporate a fresh new take on how rally racing should go. This concept is also found within the races themselves. They have opted to do away with the traditional WRC courses that we have come to expect. Instead, they have created fresh new courses placed all over the globe that are designed to keep your grip on your controller tight for hours and your body leaning into every single turn. This is mainly due to the fact that the game's driving physics are not the best to be found.

You do have an option to adjust your handling of your car before a race, but you don't get to experience it to decide if your changes will benefit you in any way until you get into the actual race itself. For its defense, you can customize a ton of settings within your car from suspension, brakes, and more, and through the game's upgrade system (more on that later) you can improve your car's handling ability to some extent. Make no mistake, V-Rally 4 delivers a driving experience comparable to using the Force while driving a car, and with little to no hand holding or any form of driver assistant or rewind feature, other than a repositioning button (for when you go flying off the track). The learning curve for V-Rally 4's gameplay is about as steep as the cliff you're going to drive off of.

What this means is that you will crash... a lot. You will come in last... a lot. You will become frustrated beyond belief. However, if you stick with it, there will come a time when your frustrations give way to your newly developed driving style, and you'll start to see improvement, and this is how V-Rally 4 will keep you hooked. However, there is a problem as well, because when you're trying to drive, your only form of a map comes from your co-driver who is supposed to give you notes on the upcoming sections of the track. You have no mini map, so the notes become absolutely essential, and sometimes your co-driver either delays in their instruction or they will get an attitude and dump a bunch of instructions in your lap to make you not only remember them all, but also force you figure them out as you're driving along in this poorly controlled vehicle.

These types of issues are massive dings in the game, but to help V-Rally gain some points back there is more to the career than just pick a race and go. Now you must manage your own team from multiple points and perspectives. First off, you'll be hiring an agent to help you unlock other courses to compete in around the world. This is where you'll also notice that as you progress there will be races that require you to pay a fee to get into to a race event. As you get a better agent, their cost to you per week goes up as well. This is a trend you'll see with the rest of your employees.

I say employees because you'll also be tasked to hire engineers to develop new additions and performance upgrades to your vehicle. You are also required to hire a maintenance crew. As you navigate your rally stages, your vehicle will become damaged, so it will be up to you to repair the car at your own expense. The better the mechanics you have, the more money they cost you to repair your car, but the cost to repair your car goes down. So, think of it as a balance of finances. You'll spend a certain amount of your accumulated cash per week on your entire staff and also must manage your expenses for your upgrades and repair work. Think of this aspect like being your own boss, but without all the paperwork, W-2 forms and HR harassment videos.

Now, there is one thing that V-Rally does and does very well, and that is make the stages of each course look BEAUTIFUL. This game does look jaw droppingly gorgeous, and even though the tracks are fictional, the scenery is quite amazing. From the multicolored flower filled fields in Japan, to Monument Valley’s rock structures that erupt from the sandy grounds, this is V-Rally's strong point, and it shows it well. However, this also means that the audio is beyond reprehensible. First off, the noises of the engines are flat and unrealistic in their delivery and performance, but while that is bad, nothing compares to the horrible music they have in the actual game itself. Imagine one bad hip-hop track (and I mean like phenomenally bad) that is stuck on an endless loop cycle. I personally wish there was as much effort put into the audio of the game as there was applied to the visual aspect, but I'm not Kylotonn.

The last gripe I have with the game is the lack of cars. While yes, rally racing doesn't have a lot of manufacturers, the number of cars that you can choose from is incredibly thin. Several reasons could be considered for this to be the case, such as not being able to get actual cars to render and model to just being lazy. But when you can't have a classic Subaru Vs. Mitsubishi rally rivalry, I'm already going to be docking it a point.

This type of stuff seems to be my biggest frustration with this game. Every time it takes a step forward in its production value, it seems like something happens resulting in the game taking two steps backwards, and you're left feeling a sense of disappointment. Limited car selection, poor audio, challenging driving mechanics that that feel like a blind folded staffer was the model, really hit this game hard. There seems to be more focus on trying to make the tracks look pretty rather than make a great driving experience, and this is why I would pass on the $59.99 price tag. Saying that breaks my heart, but in reality, V-Rally 4 maybe shouldn't have come back yet?

Overall Score: 7.2 / 10 Moonfall Ultimate

There are games that take you back to days of simpler times; where the action was always enjoyable and the experience made you yearn for more. Games like Golden Axe may be like Sanskrit to those who think a PS2 is an antique, but these action/RPG side scrolling games provided countless gamers from around the world incredible amounts of enjoyment, so much so that they have etched themselves into gaming lore. Fishcow Studio is now trying to make their mark by releasing Moonfall Ultimate for the Xbox One, so let's see how many boxes we can check off and find out if Moonfall Ultimate deserves a rightful place at the top of this prestigious category.

As we venture forth, it is worth noting that Moonfall Ultimate does NOT support online multiplayer, but does support local co-op, so if you have a friend (doubtful though) that wants to come over and take part in this hack and slash RPG adventure, then they are welcomed. I'm sorry, but I have to ding this game right off the bat for something like this. Having some form of lobby system or the ability to invite people to connect online is a trait found in other games of the same genre, so not including this feature seems a little apathetic.

In Moonfall Ultimate you get to pick to make your character one of three different classes:

1) Vanguard - Consider this your warrior/tank class. These characters can hit like a freight train and take a lot of damage, but that's about it. They do have some drawbacks though, as is to be expected.

2) Elementalist - Here are your magic wielders. These characters can sling powers of fire, ice, and more and can apply these magical traits to their own weapons as well. The downside? They can get damaged very easily, as in VERY easily. Range is going to be your friend.

3) Shadow - These characters are your trap laying assassins. They specialize in distractions that keep your enemies busy while you go in for the kill. While this is nice, they do require a lot of work to take enemies down so expect a very long fight.

Each one of these types of characters possess a skill tree that offer unique abilities that can either impact a single enemy or deliver an attack that affects an area. Points are earned through leveling up and can be assigned to the corresponding skills, provided that any prerequisite skill is already unlocked. The classes that are offered are poised to deliver a classic balanced experience, however, there are a few problems that lurk below the surface and that deals with the game play.

First, your character controls are incredibly poor. Using your stick to move your character, you get the feeling that they are in desperate need of decaf coffee, because the movements are ridiculously jarring. You will eventually become accustomed to the speed, but the learning curve is exponentially high and that is also thanks to the biggest problem, that being the unfair targeting system. Let me explain what I mean by that.

Enemies you will face can fire ranged attacks at you, and every shot they fire, even if they are above or below you on the screen, will directly fly right at your character. However, this Robin Hood like precision isn't bestowed upon your character at all, so your character will ultimately find the best method to hit someone is to run right in and swing your weapon. This reality though essentially makes the other classes other than Vanguard an almost waste of time. I strongly recommend that you tackle the game on easy difficulty until you can get the feel for the game mechanics, otherwise you're going to be learning the hard way why the Left Trigger block feature is going to be your best friend.

Now I've been talking about the gameplay mechanics a lot and they are fairly simplistic. Your skills are mapped to the face buttons such as X, Y, etc and your potions are the Right and Left Bumpers that identify with your health and mana gauges which are located in the top left corner. Your D-Pad acts as your interactive portal and will allow you to read scrolls, open chests, hit switches and so forth. Despite all of this, sadly the combat will almost always boil down to you swinging your weapon in close range combat.

There's another issue as well and that involves the storyline. It had potential to be tremendous, but sadly feels very underwhelming and pointless. It's your classic trope about several kingdoms are at peace but one, then this lonely kingdom harnesses the magical powers of a fallen space rock, causing all the other kingdoms make deals to use the technology, thus the Empire was born. Peace reigned for years, and then the king of the Empire died and that is when the other kingdoms started a civil war for dominance (think watered down Game of Thrones but without the hot women, well written plot, developed characters, etc. You get the picture).

Since going through this story can be relatively quick, you'll spend a lot of time trying to trudge through various side quests where you'll have to rescue someone or defeat some sub boss character, but thankfully you'll earn this shiny blue element gems which act as currency where you can trade them in for items, weapons and armor back at your camp. Think of these as necessary evils because the bulk of your experience and currency will be earned through them.

There is a bright spot though, and that is Moonfall Ultimate is a very beautiful game to look at. The artwork in each level looks like a piece of freshly painted backdrop from a master's canvas, and each character, including the enemies, are done in such detail that you'd be hard pressed to find another game in this genre that looks as good, if not better.

I wish I had better news readers, I really do, but regrettably Moonfall Ultimate is far from ultimate. It actually pains me to say this because I was looking forward to an incredible gaming experience, yet found nothing that came close. You would think that with such classic iconic titles of the past, and those that are still actively being utilized to this day (Diablo, I'm looking at you), that developing a solid gameplay action RPG game would almost be too easy to create.

Moonfall Ultimate had potential unlike very few other games had before it, but like an Elementalist whose out of mana, its quality went up in a puff of smoke. As I stated earlier, there are games that take you back to days of simpler times, yet sadly Moonfall Ultimate isn't one of them, where the action was always enjoyable and the experience made you yearn for more. For $12.49 you can purchase this or save a little more and get a high quality game such as Diablo 3. I think you know what the best route to take is going to be.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Hero Defense

I love tower defense games. I love the strategy that they bring to the gameplay that involves you having to manage your resources while trying to figure out, usually on the fly, the best methods to surviving the round and making it to the next. I like to think of tower defense games as those that constantly challenge the player through an ever-evolving adaptive combination of enemies and difficulty. Recently Headup Games has released a tower defense game called Hero Defense for the price of $29.99 ($23.99 on sale now) which offers a new twist that we never really have seen before; demon hunting. So, let's see if this game can survive to the end or if it gets overwhelmed and consumed by darkness, shall we?

The premise behind Hero Defense is quite simple. There is a main character whose father just happens to be the world's most powerful vampire, and it's up to him and a bunch of other people you'll be introduced to along the way, to eliminate the vampire and save humanity; hooray! When you begin the game will take you through a very, and I mean VERY, diluted walkthrough to get you acclimated to the game and how it handles, and right off the bat there's going to be a problem. The camera.

It's not abnormal for players of RTS, Tower Defense, RPG's or any game for that matter, to want to control the camera. In Hero Defense that's not entirely possible. You're allowed to pan the camera around on a flat 2D plane, but there are no controls for rotate or zoom (if there are, the game has them so hidden they are almost a figment of the imagination). This can be a tremendous annoyance when you gather that each level has its own unique feel to it, and the rotation that automatically kicks in (sorry, but you can't stop it from happening) when you drag your cursor to the side of the screen with your Right Stick, becomes so twisted that you have no other option but to be contempt with a frozen angle. Given that the game is focused almost entirely around the camera system, this is a massive hit right from the beginning.

As you start off you'll acquire new heroes to join your quest, each of which have their own independent, but useless story, of which there is literally no importance. Almost every level has a shack or two that carries with them some survivors that apparently think riding out the storm of the world's most dangerous vampire is a cool thing to do, and one of the sub-goals is to keep these people safe as enemies wander down their path. If you keep them safe they will be added to your "angry mob" which, when activated using the 'X' button, will send a horde of citizens with pitchforks and torches to travel down the path and attack any enemies they find in their wake. Should you use them to confront a boss character, there's a good chance a lot, if not all of them, will perish, but they will do their duty to help your cause. These angry mobs are limited in use, as you can only get them by saving civilians in the levels.

While this concept adds a level of humor and safety, this doesn't do anything to help drive the narrative, and in fact, does quite the opposite by literally taking the game and breaking it down into color matching. Let me explain. When you gain new characters to your party you'll see that each of them carries with them their own color (Red, Blue, Orange, Pink, Purple). Each one of these heroes has their own weapon style as well.

Red is best suited for heavy damage to an individual target, but through proper character development (which I'll talk about later) you can get him to be a mob killing machine. Blue offers you the ability to slow down enemies and support other players nearby with buffs that increase attack range and power. Orange fires pumpkin bombs (think Green Goblin) that are designed to do significant area of effect attacks. Next up, Pink wields a baseball bat and jumps down into the line of enemies and literally goes berserk, able to (once fully upgraded) go down a line of opponents and decimate them all. Finally, Purple has these boomerang type bladed weapons that can hit from very long range and is setup to wipe out entire mobs over time. These colors though, are important for one specific reason.

Each one of these colors corresponds to a weakness for the varying enemies, which you can tell by their square in the lineup at the top of the screen. You simply have to start matching whatever color is going to benefit you most and placing it in a position to provide your squad the best effect possible while being supported by the other characters. This philosophy plays in tandem with the levels themselves, as they contain certain regions that allow you to install power-up shrines that can either be generic in their bonuses (anyone standing on the power-up gets double damage, double range, double attack speed, etc.) or they can be character specific where ONLY that one character can receive the bonus while the others cannot. You will have to decide carefully because each one of these upgrades costs you gems which involves another part of the game; the currency.

Hero Defense is setup to where you earn gold throughout each level for the enemies you defeat, and when you acquire enough gold you can take that to your town's bank and exchange it for gems. Gems will allow you to buy things such as upgrade your character's weapons, runes (I'll talk about shortly) and upgrading the forge. Gems also act as a currency for purchasing power-up shrines throughout the levels, but like I said, you must plan wisely. Let's say you wish to make one shrine on a level a double damage spot. So, you hit the Left Trigger to pause the game and press X to bring up your builder wheel. You can cycle through the different shrine locations with the Right and Left Bumpers, but let's say you want to put a double damage shrine on one area and it costs 5 gems. When you do it again, it'll be 10, next will be 20 and then 40, so BE CAREFUL because if you do that and let's say you want to switch it out for double range, well you'll have to spend more gems again if you wish to put the double damage back. Oh, and there's no way to reset the count unless you start a brand-new game (something I learned about a bit late the hard way).

Earlier I mentioned that you have a bank where you can go and exchange gold for gems. You also can spend gold to upgrade your bank where you can spend less gold on the gem packs you buy. Each building in your town can be upgraded just like the bank, however, the forge (where you do your weapon upgrades) is only upgradable via gems. Each building can reach level 15 which is it's max, however, your town hall is currently glitched and is actually broken to the point where you won't even unlock the achievement for upgrading your entire town. This is also disappointing given that upgrading your town hall also upgrades your angry mob and their strength as well. Honestly though, it didn't matter since I never went to it anyways. You'll find that your time will be spent between the Academy (where you go to upgrade your characters), Forge (where you go to upgrade your weapons), and the Bank (where you go to get gems) while the rest of the time you will be grinding and farming away.

You've read about my mentioning of the weapon upgrades at the forge, and there's a bit more to it than that. In the forge you will house different tiers of runes. They start off in the generic grey category and move onto green, blue, purple and finally orange. These runes offer your character various traits to their weapons such as increased range, speed, extra projectiles, etc. Your character weapons start off with 1 row on top, which you can fill in with runes, and you'll notice that each one of these runes can be inserted into a numbered slot, with the final slot holding an infinity symbol. This means that as your character levels up throughout the gameplay via the 'Y' button, they will unlock these new rune traits on their weapons, and once you reach level 5 the remaining character upgrades will keep the rune traits in the infinity slot.

While the other colored runes offer all these bonuses, the real treat is when you get the orange runes banging away because they deal tremendous bonuses. Recently I touched on the whole angry mob situation with the game, well, there's an orange rune that allows you to summon a free angry mob, and if you put that rune into the infinity slot, every time you level up your character past level 5, you'll summon a free angry mob without it costing you anything! Other orange runes offer you chances to poison your enemies with your attacks or even launch specific hero abilities that send out attacks all over the screen. For example, your character's crossbow will fire at a rapid, machine gun rate and start sending arrows all over the screen dealing massive damage to any and all enemies! These orange runes are scarce (unless you buy them in the Forge's 150 gem rune packs), so make sure you figure out what works best and how best to apply them.

Hero Defense also offers a wealth of in depth character customization. Just above I mentioned the Academy, where you can take your individual characters and have them apply the skill points that are earned after the end of every completed level. Each level nets you 2 points and each skill are divided up into 5 tiers which cost between 1 and 5 points to activate. Other skills down the tree will ONLY be active when you fill the meter with the corresponding skill before it. So for example, you may not be able to throw double projectiles until you spend enough skill points to activate the first 3 spots in your previous skill. Not to worry though if you over spend in areas that you don't want to because you can always reset your points without any penalty to you in any form. I personally really enjoyed that, as it allowed me to play with the character development without fear of being punished.

Hero Defense is presented in a lighthearted, almost comical way, but the graphics and sound really become lost in the action of the oncoming waves of enemies, and you get the feeling that more attention could be given to those areas. At least each character sounds unique, but when you have no reason to care about them, then there really isn't any point to it. There is now a graphical glitch that can be EXTREMELY annoying which involves the enemies and their health. The graphical glitch happens when your enemies spawn, let's say in the top right corner. You'll see a bunch of health meters appear in the lower left-hand corner that appear to be floating around and drawing closer to the enemies as they proceed down their path. Once the enemies pass a certain point on the screen the health meters seem to gravitate now towards the top of the screen, essentially maintaining a set distance that varies between level, but is never on top of any enemy.

Being such a huge fan of tower defense games, I was giddy like a teenage girl at a Michael Jackson concert at the chance to play Hero Defense, but after running into all these glitches and problems without anything adding to the merit or value of why I should care about the story of the game itself, it literally left me deflated. I love this game, I really do, and I feel now empty inside that such a game has so many issues (the camera system being the worst hands down) that prohibit that enjoyment. Starting out I was set to give this game an easy 90 to 95 score, but as I kept playing the score kept going down and down to the point where I should start looking for other games to play. All of this remind you, is priced at $29.99 regularly, but even now while it's on sale there's no way I can justify purchasing this game even if you're a fan of tower defense games like myself. That is the biggest heartbreak since Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt split up.

Suggestions: Allow for user controlled camera system. Fix important sections of the game (Town Hall). Improve graphical glitches. Allow for cost of shrines to be by level not overall. Make a story worth engaging in.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Fernz Gate

Recently I had an opportunity to review an RPG game that was such a refreshing step back into the nostalgic times, a time where turn based 16-bit RPG games provided hours, days and even weeks worth of enjoyable content that made the days blur together. Thankfully I had another chance to do this, as KEMCO has released Fernz Gate for the Xbox One, and it delivers on a tremendous amount of classic quality that makes you almost feel like you stepped into a time warp. So, let's not waste any more time and find out if this game is worth the $14.99 price tag.

As we kick things off, it should be said that there is a very in-depth story to Fernz Gate. Maybe in-depth was a wrong choice of wording. Maybe instead, the words 'excessively deep' makes more sense. In the beginning of Fernz Gate you get to see the backstory of how the Overlord used his ability to steal mana from the people of the planet to take control and overthrow the Goddess of peace and love. Essentially this planet is a peaceful world where they don't take up arms in battle or war, and therefore, they are prime targets for evil to take advantage of. Needless to say, it's up to you and your growing band of heroes to fight through the demons to vanquish the Overlord and save the good people of the world.

To accomplish this, you play the role of Alex, who is a young man who mysteriously gets transported to this peaceful planet. It's here that Alex meets his first companion, Toril, a half-naked woman who uses razor sharp discs as her main weapon. One thing to note is that as you meet these people, there is a common thread that they are deliberately holding back so that your character can try to improve their stats. While noble in theory, I thought it lacked originality. I also said that 'excessively deep' would be a way to describe the story, which is because in between all the childish flirtations that we are accustomed to in Japanese games, the amount of unnecessary dialogue is absolutely tremendous. It gets to the point where you start feeling like God in Monty Python screaming "GET ON WITH IT" and it never happens. I'm not saying that the story itself is bad, just overly worded in a great many places.

As you will see, your world is broken up into various places to explore, each one providing you with a mini-map to help guide you where you need to be. It's fairly simplistic, but it helps when you're trying to think of where to enter a cave or how best to approach a wooded area. Each village offers you the chance to talk to its' residents and find out if there are any tasks for you to take part in. As you go through these, one thing stood out as entirely pointless and annoying, and that was the dialogue that was spoken between the characters.

One quest had me walk to an Inn about 20 feet away, talk to someone to get a book, and then walk back to the person 20 feet away to give it to them, and you could say they were a tad bit enthusiastic about this job I just did. That's when you realize that a lot of the missions you'll be taking part in will require you to do a lot of things for very lazy people. Not really the best way to spend your time, but in a peaceful world, there's not much to do that isn't peaceful to begin with.

You'll also find that as your characters become introduced into more and more supporting cast members, you'll see how each one has his/her/its own personality and attack style. This will become important, given that your party will actually be divided into both attacking and support characters. While you could technically go on the offense with all your characters, the ones designated for support will see a damage reduction, which essentially makes them worthless on the attack, but vital beyond measure in their support role. If you don't have a full party, that's OK, that is what the new buddy system is designed for. These buddies not only compliment the members of your current team, but will also level up and acquire new talents and abilities throughout their use.

This whole system regarding the team felt refreshing to me. Unlike certain RPG's that lock you in with characters, this new system allows you to customize and explore other options when it comes to combat. There is a downfall though, and that is you never really get the sensation that you'll need to care about any of them, thus giving them no real value to the story except for the fact that they will aid you in combat. There is another unexpected surprise though in Fernz Gate and that comes in the form of the Curios.

These devices have multiple uses and can be a great source for leveling up your characters quickly. Their first use is that they can control the frequency that you experience enemy encounters. So, when it feels like you've been walking for a long time and not hit anything, you now can set it up so that your battles occur more frequently. Their second function involves the types of enemies you face. You can increase the grouping of enemies, so you fight more of them, or you can use the gems you win in fights to summon box and jar enemies.

Box and Jar enemies are encounters that give you an opportunity to win amazing items and gear, so long as you survive long enough to defeat all the opponents. In the case of Jar enemies, when you strike them hard enough, you will typically spawn an enemy that pops up out of a jar. However, that enemy will hit you like a freight train, so be prepared to focus your efforts and eliminate it quickly. If you wish to destroy a jar in 1 hit, you will need to use a crowbar, and they will smash a jar in one-character turn. The Box enemies are the same except for the fact that they don't spawn enemies, but dramatically cut your damage, so while you may be used to dealing 20-40 damage early on per character, when you hit a Box enemy you'll do like 3-7 instead. Which you may feel is OK, except that each box has a tremendous amount of HP, so you'll be bashing away at it for quite a while. If you want to destroy a Box enemy in one-character move, you'll need to hit it with a hammer.

I should mention that while you're wailing away at these Box and Jar enemies, there will be other enemies that are on the screen that will attack you too, and should you target them and kill them, then the encounter is over and any Box and Jar enemies that you left alive will disappear, along with that their items they had for you. With each encounter costing 10 gems at first, you'll need to decide carefully just which ones you wish to go after, so you don't end up wasting your valuable currency.

The third use of the Curios is that they act as teleporting waypoints for your party. If you find yourself lost in a dungeon, or you don't want to walk all the way back to the beginning to get to the exit, you can use the Curios to teleport back to the opening of the area you were exploring. This way, if you want to grind an area for a long while and then teleport yourself out of there, you can, or if you want to just breeze through an area where you can limit your spawn rates and head on through easily. While you will encounter less enemies, you won't level up as quickly and, from what I've experienced, you'll have a harder time later on in the game.

All of these encounters come in a traditional turn-based gameplay that is complimented by some very solid retro sounding soundtracks. One aspect that was very pleasing to the ears was the lack of voiceover work. Outside of the occasional sound effect, you were treated to varying overworld music that sounds like it came straight out of the 1990's and was quite entertaining and enjoyable. This was also complimented by a tremendous work on the retro graphics that you find throughout every facet of Fernz Gate. From the trees and rocks of the world, to the character models marching in place, you get the sensation that the team behind this was focused on not creating a modern masterpiece, but creating a gaming experience that feels like it’s been lost to us for ages, and they do an incredible job with the details.

There is a learning curve when it comes to learning your abilities and how to incorporate mana use into your battles; however, once that is accomplished for one character and you understand it, the same principles apply to all characters, so any changes that may come along the way (recharge times, etc) can be easily managed so long as you pay attention. Another little gripe I have is that the entire world that you travel through isn't very big at all. While your quests will have you traveling to the same places repeatedly, you almost have to stack your side quests to minimize the trips you will have to take so you can save time.

Overall, I have to say that for $14.99, Fernz Gate delivers a quality retro RPG experience that shouldn't be missed by fans of the genre. While it may seem a bit shallow at first, Fernz Gate offers a wealth of bounty should you have the time to investigate its depths and acquire it. While you're doing that however, get ready for an fairly amazing experience that will take you straight back into the glory days of quality RPG gaming.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Warhammer: Vermintide 2

Team based games such as Left 4 Dead have been popular due to the simplicity of their goals. Developer Fatshark has been hard at work on the follow up to Vermintide, which is aptly named Vermintide 2. This team-based game attempts to focus on creating massive battles that require you to survive and conquer the levels with a group of characters in an online party. So, does Fatshark have a smash hit with Vermintide 2, or is the game more anemic with a feeble core? Choose your character and let’s begin.

The plot, for those who have never played Vermintide, it is about a land called Ubersreik, where your band of characters fought back the forces of Skaven, who ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity that many thought would last for generations. They were wrong. The heroes (your group of characters) end up being captured (somehow), and as you are navigating towards your doom, you realize that the Skaven armies have a new alliance with a powerful force, The Northmen of Chaos. These armored men bring with them their own unique abilities and challenges to the ones already found in the Skaven forces and have teamed together to bring destruction to Ubersreik.

This open-ended premise is the foundation for the numerous levels found within Vermintide 2 and act as a canvas by which the game’s four acts unfold. Each act contains within it numerous levels (over 10 each) which can be individually played and unlocked through the game’s various modes. This trend of packing in as much content as possible is a common thread you’ll find permeating every facet of Vermintide 2, and it couldn’t be better. In fact, I’ll call it now, that Vermintide 2 has some of the most content packed into a game and when you talk budget prices, easily taking the crown hands down, for every character has different equipment that can be dismantled into resources and forged into head splitting weaponry, body incinerating spells and so much more. It’s these characteristics that you’ll not only improve, but adapt as you level up your individual heroes, but that’s pending you have an internet connection.

Vermintide 2 does require an online connection to play online, however, you can play offline, but none of your accrued stats, levels, and character development will NOT transfer over. You can take your online character information into the offline mode to play with AI characters, but any progress you make will not transfer over to the online game mode. I can’t think of any reason what so ever that this mode would be good to use, except for if you have no internet connection of any sort (which means that you would also have to have a physical copy of the disc because you’d have to have an internet connection if you wished to download it in the first place.) Aside from the AI teammates to assist you, you’ll also be unable to unlock any of the bonuses you get when you level up. Again, this mode is the stripped down, diluted version of what Vermintide 2 is supposed to be and, if I’m honest, feels quite pointless.

Anyways, back to the game. So, you have your character that you chose, and if you bring up the menu you will see just how incredibly deep Vermintide 2 actually is. I thought that the preview was good, but this final product absolutely blew my mind. For starters, there are multiple versions of every character, and every character comes with certain bonuses as well as preferred weaponry. While melee weapons are your primary choice, you’ll have to pay attention to your ammo for your projectile weaponry, otherwise you could be finding yourself up a creek when the **** hits the fan, and what a moment that is.

The overall design of the levels is fairly linear, so you won’t be allowed so much exploration that you find yourself looking around like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. You’ll navigate down a predetermined stretch of environment and then you’ll come to a combat sequence where you’ll have to fight numerous enemies. These range from regular grunts that provide little to no challenge for your melee weapon, to heavily armored demon knights that wield gigantic battle axes and take a long fight to bring down. Then you have your ranged enemies that can lob poisonous fields from afar that cause tremendous area damage, magical enemies that can summon and raise the dead, to those that even are armed with what could easily be considered a flame chain gun that ignites a green pillar of fire in rapid succession that will melt your very core. After fighting these enemies you’ll head through another section of the map and fight some more. You’ll do this all the way to the end when you fight the boss of the level, and when that happens you’ll be glad you have your team at your side, as they are tremendous beasts that take a VERY LONG time to whittle down their health.

Upon completion of a level you’ll gain a loot box (not to worry), and depending on how you do and what secrets you find within the level will determine what type of loot box you get and obviously, the quality of loot that you receive also depends on the type of loot box you earn at the end. These can be items that you can equip or to destroy for resources so you can forge other gear, etc. Then when you’re done, your lobby heads back to the central loading area where you or any member in your group can select what level to do next and vote on it in democratic fashion of course. This whole rinse and repeat action will be your methodology for Vermintide 2, so be prepared for a lot of repetition in your life. To combat this, Fatshark includes challenges that you can play that range in varying degree of difficulty and pay out the rewards that correspond to the difficulty of the challenges.

All of this gory beauty comes wrapped in a presentation that is smooth as silk to run in 4K. From the dynamic changes that each character receives through their leveling system, the character models themselves, to the unique environments, everything is done with a painstaking level of quality that is rarely found within AAA titles today that cost twice as much. Then you have the sound which lends itself to sweeping, epic musical scores that highlight the drama and confrontational points including the bosses. But the real gem of the audio relies on the banter and discussions that the characters have with each other within the levels. Each personality is unique, and if you played the original, then you’ll be happy to know that the characters stay true to their core.

Right now, Vermintide 2 is on the Xbox marketplace and will cost you $29.99, and based off everything I've played, it’s worth every penny. If you love games that you play as a team to overcome levels and slay seemingly endless amounts of enemies while grinding for loot and experience, then Vermintide 2 is an absolute must purchase. Vermintide 2 provides quality work on all fronts, and the best thing is that you can really tell that Fatshark has done a great amount of work developing this game throughout its various stages to its final release.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Super Blackjack Battle II Turbo Edition

Have you ever played a game that was trying to be a parody of another through near blatant theft, but in the process failed so miserably that you are left feeling more miserable than when you began playing? Welcome to Super Blackjack Battle II Turbo Edition: The Card Warriors.

If this title seems a little familiar, it's adapted from the classic Street Fighter games. Developed by Headup Games, and priced at $6.39 on the Xbox Marketplace (at the time this review was submitted), this is a truly unique experience that sadly doesn't end well. Normally I go into talking about the game at this juncture, and point out different aspects of it and give merit where it might be due. Now however, I'm going to tell you why you should stay away from this game at all costs.

The opening sequence is a straight up adaptation of Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo's opening. It involves a person with a deck of cards that is shooting them from one hand to another while the music and tension builds, and at the end, the "card warrior" throws the cards towards the screen in a charged up Hadouken fashion. The sad reality is that nothing I just explained to you ever happens, nor is anywhere to be found within the game. You start to wonder then, how do they do a tie in parody of Street Fighter 2 Turbo when the game itself is Blackjack? The answer is, they don't.

After the opening sequence you are treated to three menus where you can play single player combat (single player Blackjack), a challenge mode, and lastly a party mode. I'm going to give you a rundown of all three modes, so let's begin with the single player mode. This is where you will select from a variety of Blackjack players, none of whom have special powers. There's no real difference between the players, so pick whoever you want. After your selection you'll be shown a world map just like you would see in Street Fighter 2 Turbo, with the various country flags and a little airplane that travels from flag to flag. So far, it's sounding like an average homage, so let's keep moving forward.

You arrive at the Blackjack table, and based off your opponent, you will see various animations in the background. The table in Spain has a bull fight in the background, but the table in Columbia has people floating on rafts in a drug lords pool while cocaine residue and men with guns surround the table. These levels try to find the essence of what Street Fighter 2 has always had, but regrettably, fail on numerous accounts and in sometimes, incredible stereotypical fashion. These levels do absolutely nothing to improve the game or contribute anything at all. In Street Fighter 2 Turbo, the stages offered things such as breakable objects, or even interactive elements depending on the fighter chosen. Here though, the Right Bumper, which acts as your taunt button, is your only weapon, ever.

So, now you're at your opponents' table and it's time to fight, so you're thinking things like drink throwing, chip chucking or maybe tributes to Street Fighter such as hundred hand slap, fire balls, upper cuts or anything else found in ANY Street Fighter game, but you will be disappointed. Instead of beating your opponent senseless, your object is to have collected more money than your opponent at the end of 10 rounds (hands). Yes, that's correct, the game that is paying tribute to an iconic fighting game has no sort of contact of any kind. Instead of just playing against the opponent, you'll have to also contend with the dealer. A lot of people would say that dealers have unfair advantages being digitally programmed, but I'm of the mindset that I don't care if they are because there really isn't any point of playing this game to begin with. But let's soldier on, shall we?

Let's say you throw all your money in the first hand and lose; darn. When the fake Street Fighter announcer says "You Lose", you'll see a losing quote screen such as you would see in Street Fighter, and when the countdown begins for the continue, it appears ripped straight from the game itself. However, that is where the similarities end. So, for this example, let's say you hit continue and now you're back in the game and starting once again with $1000 in chips. Here is where I will show you how broken this game is. You bet the full $1000 again and this time you get two 10's which total twenty. The game offers you the ability to split your bet. Let me explain this.

When you have two of the same card in your hand, you can split your cards and get two new cards, one for each that you split. Now, if you had two 8's you could split them and get two more cards, one for each 8. The catch here is that in order to split your bet, you're required to bet the same amount again. So, let's say you bet $100 and you get two 8's. You split them, so you have to bet another $100 on the 2nd hand that you just created. So now that it's explained, back to our game.

In the example we bet $1000 which is all the money we have. We get two 10's and decide to split. Based off the example above, I would have to bet another $1000 for the hand that I just created. Problem is that I don't have the money, but the game doesn't care because it allows you to bet imaginary money. Yes, you can place a $1000 bet, and make back $3000 in winnings and take a total of $4000. I bet that you are asking, “you can win profit from money you don't have?” Yes, yes you can. Now let's say you do that but each hand you get a blackjack and your winnings increase by 1.5X per hand which starts to equal massive profits.

The other issue is that the single player mode is supposed to be where you combat your opponents at the card table; however, the game only gives you 10 hands. Yes, you are limited to ONLY 10 hands, and the object of the game is to have more money at the end than your opponent. There is no sort of fight or combative situation at all. In fact, this entirely takes the point out of dropping your opponent to $0 and therefore eliminates any and all reason for playing this game.

Let me give you another example. I started out and bet all my chips ($1000), I lost and had to continue, so I repeated the bet and lost, so I continued again. This time I bet the $1000 and won while my opponent only won $200. So, now I have $2000 and my opponent $1200.

My next bet I lower to $200 and keep it locked in for the duration while my opponent bets and loses hundreds of dollars, and then, when down to the last few hundred, the A.I. will gain a slight winning streak so as not to go broke. This method of conservation completely drains all the excitement that would come with fighting cards, but alas this method wins a majority of the games played, so if you're looking to snag those achievements for completing the game with certain characters, then think conservative once you have amassed your pile of chips. Now, you may be thinking that the sadness would be coming to an end relatively soon, and I'm sorry to disappoint you readers yet again.

What is the one thing that made games like Street Fighter an instant hit? That would be multiplayer, and in this game, it doesn't exist online. Yes, regrettably there is no online multiplayer, so if you want to partake in any sort of gaming action with friends, they better be over at your house to do so. In today's gaming age, why you wouldn't allow a social card game like Blackjack to have online multiplayer is truly a joke. So, to pay homage to a game that strived to connect people online to play together, developer Stage Clear Studios decided not to allow that to happen. This has to be the biggest downfall of the game itself.

Priced normally at $7.99, you get a game that normally centers around multiplayer experiences but offers none; that's supposed to follow proper gaming mechanics, but doesn't and claims to be an homage to one of the greatest fighting games in history, but it offers no combat. In short, Super Blackjack Battle II Turbo Edition is a game that suffers from an identity crisis and sadly fails on all fronts. What is the most disappointing to me about this is how all these problems could have been avoided had the developers taken a bit of time to figure out how to integrate these elements into the game and include online multiplayer connectivity. They say imitation is the best form of flattery; however, this offers nothing along those lines.

Suggestions: If you're going to pay homage to Street Fighter, please think about how you are going to incorporate combat into your game outside of giving you only 10 hands to do so. Also, remove the pointless emotion Right Bumper antics, as they do nothing, and instead incorporate various "individually tailored" attacks that should happen to the opponent when you beat them in a hand. Then also work on developing ONLINE MULTIPLAYER.

Overall Score: 3.0 / 10 Asdivine Hearts

Being regarded in gaming years as a dinosaur, I grew up on consoles now talked about in mythical tales. I was also introduced to a game called Final Fantasy, early in my gaming career, and it sparked a love for RPG games that hasn't wavered. I was captivated by the story mixed with action and what seemed to pass as hours were in reality days. It goes without saying that these types of older RPG games hold a tremendous significance to me. Developoer KEMCO has recently decided to release a game called Asdivine Hearts for the low cost of $14.99, and I'm excited to see if Asdivine Hearts can tick all the right boxes that come with great RPG experiences.

The first box of course in this list has to involve the story. What is the point of investing hours upon hours of your life, only to end up hating what you are playing? While the story isn't the quality of some of those older RPG games of when I started to game, it is quite entertaining. The crux of the narrative is that there are essences of both light and shadow, and over the years the influence of the shadow deity has grown stronger, to the point where it unbalances the power between light and shadow, casting the light down to the world Asdivine. Now, the quest before you ultimately is balancing the powers before all the world is cast into darkness for eternity, and to accomplish this, you'll need a party.

You have your main three characters: a male, a female and a cat. Yes, a cat. As you progress, you'll gather two more party members. Each member has their own weapon and attack preference (physical attack vs. magic), and while the characters in your party do have their own unique mannerisms and behavioral traits, the story can seem rather predictable at times. While that doesn't necessarily make it bad, the overall progression of the story itself seems to be mismanaged. This is not a deal breaker as the story is still very enjoyable.

Next up in our checklist, we have gameplay. Now, back in the day, the lands were vast, the mountains were tall and sprites were short. The same methodology is applied to Asdivine Hearts in spades. You will venture across a map that is, unfortunately, relatively small by comparison to other games it competes against; however, there is almost a direct nostalgic feel by walking through the overworld.

You can bring up the map using the 'X' button, and various points of interest, such as caves and towns, will be highlighted for you. You'll be able to see your destination as there will be a flashing square on the map where you need to go. Instantly I was taken back so many memories as the design elements of the overworld look almost identical to what I've experienced all those years ago.

There is however, a few issues that I have with the gameplay of Asdivine Hearts. Yes, this is a turn based classic RPG experience; however, the controls feel hyper sensitive, so any movement you make with your character is dramatically over accentuated. This means simple things like walking around an Inn, or even just a room, are incredibly frustrating. While the walking in the overworld isn't bad, when you start including things like chairs, tables, pottery, and many other things, you can really feel a hindrance. While there are issues with the movement, that's not the only thing I have a problem with.

When your party is full of characters (which will happen relatively close to the beginning), you'll be able to unlock certain "formations" for your party to form when in battle. These formations allow your party to have various bonuses and drawbacks based on how you decide to align them within the 3x3 grid. The issue I have here is that while you are provided a small list of formations in the beginning, you learn more as you progress, but the benefits and drawbacks make only a few worthwhile, and the rest of them seem rather pointless, especially since you can't change them in a battle when you would need it the most.

To make sure your group is fit for battle, you'll want to press the 'Y' button to bring up the menu. Here you can select from a wide variety of options. The equip menu allows you to switch and select different weaponry and armor for each of your members. There's also an item menu where you can access any and all consumables that you may have found in your journey. There is also a very, very important menu, and it's imperative that you become familiar with it. It's called the Jewel menu, which houses your Rubix, where you can insert the jewels you find. Let me explain why the latter is so important.

the Rubix is part of the gameplay that you will have to manage. This is essentially the key to unlocking various skills and spells for your characters, and it also offers a wealth of upgrading that will lead you to farm for gems like crazy. The Rubix is another grid styled square; however, this square gets populated by various gems you pick up along the way and/or purchase. These gems have with them not only traits, but shapes as well, and it's up to you to decide what you want, but also how to arrange all of the shapes so they fit the Rubix. Originally the Rubix starts off as a small one but can grow to a massive 5x5 setup. The beauty of this is that anyone can learn any magic that fits into the Rubix.

For example, there was a female character in my party that knew some light magic (so that would grow naturally for her as I progressed through the game), I inserted a shadow magic jewel into her Rubix and now she is learning both light and shadow spells. Leveling them up only requires one thing, and that's for you to fight and finish side quests. Each battle earns you XP and SP, and the amounts are applied to your gems, and each new level grants you a new learned skill. The more you progress the longer it takes to unlock everything, but by the time you hit level 50 you should be good to go.

Gems can also be synthesized to create new, more powerful and potent forms of gems, but the synthesis system is very convoluted and not well developed, so may I suggest save first, do your synthesis until you understand it, then reload your previous save and do it correctly. Otherwise you may wind up wasting valuable gems.

Without question, this Rubix system is the very heart of the game itself, but in order to find these legendary items, you will have to farm so many enemies that KEMCO should give you a straw hat and a tractor with purchase of the game. This is because while there is gold in the game, which you can use to buy items such as weapons and aids, and there is another form of currency that is rarer, as it's only found in the arena as prizes, as well as random boulders that will appear in random battles found with cavernous areas. You could say that when encountering a boulder, you will want to make it a primary focus of your team. You may have to dispatch an enemy in front of it, but whatever you do, do not kill all the enemies before breaking the boulder or you will not get the opportunity to gather this rare currency. Oh, remember you read just a few lines ago about how much you'll be farming, yes? Well if you want to purchase the final Rubix which is the big 5x5 beast, it will cost you 100 of this rare currency, and when you get between 1-3+ coins per boulder, you may be better off in the arena grinding away?

As your party grows and progresses, so do the relationships found within your party. While you are made to feel that there are impacts that are made with your actions, you don't necessarily have any sort of impact until you get to what the game calls "free time", and it's here that you can interact with your fellow party members and try to raise your favor level with them. The game even allows you to give gifts that you may come across on your travels, and each gift will grant a favor boost for a time period. I do wish there were more importance and focus given to the interaction value with the other members of your party, but there is not.

Another box that is on the list for great RPG's are the graphics. Yes, I know this game isn't rendered with all the latest in 3D modeling and hyper realism, but it's not supposed to be. Instead of fully rendered realistic characters, you are taken back to the days of the 16-bit glory. Vibrant colors and dynamic designs permeate every graphical facet of this game, and the nostalgia factor wraps the game in a tremendous retro bow. Sticking with the whole retro vibe, what surprised me even more is how Asdivine Hearts utilizes a classic synth soundtrack and sound effects. It literally is like looking at a glimpse of the past, and if you listen closely, you may even hear a remixed version of a legendary RPG tune from the past.

Even though Asdivine Hearts does have some flaws, it goes without a shadow of a doubt that it delivers a classic nostalgic RPG experience that is severely lacking in today's world. When we get so caught up in getting games that are bigger and better than the ones before it, we lose ourselves to what joys and wonderful experiences were found in games that didn't push the envelope. Asdivine Hearts delivers one of the best nostalgic experiences you can find on the Xbox platform today, and it is only priced at $14.99 on the Xbox Store. I'll say this, if you're a fan of the classic RPG games of the 80's and 90's, then Asdivine Hearts is an absolute must have for your library. It goes without saying that this game manages to tick all the right boxes to make a classic RPG experience.

Suggestions: Had the story been a tad larger and more involved, the gameplay not as twitchy, and easier gem management, it would have been almost perfect.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Crew 2, The

Racing games have one goal in min: pure enjoyment through a direct adrenaline injection engine that pumps deep in your heart. Tires smoking, RPMs slamming into the red, the back end of the car sliding back and forth so furiously you think the car is trying out for the Olympic slalom event; are all facets of what make a regular driving game into an exhilarating driving game. Instead of track racing though, there's a growing trend for racing games set in realistic environments.

It's been a long road traveled with many pitfalls and accomplishments, but what Ubisoft has done with the Crew 2 is nothing short of amazing. Buckle up because I'm about to tell you why The Crew 2 should have everyone at Playground Games, very, very worried.

As we launch from the lights, it must be noted that The Crew 2 is more of an arcade racer than simulation. You don't really need to worry about tire pressure, the correct racing line, or any of that. What you need to worry about is winning. It has to be said that The Crew 2 is set to go against the Forza Horizon games, and there are a bunch of similarities, but the differences could mean the deciding factor between finishing first and coming in dead last. I also must confess I was not a fan of the original Crew racing game and felt that not only did it lack substance, but it also was smaller than the ambitious marketing lines we were fed. This time around though, Ubisoft has gone to tremendous lengths to remedy that, but if I'm honest, it still has a long way to go.

The Crew 2 centers around you being the focus for what is called the LIVE events. Here you will go through four different disciplines to unlock all the expensive toys to play with. There is the street racing discipline that consists of actions such as drag racing, drifting, street racing and more. Then you have the off-road disciplines (which should be self-explanatory), all the way up to the professional racing discipline which consists of you taking to the skies in planes and hitting the water in some massive powerboat racing events.

All these events will earn you followers and in-game cash for you to purchase your next motorized toy. There is one drawback though, and that is your career is based ONLY on the number of fans that you have acquired, so you will be unable to go straight through any one type of discipline. I understand that Ubisoft developed it this way, so you are forced to experience all of the different styles, but doing this takes away from the freedom of choice that this game was founded upon, which makes it a bit hypocritical. You have the freedom to choose what we give you, not what is offered.

Now should you proceed through all the disciplines, you'll encounter what I'm calling the "boss race event", and each discipline has their own race with their own rewards. One reward is the Aston Martin Vulcan hypercar, and another is a Hovercraft, and so on. While I understand the whole ego behind these boss characters, I wish Ubisoft went a step further and gave them personalities that were as individual as their prizes. One boss came over the radio and said "You're not in the top 10 so you're a nobody. I don't talk to nobodies. See, this is me not talking to you." This head shaking stupidity is something the game can do without, but regrettably, you will find it all throughout the game itself.

Being that The Crew 2 is staged within the United States, you can take your rides and venture from the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles all the way to Miami or New York. This is the ambition that I touched about earlier. While it does take some time to venture from one location to another, I wish that Ubisoft actually did something like allow a realistic drive that took days, not minutes. I could see a company using a service like Google Maps to have the routes preloaded with you and your friends taking 5 days to a week to travel across country and see the lands. Instead though, we have something that can take less than 45 minutes. Now, I understand that games are made with resources, and to accomplish that would be an incredible strain on the game development itself, but Ubisoft has somehow almost perfected the ability to load a massive environment in a seamless transition.

Way back when I reviewed Ubisoft's game Steep, I was astounded at how they loaded this titanic mountain range that allowed smooth transitions between events and the ability to access every inch of the map at any one time. This trend has found its way into The Crew 2, and I couldn't be happier for that. I experimented with fast traveling to locations as well, and I'm very happy to say that the load times are faster in this game than in other AAA game, so you never really feel out of the action, which also includes the multiplayer.

Unfortunately, I have a small gripe about the multiplayer, that being that you can only have a small amount of people in your crew at any point in time. In other racing games you can have a long list if you wish, but in The Crew 2 you're restricted to 4 people or less. So, if you're in a party of 6 people and you all want to be in a crew together, you're s.o.l. and a couple of your friends are going to be left out.

As I stated earlier, The Crew 2 is an arcade racer, not a simulation racing game. This is oh so apparent when you are talking about the operating mechanics of any vehicle. Controlling slides that would tear a car apart as you drift around corners, jumping hundreds and hundreds of feet in the air in a boat without crushing it into oblivion, and being able to rapidly invert and fly in increased angles without tearing your plane apart all add to the extreme sensation (especially when you throw in the 'A' button for boost), but take away from the reality. However, in the end, it's about the sensationalism that The Crew 2 has nailed in spades. A few issues I do have to mention are the poor camera angles. While there are only a few choices to select from, the ones that are available don't allow you to truly explore and enjoy the environment around you, and let me say that this is quite a noteable setback, because the only way you can enjoy everything the environment has to offer is through the air and not on the roads.

The reason why I say this is a big deal is because The Crew 2 is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. I'm running it on a top end Samsung 55" 4K TV and it literally is a work of art. The textures from the Grand Canyon, the Redwood Forrest and to the streets of New York City are done in such a painstakingly realistic approach that every inch of the map carries with it its own personality and identity, and if you can only view all this beauty from the air, then it detracts from the impact as you feel almost shunned for being in a car rather than a boat or a plane. The graphics play a major role as well, as the seasons change throughout the game. I say seasons because to say a freak snow storm isn't really applicable to the game, but wow does The Crew 2 react to weather.

Imagine driving along a highway and you're approaching a mountain pass. The day started off nice and sunny, but as you approach you witness a fog starting to move in that effects visibility. Your car still handles like a champ but what you can see is dramatically reduced. Instead of playing it safe, you throw caution to the wind, bury your foot in the gas pedal and head for the mountain. Now as you start to climb you watch the first few flakes of snow fall, and before you know it, the entire environment is blanketed in inches of snow. You think that it will pass momentarily, as you keep your foot hard pressed, watching as your tires carve your presence in the fallen snow. Engine screaming, snow flying all around you, and here comes an upcoming hairpin turn. Thinking you can drift around it you smash the 'X' button to start your handbrake turn in epic fashion as you wait for your YouTube moment of glory, only to find out that your tires have absolutely no grip, and you go sliding right off the mountain and begin the insurance paperwork as you start to invent your own flying car upon your descent.

Not only does The Crew 2 react dramatically to the weather, but your car does as well. If you're behind someone and are riding in their tracks you can gain more traction, as the snow has been cleared from the road by their tires; however, if you stray but an inch off the tracks, your driving experience becomes totally different. Oh, and did I mention all the traffic you will experience during this white-knuckle enjoyment? You may think twice about passing if you know that you're going to lose your traction and possibly go head to head with a box delivery truck as you slide wildly out of control. But like I said, while all this is going on it's going to look STUNNING. So, go on and crash and dare to live dangerously because any way you do it, The Crew 2 has you blanketed in incredible graphics.

The Crew 2 allows you to capture the beauty of the game by going into photo mode by hitting right on the d-pad. From here you can go through a recent timeline of your travels and freely move the camera about. Sadly though, The Crew 2 doesn't have as in-depth a system for photos as other games and doesn't provide the same effects either, but that doesn't mean what you take a picture of won't be gorgeous. Nothing like taking a couple of monster trucks in a half pipe and launching them into each other as a rainbow appears in the background to make you appreciate the beauty of The Crew 2. These pictures though do serve a purpose as you can unlock a photo album that grants you cash bonuses for completing certain tasks and taking a picture of it, but to do this you will have to unlock the off-road discipline first.

One aspect that personally holds a great deal of importance to my heart is painting. Having been painting cars since it was possible in another racing game, Ubisoft allows artists to dive into their creative mindset and play with 1000 layers of stickers, layers, and all sorts of graphics. Unfortunately, the artwork is suffering from the same anemic aspect that we find in the photo mode. The shapes are very limited in quantity and quality, and you're also going to miss any sort of gradient colors or patterns. While you can layer multiple shapes and graphics and adjust transparency, the workarounds still can't hold a flame to the painting mechanics found in other titles. One of the biggest drawbacks though is the constant connection issues that can really set you back when it comes to painting.

What I mean by that is I had spent over 3 hours tending to a paintjob on an Aston Martin and loved it. I was feeling hungry, so I left the paint as is with the layers on the bottom and everything. I went to the kitchen and made some food, and while this happened my controller turned off for inactivity. This caused the game to think that I wasn't around or going to play anymore so it reverted me back to the opening screen. I returned to realize that all my work that I had done on the car was erased. So, moral of the story, if you are going to leave any paint job for a few minutes, back out of the paint job so the game will internally save it, otherwise you'll be in the same anger pit I was when it happened.

There is one golden ticket that has The Crew 2 standing heads and shoulders above the rest, and that is involving the different types of vehicles found in the game. While other sandbox racing games that rhyme with Verizon have you drive around in just different types of automotive vehicles, The Crew 2 sends you off in planes and boats as well. You may be thinking that this is just a novelty, but you would be completely wrong. Thanks to the ingenious loading of all the vehicles in your disposal ahead of time, Ubisoft has allowed you to take to the skies or seas with the press of the Right Stick. Press it and you can see your other options for travel and move the stick to the vehicle you want, hold it for a few seconds and wham, you're now controlling your preferred mode of transportation. Let me give you an example.

Let's say you're tearing up the streets of Miami in your favorite exotic and you are about to hit a massive jump that will send you and your car hurdling through the air. You hit the jump and start to take flight, and while you're in the air you hit the Right Stick and select your plane. As your car is in the air you transform into your airplane and start traveling amongst the clouds. Turning to the Gulf of Mexico, you see the opening for the Mississippi River, and while in flight you press in your Right Stick again and select your boat. Then like a falling meteor you morph into your boat vehicle, free fall into the water, and start blasting your way up the mighty Mississippi. No other race game on any platform can do this. None. This type of freedom is the quintessential core of what these types of games should be about, and it goes without saying that Ubisoft has absolutely demolished any and all competitors in the arcade racing genre.

Sure, this type of freedom is incredible, but so are the upgrade features. With each vehicle comes a range of upgradable components. Each of these upgrades come in one of three ranges. Green components offer no additional benefit, blue components offer 1 additional benefit, and pink components offer 2 additional benefits. These benefits range from such things as increase boost replenishment while drifting to increased follower percentage and much, much more. Each of these components are also tailored to specific vehicles as well, so what you get for boats will differ from planes and cars. You can earn these upgrades by winning races or you can find them through hidden loot boxes.

The loot boxes are well off the beaten path, and when you are within range of one your mini-map will start to beep and pulse on the outside ring. As you get closer the beeps and pulses will get more frequent and soon you will have turned your car into a roaming metal detector. If you don't want to pick up the upgrade though by car, you can switch to your plane or boat and open up the box by holding the 'A' button, then the upgrade you get will apply to that particular style of vehicle. Be careful though, because depending on the type of car and class will result on what upgrades are shared between the other vehicles.

For example, if you have a street racing car that you have an upgrade for, any other street racing cars can also utilize that upgrade, but not a hypercar, or off-road car, etc. So, make sure you find what class of vehicle you want to upgrade before you start packing on the upgrades. I should also note that you can only hold so many upgrades, so make sure you destroy the older upgrades to make room for new ones, so you can continue to improve your vehicle.

While the graphics are close to masterpieces, The Crew 2 has tried to instill the same attention to detail when it comes to the sounds of the game as well. The soundtrack to The Crew 2 is undoubtedly large and provides with it a colossal list of tunes to listen to that cover a wide swath of audio elegance. Sadly though, not all of the tracks are enjoyable, and some are straight up headache inducing. To solve this, you have to do probably the most annoying thing in the game, and that's access your "tool box" by pressing the 'Y' button. Doing this will bring up a popup menu in the game where you then use the Right Stick to move up to the radio station and press the 'A' button to change the song till you find something you like to listen to, and then press the 'B' button to close the menu. And you're supposed to be able to do all of this while driving a car or boat or flying a plane? Right, that will end well. This is the most annoying aspect of The Crew 2 by a mile.

If Ubisoft allowed you to load a custom soundtrack that you could take from a Spotify playlist and didn't force you to detach yourself from the racing experience to switch music so you don't get a headache, then this would be a shining beacon of which other companies should take note of how to perform. But they didn't, so you have one of two choices. You can either listen to the ear bleeding noise or you can switch your music out which takes at least 5 seconds, and in doing so, taking you out of your driving experience for that amount of time. I can't begin to describe my level of hatred for the tool box, so going forward I hope that Ubisoft takes a long hard look at how to improve that feature and figure out a way to make things more streamlined and integrated.

I'll be the first to admit that I was not a fan of the original Crew racing game, but Ubisoft's team went to work and developed a racing game that is so addictive that it should be considered a controlled substance. Despite some flaws and hiccups along the way, The Crew 2 is poised to cement itself as the definitive arcade racing experience on any platform. As a person that has 10w30 pumping through my veins and a heart tied to a supercharger, The Crew 2 offers an unparalleled arcade racing experience that should be considered a must have purchase for anyone that loves an adrenaline rush brought upon by racing. Welcome to the best arcade racing game on the Xbox platform at this time, in my opinion, welcome to The Crew 2.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Sudden Strike 4: European Battlefields Edition

Tactics, strategy and thinking about the future engagements, these are the main qualities you need to play a proper RTS. These types of games are a visual chess game combined with resource monitoring, and for quite a while, there hasn't been too many that have been good, until now.

Developed by Kite Games, and coming in just over half off retail price ($39.99), Sudden Strike 4: European Battlefields Edition takes aim at delivering an incredibly in-depth RTS military experience that is based off real historical World War II encounters. I have to admit right off the bat that I'm very particular when it comes to RTS games, because developing a game that is more about tactics than just mindless shooting is incredibly challenging.

Sudden Strike 4 begins by almost overwhelming you with so much content at your fingertips. Don't worry too much about configuring the settings because the menu system is fairly sparse compared to the in-game ones. Placing a big importance on the "value per dollar of entertainment provided", it's clear that Kite Games starts off with a massive boom. Broken into not just the regular campaign missions, but also the expansion packs and the multiplayer options are truly remarkable. $39.99 does buy you an incredible amount of content, but you know what they say, "quality over quantity". I mean, what good is the amount of content if you don't want to play any of it?

The main campaign is broken up into numerous real life campaigns that occurred in World War II, from the Germans, Russians, to even the Allies. The map you will explore has the various missions, spanning from Russia all the way to France, and everything in between. While it may be tempting to just jump right in and start destroying the countryside, I cannot stress enough how important it is to go through the tutorial.

Sudden Strike 4 has some issues that plague its own game mechanics and that should automatically start to send up some red flags. For starters, you can press 'A' on a unit you wish to control, or you can hold 'A' down and use your Right Stick to control a circle radius that will expand and contract down to pre-determined sizes. Sounds nice right? Especially if there are large numbers of different units you wish to control at once. There are a few problems here though.

For starters, the circle expands in almost a blink of an eye, so trying to fine tune what you do, and do not want to select, is literally one of the most annoying things possible in any game I've ever played. I'm having to select individual units and place them in other spots on the map ust so I can try grouping them together without selecting 10 other troops. While we are on the topic of troops, you will learn (as you progress through the campaign) the various benefits and drawbacks of each different unit. Infantry have the ability to arm anti-tank and aircraft weaponry, take and hold various checkpoints by being placed within buildings and sneak up on enemies by going through woods and grassy fields. The downside? They are like tissue paper to any tank round, so unless you somehow manage to withstand a 120mm tank shell being fired from less than 20 yards away, you're going to be heading the clouds.

Your tanks, or heavy armored divisions, are powerful machines of war that can level buildings and become a front-line weapon of mass destruction. These weapons have an incredibly long range when the hatch is open (but you risk losing your tank commander if he's shot) and can decimate almost anything in their path. The downside to them? If your enemy gets behind them and shoots, they won't stand for very long, worse yet, if you are dealt critical damage you'll be prevented them from moving at all. To get these behemoths to move again, you'll need to use a repair vehicle to get the tank back on track (see what I did there?). Should your repair vehicle get destroyed however, you're on your own now. While you're working on getting your ground game secured, you'll also have to think about your air game as well.

Regrettably, your air support isn't as big of an option as the ground game and you are limited to military air bases that will be located off screen. This is a tremendous disappointment because of the versatility and importance that the planes provided in World War II. Yes, I realize that you can literally do bombing runs and eliminate anything on the ground, but then again, the enemy will have flak guns that will ground you permanently unless you destroy them on the land. Each one of these units becomes dependent on one another and here is where another fault resides.

Each unit has multiple actions which can be selected by pressing the Right Trigger to bring up the ability wheel. Here you can order specific commands that are tailored to the individual unit. The problem here though is that if you select a large group of varied units, like I stated earlier, then you will lose the ability to utilize the unit's particular ability until you individually select a unit.

While I understand it would be hard for a computer to remember the pre-loaded abilities of the varying units and have them all for you at your fingertips, I understand that it's possible for that to actually happen, therefore I see no need for this problem, but yet it exists. It's not Sudden Strike 4's fault though. The issue with creating a good, strategic RTS game is that it's difficult to implement the control scheme which is naturally beneficial towards keyboard and mouse users. Trying to find ways to integrate varying menus and commands with far limited numbers of input is, I believe, one of single greatest challenges with creating a game like this on a console. Very few have constructed something of quality, and sadly Sudden Strike 4 isn't one of them.

This is thanks to the mechanics of the troops themselves. Let me give you an example. I was trying to take over an enemy supply outpost as the German army, but there seemed to be a lot of houses in the center. I had my entire army selected and was rolling across the field in a certain formation. I got to the outskirts of the town and sent in my troops very slowly, only exposing a little bit at a time. The tanks hit the walls of the city and bust right through with the stealth of a subway train derailment at top speed.

Now, to place your units in a formation, you have to hold down the 'B' button (which is the button you use to confirm actions, not the 'A' button like is found almost everywhere else, but I digress) and press the Right Stick in any direction to direct your troops to line up in formation and face the designated direction.

It was very hard to know when you have to get behind tanks to go after weak points or flank anti-tank weaponry. The problem, however, is if you press and hold down the 'B' button within a confined space like a town or any inhabited areas, your vehicles can suffer brain damage and start running into each other, and even trying to form simple formations can seem like a herculean task of which no solution is present. Along with the 2 IQ point AI, comes the issue with the actual tutorial.

Going through the tutorial will not prepare you for everything you are about to face, and thankfully to compensate for this the game itself will occasionally pop up helpful displays that will show you information that will help you on your way, but only partially, because the rest you will have to figure out on your own. The lack of hand holding is fine, but get ready to repeat missions over and over again. But that's not really a bad thing when you look this good.

Sudden Strike 4 looks good, and I mean really, really good for an RTS game. The varying mission layouts are stunning compared to other games in the genre. While the infantry personnel are beyond generic (almost to the point where they are cartoons), the vehicles are remarkably detailed, the lighting effects are brilliantly done and the effects themselves are stunning. No matter the mission, it's going to look incredible.

However, the same can't be said for the voice over talent. To say it's an overacting festival is an understatement, but sadly it's outshined by, in my opinion, a tremendous soundtrack and very nice audio effects (explosions, gunfire, planes, etc.). This part of the audio makes going through all the different campaigns to experience the story from every standpoint, a somewhat enjoyable experience.

On top of all of the numerous campaigns, Sudden Strike 4 also delivers bonus content such as the Dunkirk missions, and it even provides historical videos that you can watch. While Sudden Strike 4: European Battlefields Edition does suffer from some some drawbacks, the overall foundation is very strong and is wrapped up in a gorgeous visual wrapper. For $39.99, if you enjoy RTS genre games, then Sudden Strike 4: European Battlefields Edition has to be on your radar as a game you have to take a look at.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Yet Another Zombie Defense HD

Now when it comes to gaming today, you can spend a few dollars and find an experience that surprises you to the point of inspiration, while on the flip side of the coin, there are times when you spend large amounts of dollars on a game that leaves you jilted and depressed. Normally, when I review a game, I approach it from a value versus fun ratio, and while it may seem scientific, it allows me to approach it from a consumer point of view.

Recently I reviewed another zombie killing game and this time... I get another zombie killing game to review. This one is aptly titled 'Yet Another Zombie Defense HD' and is developed by Awesome Games Studio. Priced at $4.99, or about the same price as a value meal at a fast food place, it doesn't hurt the wallet, so to speak. So, let's see if this game is worth the $5 bill they are charging, shall we?

There are three modes to tackle: Defense, Endless, and Deathmatch. While Endless is what you would expect in a traditional horde mode of wave after wave of enemies, and Deathmatch is something found in almost all shooters of some type, the bulk of the game will be played in the Defense mode where you and up to 3 other friends (online or locally) will construct some makeshift defenses to hold off the varying onslaught of zombies and demons when night eventually falls. As you kick off Defense mode, you'll have to select from one of four characters. These characters are pretty much stereotypical character models and don't affect anything story related since there isn't one.

After you pick your character you'll spawn by a lamppost, armed with a pistol that has unlimited ammo. From here you will face a small wave of zombies that will come at you from all sides, forcing you to use your pistol to drop them like a toilet seat. To do this you use the Right Stick to move your flashlight to point in the direction you’re going to fire, then you unload your weapon with Right Trigger. The Right and Left Bumpers switch between weapons, but I'll get into that more in a minute. Once the enemies are properly eliminated, your next goal will be to figure out how to wisely spend your newly found wealth. This is where your shop comes in handy.

Some items such as a chainsaw can cost around $500 or so, while a Tesla gun can run north of $20,000. But buying a weapon is only half the issue because now you must stock it with ammo, otherwise, what's the point of having a weapon you can't use? Ammo can cost $30 all the way up to $200 and more. While doing your best Neo from the Matrix impression, where you need lots of guns, one thing you can't forget is your makeshift base. As the nights progress the enemies get tougher. No longer will you have just undead mindless zombies to contend with, as demons from the depths of hell will rise up against you, and even the reaper itself will try to take your life.

To stave all of this off, and give you the best shot at survival, you'll have a chance to buy barriers and turrets. Barriers range from basic wooden ones to armored and even electrified ones. Of course, as you would expect, the price increases DRAMATICALLY between each cost. This also applies for the turrets, as there is an advanced one and a basic one. Each turret requires you to buy a firearm for it PLUS stock it with ammo (if you equip it with a shotgun and you use a shotgun on your character, then your gun turret will use YOUR ammo, so be ready).

As you kill enemies, they will drop items such as ammo for your weapons, mines, and even power-ups such as health, invisibility (which for some reason doesn't work as the enemies still attack me) and invincibility (this thankfully does work). The more items you collect from your fallen enemies the less you'll have to spend to replenish your supplies. Using a chainsaw as your primary weapon in the earlier stages is well advised so you can save some preliminary cash.

There is an issue that I have, but it is not with the game, but instead with the public who plays, let me explain why. Being that cash is by far the most valuable thing in the game, you have three choices where you can allow other people to buy whatever they want from the store and spend your money, or there can be a limit of your money and anything over that limit and they have to ask you (like asking your parents for more money to buy things) to use more, or they have to request that you buy the item so they can use it.

Being the kindhearted soul that I am, I trusted that people would have their own ideas as to how best to defend the base, so I originally let them all run wild with the cash. I figured, "Hey, it's their money too." And that worked out nice until this guy bought ALL SMG ammunition and drained my bank account. Then he leaves my game and I'm essentially screwed. I had no defenses, no nothing but a simple SMG and as much ammo as I could ever need. Granted, after that incident I quickly learned to hoard my money, but that got me thinking; why would you even think of offering other forms of cash management? There isn't much structure to the game other than shooting enemies, buying more guns and ammo and defenses and shoot more things after that. So why would you give the option for perfectly good strangers to come in and ruin your game? To this day I still can't figure it out.

As you progress you'll earn points to level up your character with things such as increased health (which you WILL need), increased movement speed (which again, you WILL need), pickup radius (which appeared broken even at max setting) and more things that really aren't important for any reason. Unfortunately, this eliminated any and all desire I had to level up my character.

What was the point in extra health when I can just barricade myself with some turrets and let the damage do the work for me? Work smarter, not harder, and that's why I'm struggling to find something worthwhile about the character development. Outside of something spectacular that I am somehow missing, you'd be better off playing Yet Another Zombie Defense HD on a train ride to work than on a console sitting at home.

Regrettably that is about as in-depth as this game gets, and if I'm honest, I was surprised at how shallow the game itself feels. They claim to have a 4K filter in the game, but that did very little to the visuals. You'll find that, as you play the game, there is very little enjoyment to be found, but Yet Another Zombie Defense HD relies squarely on one characteristic to help this game survive, and that is the replayability. With this game originally releasing on February 3, 2010, you can see that the years haven't been kind. With less content than a Chinese fortune cookie, and less entertaining as well, I'd personally save the $4.99 and spend it on something else, unless you just have to try the game, but you've been warned.

Overall Score: 5.5 / 10 Riddled Corpses EX

I'll say it: I love me some twin stick shooter action on Xbox. Over the years I think it's a genre that doesn't get a lot of attention, but after playing Riddled Corpses EX by COWCAT, I don't think that is going to be an issue anymore. Priced on sale for $10.79 (while the sale lasts) I have to say that this game took me by complete surprise. So much so that it almost caused me to be out of gaming commission, but more about that later. For now, though, let's dive into Riddled Corpses EX and you can see just why this game is worth every penny.

On the surface this game appears to be a classic 8/16bit hybrid game visually. Apparently, the story behind it revolves around a mad scientist (why can't there ever be any "good" mad scientists?) who attempts an experiment, and low and behold it fails. Actually, it didn't just fail though, this disaster of an experiment actually manages to resurrect an ancient sleeping demon of power who has the ability to summon his army of undead and a monstrous horde. What are the odds?

It's up to you and your ever-growing team of fighters to band together and not only stop the zombie apocalypse, but save all humanity as well. While the story is fairly straight forward, the real hook comes from the gameplay which is so addictive it may as well be deemed a narcotic.

You start off by selecting characters to play as, and you check them out you will see how each one will carry with them a special ability. Well, all apart from the first character who is all around useless and doesn't have a special ability. You will see how your characters are rated with many, many stats, that supposedly mean many, many things, and range from very high power but slow shooting and moving rate, to being lightning fast but barely doing any damage.

You'll pass on the first character, and instead you'll find yourself selecting others that come with abilities such as magnetism, 2x gold, and so forth. Gold will become your lifeblood as it costs you 9999 gold to unlock characters, as well as any turrets and additional machine guns. Normally on a given run you can expect to get about 1500(ish) amount of gold (if you use a 2x gold character), so welcome to the grind. You will end up playing levels over and over and over again because of two reasons: 1) you'll be terrible because your character is so weak, and 2) Riddled Corpses EX is ridiculously challenging with enemies and projectiles flying at you in 60fps glory.

To solve this inevitable problem, you will start leveling up your characters (which also takes a TON gold) and upgrading your machine guns (which takes A LOT of gold) but, as I pointed out above, when your take of gold is so low you have no choice but to grind and grind and grind. I chose to use a character that offered 2x gold instead of magnetism, so while I had to walk to the gold instead of it automatically coming to me, I got twice the gold in the end. I think I played the 1st level well over 50 times just to try and gain some form of strength to tackle the 2nd stage. I was grinding away so much that my right thumb actually became swollen, but that was after 8 hours straight playing, because this game is so addictive. Once you level up your three powered characters to level 20 you will unlock the last character (for purchase of 9999 gold) who has all the abilities of the previous characters.

Now, the overworld layout is designed in a traditional Ghosts n' Goblins fashion, as it consists of six areas which range in difficulty by increasing the number of enemies and projectiles on the screen at the same time. Things can get overwhelming very quickly, so you can utilize special power-ups, such as a stopwatch by pressing the Right Bumper that freezes everything on the screen for a limited amount of time, or you can use a group of dynamite sticks with Left Bumper that effectively clears your screen of enemies. The B button is used to deploy your turret while your Left Stick is used to move your character and the Right is to fire your weapon. This simplicity is yet another reason for the addictive quality of the game. You don't have to be worried about button pushes at the correct moment the frame of animation stops or split-second timing that leads to hours of frustration. Just pick up the controller and start killing everything you see.

Each of the levels are unique in the enemies spawned but also the atmosphere. You start your adventure in a city themed environment but transition into deserts and even underground laboratories. The enemies don't really change until you get to the last two stages when the game literally seems like it gives up and just throws everything you've experienced before from the previous level, just 100 times more of them. That's not to say though that this game has committed some graphical injustice because it hasn't.

All the enemies and levels are done in a beautiful retro 8/16-bit hybrid mashup of classic styles and are accompanied by a fantastic synth soundtrack straight from the MIDI worlds of yesteryear, but with a modern twist. One nostalgic thing that I found in the settings was you can switch the music back to the original track without all the modern processing and it literally became a movie montage soundtrack to laying waste to everything on screen and it was glorious.

So, even though Riddled Corpses EX seems like a shallow game, the replay value is off the charts and not seen in some big AAA titles that we pay $60+ for today. COWCAT has created a game that is so addictive it should almost be considered a controlled substance and that, for such an indie title, is something almost never seen in the gaming industry. Taking such a simple premise and focusing on just what makes the genre so entertaining, and hour draining, is exactly what COWCAT have done. For $10.79 (limited time sale) you can't find better deals for entertainment in today's world, and even when the price goes up, it will still be worth it.

Suggestions: Some online multiplayer with shared loot would be nice.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Battlezone Gold Edition

Back in 1980 I wasn't even 5 yet, however, I was already getting into gaming. The Atari system was running wild and one of their best games available was Battlezone. Taking the digital frontier by storm, you were tasked with piloting a combat tank against a seemingly unstoppable AI force, in an effort to save humanity. Now, almost 40 years later (yes you read that correctly), Rebellion has dusted off this classic gem and has refitted the game, bringing Battlezone into the modern age. So how does this new Battlezone game contend with its new modern kicks? What tricks does Rebellion have up its sleeves to entice us to keep playing this game? Why in the name of everything that is holy is the game priced at $34.99? All these questions and more will be answered as you read on!

The premise behind such glorified tank combat comes from the tried and true storyline where man invents AI, AI obviously turns evil (notice very few games ever have AI that isn't evil?) and begins to wipe out humanity which forces them underground. With the AI core resting deep in the heart of a volcano, it’s your task to make sure humans will see another day. It's up to you to pilot your tank and destroy the AI core. In order to accomplish this however you will need to fight your way through a literal army of enemy tanks, aircraft and turrets to deplete the power level of the AI army (which grows almost continuously) by destroying generators along the way (should you choose to do so). While the story is decent, it's not something that you need to concern yourself with because in Battlezone, the story is just there for an objective filler for you.

As you begin, you have your traditional fare of light, medium and heavy tanks at your disposal. Each one carries with it an advantage and disadvantage as well. Light tanks are quick but can be taken apart relatively easy while heavy tanks are, you guessed it, slow but hit like a runaway freight train. The same variety you have also applies to your enemies as well. You will have small little scout ships that can fire laser attacks that will damage you slightly, medium tanks that lob easily dodged cannon fire but take a few rounds to drop, and heavy tanks that can end your run with 2-3 shots top, also having shields you have to penetrate before blowing them up. This whole balancing system is central to the game and therefore critical that you rationalize the consequences of your choice.

While the number of tanks varies between 3 different weight classes, Rebellion has gone to great lengths to pack a tank's worth of upgrades and customizations within the game. For starters, you can customize the outside and cockpit with varying styles of camouflage, and while you start out with a lot, you'll quickly notice that there is so much more to unlock. While picking what your tank will look like, you can also look at your tank's stats will also notice that there is a long list of stats that you have the opportunity to upgrade. Speed, power, shields and ammo capacity can be upgraded, so it's in your best interest to kill everything that is shooting at you.

You get points for your upgrading system by completing missions and collecting resources from fallen enemies. While you may run out of ammo occasionally, you can collect dropped munitions resupplies from your foes which will refill all weapons you have on board. Don't be afraid though to spend some of your points on purchasing other lives. Sometimes the best offense is to have another tank ready to go should yours get destroyed. Without question, Rebellion has done a tremendous job packing in all the customization options at your disposal and is the very heart of Battlezone.

Earlier you read my writings about you having to destroy an AI core inside a volcano, and you're probably asking: "how do I get to a volcano?". Well the answer is you must navigate through a honeycomb map layout that is filled with side missions of multiple types, shield generators, enemy bases, supply outposts and even your nemesis. What is your nemesis? Well should you take your sweet time and allow the AI power to climb to a new level, a nemesis will be spawned. Think of these things like the ultimate tank killing machine that the AI spawns to end your life. These nemesis enemies should be avoided at all costs, but face one and you're in for one hell of a fight.

To soften up the AI core's defenses you will have to go after the corresponding shield generators. I almost forgot, while you're on your level you may see a white object indicator on your radar, so moving your tank near these white structures will provide you with different types of bonuses. You may see a point increase, lessen the enemy's defenses or even unlock new blueprints for some new firepower!

To move your tank towards these objectives and enemies, you have to use the Left Stick to move your tank forward, back, left and right, and the Right Stick to move your cannon up and down and rotate. By learning how to accurately maneuver the tank you choose, this will go a long way in preserving your life. The Left Trigger will act as a boost for your tank but, in doing so, will dramatically drain the shield of your tank. While the LT acts as a boost, the Right Trigger fires the weapon you selected with the X button. Should you have a weapon that needs a few seconds to lock on, then you must hold RT down until the targeting reticle goes green and then let go. Be aware of your surroundings though, you can lock on first, then dart behind a pillar to recover or hide for a few, and then pop out and launch your artillery at your target. When in combat you also need to be aware of combat tactics.

For example, should you notice your enemies shooting at you with lobbed fire or unguided rockets from a distance, then close the gap quickly and fire, fire, fire! This will have their rounds sail overhead while your shots hit and render the tank destroyed. Now on the flip side of the coin, if you have a heavy tank that will obliterate you up close, use your lock on weapons from a distance and don't stop firing while dodging the charged shots of a massive tank. Knowing how to adapt on a fluid and ever-changing battle will be vital in your survival.

While this can all seem complicated at first, the learning curve is fairly low so those who wish to jump right in can get a thrilling experience and quickly master the skills needed to win the game. Rebellion though did allow another nice bonus feature added into Battlezone, the ability to take on the game with up to 3 other players. So now you can have your own 4-person tank squad to go wrecking through the game which makes the game much easier to manage.

Remember, Battlezone used to be an Atari game back in 1980 and it involved black backgrounds with green outlined shapes that were supposed to pass as futuristic tanks. Now though, Battlezone is done in a 4K Classic Tron type feel (enemies are red, friendlies are blue) that looks stunning. Incredible digital frontiers that would have made Flynn himself tip his hat in admiration are your playgrounds throughout Battlezone. Coupled with .

Before I wrap this up, I want to take a moment to personally thank Rebellion for, what I think is, the best addition to their modern take on Battlezone, the original game. Yes folks, when you buy Battlezone you get not only this amazing and entertaining modern take on the classic, but also the classic itself. Having personally grown up with that Atari cartridge, it holds a special meaning to me. Having included it, as you have, has sent me on a personal journey of memories back when my father was alive, and I can't thank you enough.

For $34.99 you may be thinking that Battlezone is a bit overpriced, and you would be quite mistaken. When your customizable campaign length (short-medium-long) means you can have a campaign that takes you less than a few hours, or a campaign that spans actual days, Battlezone offers a lot of content and customization for everyone and that's the soul of this release, customization. From customizing your tank, to your campaign, to your multiplayer/single player experience, and so on, Battlezone offers you almost too many choices. However, that is the strength of the game and it works brilliantly. Battlezone is easily a must have purchase if you enjoy tank combat, arena combat, or are a fan of the classic Battlezone from 1980. While $34.99 is a steep price to pay for a remake of a 40-year-old game, Rebellion has made it worth every penny.

Overall Score: 8.3 / 10 State of Decay 2

For decades now, we as a society have been entranced by monsters, but probably none have garnered such a special place in our hearts as zombies. Countless books, TV shows, and movies clearly demonstrate that we love us some zombie action. Utilizing the Unreal 4 engine, developer Undead Labs has attempted to deliver a zombie survival horror game that feels like it should have its own A&E timeslot. Priced at $29.99, State of Decay 2 has a lot to live up to, but thankfully has a tremendous amount of content to source from, so let's see just how dead is undead. Now as you read this, know that I'm writing this as my communities are ongoing as we speak, and I'll fill you in on how they are holding up as the retail launch hits.

State of Decay 2 is setup in a manner that allows you to take control of a pair of people and each one has his/her own special abilities and traits. While some may specialize in mechanical work, others may be proficient in gardening, so who you choose to play as will ultimately help shape your experience. From there you will go through a tutorial where you will come to grips with the gameplay mechanics. This is quite simple as it's very similar to what we have experienced before (A for jump, B for dodge (hold crouch), X for attack and Y to interact/search). For a game of this nature, the overall feel of the controls varies between sluggish at times to oversensitive.

For example, if you're trying to dodge an attack and turn to strike your enemy, the controls feel like they hesitate, thus making the control feel sluggish. Now, let's say you want to refuel a car, you will have to position yourself in just the right spot, so you can fill it up. If you should stray, even a hair away in a different direction, you will either get an option to open the trunk of the car or ride in the back seat. This is when the game almost gives you too many choices and not enough room to make a decision accurately given the sluggish feeling. Once you get through the tutorial though, you're on your own. Just like popular TV zombie shows like The Walking Dead, State of Decay 2 forces you to make tough choices and ensure that not only do you survive, but that you do everything possible to rid the world of the blood plague by destroying what are called Plague Hearts. Sorry, but I won't spoil what it is or any details as they need to be experienced.

I just talked about making tough choices, and in one of my camps I thought I would do the noble thing and start bringing in everyone I could save as I thought there were strength in numbers. However, I was unaware as to the consequences of my choices till I realized the resource drain these members had on my outpost. State of Decay 2 essentially demands that you hunt through these massive sandbox levels for various resources such as food, medicine, ammo, construction materials and gas. These are the lifeblood resources that will either make or break you, and you can see a little display of a simple smiley face that can go from cheerful to hopeless and that will let you know something went went wrong.

So, for my first community I ended up not stockpiling enough resources as I just focused on people, and soon my food was in the negative, so even rationing it wouldn't work, and even with two level-2 gardens and two more food outposts, I still was running a negative food production. I chose to ignore this as I was interested in watching what the game did to my survivors. Well, I would get pop up messages that said that one of my camp members was starving, or that another member felt sick due to starvation. That is when I had a hard choice, I could go out and look for resources, or I could kick out people until I was back to a positive food production. Well, I didn't do either, as I let the people die from starvation and figured that the weak would die off while the strong held on to feast. While inhumane to the logical person, it worked. While people did mourn the passing of fellow members of the community, 20 min later the mourning ended and I was at a positive food production number and the morale was on the climb like nothing ever happened. Just goes to show you how fickle your community can be.

Outside of resources you also must maintain a relationship with the people. Other factions will ask for your help and you can decide to help them or not, but that will determine if they are friendly to you or hate you with upmost passion. I found that if you wait long enough, you can watch as the people in these other factions leave. While this prevents you from trading with them, it also prevents them from taking resources, so I was just fine with letting them go. I just talked about how fickle people can be in the game and my 2nd community had a guy who literally did nothing but complain about zombie infestations. Constantly on the radio about how no one respects him and that no one takes him seriously or cares about him, blah blah blah.

So, I say fine, I bring him along as a follower and select his quest to make him happy. I'm on my way walking and I clear out 2 other infestations, so I figured that would make him happy, nope. Instead, after the 2nd one was cleared out, he turns to me and says that he will go find others who really care about him and that I could go f*** off, and he abandoned my group. This is also a valuable time to tell you that if you equip items and weapons to your followers, and they leave you, then you will lose all those items forever.

Infestations are designated areas on your map where a congregation of zombies are present along with at least one screamer. A screamer is an armless zombie that doesn't walk fast, but it screams at such a high pitch that not only will it call in more zombies from nearby areas, but it can also resurrect fallen ones that haven't been executed. It goes without saying that these screamers are the primary targets and should be executed as quick as possible, but screamers aren't the only zombies to worry about. Bloaters are zombies that are naked overweight gas bags that run to as you and once close they explode in a poisonous cloud that can kill you. Should you hit one with your vehicle, stop the car immediately (B is handbrake) and get out as the car will fill with the gas and kill both you and your follower(s), should you have any. Feral zombies move lightning fast, hit like a brick and are savage on a primordial level. Put one of these down quick because if you're not careful, one of these can put you down in a matter of seconds. Last, but not least, is the Juggernaut. This colossus of a zombie is easily 8-9 feet high, about 500lbs and could be described as a pissed off freight train that won't stop until it breaks you in half. Even with a follower, I strongly recommend both of you hitting it with tremendous firepower and then swarm it from both sides with melee attacks until it drops.

To put things into perspective of just how powerful one of these beasts are, I was driving a military SUV at full speed and slammed head on into one and bounced off while the Juggernaut just said "ooof" and staggered a bit. I got another running start and the same thing happened only this time my SUV started to smoke because of the damage. That was precisely the same moment I heard a Feral zombie and it lunges at the driver’s side door and ends up ripping it off the car. What happened next? Ever see Monty Python and The Holy Grail? All that was missing were the coconuts.

To make sure you have all the equipment you need to fight off these gargantuan zombies you should make sure you have weapons that aren't broken. Just like managing your resources are important, so is making sure your weaponry won't let you down when you are out scavenging. Blades will dull over time and break, handguns will jam and not fire, but there is one trait to consider, the bolt action weapons. Guns such as bolt action rifles or revolvers will NOT, and I can't stress this enough, NOT break...ever. I found this out while one of my camps had my character trying to fight off a Juggernaut; not fun. This tidbit of knowledge will become invaluable as you progress, so please retain this tidbit of information. To fix and repair your broken and damaged items you will need to allocate one of your available spaces at your camp to a workbench. From there you will unlock the ability to repair items with the use of screw materials that you pick up throughout your searching.

As you progress and develop more of a reputation, you will earn star points that can be used in a multiple of ways. You can use these points that you earn to establish other outposts that provide things such as medical supplies, food, gas, ammunition and more which can be added to your base to bring in more resources. These can also be used to purchase new bases to move your growing community to that can provide room for expansion and growth. These reputation stars can also be utilized to call in favors on the radio such as support from online members to finding where certain resources are etc. These stars also can be used as currency when trading with other enclaves for various items they may have (pending they are friendly to you).

Now, you may think that with all these uses that you gain a ton of stars rapidly throughout your gameplay, but it's quite the opposite. For instance, in my 2nd community I am now sitting at 10 members which is WELL over my allotment for my home base, so I need to move; however, I managed to save up 1,000 points, so I can spend them on buying a water tower which will provide my base with water, but the largest encampment I've found so far is a mini-mall which can support 8 people (still 2 under my amount, but I can manage that) and that comes at the low cost of 3,500 points. While that is a lot when you only get +5 points for taking out a zombie or two, and +25 for taking down a Feral, Screamer, and/or Juggernaut, you will quickly come to the conclusion that doing quests will be the way to rapidly acquire the points you need.

This means you have to now manage your time as well, because your quest list is forever changing. When factions fall in and out of favor with you, so will their missions available to you and should they leave after being ignored for a while, then those missions are gone permanently and you're left with whatever you can find. This is where isolationism may or may not be the best thing for your group, so this will be a decision you will have to make on your own. I managed to find some of these camps by pressing the back button (next to the start button) whenever a request came in and I marked the targets. To reach these people I made sure I grabbed as many gas cans as I could carry, loaded them into the car along with repair kits (I learned from the Juggernaut), and I drove around, stopped at surveying points to unlock more of the map and went on a sort of "meet the neighbors" tour.

Now for a brief recap to sum things up as to what you will be required to manage:

1) Resources - Food, medicine, building supplies, ammo, gas.

2) Relationships - Foth with the members of your group and the community.

3) Time - People won't wait because they also must survive. Whether or not you're a part of that is up to you.

4) Storage - You can't carry everything all at once, so you will have to prioritize and come back for what you can't carry or pack in your vehicle.

Phew. State of Decay 2 does have a weak point that, in my opinion, kind of takes away from the majesty of the game, and that is the graphics. Sure, the developers use the Unreal 4 engine; however, the character models and environment are underwhelming and something that we can expect to see from an earlier generation Xbox game. I can understand that loading all those environmental assets takes a long time (thus long loading screens) at a higher resolution, so I'm guessing that this was a deliberate play to save on resources for the game management? Either way, the real winner for me though has to involve the sound effects and the music. While you hear the traditional guitar strumming and melodic atmospheric music, State of Decay 2 is made for a surround sound system.

For instance, when I slammed my vehicle into a Juggernaut and did nothing to it but piss it off, my damaged vehicle ran as fast as it's tires could carry it. However, there was smoke billowing out from under the wrecked hood, you heard the engine actually knocking and pinging like it was about to die. Then as I headed home one of the zombies attacked the vehicle and ripped my door off which caused a small fire to form under the hood because my car was getting destroyed. It's instances like this that highlight the attention to detail. I said sound effects were a treat, but not the voice acting, and that's because the voice acting is marginal at best and doesn't stand out even though the voices are unique. But go creeping through the woods at night with your tiny little flashlight and listen to all the zombies moaning and walking all around you and you'll see what I mean.

There are other little tweaks that sort of got to me as I was playing. For instance, when driving there seemed to be a constant thin horizontal line that would flash and flicker about halfway up the screen. While it did nothing but distract me, it was annoying as can be. Other quirks that set this game back were the raining zombies, yes raining zombies. When you set off driving sometimes you move faster than the game can process the nearby enemies, so they literally drop in from the sky like rain. I personally didn't mind so much until the game dropped a bloater very close that required me to drop it with some pistol fire, which then drew the attention of many other zombies in the area so my stealthy approach to scavenging just turned into a makeshift Rambo movie. I've chosen to guess this is because of the resource allocation limitations within the game itself.

Another gripe I have is the inability to pause the game. I never played the first version of State of Decay, but there apparently isn't any way to pause the game. I understand this is because you're loading yourself into a fluid environment that is constantly evolving, but with everything to manage, plus navigating to help others, having the ability to pause the game to go over what to do next would be helpful. To combat this I found that I didn't do any planning in the field and instead focused all my planning in the base. I do this because I've lost count how many times I've called up my map to see where I'm at and my resources are and was attacked by a zombie. This is one of many reasons it helps to bring a partner, especially if playing cooperatively with another person online, with you when you venture out.

While there are some aspects of State of Decay 2 that are subpar, it goes without saying that you get a phenomenal amount of content for only $29.99. I never got around to playing the original State of Decay, but I have to say this game has me hooked. While it can seem a bit overwhelming at times with everything to manage, there are games that cost twice as much and deliver half as much content. State of Decay 2 is now, in my honest opinion, the undisputed king of zombie survival horror games and the rest of the industry better take notice because Undead Labs didn't just raise the bar, they took it, caved in a zombie's head, then used the bar to lock the door and force the rest of the companies to fight for survival. While yes there are some faults to be found, the scales are overwhelmingly tipped in its favor. If you're a fan of The Walking Dead, zombies, survival horror games, open world action adventure games, then without question State of Decay 2 is a day one purchase.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs

A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse. Welcome dear reader to the review of Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs - Royal Edition for the Xbox platform. Developed by Pixelated Milk at a price of $24.99, Regalia is a crowdfunded JRPG that attempts to drain hours of your life and put a massive smile on your face while doing it. While JRPG games have been known for their long narratives, if the quality isn't good, then what is the point? So, should Regalia plant its flag in your Xbox's hard drive, or is the experience so horrible that it needs to be banished immediately from the kingdom of your games?

As you set off on your journey, you'll discover that you play the role of Kay, of House Loren, who is one of three children to the King of Ascalia. The kingdom had known peace for many years, until a dark time came upon the lands. With the king's health failing, Kay is instructed to lay claim to his royal birthright (which means his spoiled and entitled lifestyle and mannerism had to change immediately).

With a tantrum befitting a toddler, Kay tries first to shun his duty, but his two sisters (Ellie and Gwn) help convince him that he is just the right person to step in and bring peace back to the lands. However, in doing this they come across a shady businessman named Mr. Crucey, whom is trying to collect on a rather large debt that was owed to him by the royal family, a debt that was amassed throughout the years. This is when we learn of a massive quirk in the game that I will explain later.

That is the foundation for Regalia; however, there is more to this game than what is on the surface. For starters, one of the major focuses is building and restoring the lands. You have multiple buildings to build and upgrade, but doing so will reward you as these tasks unlock new perks for your character. The world of Regalia is laid out in a map with many circles, and each circle outside of your buildings act as a dungeon, and inside the dungeon you have numerous points of interest that can be one of three different experiences:

1. Save point - you can save here multiple times throughout your dungeon exploration. A save point can bring fallen members of your party back to life by sleeping but this can ONLY BE DONE ONCE. This is where strategy falls into place and I'll touch on that more later.

2. Choose your own adventure - If you're reading this and think an original Xbox is an antique then you may not remember these children's books that set you off on a quest that gave you the choice of your response. This mode gives you a scenario and from it you can select your response, which will end up in some kind of consequence (good or bad). These can sometimes be a battle or humorous stories and more. These encounters can also net you some very nice gear if you are so lucky.

3. Combat - very self-explanatory. This is a combat scenario where you and your party start out on a grid layout and you fight adversaries. There are special conditions such as "be the first to cause damage" that you can do throughout that will increase the chance of your end battle item. However, this is a lot more complex than it seems. For starters, the combat system is incredibly complex and even though it's a turn-based system, you will find yourself getting crushed A LOT. Think of this as an evolved version of a more violent game of chess. Strategy is important and given that you will do A LOT of fighting, here is how a traditional battle would work.

First you position your characters on the field in the designated zone. From there your characters take a turn if they want to. Your character can move and/or attack in any order, so you can be creative in how you play each fight. The game is based upon the skills of the people within your party. Each skill has a turn cooldown rating where 0 means it can be used every turn; and each skill has an Authority Point cost. Authority Points are crystals that are earned at the beginning of each round, and you get 1 per round, so you must plan for how you wish to spend your skills throughout your battle. Do you save your gems and go for a massive spell, summoning a fire demon, or do you go with a more conservative multiple medium skill attack? Regalia is all about strategy.

When you begin you'll also notice that your characters have no shields and that is because shields are distributed in a couple ways. One of them is to use our hero Kay to grant shields when it's his turn, or if your character doesn't move at all for their turn, they will automatically generate a small amount of shield. Winning these battles grants you resources you will need to build and upgrade your kingdom, which in turn will increase your ability to grow in your relationships with the other characters in the game.

As you now realize, your game consists of you forming a party, and it's through this party that you can develop relationships and friendships with all of those involved. The benefit from this is that you gain tremendous perks from increasing the Relationship Points between characters. Now, you will also have to be on your toes, so to speak, because some characters won't like your actions or choices so pay close attention and you should be fine.

I must pause for a moment because I must let you know just how beautiful Regalia is. The graphics are full of vivid and dynamic colors. The overall art style lends itself to be a fantastic JRPG game. The character development is very well executed and matches the quality given to the story of Regalia. What surprised me as well was the level of standards that Pixelated Milk gave to the sound. There isn't much in terms of dialogue or sound effects, which makes the soul focus on the soundtrack. With nowhere to hide any mistakes or flaws with the sound design, Regalia's approach to music hits all the right notes for a stellar experience. While there are some tremendous aspects to Regalia, there is always another side of the coin.

Now, while the overwhelming amount of content is done brilliantly, there are some issues that I have with Regalia that tarnish the crown. For starters let me talk to you about the loading screens. They aren't very long, but EVERYWHERE you go there's a loading screen, so while it's a blessing that the loading times are short, after a short amount of playing you'll notice that these loading times rapidly add up. While this can be a nuisance, this doesn't compare to the time constraint you face when playing Regalia. Let me explain this in more detail.

Remember earlier I talked about the debt collector? Well, you are given a certain number of kingdom tasks to complete within a set amount of time. If you happen to fail in finishing the required number of tasks within the time limit, the debt collector comes back and realizes that you have failed, and your game is over. You could have the best weapons, and the most amazing armor, but you can still fail in your time management and your game is over. Why is this such a big deal?

Let's say in this example you're given 30 in game days to complete a total of 5 kingdom tasks. When you navigate to any circular area outside of your main castle, you spend 1 day. When your character spends time with another character, that costs 1 day. Now let's say you enter a dungeon and you see a total of 9 nodes. That dungeon costs 9 days (1 day per node). Let's say you leave midway through the dungeon for whatever reason and you'll be charged the full 9 days, then you must come back and complete it, resulting in even more days spent. It's this type of playstyle that ends up squelching any desire to explore and, if we're honest, there isn't much (if any) exploration to do. Essentially Regalia has been reduced to nothing more than an interactive day planner that has multiple interactive events. But the plus side is that these events are challenging, but yet thankfully enjoyable.

So why should you part with your hard-earned money? Regalia is a great example of crowd funded games developing something that is tremendously fun to play. While other indie games try to be fun, they all take a knee to Regalia. For $24.99 you get an experience that is well over 50+ hours of fun and with the large amount of content weaved into a dynamic story that provides incredible challenges. You'll even find a few nods of respect to other tremendous games. When you look at the other releases that are out there on the Xbox platform, Regalia is truly a king amongst them.

Overall Score: 8.3 / 10 Enigmatis 3: The Shadow of Karkhala

While fierce competition continues to permeate multiple gaming genres, there's one company named Artifex Mundi that has quietly, yet definitively carved out their place as the premier and undeniable king of hidden object puzzle games. Known for the casual pace, beautiful graphics, and a focus on sound that is rarely heard from smaller titles, Artifex Mundi has released their final chapter of the Enigmatis series, promptly titled Enigmatis 3: The Shadow of Karkhala. Priced at $6.99, Artifex Mundi tries to close the door on this gripping tale of shadows and sorcery, demons and angels, heaven and hell. So how does this conclusion end? Let's see if we can't find a hidden gem or two inside.

For starters, when I turned on the game I was expecting some soothing music and a beautiful backdrop that acted as my main staging area, and I have to say I wasn't disappointed. There was this young person (whom I hadn't a clue who she was) just sitting there with her flute playing a melody that was captivating and yet harmonic to the soul. For a moment I actually felt like a snake caught in a charmer's sweet tune. Enigmatis 3 starts off with your ability to select your game in normal or hard mode. While doing this you'll see that there isn't one but two tales you can play through and each of them packed full of scenes and levels for you to search through, but you can't play the second one until the first is complete. This type of simplicity is what makes these games so enjoyable and that is shown throughout the entire game with how the game is setup to play.

Using Left and Right Stick, you get to maneuver your observation circle around various still scenes where you can interact with items using the A button, back out of scenes using the B button and examine items that can be expanded using the Y button in your inventory which can be opened by either Right or Left Trigger. Should you wish to use an item somewhere, that can be done via the X button. Now you shouldn't be concerned with ruining the game or locking yourself out of anything because this game, like its predecessors, is incredibly straight forward and will actually stop you from doing something that will prevent you from progressing so essentially there is literally no way you can ever do anything wrong, but it may take you a very long time to do things right.

Your D-pad acts in several ways. Up displays a hint for you (I didn't really ever need it), Right brings up your map and shows you all the places you can't go by placing a red X in the circle, and the areas that you have choices to make are marked with a "!" symbol. Down brings up your evidence menu and Left brings up your journal to show you what your current task(s) are.

This sense of simplicity is also found all throughout the story. In case you haven't played the other two before this, you play the role of a detective who has tracked a demonic preacher throughout the previous two games with the help of her partner. In order to uncover the trail that will lead you to the priest you will have to use your keen eyesight to uncover and discover a wealth of clues and items that will assist you along the way. Once on the right path, you will have to use your clues of evidence to put the pieces of this mystery together and try and figure out a solution. Along the way you will unearth many mysteries and questions, but remember, not everything is as it seems.

The graphics though are everything that it seems and more. Each scene is beautifully hand drawn and looks incredible on a 4k TV playing through an Xbox One X. From water to fire, grass to mountains, peaceful tranquility to hectic turmoil, every scene within the game looks stunning. There are though a few hiccups with the graphics. For starters, the character modeling when they talk is hilariously poor. I'm talking 1980's quality animation that hit the cutting room floor kind of bad. When you engage in someone who you see is talking to you, it appears as their mouth have only a few positions (open, closed, and crooked) and the game cycles through these static images as quickly as possible to try and simulate talking. While good in effort, it's poor in execution. I would actually have preferred to not have any voice acting and instead just text boxes that I could read and cycle through.

The sound though is where this game truly shines for me, as I loved the ambient atmospheric sounds throughout the various scenes. Each one is unique as the artwork that accompanies it and is a stunning companion to the experience. There are though some aspects that are not up to par. Earlier you read that I mentioned lackluster animation when it came to the people and their mouths, and sadly the same negative approach has to be taken to the voice acting as well. You get the feeling you're listening to C grade actors/actresses who want to be B grade, so they overemphasize almost everything to come off as better than they are. This is a massive negative tick but thankfully you won't have to talk to too many people throughout your adventure.

The final drawback though comes from the reality that Enigmatis 3 is not a long game at all. You can go through the game in about a day, and 2 if you wanted to get all the achievements, but despite all of this, it goes without saying that if you enjoyed the other hidden object puzzle games from Artifex Mundi, then Enigmatis 3: The Shadow of Karkhala should be on your radar as a must have game. I can think of many ways to spend $6.99 and not get as much enjoyment as you would find in this game. So take a bow Artifex Mundi, in your curtain call for the Enigmatis story line, you have found a true gem for the gaming world.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Train Sim World: Founder's Edition

From the evolution of civilizations, to the dreams of young children around the world, trains have always captivated our imagination with their power and purpose. There are many forms of train usage; from transportation of cargo to the transportation of people, trains and their purposes have evolved as well. Recently, Dovetail Games has released Train Sim: World Founders Edition for the price point of $29.99, and its goal is simple, as it aims to bring you the wonderment and magic that these powerful machines can produce into the virtual world of console gaming. Let's hop aboard and dive deeper into what could possibly be the best train simulation on the planet.

Simulation games have been done before, including a bunch of quality ones from Dovetail Games, so I was confident as to the level of quality I should expect. In terms of trains, people (including myself) can't help but think of the old steam trains where a couple people were in an the locomotive shoveling coal into a hot fire while watching the oil pressure and brakes. Modern trains are so much different, it's like you're stepping into a cockpit full of buttons, switches, levers, dials and all other kinds of interactive items. In this game you get the ability to control three different types of trains that range from mighty diesel engines to high speed modern beasts. Now, if this is beginning to feel a bit overwhelming, it's because it is.

Train Sim World: Founders Edition provides a beginning tutorial that will take you step by step into each train and give you a sense of how to operate it on a very basic level. Each train has its own cabin with its own layout and design, so you will have to get comfortable with more than just one style. Once you complete the tutorial, not only will you net yourself a 100-point achievement, but you'll be completely clueless as to how the rest of the game will operate. Outside of this beginning tutorial you have access to a Scenario and Services modes.

In Scenario Mode you are tasked with choosing your train adventure. Some scenarios range from 15 minutes while others be up to an hour, so be ready to devote some serious time when you pick your route. These different routes consist of stops and speed traps along the way, but sadly there are only 5 to choose from. The Services Mode is what you could consider to be a free roaming mode where you pick what train you want and the track, etc. It's here that you can also see an incredible amount of options for weather.

As you go through these two game modes, you'll rapidly realize that your training in the tutorial wasn't enough. While there are some pointers and hints to tell you what button or lever to push or pull or turn next, you only cover about 5% of all the dials, buttons and levers in the cabin. So, what the other ones do is something you must discover while you're sitting alone, in your cabin, watching life drift by you.

Why such a dreary description? That's because playing this game instilled in me a tremendous sense of solitude and loneliness. I would actually set down my controller at times and go to the kitchen to get a drink, or hit my PC to answer some emails, and when I came back the train would still be on its way to the station. It was an eye opener to me, because it was a perspective on a position that I never thought about. When you get locked into that virtual cabin it dawns on you that for hour after lonely hour you will sit and stare out of a window and control a throttle lever, all alone. However, if you prefer the tranquility of solitude then this aspect of the game will be a welcomed addition for you.

Now, this game strives to be lifelike, but it it comes up short in a few areas. First off would be the visuals. There is a tremendous amount of screen tearing whenever you move the camera angle, so essentially there is nothing but constant screen tearing throughout the entire game. Staying on the topic of the visuals, the character models are limited and repetitive, but not in an abundance that would make you feel like the area is populated, as out of 100 seats in the passenger cars, only 12 will be filled randomly throughout each one. There are other glitches with the graphics that detract from the experience too. For example, when you are a passenger and you move between cars, the first door opens relatively simply; however, the second door is imaginary as you can walk right through it.

Those aren't the only doors that you can fall through, as I found out when my character was exploring the cabin while the computer was driving. I got glitched out of a locked door and fell onto the tracks. The fall didn't kill my character, but I did have to run to the next station. Then when I did get to the station I could not jump on any ledge, so I had to backtrack a couple hundred yards and find a slope that I could walk towards and glitch upon so I could run to my train and try and keep my important schedule of stops.

That's when it hit me. This game is selling you artificial stress and responsibility. People play games to temporarily escape some of the realities of their daily life and this game gives them a synthetic version of reality. Coupled with a small NASA launch console to contend with that you don't know what does anything, constant screen tearing, and quite possibly one of the loneliest jobs in the world, you get a whole new respect for train operators. Just think, in a world where we, as a society, demand on-time service, now that wonderful stress and responsibility can be all yours, but you can turn the console off and walk away.

So, does Train Sim World: Founders Edition pull into the station of awesomeness or does it derail in spectacular fashion? A little of both actually, but one thing is for sure, and that is the question: "Should you buy this at $29.99?" Unfortunately I don't think so. That being said, this game has a distinct audience and it will find a few fans, but those that aren't into this kind of genre might just want to take the bus, instead of the train.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Way of the Passive Fist

Remember back in the day when you and your friends gathered around an arcade machine and took turns plunking your quarters into the limitless abyss of an arcade cabinet? You'd do this to buy just a little more play time so your character could maneuver around the screen and beat up more enemies? Well, if you’re reading this on a smartphone, or your idea of ancient gaming system is an original Xbox, then this may just come as a surprise to you.

Back in the day, side scrolling action adventure games were an overwhelming genre that never relinquished their dominating hold of greatness. Everyone, and every IP, were getting caught into the mix, and soon we had mutants, barbarians and even the Simpsons and TMNT all chomping to get a piece of that 25 cent pie. Even though times have changed, the side scrolling action hasn’t. Priced at $14.99, developer Household Games Inc. has tried to reinvent the glory had by all those other success stories of the past with a game called Way of the Passive Fist.

First off, if you were expecting any story of any significant value in this game, you won't find that here. Your character’s name is the Wanderer, and given the their name, they are known for simply wandering. Where do they wander? Well, on a planet named Zircon V which used to be a vibrant and populous mining colony, but now for some reason, this planet’s dying star has turned the planet into a post-apocalyptic wasteland that is overrun by characters you think were cut from the movie Mad Max. This “story” (and I use that term very loosely) is fairly shallow. I know that’s not a nice thing to say, but there is very little to no redeeming factor to it. But that’s ok, because action games generally aren’t about plot-lines and stories, they’re about the ACTION! So let’s talk about your character’s weapons.

Oh, wait, he has none. I shouldn’t say that, he has actually two, the Y button is a 'basic' punch and RB is a super punch. Now, I should take a step back and explain a unique twist on the action game genre that the developer takes. Apparently the enemies are the main attackers and all your job is to do is to parry/dodge the attacks with the X button (parry) and B (dodge), and in doing so it drains the stamina meter above your enemies’ head. Once the enemy's stamina has been depleted, they will slouch over and you, then press the Y button to punch them and they disappear. What I’ve just explained is essentially what you can expect for gameplay, to simply parry and dodge throughout the entire game. Should you parry/dodge enough attacks in a row you’ll see a blue fiery ring around your character’s feet. This is when you can use your super punch.

I think I should mention a couple of points before we press on. First, your super punch CAN disappear should your combo reset for any reason, so when you get one make sure you use it so you don’t lose it. Second, let’s say you’re parrying attacks and you're already up to 12, your enemy comes in to attack, and you press the X button and your enemy slouches over, and then you accidentally press the X button again? Well, congratulations, your combo meter has officially reset, and should you have a super punch waiting to be used, you can kiss that goodbye as well. This officially makes the game ALL about button timing and literally NOTHING ELSE.

Throughout the game's 10 stages you’ll encounter a variety of enemies, and by variety I mean what appears to be a total of about 6-7 unique enemies, and the rest are just those that are 'skinned' a little differently, have a different weapon, etc. This to me seems like a 'cut-the-corners' kind of approach that shouldn’t have happened. While it could be an issue with money, time, or whatever, many may view it as is somewhat lazy development. You could have an enemy with a blue uniform on in one scene and in the next one they wear green and attack in a slightly different way. By different though I mean they punch you, but instead of 2 or 3 punches, you will get 4. Once you start to get a feel for the enemies and how they attack, you’ll quickly be able to adapt to the slight changes in the attack patterns.

Throughout the stages your character will level up and you’ll have access to checkpoints. Based off of how you decide to structure your play, you may need one, two, or all of these checkpoints, because heaven forbid you have to start all over from the start. There is an achievement for going through any stage and not activating a single checkpoint. Let me break that down to you. Should you decide to go through Stage 1 and not activate a single checkpoint, but get to the end of the chapter and get killed by the boss, you are sent all the way back to the beginning of the stage and you get to enjoy all the excitement all over again. This is yet another way that the fun and enjoyment of this game takes a big hit.

Now, all this fun I just described above is found throughout the story mode. Once you complete this, off you go to the arcade mode! Unfortunately, this mode is exactly what you’ve been going through in story mode but with limited lives and damage tweaks. It is nothing more, nothing less. Quite honestly, I can’t find a single reason that this mode should even exist since you can already tailor your story experience how you wish (within reason), but should you trudge through the story mode, Arcade mode is your prize.

There are other annoyances as well. The biggest one of what’s left has to be, hands down, the music. It’s quite awful. I may be a hyper picky critique of audio, but I had to turn the music off as it was so annoying it gave me a headache. What was supposed to be a throwback, a homage so to speak, to some of the classic arcade music of the day turned into a metal, electric synth/guitar riff that was stuck on a loop, and that loop sounded about as good as nails across a chalkboard.

Thankfully there is a ray of light for this game. The graphics do a wonderful job in bringing back the classic arcade style that we knew and loved decades ago. Even though the enemies are done in different colors and slightly different outfits, every minute of the game brought the classic feel of an 80's arcade cabinet right into my living room, and that is an experience that I missed tremendously and done very well indeed.

Oh, one more thing. There is though something that did catch my eye, and that are the game's achievements. They are the best part of the game itself. For example, if you play through ANY chapter twice in a row you get a 20-point achievement called Double Draggin’. Should you open up a container in a level and find the secret turtle soup healing item, you unlock the Turtles in Thyme achievement. These achievements pay respect to action games that came out decades before this, and that are still far superior.

So do I think $14.99 is a good price for Way of the Passive Fist? Regrettably, no. For $14.99 you get simplistic gameplay with an action mechanic that is poorly executed and rewards your persistence with the exact same thing all over again. At the end of the day, this game may find fans out there, but the overall experience is one that you should enter with extreme caution, give the weaknesses that brings down the game's overall fun factor.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Mercenary Kings: Reloaded Edition

Normally I’m quite fearful of a game that has its birth from a crowd funding platform such as Kickstarter. Numerous times the public is fed a rose colored fantasy only to be let down in one way or another. This time though, developer Tribute Games put forth a Kickstarter with a goal of only $75,000 and ended up grossing over $116,000, and the gauntlet, as they say, was officially thrown down. If you were a fan of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: The Game, then you should already have some hope as members of that team are the same ones that developed Mercenary Kings, and with an iconic source of reference such as Metal Slug, the challenge was accepted. Now, for $19.99 you can get this game, one that is coming up on being four years old. So the big question is: "It it worth spending $20 on a game that is somewhat old?"

With regards to any sort of backstory, I’ll sum things up as such. There’s an evil force named CLAW (yes, I’m thinking of Inspector Gadget as well) who has committed evil deeds such as kidnapping scientists, annihilating armies of good soldiers and even kicking a puppy or two (that last one I just threw in there because it sounds pretty evil). All hope has been forsaken, and there doesn’t appear to any light at the end of the tunnel. You find yourself saved from the brink of death, and there’s only one thing on your mind, and that is retaliation against CLAW.

In order to do this you have to battle your way through 113 levels (yes, that’s not a typo) that span the vast military ranks and end at General. Throughout these ranks your missions are split between saving hostages, gathering supplies, taking out critical targets and more. Sadly, there isn’t much in regard to varying stages as you will find that most of the time you’ll be traversing the same landscape, but just going to different areas of the large maps. When you tack on the reality that you are under a time limit to complete each mission, which can range between 5 to 30 minutes, you quickly come to the conclusion that exploration and discovery isn’t necessarily the best thing for you.

This is because the game’s levels are setup in a manner that they will require some replaying. For example, let’s say you have a mission where you have to rescue a scientist who has done many science things and you only have 12 minutes to do it. It seems pretty straightforward, and on the surface you would be correct; however, each level consists of a super-secret-special objective that you will have to stumble upon considering, well, it’s a secret. Then there are the speed runs to contend with as well. Beating a level may be one thing, but beating it under a certain time will require skill and cunning and enough luck to eclipse the sun. So, harking back to that previous example, instead of 12 minutes to complete the level, if you want to go for the fastest time, then you’ll have to do it in, let’s say 6 minutes. Doing so will place a shiny gold star (yea!) next to the level, which does nothing and is essentially there for bragging rights.

To fly through these numerous levels quickly it will require you to manage your character’s inventory. This is because Mercenary Kings is about how much weight your virtual character can hold. Carry too much and your character will lumber along very slowly, but carry next to nothing and your character will zip around the screen so fast that a certain coyote will probably mistake you for something else, or maybe not. So let’s start off by talking about the things that add weight.

Everything, and I mean everything, you find in the game adds weight. So for starters, your character can be equipped with up to two bionic modifications that you can craft (with required materials) and each one of them not only carries with it a bonus, but some also come with a drawback. For instance, one mod will have enemies drop a lot of common materials when they die, but the drawback is that these some enemies won’t drop rare items as much. On top of this, these modifications take up weight on your character, so as they say in the movies, choose wisely. Now, let us move onto your backpack.

Your backpack carries weight as well, and depending on the items you put in it, will quickly become the source of a lot of issues for your character’s mobility. The developers claim that your backpack can carry a total of 4 items: your weapon, two miscellaneous items, and a transmitter (used for calling in supply drops, etc). All of these items, apart from your transmitter, take up weight. Items such as C4, health kits, hand grenades, and more, all take up weight, but not as much weight as your weapon.

In Mercenary Kings, your weapon is 100% customizable. This means you start off with a base (in the beginning you get a pistol), which can be a handgun, assault rifle, shotgun, sniper, a ray gun and much more. Each gun can then be outfitted with different barrels, clips, sights, stocks and other accessories. While some weapons can be made to look incredible, such as a magnum handgun with a mini-gun barrel, others can look hilarious, such as the toilet gun, which literally looks like a white porcelain toilet bowl. You will need to pay close attention to the weight of your weapon because when it gets combined with your backpack's contents, and any/all bionic modifications, your character can really be sluggish and that can make a big difference in a gun fight, unless you have your knife.

While having all these gun choices and combinations are fun and festive, do not underestimate the power of the dark side of your knife. Sorry, got caught up there for a moment. Anyhow, your knife has a special ability in that it can deflect bullets. When I got the option to customize my knife I went straight for the most damage I could find for the smallest weight increase. While I passed over a wooden sword because I didn’t feel it was dangerous enough because it was wooden, I stumbled across an amazing tool of slicing and dicing, a pizza cutter. Now I was unstoppable. Enemies fired round after round and I swatted them away like they were nothing. With my trusty pizza cutter of deflection and death, and my toilet gun, I was ready to tackle anything.

It should be noted that everything in this game requires materials to construct, so again, you will be forced to play through many of the levels over and over again to obtain them, but I found a little trick. There is a bionic modification that I touched on earlier where, if you equip it, enemies will always drop common materials, but you will also be jinxed and the percentage of enemies dropping rare items will be a lot lower. There is also another bionic mod that will allow enemies an increased chance to drop rare items, but you won’t get you as much cash. Equipping those two modifications at the same time allowed my character to rapidly stockpile a plethora of materials that I needed to make my equipment.

When you begin playing you’ll navigate through your central base, which acts as the main hub for your operations. It's here is where you will be able to outfit your character and select the various missions. Once selected, you are transported by a helicopter named “Choppy” to drop you off into your mission. Before you decide to take off though, I would strongly recommend that you tackle the hunting grounds on the right hand side of your base so you can become familiar with the controls as they are a tad bit clunky and can be cumbersome at times.

Basic controls like A for jump and B for rolling are one thing, and X is your firing button, but RB is for reloading because Y is for your knife. There were a few issues I had with the reloading input and that stems from the gun you decide to build. For example, when you reload there is a bar where there are clear spots on the sides, and in the middle there are some yellow bars that enclose a green section. Should you time your reload by pressing RB a second time in the green section, then all the ammo that gets replenished will be granted a damage bonus. It’s important to note that as you change your gun components, the reload bar will change as well. This can be dangerous when you consider you could dramatically shrink your “green” reload area, or even slow down the reload time (the mini-gun reload time, for example, is 9 seconds long).

Thankfully, all this classic platforming is wrapped up in beautiful retro graphics with classic 16-bit sounds. There is a lot of humor spread throughout the various characters, so I strongly advise to chat with the other NPC’s throughout the base. While you can take on these levels in multiplayer and co-op modes, there is nothing that is overly challenging that would require a need to do so.

As I played I was pleasantly surprised with the number of homage to some of the classic games of the past such as Zelda and even Metal Gear, so if you’re looking to take a walk down memory lane with a crap load of guns and explosives, then Mercenary Kings should be on your radar. For $19.99 you are getting an overwhelming amount of content that should keep you and your trigger happy friends amused for quite a while.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Raining Blobs

One of the earliest types of games around were puzzle games. Simple to program, simple to design, and yet they still managed to provide hours, and sometimes even decades, of entertainment. Out of this extremely long pedigree comes an indie game called Raining Blobs from developer Black Shell Games.

Now, I'll let you in on a little secret; I'm a huge puzzle game fan. From Tetris to Puzzle Fighter, and all of the games in between, I find that their cerebral strain can be more entertaining to me than just blindly going around shooting and killing things. Priced at $9.99, I'm anxious to see just how well Black Shell Games did with this game.

When you start out, Raining Blobs takes you through a brief tutorial, which I skipped accidentally. This tutorial guides you as to how to make your matches, but more importantly, how to clear your colors. Since you may, or may not, do the error I did, here is how you operate the game. Using various buttons to rotate your 2 blob piece, you will find a section of the board and then drop said piece in that section (the best example I can think of is Dr. Mario). Now that you have your piece there you will start to build with similar colored blobs (or orbs, whatever...) and then you may see a piece that contains a star. Thinking at first that this is how you clear the color, you include it in the construction of your color, but upon placing it you realize that it doesn't go away. This is because now you need ANOTHER starred blob thingy to actually trigger the disappearance and score the orbs connected.

If it sounds like it's confusing, it's because it is. However, while the game mechanics are simplistic, how they are applied and managed is a totally different thing. This is thanks to Raining Blob's temporary surges in speed, and the fact that you're going to have to focus on not only what's coming next for your character, but your opponents as well. To help regulate the insanity, you will occasionally be dropped a blob that has a diamond attached to it. This piece of salvation will remove any color it touches, and while that's a good thing, I find it more useful to remove color pieces that aren't connected in a long network. This way when the obstructions are removed, the remaining similar colored blobs will connect forming an even more gigantic chain that will lead to incredibly high scores.

You can rack up high scores due to the fact that Raining Blobs treats you to a few game modes which aren't anything new or innovative, but you can play against the CPU or other humans if you so wish. Arcade mode sets the end level and tasks you to reach it, yet I never got close, though I'm sure with enough practice and time it could be accomplished. It is here is where I started to get a feel for the controls and how the game itself should be played.

Next is Tournament mode where I found another irrelevancy within the game, the characters themselves. Apparently, these retro anime styled girls seem to have a story or history to tell, yet none of it is worth reading or even caring about. There is one catch though, and that is these computer AI opponents are without a doubt, the most frustrating opponents I've encountered in quite some time.

In Tournament mode, when you make a match, you send other blobs to your opponent, and when their play area is full, you win. Sounds simple yes? Well, I was making matches after matches and sending blobs to my opponent who then ended up somehow miraculously converting them into a 50 blob chain that the computer then cleared, seemingly taking me out in one hit. This is also on the easiest difficult setting.

So naturally, I thought about turning up the difficulty. I haven't seen something get beat that hard since a Salvation Army drum. The computer would be making lightning fast moves that perplexed at first, then one pair of orbs would drop from above like a key and WHAM! Everything clears, massive combos are reached and my screen goes too full almost instantly. If you're going to try to up the difficulty, good luck.

Now, even though this will cause you to pull out whatever hair you have left, there is a mode called Puzzle that is actually quite cerebral. Instead of dealing with opponents who are incredibly difficult, this challenge pits you against the board, and it's your job to solve it with a single pair of blobs. With 100 puzzles to solve, this is where patience and thinking are better than wildly placing blobs everywhere you can think of.

While Raining Blobs tries to offer multiple game modes for variety, they try and keep your attention. To do this, Raining Blobs outfits the game with retro styled anime girls in skimpy outfits and places them in varying stages with pointless scenes and music that will leave you underwhelmed at every stage of the game. But that's the thing about Raining Blobs. It's not trying to be something it's not, and that's when the revelation of the game made sense to me.

Raining Blobs isn't trying to be some epic RPG game or some action packed shooter that's filled with beautiful content and a sweeping musical score. Instead, Raining Blobs is trying to be a throwback retro puzzle game on a modern platform that highlights some of the vintage puzzle atmospheres of the past. While I wish there were some tweaks, the overall style of the game itself is worth checking out, but not for $9.99. If the game ever gets to $4.99 on sale, and you like puzzle games (which don't have stupid odd point based achievements like some OTHER puzzle games have had) that involve anime girls in skimpy outfits getting blasted by blobs, then this is the game for you...blobmaster.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Deadbeat Heroes

One of the greatest challenges that any developer faces is how to keep gamers playing their game after the initial first impression has worn off. To do this, developers have many different options at their disposal, but one thing must remain true, whatever path they take, they must succeed. Now, enter the development team at Deadbeat Studios and their latest release, Deadbeat Heroes. Priced at $14.99, this little indie game's goal is to provide a comical point of view on super hero games that doesn't take itself too seriously. As you'll read throughout this review, that could be its saving grace.

Throughout my reviews of indie games, I try to approach them in an objective manner and relate their value compared to the price charged to see if it's worth your money. Deadbeat Heroes provides an overly generic storyline that doesn't do much in terms of originality or innovation, or quality if I'm honest. Apparently London is under attack by a group of shaded out evil villains who seemingly control an army of incredibly stupid and worthless henchmen that will serve to be your punching bags throughout the game. You are recruited by Captain Justice who, right from the beginning, shows the lighthearted, but terrible, humor that you can expect to permeate this game.

As you will quickly realize though, what starts out as entertaining transform into grueling work that amounts to very little entertainment and quite a lot of frustration and irritation. After your brief humorous introduction to Captain Justice, and your super hero lair, you'll notice a bunch of super hero clichés such as batman's red phone and more. You'll then be tasked with going to the gym so you can become acquainted with your skills and abilities. Upon completion, you'll rapidly become used to the simplistic game mechanics which can become a blessing so you're not trying to hit 5 buttons at once while rotating both sticks to perform a move. The X button is your attack button and the A button is your jump. The Y button does a taunt if your super meter is low but can also be used to unleash a turbo move when said meter is full.

There isn't much to be confused with in terms of the gameplay controls, and on the very first mission you will be thankful for this. The reason for this is because Deadbeat Heroes focuses solely on obtaining the highest score possible for that level and making sure that you qualify for the minimum accepted score. To accomplish this, you will need to chain together combos, make sure that all your hits hit once, and that you do not get hit at all. Sounds easy when you have the ability to wall run, double jump, and perform dive attacks from the air, but if you falter though, you will be introduced to Deadbeat Heroes' biggest downfall, the score removal.

That's right folks, if the minimum required score to pass a level is a C, and you unfortunately score a D, then you don't pass and move on. No, instead you will be forced to replay the level until you do get a C or higher in your score. Heaven forbid though you should die, because that's when Deadbeat Heroes takes a nosedive. Each chapter is divided into numerous levels, and should you make it all the way to level 3 and perish, then not only will any progress for level 3 be wiped away, but level 2 as well thus forcing you to replay level 2 just to access level 3 again and then, hopefully, you can move onto the next level. This forces you to replay levels again and again, and should you run out of lives, you'll have to start over from level 1. And what exactly will you be repeating?

You will be repeating the same linear level design and action sequences you face on every single level. You start off by going into an enclosed area and beating up all the bad guys, then you move onto the next path to the next room that is filled with more bad guys to beat up and then guess what? You move onto the next enclosed room filled with even more bad guys to beat up. This tediousness is one of the reasons why completing a level actually holds significant value since repeating this already repetitious pattern is enough to have anyone looking for a new game to play. When your character can take only 3 hits before dying, you will quickly come to terms with the challenge that waits before you.

Now, I've been beating the crap out of this game, review wise, but is there anything that's actually redeemable from Deadbeat Heroes? Well, the graphics have a nice cartoonish, cel-shaded feel which is enjoyable to experience. The art style is cool, but that's pretty much all there is. I would talk some about the music and sound effects, but quite honestly, I don't want to beat a dead horse, as again, they are nothing special. When you progress further into the game you start to acquire teammates that act, essentially, as disposable lives, and therefore you get some reprieve when it comes to dying so long as at least one hero remains alive, so that is another positive.

For $14.99 I really don't feel comfortable recommending that you pick up Deadbeat Heroes. While the humor is mediocre at best, I haven't witnessed so much failing since the new Star Wars movie (and yes, that is my opinion of that too). Deadbeat Heroes offers little in terms of gameplay enjoyment, meaningful quest experiences, absent replayability, and offers a militaristic dictatorship hold over progress and failure where you end your gaming experience more angry than overjoyed. This game would be a considerable pick up if it were priced at $4.99, but at $14.99 I can't recommend subjecting yourself through the forced aggravation that Deadbeat Heroes brings to the table.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 ELEX

For me, and yes, this is my opinion, I think that one of the greatest genres in gaming has to be open world RPG's. If developed just right the right mix of a fantastic story, incredible graphics, and a musical score that steals your heart, then an open world RPG can become one of the best gaming experiences you can have on a console system.

Now let's talk about Elex. Developed by Piranha Bytes, Elex's premise turned heads from the early stages of the game. They were set on developing a game that Action RPG fans would enjoy. So, has the dev-team managed to tick all the right boxes to become a fantastic, open world RPG experience, or has it been banished to the realm of mediocrity?

Throughout the beginning of the game, you're treated to a cinematic that explains the overall story. Think of this as a "previously on Elex" moment. You are on the planet Magalan and different factions have formed in the wake of a meteor strike. The first faction, the Albs, ingest Elex so that they are granted heightened powers and abilities at the expense of their emotions, which make them perfect killing machines. Clerics, the next faction, are known as Elex embracers who consider the material to be magical in power and use it to implement technology. The Berserkers are a faction who are on the opposite end of the advanced technology spectrum. Finally you have the Outlaws, a faction who are basically an over weaponized army that focuses on firepower and not Elex. The meteor strike has marked the discovery of Elex and has provided the planet with a new resource that all factions are now desperately fighting for control over.

In order to survive Elex (the game) you will need to complete quests, of which there is no shortage of, for each of the various factions. It almost seems like nothing would ever have gotten completed on the planet had you not been betrayed and left for dead, hmmmm. While the main quests will net you coin and XP, the bulk of Elex's adventure will fall within the realm of the side quests.

The side quests can be trivial quests all the way up to severely challenging. Not only will they provide you resources for completion, but more importantly, they will provide you with favor with the corresponding faction. This favor will help you as you begin to search out trainers to spend learning points on skills and abilities, but there's a problem here, and that they are outrageously priced, and once the first skill is learned, any subsequent skills will cost you a fortune. In other words, get ready to grind your hours away.

However, when dealing with these quests you'll be dealing with what I think is quite possibly Elex's biggest disappointment, the voice acting. To say it's bad is an understatment, as unfortunately it is really bad. Every single NPC you manage to talk to will have some form of digital apathy as there is hardly any emotional connection, and the what emotions that do show are overplayed to a massive stereotypical cliché that you will find yourself caring very little for these digital characters. In doing this though, Elex effectively drains all importance of the game away and leaves you with very little reason for exploring the rest of what it has to offer.

As you would expect, it will be up to you to decide what faction you want to play as, because the game will shape to your choices and lock you out of others. This aspect, if done right, will naturally generate incredible replay value thanks to incredible quality of support. Sadly, the execution of Elex's other elements pretty much result in making you want to finish even one play through tough to do and that's heartbreaking. Single player, open world RPG games can be incredible experiences. Fallout, for instance, or Elder Scrolls, provide numerous pathways that are enjoyable from all playthrough variants, but after playing Elex, you don't get that same sort of enjoyment. It's not because it was poorly developed, but because it felt more like a beta experience than a polished game ready for the public. Let me give you an example.

When the game starts off you find yourself betrayed by your fellow Albs and left for dead. The game starts you off on a quest to find out who betrayed you and why. You will encounter a Berserker who helps start you on your path. This is also where you're going to be exposed to the absolute beauty of the environment. While the character modeling is average at best, the environments are absolutely amazing. While it may be beautiful, it's also incredibly deadly. Stray from the path to explore and you'll wind up encountering enemies that will drop you in one single hit. While this will naturally change as your character levels up and advances, there will always seem to be a feeling that anytime you set off the beaten path, you better be cautious because within seconds you could die.

While the environment may be beautiful, sadly there are other areas of the graphics that aren't. As noted, character modeling and the facial expressions are absolutely dismal at best. When they talk you almost wish they wouldn't because of the poor animation. Sometimes when my character was talking it looked like they were drunk. Then you have the combat. You're going to be getting into a lot of it so it better be good right? Wrong. The attacks for your character are tied into RB and RT and both of them are horrible. This is thanks to another underdeveloped characteristic of Elex, the gameplay.

You'll find that horrible camera controls combined with a bad user interface, and then topped off with a sluggish movement control system, combine for a completely miserable experience. Some of the most challenging things you can do in Elex is control your own character's actions. Countless times you'll try to climb something, or talk to someone, or even attack something if you wish, and you'll find that you have better chance of using 'The Force'. You get the feeling that this is part of the game that, if had it had more development time, would have been incredible and that actually adds to the disappointment.

As I continued to play I had that "it all makes sense" moment. Elex needed more time to develop. Gamers have always heard the line from companies that "We need more time to polish the game," and Elex is a perfect example of what happens when there is no more time. It's like when you rush a game to meet a deadline and then the gaming public descends upon the developer like an army of Gordon Ramsays that are eager to tell them what they think of their raw game. The biggest disappointment that I have with Elex isn't the poor control system, or the colossally horrific voice acting, or the overpowered enemies, or the character modeling from the 1990's. No, my biggest disappointment is that all, and I mean ALL, of these issues could have been addressed and refined if given two things: more time and more money. I feel that Elex could have been one of the best open world RPG games we have seen in quite sometime had it had the time and funding to develop into something wonderful, not just passable.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

What do you do when your previous game delivers a tremendous impact equal to bombing runs over London during WWII? Well, in the case of MachineGames and Bethesda Softworks, you bring the noise, but this time more of it, and release Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. This is no small task considering the ramifications and themes that permeate throughout the game and the current unrest and division we see here in the United States. While creating a game is challenging enough, Wolfenstein II aims to create yet another entire experience that is unique. Recently, the discussion on single player gaming has been called into question and Wolfenstein II just shows why single player gaming, if done right, is an experience that just can't be beat.

Should you play the first game? To answer your question, yes, you should play it as it is a game where the timeline of history is changed in WWII and the Nazis end up winning the war and taking over the United States of America. If, for some reason, you haven't played the first one, Wolfenstein II does a decent job showcasing a recap via one of those "last time on Wolfenstein" moments. During this sequence you're shown brief, and I do mean brief, images and clips that try and help you piece things together of what events led to your current situation. This is done because Wolfenstein II picks up almost the very moment after the cliffhanger ending of its predecessor. What this means for our hero Blazkowicz, is that General Engel is back and she has never stopped hunting you.

That's all I'm going to say about the story because it's one of pure mastery. This is thanks to many different factors. For one, the execution of the script by the talent is incredible. From the street savvy crews of the United States of America to the sadist actions and rantings of a pure psychopath, every main part of the story will leave you captivated.

However, the real meat is to experience the interactions that the NPC characters have with each other. Case in point, there is a level where you are in the Southern United States and you are trying to meet up with your contact. There is a small problem though, and that is that it takes place during a Nazi parade where some of the bystanders are members of the Ku Klux Klan. It is here and you overhear their uncensored discussion with each other and then with German officers. The dialogue is what people would classify as completely raw; however, it adds to the reality of what things would be like had things been different in WWII. I enjoyed going throughout the game's levels and witnessing the bizarre, and always entertaining, communication between the residents as they tell some fascinating stories.

This is the type of creation you need when developing an immersive storyline for a single player game. The dark rhetoric passages of the game's dialogue contribute to authenticity, but be forewarned, some of the topics may be disturbing to those who play. Topics such as child abuse, homophobia, incredibly intense scenes of extreme violence, racism and much more, are found in every moment of the main storyline progression. I'm actually quite thankful that Bethesda and MachineGames decided to make the game as authentic as it is.

Instead of cowering to the PC police, they throw a ton of hate material at you and say this is who is responsible for the situation in the game (Nazi's ruling of America), and in doing so they create a tremendous feeling of pride in your country. These are the same patriotic feelings we feel during certain occasions and instances such as 9/11. What this means to you dear gamer, is that in Wolfenstein II you can expect one of the most powerful stories you'll ever experience.

Of course in order to accomplish this you'll need to fight, and to do so requires a streamlined combat system that is typical in most first person shooters. What makes Wolfenstein II's system so great is that there literally isn't much there to work with. This is a blessing when you find yourself up to your neck in Nazi guards who are called in when an Officer trips and alarm and requests backup. Dual wielding your weapons can be extremely effective for the run and gun strategy instead of stealth, and can be activated or cancelled with one simple button press.

You can dual wield any weapon that isn't regarded as "heavy", but these non-heavy weapons have another benefit, as they all can be upgraded with upgrade kits that you can find hidden throughout the game's levels. There is a slight flaw here though in that the Right Bumper, if held down, will bring up a weapon selection HUD and using the Right Analog Stick will let you select what weapon you want. The problem here is that while you're saying 'time out' while you select your weapon, the enemy still is firing at you. This will lead to many untimely deaths and many restarts.

While upgrading your weapons gives you huge advantages, Wolfenstein II has internal challenges for your character to accomplish that will unlock perks and improve abilities that directly affect your character. Challenges such as kill X number of enemies by throwing a hatchet, or X amount of combat takedowns, or even X number of environmental kills. Completing these challenges will grant your character bonuses to his abilities and skills, and as you progress and keep increasing what mastery level these skills are, the bigger the bonus your character will receive. So sometimes it IS a good thing to have officers trip the alarm as you can boost your challenges quickly while you look around for all the collectibles.

And speaking of collectibles, there are A LOT of hidden items to find scattered amongst the game's levels. Each level is fairly linear in design, but the size of the levels is quite impressive, which also means you'll have to spend a lot of time searching if you want to find every single collectible. This is where one of my gripes of the game's design are. Wolfenstein II seems to take assets straight from games like Fallout and rehashes the design. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, it does feel a little cheap, sort of like the developers were cutting corners so they can focus on their character development.

I have to give MachineGames credit though, the character development and visual presentation of Wolfenstein II in 4K is incredible. I was playing this game on the Xbox One X with a 4K Samsung TV, and to say it's pretty is an understatement for the ages. The slightest nuances are highlighted in ways that other companies could only dream about producing. If you only care about graphics, then Wolfenstein II should already be on your must have list.

Sadly though, the same can't be said for the soundtrack and audio of the game. While the voice acting stands out as incredible, the overall ambience of the game leaves a lot to be desired. Throughout your adventure you keep hearing Blazkowicz giving an internal monologue of sorrow and depression, and this got on my nerves somewhat. There were slight bugs as well, such as sending a guard flying hundreds of feet into the air with a grenade while the destructible box beside him was untouched.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus brings gamers around the world and single player, first person shooter that delivers a fantastic storyline, beautiful graphics, and an experience that is hard to surpass on any platform. Bethesda and MachineGames have done a tremendous job in showcasing evil exists in the world, the fight that good people have to go through to prevent this evil from taking hold, and what happens when good people do absolutely nothing. This game is easily a contender for game of the year, with only a few shortcomings, and I expect to see Wolfenstein II make a serious case for why they deserve the crown.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Middle-Earth: Shadow of War

One of my favorite tales to read has been Lord of the Rings. The development, and more importantly the execution, of such literary text inspires imagination all over the globe. Due to this unfathomable love found world wide, it goes without saying that Lord of the Rings is one of the most protected and sacred works in human history. Back in 2014, Monolith Productions crafted a tale found in their a game called Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, which introduced two characters, Talion, a ranger who wanted to live in peace with his family, and Celebrimbor, who was the one responsible for making the One Ring. Tensions during the development of the game were understandably high as any sort of blemish would result in catastrophically negative press. Shadow of Mordor launched to incredible praise and it earned countless "Game of the Year" awards, so if that challenge was so monumental, then how does a company follow such quality work?

Well, by releasing their latest tale of the Tolkien lore called Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. Monolith has taken it upon themselves to deliver another tale spawned of the legendary tales found at the other end of Tolkien's pen. While the artistic license may be offsetting to some, there is no doubt that Shadow of War delivers everything we loved about the previous release, with more development and production qualities than I've ever seen or thought possible. This is the entire crux of the game, and while I'll be touching on the highly volatile loot boxes later on, make no mistake that this story, set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, is one of the best stories I've experienced in a long, long time. Granted yes, we know already going into this that Talion doesn't beat Sauron (otherwise we wouldn't have The Lord of the Rings), so the best way to approach the story is with that understanding and see how the story unfolds.

We start to see some of the controversial story developments when Shelob, a massive spider from the movies and books, becomes a female that can interact with our main character. While she never assumes that form in any of the literature or movies, to say she doesn't have that ability to transform would be a colossal misconception. I personally thought that the application of a "human form" fit the character perfectly, as we got a chance to see how the web of events was spun (pun intended). This is just one of many incredible details that make the story of Shadow of War an incredible tale of love and loss. With regard to the story, I won't spoil it for you as this is a narrative that needs to be experienced firsthand, and it would be a crime to deny you that type of experience (I know I would be mad). The story is yet another one of the many new experiences you will have in Shadow of War, as we also find new lands to explore as well.

I will admit that some of the new areas aren't really involved with the lore of The Lord of the Rings, but while the first title seemed to focus on Mordor itself, the atmosphere changes with regards to Shadow of War's new areas. Tropical jungles full of lush foliage, massive cities of men that are under siege from an endless onslaught of Orcs, even murky swamplands, these are examples of the lands that await you throughout each level. Each area has been expanded into such large open world sandboxes that you can find yourself becoming lost in the midst of pure exploration. As in the first game, each area has towers that have been taken over by the Great Eye of Sauron, and it's up to you to reclaim the towers and lessen the grasp that the Dark Lord holds on the realms. Unlocking these towers also holds benefits as well, from fast travel points and more, they are useful.

Shadow of War will undoubtedly pit you against varying types of Orcs and Ogres; however, these grunts answer to captains,bodyguards, and war chiefs. While you may be fighting several dozens of these low level characters, it's not uncommon in the middle of the battle for a cut scene to commence that showcases a captain that has appeared in the fight and who wants to make a name for themselves by killing you in numerous gruesome ways. Each captain, bodyguard, and war chief has their own personality in which there is very little repetition in terms of individuality, so each experience feels incredibly unique, which is a massive challenge that Monolith Productions absolutely nailed perfectly.

Instead of randomly hoping that you can get the better of a captain or more, it helps by interrogating certain grunts who can provide information on the weaknesses you can exploit. These characters are marked, so it's fairly easy to distinguish them out of a horde of 20 or so characters. You have to be quick though because should you engage in combat, and not go directly for the intel, the Orc will start to run and your opportunity to gain that intel will vanish. Speaking of running....

The captains can run as well. For instance, if you are in a battle with a captain, the captain will flee if you use a pinning attack, and then it's a foot race to catch said captain before they vanish. Other tricks that captains, and other high end enemies hold, are the newly introduced "Death Defying" or "Tricky Escape" options. Should you be in a fight with a captain and bring it to its knees without killing it via an execution, you will receive one of three options. The first one will bring up a quick time event (QTE) where you press the correct button to send the captain to its grave, while the second option involves the captain getting back up in what is known as a "Death Defying" moment. The third option, which is the one that really irritates me, is where the captain will give a speech while downed then throw a smoke bomb and instantly disappear. All these fights utilize something that Monolith Productions has done a phenomenal job of implementing, and that is a fantastic control scheme.

Implementing such combat styles found in other games like the Batman Arkham series or the Assassin's Creed games, Monolith Productions was brilliant in utilizing a simplistic yet highly in depth control scheme that allows tremendous gameplay options with minimal button presses. When you're surrounded by tons of Orcs, and multiple captains, you'll be very thankful such a mechanic exists in the first place. This streamlined, yet efficient gameplay becomes such a benefit when you find yourself ambushed by a new captain, or by an old captain that you killed that was brought back to life (yes just because you kill a captain doesn't always mean they stay dead). Numerous times I was out exploring when I was instantly knocked to the ground from behind during an ambush attack and had to rely on the games combat mechanics to triumph over the captain.

These captains also adapt to your play style, so it's in your best interest to not only provide variety in your gameplay, but to put these captains down fast and without mercy. There is some benefit to getting killed by a captain though, as strange as this sounds. Should you meet your untimely demise at the end of an Orc sword or spear, the captain that killed you will be promoted, and now when you eliminate the newly promoted captain you will receive better gear. So, sometimes it may be in your best interest to accept the dark embrace of death if you wish to have better gear rewarded to you. While this may seem like a lot of fighting on your own, what would Shadow of War be without a little 'domination' that we saw from the first game?

That's right, in Shadow of War you can again dominate (control) grunts to fulfill many different tasks such as gather intel, set off alarms or traps, or even fight captains in an effort to promote the lowly grunt. This will come in handy when you're actually trying to destroy the various Orc controlled fortresses. As you can clearly see from the cover art of the game itself, your goal as you progress through the story is to build your army of subversive Orc captains and grunts. This unique system allows you to amass tremendous armies in an attempt to overtake the Overlord that resides within, and when you combine the use of beasts such as Drakes and Graugs (think Dragons and Rancor style beasts), Monolith Productions have given you all the ingredients to experience a truly epic event that we would expect to find in The Lord of the Rings lore.

Now, despite all this praise there are some irritants that reside within the game, but nothing that would be grounds for passing it by. There are some issues with the camera angle, and while you're fighting one enemy it's not uncommon for attacks to come from off the screen and hit your character. With this out of the way, which definitely not game breaking, let's talk about the loot boxes that yo can utilize in-game.

This feature has been picked apart by everyone under the sun, and in a negative light, but to me I don't regard the loot boxes as a negative thing since these are optional. Sure, it will take a long time to grind to get the same items you can purchase with real money without said grinding needed, but when you're playing a fantastic game like Shadow of War, that's not a bad thing at all. These boxes provide nothing of necessity that can't be obtained through just normal grinding, and they don't detract from the story, which is the cornerstone of Shadow of War's experience. I feel that the overwhelmingly negative focus of the loot boxes detracts from the sensational storytelling and incredible combat system. I would equate this to getting a Ferrari and then saying the car is worthless simply because the cup holder won't fit your drink.

As you progress through Shadow of War you will gain experience (XP), which you can use to develop Talion and his abilities. As is the case found in most single player adventure games, as you gain enough XP you will be able to improve your character's skills. In Shadow of War, each of these skills has three additional traits you can select from to turn Talion into a one-man army of death. You can only select one of the three extra traits though, so you should choose wisely.

As I progressed I found myself focusing on the remote poison grog skill. This allowed me to target a grog barrel with my bow and press the Y button to poison it from a distance. While this will take out whoever drinks from it, I upgraded the skill and selected the explosive trait, which meant that the Orc who drank from it would writhe in pain on the ground while poisoned and draw the attention of other Orcs who would come to check on him. These other Orcs would then be met with a massive poison cloud that came when the poisoned Orc exploded and spread the poison to any of the nearby Orcs. This tactic also works on captains as well, so if you find yourself with a whole bunch of enemies, and a whole bunch of grog barrels, find a high point, poison all the barrels, and wait and watch as you clear the entire encampment without engaging one enemy. I must admit, I got so caught up with going through the Nemesis system in the first area that I completed the area when my character was at level 15. Don't worry though as some skills won't be unlocked until you progress through the story.

While character progression is expected, this time around you can modify your gear as well. By completing item specific challenges you unlock upgrades for your weapons and gear. For example, you can use a quick throw to hit a poisoned enemy, and in doing so it will now grant you a percentage where critical strikes will poison an enemy. The challenges that upgrade your items go hand in hand with the new gem crafting system. Shadow of War provides three different colored gems: Red, Green, and White. By placing these gems into your gear sockets, you gain various perks such as life leech on hit, increased damage dealt, and XP boosts to name a few.

Shadow of War is yet another fantastic example of how to improve on something that was already incredible. Naturally the game looks gorgeous, with incredible details, character models, and environmental effects, and I can't wait to see what it looks like on the Xbox One X in 4K. The game allows you to pause, even in battle, and snap a screen shot using your free flying camera system, which is jaw droopingly beautiful. Graphics though aren't the only strong suit here as the audio is top notch. You will notice the tribal drums that beat for the Orcs, the horns of men blowing loudly into the air during war, and a symphonic score that sets the stage throughout every unique level in a way that is rarely seen on any medium to date.

Monolith Productions has an absolute sensational game in Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, and while there will be some detractors, the story, and game as a whole, is a masterpiece of craftsmanship that would make J.R.R. Tolkien proud. It has quality development that takes everything fans know and love from the first game, and improves and expands on it making Shadow of War a game that could easily hold contention for "Game of the Year". It is a must have purchase for anyone that enjoys quality gameplay mechanics, beautiful visuals, stellar sound, and a story that holds its own in a lore that is highly protected by its fans all across the globe. In the world of The Lord of the Rings, Monolith Productions has become the one developer to 'rule them all'.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition

Over the years I've had the opportunity to observe the history of the Kickstarter platform as it pertains to gaming. While it is rare for a game to not reach its funding goal and be released, it is far rarer to find a Kickstarter game that delivers an experience so incredible that you become lost in a webbing of wonderment and enchantment. Rewind quickly to 2015, Obsidian Entertainment (who are known for titles such as Fallout: New Vegas, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, South Park Stick of Truth, and many more) set out to raise funding through Kickstarter for a game they wanted to make called Project Eternity, which became the Pillars of Eternity game we have today.

They set themselves some lofty ideas and financial goals ($1.1 million); however, they never expected what would happen next. On October 16, 2012, just shy of 74,000 backers donated a whopping $3.98 million dollars and now the quest was on to deliver a truly incredible RPG experience, and in our opinion at XboxAddict they succeeded. Back in March 2015 Pillars of Eternity was launched, and since then additional content has been released on Windows, OS X, and Linux. Finally, Pillars of Eternity has recently been released on the Xbox One platform as a full retail game for a price of $49.99. So is it worth paying $10 less than full retail for game that is now about 2 1/2 years old?

If you're a fan of RPG games, then this title is worth its weight in gold. Games like this traditionally excel in the realm of mouse and keyboard control, and one of the biggest challenges is to figure out a graphical user interface that is both streamlined for efficiency and useful at the same time. In order to do attain this goal, the majority of the commands in Pillars of Eternity are spread amongst your LT and RT buttons. For instance, if you hold down the LT you can access your character leveling sections, inventory, any sort of quests you may have acquired along the way, and so much more. The inventory is setup so that each character has their own individual inventory system, but before you start thinking of making your teammates loot donkeys, you should know that if the person leaves your party for whatever reason, all the gear that is not only equipped on them, but also in their inventory, is now lost to you.

Pillars of Eternity is big on teamwork so when you have a group together you can use your LB and RB buttons to switch between characters, or you can press LB+RB together to select everyone in the group. Even though the game's mechanics transfer well to the console, Pillars of Eternity doesn't hold your hand. In fact, it provides very little guidance so you will spend a majority of the early parts of the game just getting familiar with the controls of both movement, character management, and combat.

When you find yourself in combat, which will happen a lot, you'll be thankful for the X button because it lets you pause the game at any time and issue individual orders, then once everything is worked out you can press the X button again to resume and watch the action unfold. In terms of character development, you get the same type of layout as seen before where new levels grant you brand new abilities to choose from and new powers to unlock. This is where you'll also spend your character points on various traits and doing so will also unlock new conversation options.

Given that you will now have access to new conversation options, this means you will also start to manage your reputation, as it will be affected by how you choose to handle situations. Even though this may seem a bit overwhelming at first, after the first few character levels you should start to get a feel for how the different areas of your character play off each other. Sadly though, this is an imperfect system as the sensitivity for what items you may be near may not be as responsive as other games. There were numerous times where I had to circle around just trying to loot one item. Despite the setbacks though, the control system is incredible.

Speaking of incredible, the attention to detail in terms of the story in the game amazing and masterfully written. Done in a classic text box, choose your own adventure, style of delivery, Pillars of Eternity sets you in the world of Eora and it's here that you will explore the wonders of the world. To compliment the well-developed story, Pillars of Eternity has a musical score that should not be ignored. A sonic needle in a noisy haystack of mediocrity, I found my ears becoming lost amidst the chords as I went through the various areas. While some tunes will serenade you with melodies of beautiful instruments, others will invoke a wide range of emotions such as fear, excitement, anxiety and more. Sure the voice acting can be quite good at times, but the musical score blanketed my ears with one sonic masterpiece after another.

The world of Eora is setup into varying stages of an over world map that allows you to select which region you're going to travel to. Sometimes you will have to take note of where you are in relation to your own surroundings so you remember what way to go for your objective. As you begin your adventure you will have to select from one of 11 classes, which range from barbarians and wizards to druids and ciphers. Each one of these bring with them their own strengths and weaknesses, so it goes without saying that finding the right corresponding accompanying characters can really make the difference between winning and losing.

After you go through your character development you'll have the choice to select abilities or spells which you can use right away. Take notice though, because some skills allow you to use them "x" amount of times during combat (meaning that after you are out of combat your skill amounts become refreshed) or you will only be able to use them "x" amount of times in between rests at campsites or inns. Planning on this should be high on your priority list so your party is fairly balanced.

The reason for the importance of the planning is because Pillars doesn't quite restrict you into realms you shouldn't go into. Nope, instead it lets you wander in like a lost child and in the process getting turned into paste. For instance, I was wandering around and I discovered a cave, nothing appeared out of the ordinary so I proceeded inside. I found some bodies lying around and as I went to loot them, a massive bear started charging out of nowhere and obliterated me in one shot. That's when I decided to gain some more levels before setting foot back in that cave.

If you die, like I did by that bear, on normal difficulty you get reset to the last auto save point, on the hardest difficulty your game is over completely. Now, had I'd known beforehand that death greeted me when I entered I wouldn't have ventured forth, but that is what Pillars of Eternity will do to you. It will present you with options, but it's up to you to decid what to do with said options.

There is however, one huge elephant in the room that needs to be addressed. Sadly, while all of this sounds fantastic, there's one overwhelmingly large negative that is going to be the bane of your existence, the loading times. On the console version I played the load times started out rather short; however, as I progressed and the game opened up, it was clear the game had problems trying to load everything as fast as possible. Loading times kept getting longer and longer and they were unavoidable at times, and in some cases they tripled the time it took to complete quests. Let me give you an example. Let's say you call up your map and select a town you want to travel to. Cue load times are around 45 seconds. Once completed it unveils a town of average size of which you can walk around. Now, let's say you find a building within the town that you want to enter. Cue another 45 second load screen. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this because eventually you'll have to leave the building and then travel to another area, and as you're aware, you're going to spend quite a lot of time loading. This can become quite painful when you take into account the number of actual areas you will be entering and exiting throughout the entire game and then tacking on the additional time per area.

Despite some bumps along the pathway, Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition is one of the deepest RPG games you can find now on the Xbox One platform. Strong character development mixes with a wonderful user interface to take you through an incredible story that, even though challenging at times, is absolutely fantastic. If you're a fan of RPG games then Pillars of Eternity has got to be on your must have list, and when you take into account the fact that you not only get the game itself, but also the two massive expansions, then you will easily draw out over 100 hours of gameplay for your $49.99, which makes Pillars of Eternity worth every penny. It truly is amazing what can happen when companies like Obsidian and the general public connect through a crowd funding portal like Kickstarter how a dev-team can produce a game that is nothing short of brilliant.


Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Project Cars 2

We have heard over the years from various game developers that they are "listening to the fan feedback" to improve their games. Well, most of the time that is a bold face lie given the same games can make the same mistakes repeatedly. However, that seems to not be the case at Slightly Mad Studios, as they have released their next installment in the Project Cars racing series, aptly titled Project Cars 2. The original game was a spectacular launching pad for the company, as it showed other racing game developers that a new kid was on the block and its time they took notice. Despite the flaws and shortcomings, Project Cars was a wake-up call. So, with the battle for racing supremacy well underway, how did Slightly Mad Studios listen to their fans? It's simple really, they have delivered one of, if not the best, simulation racing experience ever to be found on a console to date.

First off, this is simulation racing at its most pure essence. This was paramount for Slightly Mad Studios to perfect given that it is the soul of the entire game, and if the handling was imperfect or the delivery of the racing physics were off, then every mode would be affected and therefore suffer. This is not your instant rewind type of racing. Project Cars 2 is your apex hunting experience, and your sniper rifle are the cars found within. It's a game where driving errors are tolerated, but not rewarded. You have the option of turning on driver assists, and after a few hours of slamming constantly into the tire walls and spinning wildly off track, I did exactly that. I cannot express my admiration enough towards the developers for their painstakingly tiresome work of making some of the best driving physics I've ever experienced. Driving with no assists is truly for the hardcore.

Your car's handling is dependent on numerous factors such as tire temperature, track temperature, track design, weather and car damage to name a few, and all of these factors are calculated in real time. As these variables change so does your racing experience. In the beginning your tires are going to be cold, so you can expect to endure some slipping and sliding until they become warm enough to stick.

One setting that I must admit helped me a lot was the racing engineer, and it's a feature that is pretty well implemented. Activating this setting will allow the game to monitor how you drive during races and will suggest to you the type of tuning modifications you should consider to help your racing style. The amount of processing that happens in real time is mindboggling intense, and when you include the fact that Slightly Mad Studios allows you to tweak the gameplay input, what you have before you is one of the most advanced driving mechanics available in a game, period.

Now, in the original Project Cars game the number of cars and tracks seemed very thin. While some could argue that having over 700 cars is pointless since you'll only be driving less than a handful of them, it still has to be said that Slightly Mad Studios has increased the number of both tracks and cars in this game. Boasting over 150 cars over 120 tracks spread across 60 venues, Project Cars 2 seems to be loaded with tons of firepower.

You'll get behind the wheel of a lot of the cars too as you progress through Project Cars 2's career mode. The selection is wide from Indy Cars, touring cars, street cars, rally cars, LMP cars and vintage cars, there is a lot of selection of 4-wheeled beasts. This time around the career mode is incredibly deep. You'll be able to start almost wherever you wish, but if you want to make it into the top tiers you have to earn it. I found that starting off in the beginning tiers helped get me used to the gameplay mechanics, and after that I was like a kid in a candy store.

The sessions are broken up into three events. There is a beginning session, where you get to go out onto the track and learn the course. After that comes the qualifying session, where your fastest lap will determine your starting position, finally culminating with the race itself. While these sessions ranged between 15 and 30 minutes, I found myself spending the time racing in the qualifying sessions just to get pole position on races. As you progress throughout the game, and drive the various cars, you will start to earn affinity with the specific car companies, opening up new racing options for you, which you'll find in the Manufacturer Drivers racing list. The depth to which you can handle your career is quite extensive, but ultimately your best goal is going to be striving for racing performance on and off-road.

You'll need to become one with your car because you're about to experience one of the most incredible weather systems ever created for a racing game. While doing an actual event such as the 24 hour of Le Mans, you will see a plethora of varying environmental shifts that showcase just how incredible the game truly is. Rain can come in varying forms from a slight mist to sheets of hurricane force rain blowing sideways across the track. Water will collect on the track in real time too, but the track will dry itself after the storm passes due to the heat and friction from the cars driving on the track. While having day and night systems is almost mandatory now, having a full evolving weather system that dynamically impacts the experience is just one more reason why Project Cars 2 is a fantastic simulation racer.

While career mode is extensive, there are other modes for you to enjoy, which also include a custom race mode that allows you to pick any track you want and make any day/night/weather combination as well. If you want desert conditions in the mountains, or snow in the Middle East, the race tracks are your playground. To put this over the top, Slightly Mad Studios developed a multiplayer system for Project Cars 2 that plays right into the racing simulation as well, with the online championships and dedicated race announcer to help immerse you even more behind the wheel. While this is a fantastic addition to the game, and goes a long way to help establish Project Cars 2 as a serious simulation racing contender, I can't help but to say one thing: Project Cars 2 is a masterpiece of automotive artwork.

The car modeling, both on the outside and the inside, are done with jaw dropping beauty, but that isn't all; all the little details of your car and its interaction with the track and weather environment is spectacular. For example, you'll see the sun in the sky and the clouds above but you'll also notice the heat waves that rise from a blistering hot track. In contrast, on a wet and rainy day you will see the spray of water as it gets channeled through your tire treads. These are just a few examples of how Project Cars 2 delivers a graphical performance that is second to none, and should you pick up an Xbox One X later this year you will be able to run Project Cars 2 and experience all its wonderment in 4k resolution at 60FPS natively.

While Project Cars 2 looks heavenly, I'm pleased to say that the sounds of the game are some of the best I've ever heard. Have you ever accidentally turned your wipers on during a dry day and hear the rubber squeal against your window? You can hear that in Project Cars 2. Have you ever missed an apex and wildly slid into the gravel sections? You can hear the individual stones being kicked around, and if you're behind the person who went off the course, you can hear even if a stone flies your way and hits your car. Audible elements such as engines roaring, tires screeching, your race manager clamoring in your ear and the rain hitting your car are pieces of the score of the game itself. Sure, the menu music and the musical score of the game is good, but the real mastery of audio comes in the fine details that go overlooked when you're trying to hit the corner at 80 Mph while trying not to get overtaken.

A true racing masterpiece, Project Cars 2 takes a lot of the negatives from the first game and actually improves upon them in such a drastic and dynamic way that the transition is as different as night and day. Slightly Mad Studios has set themselves a lofty goal of making Project Cars 2 the best simulation racing game available on the Xbox platform, and I think that they have succeeded triumphantly. In fact, Project Cars 2 doesn't set the bar to a new standard, it single handedly renders any other simulation racing game obsolete. Slightly Mad Studios developed a colossal racing game, and that everything about it became bigger and better and more dynamic, and that game is called Project Cars 2.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Don't Knock Twice

What if movie company made a horror movie that no one went to see? What if a game developer then decided to make a game that ties into the this movie, again, that no one went to see in the theaters. Would people want to play it? It's an interesting question and something that makes you go "hmmmmm". Well, this very situation is what we have here with Don't Knock Twice from Wales Interactive Ltd. Based on the horror movie with the same name, Don't Knock Twice sets out to be a psychological thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire game. However, we all know the abysmal history of games based on movies, so does that mean that Don't Knock Twice follows the same mantra? Well, how about we look inside and find out what this $9.99 indie game has to deliver, if anything.

From the beginning the game, it goes without saying that if you didn't see the movie you will not have a single clue of what's going on in the game. There's no loading cinematic or any clue what so ever to give you some background, who your character is, or generally anything pertaining to the story at all. Stevie Wonder has a better chance of telling you the color of your eyes than you do in deciphering the story in Don't Knock Twice. They should have at least summed up the movie's events, given that this game is based on it. What's even worse is when you finally start putting the pieces together, it becomes so bad that you just don't care anymore.

Normally I try to be objective as I can be, but I have to ask: "What has happened to the horror genre?" I know this is going to hurt people's feelings, but I feel that horror was better decades ago in the old Hitchcock and classic Stephen King era. They were known to be more 'mentally and psychologically focused with their suspense, however, you can't keep rehashing the same generic tactics and expect people to wet themselves over the horror you've tried to create. This leads to serious issues with Don't Knock Twice's story; there isn't one. Well, I shouldn't really say that because there actually is one, however it's hard to determine which is shorter, a total solar eclipse experience or this story. This mediocrity is brought upon by many other factors outside of the plot.

First, your character has limited movement abilities and most of them are irrelevant for a vast majority of the time. Sadly though, you find yourself navigating linear pathways of doors and getting caught within a repetition of actions. Walk to the only door that will open, move forward into next area and scour everything, find the only open door from there, move forward and repeat over and over again. What is incredibly disappointing is how the fright and suspense try to build upon you throughout the game, yet it never really delivers, thus turning the game into one big hunt for collectibles.

Thankfully, these collectibles shimmer in the dark, which is helpful. Why you ask? Well, because whenever you tend to enter a new area you can streamline your time spent within the game by going to the collectible, picking it up, examining it, and then going forward through the now newly opened door to whatever lays in wait for you. The item is probably a magazine or something... probably.

Sometimes you'll find that before accessing these doors you will need to experience something before they open. Case in point, I was out in a courtyard and walked around the area for over fifteen minutes trying to examine everything to get the door to unlock. When nothing happened, I finally started to look everywhere, including areas that just didn't seem like they had no relevance in the first place, and when I looked up I saw lights flickering in a window of a room, then magically the door unlocked. This is the type of nonsense you can expect from this game. I hate to sound so discouraging, but man, stuff like this is frustrating in a game of this nature.

Now the graphics are decent, but nothing to note, as they managed to "get the job done" and you can see, and decipher, what is going on as you play. The high point for me was the audio because it was at least tolerable to listen to, as you could hear the ambient sounds such as a fire crackling, the rain hitting all around you when you are outside, and so much more. I guess in many ways the overall presentation manages to convey what you are looking at, and listening to , in terms of the game's on screen action, it's just that it does not do anything that really stands out in this area.

Don't Knock Twice doesn't offer much more that would constitute any sort of positive reinforcement for picking this up for any reason what so ever, which is sad, as a good 'scare game' is something that can be fun, as Halloween is approaching. Even at the admission price of $9.99, it's unfortunate that I would have to say you should avoid this game entirely. It suffers tremendously from numerous faults and setbacks that prohibit a truly horrific experience. Regrettably, the only positive that I can see is that the game does offer a lot of easy achievements to obtain, so if you want a "cheevo" boost then this might be for you. Games based on movies never tend to work well, and unfortunately Don't Knock Twice is yet another example of why titles like these should be avoided. Forget knocking twice, just don't knock at all and go play something else.

Overall Score: 4.0 / 10 Path of Exile

Here at XboxAddict, we try to consider each and every game as a value for your money spent. As a reviewer, I understand that gamers have to make tough choices from time to time, and the last thing they want experience is a game that set them back lots of cash, only to find out that it is nothing but a colossal disappointment. Well, the team at Grinding Gear Games has just thrown down the proverbial gauntlet by providing their game, called Path of Exile, which is an almost identical clone of Diablo, for free. Yes, you read that correctly, it is 100% free to play. So, let's quit with the pleasantries and dive right in to this action RPG masterpiece.

If you are a gaming developer that wants to make a quality dungeon crawling action RPG game, then you have a plethora of quality content to sample from, but when you make something almost identical to one of the greatest dungeon crawlers of all time, Diablo, then you've already set yourself up for huge success. However, it takes more than just structure to make your game a hit. It takes the proper execution that will contribute to your hours, weeks, months, and yes, even years, to meld together into one massive time lapse of enjoyment. Now, there are a few dings and dents in the shiny armor of this game, but let's kick the review off with one of them so we can get it out of the way.

When you begin you will have your choice of 1 of 6 different character classes. Normally, when you are talking about an action RPG game, you try to find characters that fit your gameplay style, and in Path of Exile you not only have three characters that represent one of the core attributes of the game (strength, dexterity, intelligence), but you find three hybrid characters that share a balance of two of the main character properties, and not an overwhelming dominance of just one. There is also a secret character to unlock, but you'll have to play the game to find out who it is.

Each one of these characters, excluding the secret one, can evolve into one of 3 different classes. For instance, a Marauder, which is focused primarily on strength only, will have the option to evolve into either a Juggernaut, Berserker, or Chieftain class, each of which offers their own unique skills and benefits. This type of "end game" build is something to take into serious consideration given how you may like to play. One negative here though is that characters are name specific so you cannot make a character with a name someone else has already taken. This can lead to an extended time creating your character, as the game boasts a lot of players with many popular names already taken.

Each one of these characters supports what could easily be considered one of the largest, if not THE largest, skill trees ever seen in a game. A titanic web of various nodes that you can illuminate to grant you bonuses and skills lays before you. While you gain points for it by leveling up, you will also obtain points by completing side quests as well, so get ready for a lot of extra combat. These additional tasks are usually on your way to your main quest goals, so thankfully you'll be able to tackle some of these others to help your character level up organically. Sadly, you will not be able to fill the entire skill tree, so make sure that you think about your character and what build you want. You'll have to plan ahead, because to reallocate points is quite rare in the game. It's like the old phrase: measure twice and cut once. Think about your character and how you want to play the game and then see how the various parts of your skill tree assist and aid your character appropriately.

Once you're in the game and begin your journey, you'll notice that it is broken up into chapters, much like other games that are named Diablo. The story isn't much and the game does very little to hold your hand. The interface though is done well, with a character that can equip 2 slots for weapons, slots for a headpiece, chest piece, boots, gloves, belt, 2 rings and a pendant. Each one of these items can come with its own slot(s) too, allowing you to equip gems of varying color and skills. Outside of your initial weapon attack, these skills are going to be mapped to your A, B, X, and Y buttons, and you can stack a second set by utilizing the Right Trigger as the switch between pallets.

These skills are supported through not only the skill tree, but also with other gems. For instance, if you were to take a skill called Sunder, you could support it with gems such as "life on hit" which grants your character health whenever that skill strikes an enemy, so you can use that to supplement your health and mana potions which can be mapped to any of your D-Pad buttons. While this is deep, when you start to fathom the various classes of items and the fact that almost everything can be altered or changed, you can start to feel a bit overwhelmed by the game's size.

When you progress through the various acts and levels, you'll come across characters that offer you side quests to complete. These are essentially tasks that alter between a few variants. The quests grant you experience for your character and also begins to form a bond between your character and the various NPCs who offer them. Once you have done enough quests for these people, and you have built your relationship to level 3, you can start talking to these people about a hideout for your character, which can be like your own little getaway that you tailor to yourself.

As you are probably wondering, if this game is free then what costs money? That answer is: everything cosmetic. That is right folks, Path of Exile grants you the ability to spend obscene amounts of money to obtain skins and visual effects for everything from your boots and gloves to your weapon and even pets and hideout items. If you thought spending $60 on a Season Pass for a game was expensive, how about a cosmetic package for your character that costs $399? That isn't a typo, and I didn't forget to insert a period anywhere. While you can spend seemingly harmless amounts of real money, you don't have too, and that is a great gameplay feature, as it's 'not-pay-to-win', or in this case 'pay-to-excel-and-look-good'.

When all the in-game discoverable items were equipped, the spaces that were left open were numerous, which means you can go to great lengths to customize the appearance of your character into truly something memorable. I cannot stress how amazing the structure is setup. If you don't want to spend a single dime you don't have to; however, with the quality of the game at hand, spending money on these upgraded packs for your character is worth its weight in gold and goes to supporting a company that is giving you an incredible game for free.

I must admit though, there are some downfalls to this game. If you're playing a multiplayer game and someone else kills your enemy for you, you don't receive any experience. Your gems can level up thanks to the number of enemies killed, but your character won't gain any XP to level up. This issue also carries into the loot and how it's structured. In games like Diablo for instance, you get individualized loot and you can only share should you drop an item for someone else. In Path of Exile, it's a free for all. If you have someone who is just a straight up loot #*%@&, then expect to be fighting over gear for quite a while.

Another issue I have to mention is that, as of writing this review, if you want to sell/buy items on the trade board, you have to spend real money on the game. It seems like a cheap shot to make an entire feature of the game out of ones grasp unless you pay real money on a free game that already gave you so much. Granted, on the flip side, you could always go hunting for these types of items, but with the ability to gain more items of things you need for weapons and gear you want, then the barter system works wonders in a social setting. While the interaction itself leaves a lot of room for polish and fine tuning, the basic structure that is in place now can provide a good foundation to build upon.

The game itself is presented in the same top down camera style that you find in Diablo, and each of the areas is designed with its own unique atmosphere that seems to follow through several different iterations throughout the stages. This can be pretty disturbing, as you see some areas called prisons that have grates on the floors with arms and hands waving and clawing and grabbing at feet that cross their path. This coincides directly with the audio, because in the same level you get a Castlevania feel to the music that is only enhanced when you hear the screams coming from distant victims as their lives are being ended. On the contrary, when you first begin, you start out on the beaches and can hear the water and waves come crashing up on the shore and the birds chirping. Such dynamic contrasts make every area one amazing experience after another. Overall, the video and audio presentation is quite solid.

Without question, Path of Exile is a great, if not one of the greatest, values for dollar you can find on the Xbox platform at this very moment. Grinding Gear Games has demonstrated that you don't need to spend $60 and up on a game that is going to be shelved in a matter of weeks as you wait for more content to arrive. Despite a few hiccups, Path of Exiles is a pure joy to play, and with a quality microtransaction system in place (Editors Note: I know, who knew we'd say something like that), it's worth every single penny to play this game.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Eventide 2: Sorcerer's Mirror

Sometimes the best way to enjoy a game isn't to dive head first and on fire into a hail of gunfire and explosions, but rather to sit and enjoy the production value and relax. Artifex Mundi has been at the forefront of point and click adventure games on console and their latest release shows why they are one of the best in the business. Eventide 2: Sorcerer's Mirror is an adventure game that calls upon your ability to solve problems and possess a keen eye for detail. Priced at $9.99, Eventide 2 relies on the pedigree to push the sales, but is it worth paying that much for a simple point and click game?

Well there's more to Eventide 2 than what we see on the surface. While the protagonist Mary makes her return from the first Eventide, this time however, her niece Jenny is kidnapped by a wizard named Tvardovsky in an attempt to bring his immortal quest for love to a final end. While the premise and foundation lends itself to a short but entertaining tale, the main inclusion of moral choices is this game's primary innovation. These moral decisions were designed not only to impact the way your game plays out, but also to impact the final ending for your game as well. Unfortunately, it doesn't.

This sadly is a knock against the game because there is no justification for going through and witnessing the various other selections for choices. It gets worse too, because with point and click games the main focus needs to be some form of sequence that, when combined together, puts together a story that is meaningful for the tasks you just completed, and it feels like Eventide 2 sacrificed a chance or opportunity to tell a grand story so that they could bring you the illussion of meaningful moral choices. This would have been great had the choices made a significant impact or added fuel to the fire that is replayability, but on both points that's a big negative.

Navigating through the story is like wandering through different pieces of scenic artwork. Each scene is done with an artistic flair that adds a unique beauty that normally would be overlooked within a point and click game. Each scene is divided up into interactive areas where you can explore further, and in doing so, not only witness more beautiful artwork, but also discover any secrets that Eventide 2 may hold in store for you. While you're spellbound by the beauty of the various scenes, your ears will be serenaded by the melodic tunes of a comforting soundtrack. No reason for high intensity drum hits or over the top synth riffs, but instead a blood pressure reducing sequence of melodies and ambient effects that is a perfect marriage to the visual artwork of Eventide 2.

To direct your character through these scenes you'll need to get used to the gameplay mechanics that ultimately boil down into spamming one button while directing your observation portal over the screen with your analog stick. There is an inventory menu that you can access, however there's no real reason to do so unless you're confirming any ingredients you may need. Thankfully you'll receive some direction should an item be combinable with other items, and the manner in which that happens is fairly straight forward which is a major plus. However, there is a slight knock as well against Eventide 2 when it comes to the controls, as sometimes your observation portal won't register a clicked on item, even when the item appears to be well within the circle. This is especially apparent on items that are larger than the circle and can be frustrating trying to get the game to register them as found.

Overall, for $9.99 Artifex Mundi has put together a point and click adventure game that relies on its strengths of presentation, and now also innovation, to entice your wallet to open up and relinquish some of your cash. Despite some drawbacks, such as issues with gameplay and little no replay value, there are some incredibly enjoyable aspects to be found within should you have the patience to find it. Rarely will we see puzzle games such as this done with such level of quality and detail, so if you have an extra $9.99 burning a hole in your pocket and you want a quality puzzle game, then look no further than Eventide 2.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Oh Sir: The Insult Simulator

We all know that one person, whether it be a friend or family member, it doesn't matter, he or she is that one person in our lives that has a sense of humor that is beyond what many would call entertaining and actually becomes more cerebral insult humor staged at the right times. Monty Python, to me, is a legendary comedic production full of hamsters who smell like a bucket of vomit and who enjoyed Batman vs. Superman and secretly adores wearing women's clothing. And this is the type of creativity you can expect from Vile Monarch's new game, Oh Sir! The Insult Simulator, that comes out crushing the wallet at a titanic $3. So, what can you expect for this low entry price?

If you haven't watched any Monty Python you may be a bit reserved as to the humor found in this game, but before we get into that, let’s talk about the actual gameplay. When you start off you have a choice to learn how to insult, or you can insult someone online or go into a tournament. The tournament consists of a total of five different stages where each stage is a scenario that you will have to insult your way through, and the final stage of the tournament pits you up against the Almighty himself, God, in an epic showdown for the ages.

The challenge throughout the story is to get you used to forming sentences using correct grammar; however, the game doesn't allow for all the rules of the English language to be applied, so you will have to be careful and knowledgeable about what words can be applied given the rules they do indeed enact. They won't tell you the rules so you'll just have to figure them out as you go along.

Now, when you are forming the insults, not all insults have to be three pages in length in order to be effective. Let me explain. Take the insult: "Your mother smells like a lumberjack!" The insult itself is very short, but it contains bonus material for you to build on. Subjects such as "your mother" and "a lumberjack" are both content to build a combo. Ok, so that insult scores, let's say 8 points. Nothing game changing for sure; however, let's say the next round you sling the insult: "A lumberjack has a steaming romp with your mother!" This is a longer insult, despite the length, as it contains the two subjects you previously mentioned, and now this insult would be worth over 20 points. Let's say the third round comes and you make an insult: "Your mother was defeated by your sister and a lumberjack secretly adores an alien hamburger!" This insult is even longer and carries with it two subjects that already have a 2x combo attached to them, so this new insult would be worth well over 50 points.

Length isn't as always as important as content (who said size matters right), that is a key fact. This brings me to a point that threw this game off a bit for me. Instead of making a value point associated with each piece of the insult, the game claims that the developers have decided what points to award. It would have been handy to know ahead of time just how the grading goes in regards to the content of the insults themselves, but sadly that's a mystery that will be found next to the meaning of life (note: NEVER). However, the formation of these insults are fairly straight forward thanks to a simplistic gameplay mechanic built into the game.

You use the D-pad to select your part of the insult and a simple press of the A button to confirm it. When you're done forming your insult, press the B button to lock it in. On the bottom you're given 2 insults in your hand that you can use to play. If you don't like what you have you can press the X button once per round to sip your tea and get 2 new insults in your hand that you can play.

Sometimes simplicity is best and that can be found in the graphics of this game, which showcases your characters as 2D puppet-like figures in various comedic scenes that range from a pet store, a hunting accident, to even the gates of heaven. While the graphics are simplistic, one aspect I really enjoyed was the sound. I have to hand it to the developers because it's not easy trying to find someone to replace the iconic voice of Morgan Freeman, but yet when you hear it, you almost think it's him speaking. Overall, all the characters in this game have unique voices and that goes a long way to giving each of these characters their own style. I personally loved the nod to Lovecraft, who has this hypnotic tone in his voice, that I could see keeping people in a trance.

For $3 you can't really beat the cost of Oh Sir! The Insult Simulator. The developers have done a great job in something that originally took less than 3 days to make. This game is a must have if you're a fan of Monty Python, or love a game that brings about laughter and enjoyment, every time you play it. For less than a gallon of premium gas you can experience a game that will always be unique and always humorous. Just remember that an African swallow secretly adores your sister and enjoyed Batman V Superman and died for your sins. Or something like that.

Suggestions: Can I have a little peril?

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Aven Colony

I'm an avid fan of tactical sim-like games. I love trying to figure out strategies that not only set me up to beat the level and win the game, but also set me up to keep building and improving after I've moved on. Thankfully the team at Mothership Entertainment has released a game called Aven Colony, and while the $29.99 price tag may give you initial reason to pause, let me explain to you why this may be one of the best city-sim type games to come along in quite some time.

The overall premise is the same as any building game you can find out there. Pay attention to your resources, manage your population, think long term development and continue this line of thinking throughout every single level you play, and simply alter it to fit whatever terrain you're faced with in the level. While it may seem incredibly simplistic on the surface, underneath is a remarkably deep system that, despite some of its drawbacks, can provide a deep gameplay experience that spans many, many hours per level. This is where those who enjoy any sort of city simulation game will get lost for days and weeks at a time, and here's why.

For starters, you're given the opportunity to either go into a free build or can jump right into a campaign. During free build you can pick your level and setup the game however you see fit, so it's pretty self-explanatory. As for the campaign, it will set you against numerous levels, each of which have their own unique challenges to complete and certain "end points" that, when accomplished, signal the end of the level.

A little gripe of mine is that that when you beat a level and you feel accomplished and want to exit out, there's no way to select another mission until you completely exit the campaign and then select new game. A small gripe, but very disorienting when you want to go back to the mission selection, but instead you have to go all the way back to the very beginning.

When you play you have to be mindful of many things that you would find in a sim of a similar nature. You need citizens to reside in your colony, all of whom will require a few things to maintain their happiness. For starters, they will need the basics such as clean air, water and food, but as you progress you'll need to focus on entertainment, safety and well-being.

While these types of things are basic, as you progress through the game you'll unlock different laws and governance options to have at your disposal. For instance, when your citizen decides to take a job they have the ability to transfer to other jobs should they like the other career better (or you increase the desire to work at a different place). You'll have an ability to govern by making a rule that once citizens have a job they cannot switch out. You can even instigate an immigration ban that can't be challenged. Heck, to help your citizens improve their happiness you can even allow for improved gaming at home so that when the citizens are unemployed they can still be happy. This will come at a cost of raising the overall power consumption of the entire colony, but you have to make the citizens happy...right?

The reason for this is that after you've hit a certain point in your campaign level, your colony will vote to see if they want you to continue governing them. If you're a real jerk, you can decree mandatory overtime, increased taxes on everything, and even set in food and water rationing. You probably won't be re-elected, but if you've ever wanted to see a mass exodus, well, that's one way to get it done.

I do have some issues with this system for a few reasons though. The largest problem though, by a mile, is that the civilians haven't got a clue of what they want. Case in point, I built a residential outpost and an immigration center so I could start accepting more people into the colony. I decided to put a Nannite Processor plant next to the outpost (like literally right next to it.) and the people were upset. However, it's the reason they are upset that had me shaking my head.

They had to walk too far to work it. The outpost literally shared a wall with this processor plant and they said it was too far to walk. How does this make sense? I recycled the Nannite Processor plant and moved it one square away. Yes, I said one. Not halfway across the level, but one single square. In between them I put a tunnel, and guess what? They became happier citizens who say that they love working there because it's so close. Really? This is the way it is constantly.

I once flooded my colony with fans and air regulators and brought the overall quality of air to over 95%, yet according to my citizens, they hated the air quality. I even surrounded a police station with numerous residential areas and they complained of crime. Ever hear of the phrase "you can't please everyone"? Well, Aven Colony is a physical interpretation of that exact statement.

As for the mechanics of the game, they are fairly simple, but parts are overly sensitive and can be of some annoyance. You use left and right on the D-Pad to control time. You can pause it or have it accelerate to 8x the regular speed, which means less building time, but you have to think quicker and act faster to accommodate the actions. Once you have the form and function down for Aven Colony you should be able to have a 4x speed going relatively smoothly and without problems. You use the Right Trigger to bring up the radial menu for building and use the Left Stick to open up whatever building option you want, and press A to select. You then use the same Left Stick + A button to select the exact thing you want to build. You'll come to find out that this process can feel a bit awkward because the Left Stick feels overly sensitive thus becoming very hard to control.

Your Left Trigger will open up menus for you that act as outlets for your colony management. You can use the overlay menu to see what aspects need to be addressed, or the trade menu to barter for goods and services, and when you get far enough along, the expedition menu can be accessed, which takes you into a whole new aspect of Aven Colony.

One of the things that makes Aven Colony so deep has to be the characteristic that a vast majority of the buildings have multiple uses. Wind turbine fans can consume more power but can act as a fan to blow toxic gas emissions away from your buildings. Water pumps can be set to produce water only at various levels (to manage power consumption), and even research facilities can be used to not only improve your ships on their expeditions, but can also unlock methods to produce Nannites without any ore or metal fragments.

Switching gears, the music was a hidden gem, in my opinion, that I didn't expect to find. I'm not saying it's one of my top game soundtracks, but I never turned it down. There was an ominous, minimal structure to the opening of the music, and as I progressed there's only one sound that got on my nerves, which is the notification tone.

Every time there's a notification of any kind there's a chirp and a notification that you can access via the Y button. Immigration ship docks, chirp. Trade ship docks, chirp. Lightning strike, chirp. Low water, chirp. New mission, chirp. Mission complete, chirp. You get the idea. I tried to dismiss it but there's no way to calibrate it so you don't hear chirp, chirp, chirp, constantly.

While the music is good and can also report that so are the graphics of Aven Colony. Each area feels unique and offers up its own individual strengths and weaknesses that will determine how you play the game. The buildings become larger and more advanced and the graphics on the map showcase it in great detail.

One thing that I did have a problem with was trying to follow my civilians around. One of the aspects of Aven Colony that I found interesting is the ability to go down to what they call "tunnel view" where you can watch your citizens move around and interact with each other and the buildings. While this sounds rather entertaining, there is a massive problem with it; you are supposed to be able to click on one while in this camera mode but I never actually got it to work. There are ways though, through your management menu; however, the task became more of a chore to go out of my way to do it. So, while it was a creative idea, it never was utilized very much.

Despite some of the hiccups mentioned above, it goes without saying that Aven Colony is one of the premier city simulation games that you can find on the Xbox platform, and for $29.99 it should be a must buy for anyone who enjoys these types of games. There is a colossal amount of stuff to do, and a user interface that aids in creating content and playing experiences that will forever make you smile. Take a bow Mothership Entertainment because Aven Colony is truly an amazing experience.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Serial Cleaner

Back in the 70's life was much simpler. There was church on Sunday, organized crime was prevelant, and there were those that "cleaned up the mess" so to speak. Things were simple, and that's how Curve Digital likes it in their latest release, Serial Cleaner for the Xbox One. Priced at $14.99, you can imagine that Serial Cleaner is going to have to put on one quality show to warrant a higher price tag for a geometric puzzle game. Is this retro looking 'clean up game' worth it though?

I previously mentioned the word simple because that is what Serial Cleaner is. SIMPLE. Deceptively simple. As you would think, given the title of the game, you play the role of "The Cleaner" who lives with his family. He has a normal house in a normal suburban neighborhood and drives a red station wagon. Yep, you are definitely painted as the "normal kid"; however, all that changes once you get a phone call to 'clean' as we see the flip side of the coin. Each phone call represents a different job (level) that your cleaner skills is going to have to take care of. Now, to do that you will have to accomplish a few tasks.

First off, you have to dispose of numerous bodies that are scattered about the crime scene. Then, while you're doing that you will also have to look for various pieces of evidence, but you have to be careful, because when you remove a piece of evidence you will alert police who will be drawn to that area to search to see where the evidence is/has gone. While you're doing all of that you will also have to use your magical vacuum (seriously, like an ancient 1960's massive upright vacuum) to vacuum up a certain amount of blood (you are a cleaner after all). To make all of this worth your time, each job has a souvenir that you can collect and store in your trophy room at your home.

Here's the kicker though, you will have to do all of this while managing to avoid the 'cones of vision' that come from the patrolling police officers. To do this you have to hide in various outlets, and utilize the map to your advantage by triggering switches at correct times to shift the layout and design of the map in your favor. In order to see all these possible outlets and avenues you will have what is called 'cleaner vision' where you hold the LT and the map zooms out to give you an overview of the entire area.

In this view you will see where bodies are laying, the evidence is sitting, hiding spots, body disposal sites, and so much more. Sadly though, you cannot move while in this vision mode so it's best to plan your pathway well in advance, because should you get caught, the level will reset and all the bodies and evidence will be moved around thus taking your well thought out plan and tossing it right out the window. Once you have completed the tasks, which means you've cleaned the area, you hop in your station wagon and flee the scene.

Things seem simple enough though right? Nothing too challenging....well, you'd be wrong. As you start progressing through the levels the difficulty level ramps up. While the preliminary missions allow you to get you used to the fundamentals of the game itself, the real challenge is when Serial Cleaner expands the map size and increases the number of officers patrolling. I've lost count how many times I've had a great plan laid out I have executed it perfectly, but then on the last body, I hit a switch that activates one end, but opens another which draws the attention of a police officer who then comes and spots me, chases me down and I have to restart the level and my plan. This is incredibly frustrating, which is why I said Serial Cleaner is deceptively simple.

Now, if I'm honest, there isn't much in terms of replayability for Serial Cleaner, but to help that out Curve Digital has scattered numerous Easter eggs throughout the levels. If you take the time to explore the maps and levels there are hidden items that you come across that act as bonus missions you can play. These are are parodies of various movies such as Aliens and Star Wars. Personally, I think these levels alone are worth their own standalone game as the whole "hide and seek" aspect works wonders across a lot of iconic movies and genres.

I have to admit that I am not too particularly fond of the visual presentation of the game itself. I'm not a fan of the geometric layout and design, nor the music, but while I can play some different music through a different source, I can't do anything about the graphics. That's normally about the time when you start to realize the sad reality of Serial Cleaner. There's little replayability for a game that's based off one core aspect, and something like this unfortunately starts you off right behind the 8 ball. Couple this with mediocre music and a graphic style that is almost an insult to the 70's with its bland atmosphere, you understand that $14.99 seems to be too much to pay for a $4.99 game. Sadly, while not true organized crime, $14.99 for Serial Cleaner is feels like organized theft at this price.

Overall Score: 6.3 / 10 DeadCore

Puzzle platforming games don't seem to get the recognition that other genres get; however, there is undoubtedly tons of merit and value to be found should a game of this nature be executed properly. This was the belief that led developer Grip Games to release their latest puzzle platformer, DeadCore, on the Xbox One. Armed with guns that shoot, think of this game as the spawn of titles that have come before it, like Portal and Quake. There is one simple goal in DeadCore, make it to the top of the tower as quick as you can, and of course in one piece. It seems oh so simple right? However, is it worth the $7.99 price point to pick up a game that came out almost 4 years ago on PC? Let's hop to it and find out.

When you start off there are a few things you'll notice right from the beginning. First off, the game looks beautiful in the visual department. An entire swirling celestial atmosphere that is enveloping this seemingly colossal structure. And all of eye candy is joined in harmony by a minimalistic, almost "Tron" type soundtrack that settles nerves but also stages a false narrative by misleading you into realms of comfort when none really exists.

At the beginning of the game you are given some options, but I would strongly recommend checking out the settings before diving right into the story, which shouldn't really be called "story" as you just need to complete room after room of puzzles. Nevertheless, once you hit that button for story mode, get ready for the ride of your life, virtually speaking.

When you start you'll find yourself tumbling in a free fall decent, and when you land (I'm guessing in a super hero way) you'll be taking your first steps towards many, many failures. The game doesn't do much in terms of hand holding, so your controls may feel a bit off at first. For example, the default jump button for a lot of games is what, the A button? Maybe the B button? In DeadCore the jump button is LT. Yup, the LT button is your jump button where you can also press it twice for a double jump move; however, this is where you'll also be introduced to one of, if not the biggest hiccups of DeadCore, the gameplay.

Earlier I mentioned have elements of the games Portal and Quake feel like they are incorporated, and that is because these games offer a gameplay control setup that is very "floaty" and focused on speed. This is the same style of movement that you will find in DeadCore, which makes the narrow, rotating platforms that that you have to jump to seem half a mile away, almost impossible to hit. I say almost because since you're going to die A LOT, you'll eventually have a run where your twitch muscle movements will pay off and you will solve the puzzle and proceed on to the next one.

DeadCore is a game where you literally live the iconic Top Gun line "You don't have time to think up there, if you think, you're dead." This is thanks to the fact that the game places its own devices in your path to stop you from completing the puzzles. These items include things like turrets and thruster jets that propel you in the direction they are pointing.

Now, you may be thinking that with floaty controls on narrow and tiny platforms and surfaces, placing things like this to add more challenge would make the game impossible, and in some cases you would be right; however, DeadCore grants you items to use, such as your new best friend your laser rifle to help you. This gun will shoot at opposing obstacles and temporarily turn them 'off', which will allow you crucial time to make the critical jumps to life saving freedom, and DeadCore is a game where you'll need every spare moment you can find. So, as you can clearly see, the game is trying to create a puzzle platformer that is simple on the outside, yet extremely challenging when you get into it and that got me thinking.

DeadCore could have been better had the gameplay been more precise. There were countless times where I hit a vertical platform and had no idea where to go, so I ended up looking downward so I could see the area that I had to land on. Other times I would do what would normally be a simple jump and it would seem like I hung in the air for multiple seconds waiting to just land so I could continue on.

While games like Portal and Quake managed to incorporate a highly sensitive and floaty gameplay mechanics, this open puzzle world of DeadCore doesn't fit within this scope that much, if at all. And then when you factor in the fact that countless times you will be required to perform split second actions, you start to get the sense that this game is designed to set you up to fail and fail, and fail some more. While some may think of this drawback as relatively minor, sadly it isn't and here's why.

When your game is dependent upon trying to tirelessly get one's jumping and reflexes to be pinpoint accurate, you have to have a mechanic system in place to allow for those actions to happen, and sadly that isn't found here. So, when your entire structure is already flawed in terms of how the user interacts with your game environment, then every moment you experience DeadCore will lead you to the same, controller smashing frustration. And while yes, it does offer a tremendous feeling of accomplishment when you complete a section, those moments are few and very far between, especially since you'll probably end up giving up well before then anyways.

The big question though: "Is DeadCore worth the $8 price tag?" In terms of value for dollar, not really. In terms of a challenging platforming puzzle game for fans of the genre, yes. DeadCore tries to draw its inspiration from other games; however, it lacks a solid gameplay structure, and therefore doesn't allow one to effectively interact with the game. You have to get the basics right before considering any extras and sadly DeadCore falls flat on its face here. While it may excel on a PC platform, trying to make the switch to consoles isn't always a successful transition as evidenced with DeadCore. Only die hard puzzle platform fans need apply here.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Air Guitar Warrior Gamepad Edition

For those that know me, you should know I loathe Kinect. I don't think there are many software applications that are a "must have", and in fact, I find the whole thing a tremendous amount of failed potential. Now, let's talk about Air Guitar Warrior: Gamepad Edition from Virtual Air Guitar Company (I mean honestly, what other company would make Air Guitar right?) Air Guitar Warrior: Gamepad Edition is priced at $14.99 and it was my job to take this one out for a spin to see if it's worth it. What did I find out? Quite a lot actually.

For starters, the game is laid out with music albums on the screen and your job is to side scroll throughout the various songs, and press either the A or X button to fire various types of shots from your guitar. Now, all guitars have the same firing modes, but different shots, so you will need to become familiar with what works best for you. You will run out of ammo, but switching firing styles (press X instead of A) will allow your ammo to recharge thus enabling you to keep on shooting. However, there's a problem with this concept right off the beginning, as there is there's no real scoring system.

The game grades you on how many enemies you shoot down and that somehow gives you a percentage at the end, for some reason, and I don't know why because it's meaningless. With every enemy you kill you'll earn pieces of experience that will add up and level up your character, provided you actually play this long enough to care why. As you level up though you will unlock new abilities that will happen with new button press combinations, but other than that, as you progress you'll unlock new air guitars and this is pretty much the entire point of the game.

Everything I just said above could be the entire review right there. That's because there is so little to this game that you have nothing to hide behind or distract gamers with if there should be an aspect or two that doesn't seem to turn out the way you want it.

The graphics behind every song give a unique feel until you realize that there is a lot of repetition built into the game, and then you see that even in terms of environments and enemies that there isn't much variety. Your "ride" (if you want to call it that) will change from sharks with lasers, to a robotic T-Rex and even a unicorn, but when you watch the same aliens, skulls, etc. side scroll their way onto the screen as you blast them into oblivion, repeating over and over again, it will leave you with little enjoyment, and that's when it hit me about this game. It's going through a sort of identity crisis.

The Kinect version at least allowed you to partake in the enjoyment of physically strumming to fire, but in an odd state of reality, the enjoyment was lost when going to the gamepad version and actually reducing the way the game is played. I know this will probably send shock waves through the gaming community, but this is a unicorn moment, as the Kinect version of Air Guitar Warrior gives you more enjoyment than a non-Kinect version of the same game. The lack of enjoyment of the 'Gamepad Edition' continues to spread into the music which (when you're making a game where the focus is music) doesn't make much sense. And that's when the lightbulb clicked.

There's no replay factor. Like almost none at all. You have your character and you go through the game's tunes that feel more of a marketing ploy for an artist or band, and then you move onto the next song. Depending on if you don't die, you'll move onto the next track, and even though the levels get crazy towards the end, there is a microscopic amount of replayability. There are achievements such as kill X number of monsters with ______ guitar which will require you to grind over and over and over again, but that's when whatever enjoyment that could be found within this game is snuffed out like a candle in the wind.

Should you plunk down $14.99 plus tax on the 'Gamepad Edition'? In simple terms, I would say no. There is little to no replay value, mediocre music, and if you already own the Kinect version then you already have the best version available. On the plus side though, if you don't have a Kinect, then consider yourself blessed as you won't have to waste money on Air Guitar Warrior: Gamepad Edition.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Golf Club 2, The

Now, I should make this clear, I am probably the worst golfer on the planet. I've hit drives that have curled and gone behind me, so yeah, sadly you can't stand anywhere and be safe with me. Despite this though, I love golf. I love the endless pursuit of perfect muscle memory and sensory adaptation on the fly to project a small ball numerous football fields in length into a cup no bigger than your fist.

In the past Microsoft had a game called Links which, in my opinion, was a fantastic golf game thanks to its attention to a more realistic approach. Sadly, that series is long gone and in its place we have games like the recently released The Golf Club 2, developed by HB Studios and published by Maximum Games, which aims to deliver a truly authentic golfing experience that is more on the side of simulation than arcade. Priced at $40, if the quality is there, The Golf Club 2 (TGC2) should make the big companies a little concerned. So, does TGC2 hit a hole in one, or does it reach the stroke limit and head to the clubhouse in shame?

I mentioned that TGC2 is more of a simulation than an arcade experience. Instead of arcade style golf games like EA's PGA Tour Series, where you can control the spin of the ball in mid-flight and you had landing zones and all other kinds of guidelines to help you (granted as the games progressed you could turn all that off), in TGC2 you get very, very little. This makes the entire game more realistic, but if the execution is subpar, then it really doesn't matter.

When you start off you're going to select which analog stick you wish to use for your swing, I personally chose LS because that's what I've always used. Now, the swing is measured in a few ways, and I'll use my LS choice in this example. You end up pulling back (down) and your golfer will start his/her backswing. At the top point of the backswing you will push the stick forward (up) and your golfer will proceed with their follow through. Now you just read that your swing is measured in a few ways and here they are.

Your backswing is measured by distance and tempo and can range from slow to perfect. Your follow through is also measured on the same guidelines, but both are also measured by how straight your motion on the backswing and follow through are. Should your thumb slide too far off to the side, your ball will sail wildly into deep rough causing you all kinds of trouble. Now, while we are talking about the swing mechanics, I have a few issues to point out.

The first one is that at times the game can suffer from graphical lag which can affect your input of your swing and your timing. This isn't good when you have a game based off of visual input. This can cause numerous shots where you wanted a lighter touch but end up crushing your approach shot to well off the green. This issue is especially annoying when you are putting. Dear Lord it can be horrible, as you think you can hit a soft 7 foot put, but you end up thrashing it 15-20 feet past the hole. The tutorial will help you get a rough feel for it, but thankfully there is a driving range, chipping area, and putting practice so you can go through various lies and shot types to get a sense of how the ball and club will react. I can't stress enough how important it is that you spend a lot of time here as you will need to get used to another aspect of your swing. The adjustments.

To help you a little bit, the game allows you to press the X button to change between normal shot, pitch, flop, punch, etc. However, that's only going to adjust the type of shot and the distance, for further adjustments you need to hold the LT. You can't alter the ball mid-flight like you can in other fantasy golf games, so by using the LT like this TGC2 offers you the ability to alter your shot. Upon pressing the LT, it opens up your shot modification menu and allows you adjust the loft (more or less) as well as your push or pull of the ball upon impact. This is tricky as your different angles will do different things to your ball.

For instance, let's say you have a club that hits 175 yards, and you decide to put maximum loft on the ball (which will naturally shorten the distance of the club), and just like in life you won't be able to see how much the increase in loft will affect your ball, so you'll have to do the famous try and try again until you understand about how much distance giving full loft takes away from your shot. These nuances will either make or break your round of virual golf, so expect to replay some courses many, many times as you now take into account wind, ball placement (does it rest on the side or angle of a hill or flat?) and other varying factors that will plague you throughout your rounds. It's as realistic as it can get for a console golf game.

Thankfully, you're going to be taking part in a short tutorial on the various types of shots, clubs, etc. Upon completion of this you can customize your character. There's much to adjust and customize as long as you have the virtual coin to do it. All of it is pure cosmetic so unless you want to go for the achievement of collecting over 100 items of clothing, hats, etc., you don't have to spend your coins here. The reason is you can also edit your current items and give them different colors, logos, and other distinct looks. After your stint customizing your player, it's time to get down to business. There are two main modes you'll choose from: play and career. Let's tackle the play mode first.

In the play mode you can select your course through a variety of course selection choices such as friend's favorites, your own favorites, to official courses and much, much more. Once you have selected the course you can edit gameplay it how you want such as tee locations and so on. Multiplayer is an option, but as of this time I hadn't played a round of it yet. Before you dive into a round you're given some options such as check out more courses by the creator, favorite this one, etc. However, there's one important option in the top right corner and that says "practice". Sometimes getting in a practice round so you know what you're about to get into is going to be beneficial so you're not blind out there. Each course also carries with it various challenges for select holes such as score under par on hole 7 with one putt or less. Completing these challenges will earn you coins and completing 200 challenges will earn you an achievement.

The other mode, your career mode, is where you can get your first taste of TGC2's offering called Societies. Your career society is different than your multiplayer one, however your career one is where you select varying amounts of events to construct an entire season. The more you level up your career society, the more events you can compete in within one season thus earning you more money, etc. There isn't to much to go on with regards to the seasons and leveling up your society clubhouse to hold more events because there really isn't a point outside of leveling up your golfer. You can also make your clubhouse more and more appealing at you go through the career mode. There are ghosts and rivals you can load into your game should you feel the need to have some form of direct competition, which includes the developers themselves, and it's safe to say that the latter know these courses very, very well.

One of the many aspects of golf has to be the scenery. The environment that includes these sweeping fairways, and ever lurking tall roughs, is incredible in TGC2, so good in fact that there are some graphics issues (one I already mentioned about the swing) where the environment will "pop" in elements such as trees and rocks, etc. that you didn't see before which causes moments of screen tearing. Another slight gripe would the loading times. In a golf game it seems like the most extensive item to load would be the surrounding environment, however, for some reason the times loading a tournament, and in between holes, is rather long and with no way to speed up the animation of your ball, sometimes you find yourself waiting... and waiting... and waiting. It might be something to do with the Unity graphics engine they are using, and I could only imagine what would happen with a better tools in this area.

Despite some graphic hiccups upon some good looking visuals, I'm sorry to say that the music, while tranquil and peaceful (as golf music should be) isn't memorable and the voice acting for the announcer leaves a lot to be desired as well. The clubs sound solid though, as each wood, iron, and specialty club sound different from one another, and hitting from different terrain (e.g. fairway, rough, sand trap, etc.) which is important in a game like this.

Now, I know it seems like I'm coming down on this game here and there, but despite some of the drawbacks, The Golf Club 2 is, right now, the elite golf experience on the Xbox platform. With EA having a tough time with their golf game, HB Studios simply crushed it with The Golf Club 2. It's going to seem frustrating, aggravating (especially putting), and at times it will test the durability of an Xbox Elite controller, but all of that stress, anguish, and turmoil melts away instantly when you unlock the achievement of getting a hole-in-one from over 250+ yards (I literally jumped up yelling and cheering when I hit it). Then it's back to normal and I ended up getting a bogey on the next hole. One thing is for certain, and that's The Golf Game 2 will take you on a ride of emotions. Is it worth $39.99 plus tax? Without a doubt it is.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Victor Vran: Overkill Edition

Normally when you consider a video game purchase you tend to gravitate to games that give you an incredible amount of value, including gameplay length. Games that end up ultimately draining weeks, months, and in some cases, years out of your life make sense, as you want to get the most value for dollar. Recently Haemimont Games released a two-year-old game called Victor Vran to the price tag of $40 USD. Now, normally I'd already see warning signs everywhere; however, this time is a bit different. Actually, it's a lot different and let me tell you why.

Victor Vran is an action RPG game that is similar in scope to Diablo, an iconic dungeon crawler, loot focused bonanza of a game that draws you in and never lets you go. So, already you can get a sense for where I'm going with this. Victor Vran has utilized some of the greatest aspects and characteristics of Diablo and implemented it into its own gameplay, which automatically makes its' foundation one of the best you'll find in the genre. Normally you would just get the base game; however, this release of Victor Vran (Overkill Edition) is where you actually get two DLC content packs as well. While I would strongly, and I repeat, strongly recommend that you consider tackling these areas only after your character becomes a high level, you get a feeling that already you get a lot of content for your $40 + tax. But is it any good?

Without any hesitation, yes. It's phenomenal actually. If you're taking a break from Diablo, or want an incredibly well put together dungeon crawler, look no further. Let's start off first with the story. Actually, I'll give you the note card version. You play the role of a hunter named Victor Vran who is a little more than he seems to be. You find yourself drawn to the town of Zagoravia as you find yourself looking for your lost friend who was also a hunter. Throughout your quest for your friend you will find many twists and turns, and as you uncover the map you're also going to be introduced to something called "The Voice". Think of this as a witty, little devil on your shoulder, type voice that uses fantastic writing to deliver a performance that was one of the biggest surprises to me. With me being a Star Wars fan and hearing the voice say "Victor... I have to tell you something.... I. AM. YOUR. FATHER.......NOOOOOOOO" and I was in bliss. These types of moments are what give the little nuances of the game it's life.

Another time "The Voice" mocked me for finding a chest that had a regular item in it. It said "Oh congratulations Victor, you've found some trash. Let's see if you can find 4 more chests of trash, ok? I'll even throw in a pie if you do." So, I set off and while finding more chests I kept hearing about this pie, and then on the 4th out of five chests found, I'm told "My pie isn't a lie." and a smile crept over my face. Was the pie there? Was it a lie? Play the game and find out!

These nuances within the game really help Victor Vran establish its own identity. When playing a dungeon crawler you really only have to follow one simple rule: Do what Diablo does, then just alter it in some ways. It's quite simple that way and that's essentially what you have here. So, when you have such similarities, finding ways to accent the differences is ever more important (cue legal department phone call).

Now, the biggest challenge outside of the camera for a good dungeon crawler, or any game for that matter, has to be the user interface. For the longest time there have been very few quality dungeon crawlers on console as they have mainly been PC only, but now developers have found ways to implement the input choices found for the players and have mapped them onto a controller that allows the game to be played on consoles. To make this successful you MUST, and I repeat, MUST, have a way to make the controls feel symmetrical yet sequential. Let me explain. For instance, in Victor Vran you can operate two demon powers, and carry two items. Each demon power is mapped to the triggers, so LT fires one and the RT fires the second, and when it comes to items you have left and right on the D-Pad, so the symmetry creates a balanced gameplay that frees up the face buttons to designated attacks. I almost forgot, you're also able to carry and use two weapons. Using the RB you can switch between your primary and secondary weapon and use the corresponding X, Y, and B buttons for your new attacks.

I mentioned demon powers above and that's only one part of your character's outfit. In fact, Victor Vran makes it a point to focus partly on your character's outfit. Opposite of your health bar (again, symmetry) is your Overdrive meter. When this gets filled you can use your demon powers. Filling your Overdrive meter can happen a couple of ways. You can gain Overdrive by attacking and killing enemies (there's plenty of them around), or you can wear a suit where you're granted about 80 points of Overdrive per second, but your attacks no longer produce it. After thinking that if I were methodical and patient, I could progress through each section of the map and have a full Overdrive meter whenever I accessed a new area. With this in mind I chose to take a suit that filled it automatically. One other bonus here is that if you take the other style suit, and you fill the meter but don't use it, then after a while it will all go away. There are suits to modify your Overdrive, but those are considered Legendary outfits which leads me to my next section, loot.

There's a ton of it. Throughout your grinding you'll easily generate pages and pages of inventory that can be used for a couple different purposes. First off is the gold. Items you sell will bring you cash, it's not a new concept, but the second reason for hoarding all this loot is incredibly unique and that is the Transmutation.

Weapons, Demon Powers, and Skill Cards can all be part of the Transmutation, which is Victor Vran's way of giving you a choice of how you want to play the game. Transmutation is when you have a singular base slot that is modified or created using ingredient slots. Let's say you have four regular weapons that aren't really anything special. You can assign 3 of them as ingredients in their slots and leave the base blank. When you Transmute them you will get another common weapon, but with different stats and traits. If you do this for 3 rare (yellow) weapons, you will be guaranteed a yellow weapon, but also have a chance to land a Legendary weapon instead. Let's say you want to increase the damage of an uncommon (green) weapon, you would have to use the weapon you wanted to increase the damage of as the singular base, then put 3 uncommon or better weapons below as ingredients (they don't have to be the same weapons), and if you wanted to increase a weapon's ability you would have to use corresponding recipes with demon powers.

This is a prime example, and just a fraction of the sheer depth that Victor Vran offers to its players. Sure, you could just cash out and take the money, however with tremendous opportunities with Transmutation, don't be surprised if you find yourself with tons of pages of weapons as you combine and manipulate some incredibly powerful and amazing ones. One interesting note to consider, Legendary weapons level up when you do, so get ready for evolutionary weaponry!

Presentation wise, the graphics and the sound are befitting a dungeon crawler and provide not only individual characteristics, but a quality that you can see in every little detail. Now, I know I've been fawning over this game now but I do have to admit that there are a couple issues with the game, and one of the biggest involves the dreaded enemy, the camera.

It can get a bit disorienting when trying to combine the map system in tandem with the camera system, and most of the time you find yourself trying to focus more on which direction to go, than on playing the game during these moments. And should you happen to go under a bridge, or in some form of enclosed area, the camera magically retracts to literally a few feet above which then takes you out of your ability to see, well, anything really. The second issue involves the game slowing to a crawl at times and locking up on quite a few occasions. A simple restart seems to fix it; however, one experience I had where my character was going down the stairs, the game froze, and then when I restarted the game, I waited over 6 minutes, just to get to the "Press any button" screen you see at the very beginning. After I pressed any button I had to wait to get to the main screen and that wait time was over 8 minutes. I decided to delete the game and restart, and that didn't work. Next up, deleting my save file and the game and installing again from fresh, and include a hard reboot and BAM! It was back to business as usual, but I lost everything.

For dungeon crawling, action RPG games that offer immense depth, 4-player multiplayer, and a high replay factor that isn't found on many multiplayer games, for the price of $19.99 is hands down the best value for dollar game you can find on the console right now. If you really want a big bang for your buck though, for $39.99 you get the Overkill Edition which gives you two DLC packs that are loaded with even more content on top of everything found in the original game. While Victor Vran isn't Diablo, and there were a few hiccups now and then, the experience you will have won't be any less enjoyable, and when you mix in the online experience with your friends, you'll wonder where the last few days of your life went, and then discover that it was claimed by Victor Vran, and you loved every moment of it.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Tango Fiesta

Ah yes, the summer is here. Full of sunshine, blue skies, kids on the street, maybe a slurpee in hand, oh, and there is a pile of Xbox One indie games that are designed to do one thing, take your money from your wallet. Recently, publisher Merge Games released a game called Tango Fiesta, and while priced in the mid-range of indie pricing ($9.99), this game tries to give you value for your money by making the most simplistic shooter while allowing you to carry as much explosives as you can, all mixed together with lighthearted humor that shows that the game doesn't take itself so seriously. But with that in mind, does that mean you shouldn't consider the choice to throw your $10 at it? Let's dive in shall we?

Ok, when I said simplistic, I was wrong. This game is colossally simplistic. Like so simplistic the tag line for this game could easily read Tango Fiesta: Just shoot everything. You have two choices in the game: Arcade or Story Mode. Arcade mode is just level after level of mindless killing while the game shows off an overwhelming number of explosions. Story mode is like Arcade mode, except you get a cheesy backstory that pertains to iconic action movies, but with a heavy dose of comedic satire. Tango Fiesta tries so hard to be a culmination of classic 80's and 90's action movies, ranging from Predator, Rambo and RoboCop, unfortunately it sadly doesn't do a good job in trying to pay homage to the source material. This is kind of unfortunate, as it seems like a missed chance here.

Whatever mode you pick you'll quickly grasp the concept that you have to kill everything. To do this you'll need to select from a group of characters such as Bionic Cop (RoboCop), John Strong (Arnold himself) and more. Each character offers different stats, but honestly Bionic Cop is the best as his stats are mostly maxed out except for speed. Tango Fiesta then takes your character and throws them into a random generated arena and lets you kill everything over and over again. This is thanks to a simplistic game mechanics that unfortunately suffer from incredible bugs.

First off, let's talk about the in-game movement. Using the left stick to move around is one thing; however, there are multiple items within the level itself that affect your movement and your battles. For example, let's say you're fighting a group of six enemies and between you and the group is a patch of grass. You try to shoot them and then you notice something strange. The grass stopped your bullet. Yes, your projectile was stopped by grass; however, your opponents' bullets go right through. Naturally this creates some disadvantage, but as you'll quickly notice, navigating the levels themselves are going to be the greatest obstacle you'll face.

With Tango Fiesta being a twin stick shooter, you would think that there would be an extensive range of fire with your controls, unfortunately you would be completely incorrect. In fact, the strict following of 8-axis fire is so severe that you'll find yourself deliberately trying to attack from either straight up or straight down, or from the direct left side or right side. There were even multiple times when I would try and throw a grenade, however, I noticed that the grenade would sometimes drop at my feet and explode, and there was no explanation for this.

Another knock on the gameplay has to come from the reloading method. See, if you hold down the right trigger and have your gun run out of ammo, you'll have to take your finger off the trigger while the game auto reloads and then place your finger back on to continue to fire. Since you have no knowledge of how close you are to an empty clip, you are almost thrown into situations blindly because your ammo counter is in microscopic text in the upper left corner. It's frustrating to say the least.

Now, normally I would talk about the graphics and sound, but I'm not going to. There's nothing to mention that is of any value to your time to read about. The tiny sprites try to over accentuate various aspects and characteristics of enemies and such, and the levels are generic in texture, tone and enjoyment. The sound is actually so bad that I turned it down except for one aspect of the game, the Gun Shop. Here you can unlock new weaponry for the right amount of in-game cash considering you fulfill the necessary requirements. The joy of this menu is that all the weaponry is presented to you in an Arnold impersonation voice and there is something about hearing "OOZI 9 Millimeter" in that voice that is eerily amusing.

While you can play Tango Fiesta as a single player game, sadly it only supports local 4-player co-op only. That's right folks, there may be millions of people on Xbox Live, but Tango Fiesta only allows for local co-op. I don't know why, I thought that we lived in a day and age where we wanted to connect to others outside of our couch? The only reason I can think of to justify the local play only is that back in the 80's that’s how we played our games. Had Tango Fiesta included online play with others, then it would have given it more hope and quite possibly sell better than it will as it stands now.

So, the big question is "Should you spend $9.99 plus tax on Tango Fiesta?" Well, gameplay mechanics are flawed, graphics and sound are passable at best, and there is a complete lack of online multiplayer; all of this makes not only the actual value low, but the replay value incredibly low as well. Given the sum of all of its' parts, there's no way I can recommend buying this game at that price. It's a shame because with such a wealth of content available to draw comedic inspiration from, Tango Fiesta just got terminated. If a sequel gets released though, and it fixes the issues of this game, I'll be back.

Overall Score: 4.5 / 10 RiME

We have all heard from people in the industry that gaming is an expression of art. Designers, artists and everyone involved collaborate on a digital canvas, producing their own piece of art. Tequila Works has taken this principle and have developed a new game called RiME. While some companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on making a game, Tequila Works has done something spectacularly well. What they've done is create a digital masterpiece of art. Let's take a look at what could make RiME a serious contender for game of the year.

Yes, you read that right, RiME is absolutely amazing. It tells a loose narrative where you must piece a world back together by navigating the various realms, all in an effort to discover your true destiny and what darkness haunts the lands. The story is just a watered down place holder; however, right from the beginning you'll be hit with the titanic beauty that is RiME.

RiME is one of the most beautiful games you will ever see, as it uses the Unreal Engine technology to produce some the most vibrant and bold images ever to grace our screens. When you start you'll see how the game essentially lets you discover it for yourself. This tactic could be misleading, though as the beauty you will find is amazing as you take extra time to uncover various hidden pathways that reveal unique relics and special secrets.

Throughout the various levels you will see parts of the overall experience that reside in a very large and open framework. When broken down though they are really very linear. Now, one of the biggest points going for RiME is the ability to create something with such depth and creativity while utilizing incredibly simple controls. The X button interacts with items, A button jumps, Y button activates your 'shout' and B lets you roll in the direction you move. Such basic controls, yet when put against the backdrop of a platforming adventure like RiME, is a stroke of pure brilliance. The challenge actually comes by you trying to figure things out since there is no hand holding. This takes us to the soul of this game, the puzzles.

Throughout the various levels, if you will, you'll come across many puzzles. Figuring these puzzles out will require some thought, but overall they aren't too challenging. Since there really isn't a run feature you'll find that most of the puzzles will take time simply because you have to find a way to get to them to solve them. Sadly though, what this ultimately boils down to is going through linear pathways to solve a puzzle that will unlock a new path to take, where at the end a puzzle it will need to be solved, rinse and repeat. So trying to figure out the path isn't as challenging as you would expect, and there is exploration, however, it's almost a pseudo open world concept. Essentially what I'm saying is that I'm being picky because I can't explore more of the game, but to compensate for that shortcoming RiME packs in one last piece of pure beauty, the soundtrack.

Hands down RiME is in my top 5 game soundtracks of all time, period. The orchestral composition, and the instruments used, weave a tapestry of audible harmony that will envelop you and submerge you deeper into the experience of RiME's beauty. Hearing the orchestra build and crescendo into a climax of masterful proportions. Navigating tombs and underwater palaces while being serenaded by sonic bliss is an experience you'll wholly enjoy.

These are just some of the examples of mastery you will hear throughout RiME. Not just the music, but every single piece of audible material is created with more attention to detail than we find in a lot of major blockbuster games, and from start to finish it is its own masterpiece to experience. Now it goes without saying that RiME seems to tick all the right boxes for being game of the year material, however, if we look closer, there are a few areas that have to be addressed.

First is the framerate. RiME is beautiful, but it slows down quite badley more often than not and the framerate becomes so unbearable that it takes you out of the beauty of this fluid artistic experience. RiME does use the Unreal Engine, but somehow the dev-team couldn't fine tune the graphics to keep up with the pace, and when a game is actually very slow, you wonder just what is going on with Tequila Works.

Another major issue is the initial loading time. I understand it has to load a few GB of data, however you could probably go get something to eat and still come back and it would still be loading. I think "The Hundred Year War" finished quicker... well probably. So, you have to wait an ungodly long period of time to load up a game that is so beautiful it slows its framerate down to the point where it severely impacts the overall experience somewhat. Oh, and earlier when I said that every single piece of audible material is beautiful, If forgot about one sound. The Y button 'shout' actually gets on your nerves, which doesn't go well considering how often you have to use it.

This got me slightly depressed, confused, and more all at once. I thought to myself, who would see the framerate issues and say yes that's a good idea, and let's do that? Could no one, absolutely no one figure out a way to improve the framerate that, if I'm honest, aren't so demanding? We're not talking hyper realism here. I am hoping for a patch to fix the framerate as it will let this artistic masterpiece shine even more.

I have a confession to make, after reviewing games for 9 years, I've never given a game a 10. Never. I always thought that gaming perfection was unobtainable simply because there is always room for improvement. Had the issues noted above not plagued RiME, this game would have been my first 10, and that was a sobering moment of just how big of an impact these issues can be. When you're talking about simplicity and doing more with less, then you have to make sure that everything, and I mean everything, you give to the gaming community has to be the best. That being said though, RiME is a gaming masterpiece that should be experienced, even with the hiccups I speak of. Creative puzzles, beautiful environments, spellbinding soundscapes, and at $29.99, Rime is right now one of the games to beat in 2017.

Suggestions: Improve framerate and loading time issues.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Portal Knights

Imagine. if you would, if Minecraft, Lego, and Diablo all went out one night, got obliterated at a bar, and had a wild hotel night. Nine months later you would have Portal Knights by 505 games. Originally out via Steam, lucky console owners finally get to enjoy the game at a price point of $19.99 + tax. Now, you're probably wondering how in God's name all of this ties together, and I think you're going to be pleasantly surprised. The question you should be asking though is: "Is Portal Knights a 3D sandbox RPG environment that will see unknown amounts of hours pass as they blur into days; or is it another clone of Minecraft trying to give you something similar but yet in the end, is still just a knockoff?"

505 Games have released some incredibly fun games in the past such as Rocket League, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and Terraria to name a few, and now they have set their sights on delivering a quality 3D sandbox RPG game. Portal Knights tells an extremely loose tale of an evil that has divided numerous realms of varying characteristics and it is up to you to right the wrongs and vanquish the evil responsible.

Ok, now that the dramatic plot pitch is out of the way, that's about all you're going to have to go on when you play, so if you dive into this thinking you're going to experience some grand, meaningful adventure, you're going to be mistaken. If you go into this thinking you're going to play Lego characters set in multiple Minecraft styled realms, then you're going to be incredibly happy.

I reference Lego because as you start out you get to customize your character which looks like a hybrid Lego character with an oversized Lego styled head. Your character choices range from a Warrior (who specializes in melee attacks and has high strength), an Archer (a class who uses ranged weapons and bombs and focuses on dexterity), or a Mage (who is your magic wielder of the trio). Choose wisely because once you select your character the other options are locked out, including various items and weapons.

Once you've chosen your character it's time to customize them. I was surprised at the amount of depth to the character creation as there were numerous presets to form literally billions of combinations (yes, I said billions). If you like to spend time customizing your character, you'll lose a lot of hours here. Once completed you will get a choice to play either online or offline. If you play online, you can share in the fun with 4 people online, or two people local co-op if you decide not to go solo.

When you think you're done making choices, think again, because after you pick online or offline you get to choose between small worlds or large ones. To put things into perspective, a small world is incredibly compact and should be experienced first to get a feel for what you're about to get into. All the realms you experience will be randomly generated; however, your first level will take you through a small tutorial about quests, controls, and menus. For example, pressing LT on an enemy will give your character an enemy lock-on feature which can be annoying at times because the camera system isn't the best. Pressing LT again will disengage it and allow you to move the camera and focus on what you want. After that brief tutorial though, you're on your own. You'll quickly learn how to construct portals which will take you to other realms, and while in the menu one of the tabs is your overall map of the realms so you can see what you have joined and what can be coming up soon. This is also where the Minecraft feel is going to hit you like a freight train.

You'll come across simple 1x1 blocks as far as the eye can see and decorated with varying textures, different block types, and other interactive environmental objects like trees, grasses, gems, etc. that you can mine to create various items, potions, weapons, and more. To do this you will need to build a crafting station which will introduce you into the Portal Knights' crafting menu which is remarkably similar to Minecraft. However, unlike Minecraft, the focus of Portal Knights is to complete various quests that come with every realm. You're going to collect a lot of items you don't need to use, so be ready to dump a lot of items you don't need. Building chests will help increase your storage, but you will be fast travelling back to the realm you built it in to keep things organized. This is the biggest fundamental difference with Portal Knights as combat is the primary focus.

Now, when you begin you'll spend a lot of time leveling up, so the game itself will feel more of a chore than anything. Earning XP while helping other characters you meet within the different areas help level up your character and in turn give you skill points to use on various stats. When you hit milestone levels you'll be able to select various abilities such as sword proficiency and increased rate of healing so long as you stand still for 5 seconds or more.

This building really adds a depth that we see in some of the bigger action RPG games, and goes a long way to giving Portal Knights the credit it deserves. As you progress, not only will your character level up and grow, but you'll come across elements for upgraded weaponry which you will need when you go up against the bosses. This could be considered the central focus of their own world and they will beat you like you owe them money. This is when you're going to realize that in order to respawn you need gold, so make sure you have plenty on hand. You're also going to want to make sure you complete quests to gain new recipes for stronger items and better gear.

In terms of Portal Knights' graphics, I am a huge fan of the randomness as it takes me back to the Diablo days where every run would be different and that is exactly what you get here. The randomness ensures that each level is unique and has its own atmosphere. The characters you encounter throughout will speak in a minion-like gibberish and the colors throughout are nice and bold and go well with the overall art style.

The soundtrack is nice; however, it is incredibly repetitious, so while I wish there was more depth in the soundtrack, when you start going to different levels, you can feel that this was not on par with the rest of the game content. Let me be very clear though, I'm not saying the music is bad, I just wish there were more of it. It's hard though with all the randomness of the levels, I mean how do you ever do music as unique as the levels themselves?

So, is Portal Knights worth $19.99 + tax? Without a doubt, yes. There have been games that cost more than 3 times this but provide less engaging content. If you have a group of people joining in, then the fun just gets magnified by a factor of 10. 505 Games has delivered a content packed, quality action RPG with Portal Knights. It is a game that you can spend hundreds of hours playing and still have just as much fun as when you first set off. Sure, the game has issues, but the issues it has don't come close to outweighing the amount of joy found in the overall package.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Prey

Set the way back machine to 2006 and you'll come across an Xbox 360 game called Prey. It took its audience on a wild, psychological roller coaster ride, but it's execution resulted in a mixed reaction from the community, and for the longest time we heard whispers of a new Prey game in the works. As you can imagine, being over a decade since its initial offering there were many changes that took place over the course of the years, until now. Many moons have passed since Bethesda stepped in and acquired Prey, and the studio they tasked to bring it back to life was none other than Arkane Studios (the creators of Dishonored). After a while you get the sense that there was a chance for something special, but unfortunately so of this expectation was lost to the cosmos.

In a typical setting that we have seen multiple times over (space), you play the role of Morgan Yu who's a scientist that specializes in the development of Neuromods. These are devices that literally pierce your eye to give you new and enhanced abilities. Yes, stick this multi-needled gun device up to your eye, and pull the trigger and you get powers. So that's a very dark way of upgrading your character... Bioshock at least had a tonic. All this research takes place on board an orbiting station called Talos I. You proceed throughout the rounds of a normal day when something happens and you're fully exposed to an almost venom like symbiote species called the Typhon. Your world goes to black and you then awaken to a strange voice guiding you, which you are told is actually you, but more specifically a program of you that you created in a different time to assist you should the need ever arise.

Kind of confusing? Prey does a great job deploying a psychological ground game that drives your actions throughout the entire game; however, instead of developing this into something deep, expansive and intellectually puzzling, Prey seems to blend itself into more of an action shooter game. Your main priority becomes exploring a few areas of Talos until you kill everything, search everything, and then move onto the next unlocked area, all the while killing everything you can find in between. This is a huge let down because even though there's an element of duality and sacrifice woven into the plot threads, there's not really a driving force to keep the narrative at the mentally twisted level it needs to be. While the plot is a good story, there was definitely a missed opportunity here. If I could ask Arkane Studios one question it would be: "Would you kindly write a sequel that really took our minds on a mentally psychotic ride?"

Earlier you heard me mention the inclusion of duality and that is the cornerstone of Prey's entire storyline. When the crux of the story opens up to you, Prey decides to force you to deal with a moral system of choices. These choices determine what kind of person your character will become, but sadly these aren't plentiful enough in the game to warrant any significant level of depth. In fact, the majority of the mission work you do will feel like a very mundane chore and when you see how Prey decides to take the pieces and put them together, you feel underwhelmed and that to me was incredibly disappointing. You have an opportunity to take an IP that is over 10 years old, and re-imagine it in a dark, twisted, Tim Burton style manor and yet you make it a Disney Halloween Special instead.

To help set the stage for this grand performance, Talos I is set to deliver on many levels. First, the environments themselves tend to be more uniformed and less unique (given that it's a space station after all), but there are breathtaking images to view all throughout the station's windows of various stars, moons and planets. On top of that, you'll witness firsthand how Talos I tries to put a futuristic twist on classic elegance. In Prey, Talos I is supposed to be a premier outpost and you'll see a lot of that when you venture throughout the various parts of the map. However, given all of that, at the end of the day you're still in an orbiting space station and everything is going to have a familiar, uniformed, presentation and that I feel is another blown opportunity.

Since this game bears similar, yet very strong characteristics of Bioshock, I've heard of Talos I being referenced to as the Space version of Rapture and I can see why. However, the atmosphere of Rapture played right in tune with the plot, but in Prey you feel that it's more of an afterthought, if that. Now, despite that setback, it has to be mentioned that the ambient and atmospheric sounds and soundtrack of Prey are incredible. Listening to them on my Klipsch home theater system, and through some new headphones I am reviewing, I fell in love with the small little intricate parts that came together. You get this feeling when conflict arises and the strings and horns crescendo up to a climatic peak. On the other side of the coin though, Prey would then lull you into comfort again only to strike when you weren't ready. This tactic works wonderfully a couple of times at most, but seems to be frequent throughout the game making things a bit predictable as you progress.

This progress also has to deal with the progress of your character, as you have worked on developing a way to enhance your abilities, hence the Neuromods. However, by studying the alien Typhon themselves you can gain access to alien enhanced abilities. Now you may be asking, "Can I become a hybrid alien human with extreme powers?" and the answer is "yes you can". But as we all know, everything has a price to pay. In this instance should you decide to upgrade your character, and include alien traits, human devices, such as turrets, will now start to see you as a threat and target you. Rest easy because you can hack them to make them not target you, but you have to get in close to do this. While we are on the topic of mods and enhancements, I cannot stress how important it is for you to plan your path of upgrades ahead of time. I say this because the cost to upgrade your skills to the 2nd and 3rd levels dramatically increases like my health insurance cost. Make sure you plan ahead because a 'Jack of All Traits' is a master of none.

Now to acquire these powers you will be required to scan your Typhon enemies with your Psychoscope. Scanning the enemies while in a scoped view will allow you to work towards unlocking Typhon abilities and powers. The two primary Typhon enemies you will come across are Mimics and Phantoms. Mimics are a small spider like symbiote that have one distinct characteristic that makes them a deadly adversary, and that is that Mimics can replicate any object. So, let's say you are in an office area for the first time and you look around and see nothing out of the ordinary. This is what Mimics want you to think because in reality you could be in a room with half a dozen of them and you would never know. In order to make the detection process simpler you will have to use the acquired Psychoscope to scan the area, but when you do that you're going to be burdened with a little bit of tunnel vision, but it's a small price to pay for scouting out something that can spring from any object and attack you rapidly and ferociously.

The second are the Phantoms and they are what you would regard as human Typhon experiments gone horribly wrong. These walking abominations are either evolved Mimics or members of the Talos I crew that have been turned. These Phantoms take an absolute beating and are hard to bring down as they move faster than Mimics and hit much, much harder. In fact, one of the best strategies is to use your GLOO gun to temporarily freeze an enemy and then unload on them with your wrench (I would suggest using a firearm, however, ammo isn't plentiful unless you want to spend the resources to make it), or better yet, let a friendly turret tear them to pieces while you keep them in suspended motion. I bring this to your attention because you're going to be hard pressed to keep your suit in a manageable state throughout all these fights so repair kits are few and far between.

Thankfully, to help you keep track and store everything you need, you can expand on your inventory system which works on a grid style storage layout where items take 1 square and weapons can take 2, 3 or more. I brought up the whole upgrading abilities a while back, and upgrading your storage is one of those abilities. Also, with the suit repair kits you'll find, you will come across weapon upgrade kits which work ok, except if you want to start bringing the noise to the enemies, you'll need to spend quite a lot of Neuromods. In regards to the space of your storage, always (and I can't stress this enough) pay attention for where there is a recycle station. Here is where you can dump your crumpled pieces of paper, banana skin peels, used cigars, etc. and turn them into resources that you need to make certain blueprint plans such as med kits, shotgun ammo, and so much more. You'll be doing a lot of backtracking throughout Prey, so I strongly suggest that as you pass through areas again that you pay a short visit to the recycle stations to help keep available space in your inventory.

Prey, despite all the faults and setbacks I have noted, is actually a quality game from start to finish. It has plenty of content that will keep you air locked in for hours on end, and given the faults, you'll be spending so much time exploring that you may not even regard them as faults at all. After 10 years the gaming world was ready for another Prey, and Arkane Studios was up for the challenge and they succeeded more than they failed. Prey does deliver a sound introduction to an IP that has seen a troubled development process, and yes even though there are some drawbacks, there is a tremendous foundation for an incredible future. Do I think Prey could be game of the year? No. Do I think Arkane Studios could make Prey into an amazing gaming series? Yes.

Suggestions: Please work on that story for the sequel.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom

Normally when people say to me "Kickstarter game", I admit I cringe a bit inside. When someone says "Kickstarter Indie action RPG game that will be coming to the Xbox One", I have my incredibly large salt shaker on standby. Developer Enigami set out to create such a game. This small developer took to the streets in an initial effort through Kickstarter to fund their game Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom. Priced at $29.99, this has me incredibly weary for multiple reasons. First, Enigami's goal was $100,000 and they managed to raise just shy of $140K. So, while not a tremendous overage, the big question remained was what type of game could Enigami come up with, with such incredibly limited funds. The answer to that shocked me completely.

If you're an action RPG fan that enjoys a lighthearted story that doesn't take itself too seriously then you could have one of the biggest sleeper titles you'll ever play on the Xbox platform. I know, that's a big statement, but this game literally blew me away, even with a few technical issues. Right from the title screen I was listening to the music and it started to captivate me. You get the sense that it will be a truly grand adventure, and it is.

The story is the heart and soul of this game, so the main plot is for you to discover; however, this game boasts such a depth of content that it could seem overwhelming at first, but after quite a learning curve you'll start to get the hang of things very quickly. Cutscenes and transitions are handled in a semi-cartoonish comic book style that gives the presentation a unique feel. But there's so much more.

The story is not laid out in a sequential order. Your choices and actions decide how the game unfolds and what side quests you may or may not receive. On top of that, you will have to build a relationship with your companions and if some do not like your choices, or how you handle a situation, you can bet that there will be a strain put upon that friendship as a result. This really makes the game feel like it tells you, the gamer's, own story and it is sensational. I even tried to see what happened when making other choices as I reloaded an older, separate save file to see what would happen.

This feature builds upon your character's dialogue responses. While cartoonish in nature, both in the actual dialogue and the input, there is a sophistication to this that is rarely found in gaming today. I was amazed by the depth and that is because Shiness provides an incredible wealth of content. Mixing physical and magical sources, outside of equipping your gear, you'll have different abilities/spells to master and each one does a variant of a certain type of elemental attack. As you progress you will unlock new abilities which will lead to newer abilities such as fighting combos, because that is pretty much the majority of what you do in the game, you fight.

The areas of the worlds are called Meteoras and you will find yourself traversing around these large expanses completing not only the main quest, but side quests as well. Each one of these levels, actually the entire game itself, is done up in a beautiful cel-shaded style that looks amazing. Every small detail is accentuated with a bright, crisp feeling that makes individuality among the characters and environment feel fresh. This graphical presentation is only made better by the incredible soundtrack that follows. Simplistic melodies and dynamic sounds help weave a sonic pattern of mastery that not only surprised me, but delivers an adventure soundtrack that would rival other action RPG games, and in some cases surpass them.

Make no mistake, while you're taking in the beauty of the world, don't just pay attention to the various enemies but also the wildlife. I mention this because the wildlife plays a major role in your game. By quietly trying to sneak up behind them, you can press the X button when prompted to steal an item from them which you can then use at various traders to sell, or even bargain with them, to produce new disciplines to master or spells to learn.

When you start out on your adventure you'll notice that when you encounter an enemy you can click the RS to target them and scan them for information. When you get within range (provided your enemy hasn't seen you) you can land a sneak attack, which at first is either a punch or a kick (X for punch, A for kick). Your Y button is used for parrying incoming attacks and spells and it will rapidly become your best friend. The parry move poses a challenge and that challenge is timing. Get the parry right and you will stop the enemy attack in its tracks, while stunning the them and allowing you to take no damage. It also frees you up to start your onslaught. Should you fail though and you're going to get crushed with damage. My strongest suggestion is to master parrying as soon as you possibly can. Get used to timing the attacks, because once you master that, blocking almost becomes irrelevant. The B button will block attacks; however, you will still incur some damage. Using B with the LS will cause you to roll in any direction and that technique should be mastered after parrying.

Fights occur in makeshift energy rings that change colors to indicate various elemental shifts that can be used. Blue = water, Green = earth, etc. These fights occur 1 versus 1 with any supporting fighters on the outside of the ring. Defeat an opponent and their supporting enemy will drop in. During the fight the LB will change between characters, however the input seems rather slow and cumbersome and doesn't happen all the time when you want it to. The same goes for the input when using healing items, or any items in the game really. If you want to use a healing blue apple for instance, pressing the LT brings up the menu and pressing up on the d-pad will allow your character to consume one and thus heal themselves.

The gameplay mechanics do have a very high learning curve, but outside of hunting down wildlife (there's an achievement to hunt down one of every type of creature in the game), you're going to be fighting and questing and doing quests where you have to fight (make sense?). So, get ready for a healthy dose of rinse and repeat, especially when you realize that enemies respawn after you've left an area for so long.

Beyond the 'input' issue I found, there are some other issues that ware worth mentioning, and one of them has haunted countless games for decades; that is the camera system. While you are in control of it, there are times when you're in a fight and the camera will swing wildly into a rock effectively making you blind to the fight at hand. While the camera system works wonderfully when you're exploring, unfortunately it doesn't work that well all the time. Another issue are the special Hyper attacks that seem to be relatively useless. These are the biggest gamble attacks and when they instruct you to use them wisely, you better do exactly that because if you should fail (which will happen a lot), you will be 100% exposed without a hope and a prayer of defending an attack. The thing is, it almost seems as though if the target is standing still and doing nothing, and your Hyper attack seems to do exactly the same thing, nothing.

Now in order to have supporting characters you'll need to form a party. As you progress through the game you'll find that your party grows, and once you reach three people the game will unlock its challenges. These are small in game modifiers that consist of challenges like "finish a fight in under a minute" or "get an S ranking in a fight", etc. Should you accomplish each challenge then you can snag yourself some rare loot, which is broken up into three different categories: technique, clothes, and magic. Each provide different bonuses and skills/abilities to learn. This is just more of the parts that equal the sum of the game and equate to an incredible gameplay experience, so as long as you remember to manage it, it is truly a masterpiece. It accomplishes so much more than what anyone previously thought possible.

Coming from a Kickstarter and only surpassing their goal by $40k when other games spend over 1,000x on production and fail spectacularly, Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is a remarkable game. It could very well be a top contender for indie game of the year, and at a price point of only $30 it seems to really be a bargain and a half. Not only has this restored some of my dissolved faith in Kickstarter video games, but in indie games as well. It goes to show that you don't need to spend millions of dollars to make a great game as developer Enigami managed to do it with $140K. If you're a fan of action RPG's that look and sound incredible while offering a colossal amount of content, even though there are a few hiccups now and then, stop reading this and go start downloading Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom now.

Suggestions: Careful with the camera system. Make sure that all aspects of combat function properly, this includes making sure boss fights don't continue to spam attacks that can't be parried.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Sexy Brutale, The

With puzzle games having been around for generations, murder mysteries have been a solid foundation since the classic board game Clue. Trying to piece together a psychological puzzle full of traps, methodology, and that hint of psychosis. Recently, developer Tequila Works released The Sexy Brutale and priced it at 1/3 of a standard retail game ($19.99 USD). To support that hefty price tag for an indie game, The Sexy Brutale is like the Masquerade ball from Phantom with a dash of Rocky Horror Picture Show and Groundhog Day all rolled into one. So without further ado let us don our masks and dive right in.

Before we begin you should have a little foundation as to what makes this game what it is. You play the role of a guest at a mansion hosting s special event for a night. There is mask wearing, excessive gambling, high stakes gaming, and all other sorts of decadent entertainment. Every wish you could want, every desire fulfilled, but not all is right.

There is a catastrophe and you are saved by a red colored lava woman with glasses (yes, I said that right). You then find out that there are other guests who need saving, and not only will you have to be their saviour, but you will also have to figure out who or what is behind all the murder and mayhem within the mansion. Now, normally this would require you to search for clues, and in order to do that you'll have to manage the puzzle genre's most recent manipulative trait, time.

Puzzle games have tried to become complex to the point of mind numbing agony, that is until an innovation from years ago comes waltzing into the party, and that is time manipulation. In this game you will have to navigate throughout the mansion and use time manipulation to save the rest of the party guests by getting them to remove their masks. Such an example would be found right from the start where you have to search the nearby rooms for a blank bullet to load into a gun which is going to be used at a certain time to kill a patron of the party. Once you save a fellow guest you claim their mask, and with it a new power that will aid you in the subsequent future by granting you some new abilities which you will need to save the other guests.

Now, the reason I mention time is that you will find yourself rewinding many, and I mean many times. This sort of repetitive action can become incredibly mundane, but that isn't the only problem. See when you develop a game that doesn't have much in terms of developmental content, you really have to make sure that the content you do provide is sound and solid and that isn't the case here.

I cannot begin to tell you how frustrated I got with such a simple act as opening a door. First off the input is incredibly laggy, so there were times when I would stand in front of said door, press the A button multiple times and after the 4th or 5th time, the door would finally open. This is a huge setback for The Sexy Brutale given that gameplay issues like this are something you'll be contending with throughout the game.

That's not to say though that this game doesn't have some very bright points. First, the plot is fantastic in a dark humorous way. The graphics and sound help deliver a very Tim Burton feel to the execution by tying it into more of a 1920's presentation. The lighting effects are very well done and the character models seem to fit the nuances of The Sexy Brutale.

Normally in a puzzle game when you get something wrong it's game over; however, thanks to the manipulation of time, should your guest expire, just rewind time and try a different path. This is what really got to me because it became less of a puzzle game and more of an explore rooms, reset clock, explore scenes that can be activated, reset clock, and so on, and in doing so without negative impact on you or your settings. You literally can be like Cher and turn back time as much as you want which made solving the puzzles less academic and more trial and error.

Now when I say you'll be exploring I hope you're ready to wander a lot because this multi-level mansion is enormous and filled with numerous rooms and people that will try to attack you should they spot you. What I did enjoy in this area was how there were unique qualities of certain rooms that gave them their own personal feel.

After my stint in the mansion I can say, without hesitation, that Tequila Works has developed a classy indie game that is full of sophistication, charm, witty plot lines and a dark side that would make Edgar Allen Poe happy. While the drawbacks cause the game to suffer somewhat, the overall experience will bring a smile to your face. If you're a fan of puzzle games The Sexy Brutale should be on your radar.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 SkyKeepers

It goes without saying that 2D platforming games have been around for decades. Giving your character a pathway where you jump and attack has always been a staple characteristic that has relied upon a story to deliver the symbiotic punch of entertainment. Recently, Sword Twin Studios released such a game called SkyKeepers on the Xbox One that is priced at $14.99. While on the average price range for an indie game, SkyKeepers tries to deliver a platforming experience that mixes parts of an ancient culture with an action packed story. Time to answer the all-important question: "Is SkyKeepers worth $14.99 + tax?"

I mentioned SkyKeepers delivers on an ancient culture, and it does. Starting as far back as thousands of years BC, the Austronesian tribal peoples developed centuries of art and culture, and by 400 AD they had started to call the islands of Hawaii home. This culture carried with it a mark of honor and respect and it's called the tatau. These magnificent works of art were worn on the body as signs of courage; however, the pain endured would be excruciating and when a tatau could take, in some instances, years to complete, this badge of honor was truly earned. Failure to finish the tatau process marked an individual with shame.

These sacred traditions are honored in the very beginning of SkyKeepers as the game opens up with the chief of the village Tangi going off on a hunt. His son wants to prove to his father that he is ready to become a man and receive his tatau. From this point on you control the son and SkyKeepers will take you on a simplistic walkthrough so you can get used to the controls.

During this 'introduction' you stumble upon your father Tangi who instructs you to run home. As you defy him, as all young kids do to their parents, he decides to put you through a test to determine if you are ready. Once the test is completed you'll head back to the village where you will tell the tattooist that you're ready. In order to get the ink needed you'll first need to harvest the leaves and the wood needed to acutally complete the tatau. Once all is done, a tragic experience occurs and the game instantly changes 180 degrees. It is here that the village falls into ruin and the story picks up years after that one fateful moment.

I'm deliberately omitting a section you'll experience in the beginning because if you do decide to spend the money to buy this game I don't want to ruin the any more of the plot for you. Ultimately, SkyKeepers boils down to chief Tangi coming to terms with what has happened and doing whatever he can to save his village, and if possible, himself as well.

You'll complete these tasks by venturing through different realms found in the game, and each realm has, within itself, multiple stages. Each stage is setup in your traditional block style mini map where white squares indicate pathways to other rooms. It is nothing innovative as we have seen elements of this structure type dating as far back as Metroid, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work wonderfully. While overly generic in terms of the structure of the levels themselves, each one is efficiently designed to provide a good challenge, and that is where I find some fault in the game.

Let's say you head out, like I did many, many times, and go through a level. In certain areas along the way you will find torches that you can light that act as checkpoints. Should you die before igniting one you will have to start over from the beginning. Now that normally would upset a lot of us, but thankfully the progress you make does save, sort of, and you can easily make your way back to where you originally expired. Should you not finish the level AFTER you hit a checkpoint, and do something like turn off the game or console, then you will have to start over from the beginning of the level with no progress saved at all.

As you progress through the levels you'll find that the gameplay mechanics are incredibly simplistic. The A button jumps, your X button attacks, and your Y button does a powered move that uses a meter that gets filled when you strike with the X button. Your B button does what is called a SkyWalk, which is a teleport shift of your character to certain access points on a level or even enemies themselves after you've hit your enemies with your X or Y attack. This incredibly generic gameplay works wonders for this style of platforming, because if you start to complicate and over think the gameplay mechanics then you will make it harder for your audience to enjoy the experience.

You will find that the combat element of the game resorts to a simplistic method of beat up enemies with the X button until you have enough for a special move with the Y button. Execute your special move and combine with the B button and you can dodge any type of incoming attack. Then it is rinse and repeat over and over again. The only issue I have here is that the combat gets ridiculously repetitive and instead of allowing you to move quickly from one area to another, the game essentially traps you into a room until you beat all the opponents, and then you can move on.

As you traverse the levels you'll acquire purple light orbs and shards, and it is by using these that you will rebuild the fallen village. It will take a lot of progress, but over time you'll be able to unlock new items and more. In order to do that though get ready for a titanic amount of hacking, slashing, and split second jumps that either mean heroic bravery or complete and total failure as a coward.

Given the simplicity, there really isn't much in the way of something that will really draw the audience into an experience that can sum up the whole game. Sadly, this also goes for the soundtrack which appears to just be a drum loop that you hear nonstop and it rarely ever changes. It got to the point where I just turned the volume down because I couldn't stand it anymore. I did however find the graphics to be very nice and a definite strong point to the game itself. I found that even though the concept never changed in terms of level design, each level and stage had its own unique feel.

So $14.99 buys you a game that has some issues in the areas of level design, soundtrack, repetitive combat, and an oversimplified gameplay system. But should you buy it? Absolutely and without question. If you enjoy a quality platformer then you will most-likely enjoy SkyKeepers. The frantic combat keeps you on the edge while the jumps and the gameplay will truly test you. While on the surface SkyKeepers may seem like a generic platformer, but Sword Twin Studios took the basic elements of great 2D platformers and adapted them to fit their narrative. So, while SkyKeepers may not be innovative, ground breaking or flawless, it's definitely a high quality 2D platformer for you to enjoy.

Overall Score: 7.3 / 10 Styx: Shards of Darkness

If you fancy a test of your nerves and creativity, then stealth games are a true test of your mettle. Such games rarely let you take a breath before you're thrown right into the next section of danger, all the while setting your nerves on edge with suspense. Recently, developer Cyanide released another entry to the popular smart mouthed, stealth series starring a Goblin named Styx, and this game is aptly titled Styx: Shards of Darkness. Now there are a bunch of boxes that need to be checked in order to claim that you have a quality stealth game on your hands, and the big question is does developer Cyanide tick all the right boxes?

If you have never played a Styx game before you're in for a treat. Well that is if you like a stealth game that doesn't take itself too seriously in the plot development or execution. Styx, for those who may not have heard, is an assassin/thief Goblin who seems to have a substance abuse problem for a potion drink called Amber.

Styx is contracted out through various missions, and mission types, where there are not only multiple pathways to complete each mission, but multiple options as to how you can eliminate your adversaries. This type of direction already lends itself to creating a smooth stealth experience, but then you take into account the "attitude" of Styx and you have a real memorable character. Even when you die, and you will a lot, Styx has some form of derogatory quip about you, or he may mock a scene from an iconic movie. Either way this type of humor is felt throughout the entire game and helps provide some levity even when under tremendous pressure.

Pressure is what you'll encounter throughout the entire game. The backstory is that Styx has decided to take up residency in a town called Thoben. It's here that the human residents are engaged in an active conflict called "The Green Plague", which ultimately is a battle between humans and goblins trying to cohabitate with one another leading to many failed outcomes. This won't stop you from pillaging various homes and buildings and relieving those righteous humans of the very valuables they so cherish, including their lives. Remember though, should you take the life of someone else, you must be a crafty goblin and hide the body before they are discovered and your cover is officially blown. Now, there is a twist towards the end of the first level and after that you feel like a powder keg has been lit and every level you complete gets you one inch closer to the big boom at the end.

As mentioned earlier, Styx: Shards of Darkness provides multiple 3D platforming levels for which you can chose multiple directions to reach your objective. Now, the one key thing you absolutely must have in a game like this is proper gameplay mechanics. Since stealth games pride themselves on giving you scenarios that require precise timing and judgement, this reason alone is why it's so important.

Sadly, I didn't find that Styx's gameplay was that on point or precise in this area. Granted there wasn't much in terms of hand holding as the game itself unfolds before you as you're thrust into a level right away. There were also some issues with the cover system, and transitioning out of it, that were a little disorienting, and when executing something simple such as swinging on a rope, I found that the mechanics involving this action felt unpolished.

Other little quirks that felt unpolished were the combat system should you be discovered. Pressing the X button when you're sneaking up on an enemy allows you to do a quick kill, however it won't be silent. To make it silent, instead of pressing the X button you have to HOLD the X button down. Now, should you go for the quiet kill, you'll notice that the animation sequence lasts for a few seconds to make sure that if you decide to engage in a silent kill there aren't any other enemies nearby that could be on patrol and see you as you're going through this motion (which for some reason still generates noise, but apparently not noises your enemies can hear?). If you're caught you're going to either have to run away and hide or face your opponents in combat. You'll have to time your X button to parry the enemies' attack or you can expect to be cut down in no time.

To counter this reality, you're given options as to how to eliminate your opponents. Instead of taking on a group head on, why not push an explosive barrel off a ledge above or cut a chandelier's chain and watch it drop on them. Better yet, if you have a bunch of enemies eating at a table, why not try poisoning their food? This creativity allows Styx: Shards of Darkness to be played a multiple of different ways and gives variety which helps keep the game feeling fresh as you look for new ways to eviscerate your targets. While I did appreciate the ability to either kill someone outright using my blade or use a different creative outlet, these are just a couple of examples of what you can expect.

Even though the gameplay might be imperfect, there is still a lot going for Styx: Shards of Darkness. One of the biggest improvements you will see resides within the new skill trees that you can upgrade. Branches such as Stealth, Kill, Perception, Cloning and Alchemy will give Styx a much needed advantage over his adversaries. There's many reasons to love this new skill tree setup.

First, you're not set in any sort of direct linear path so you can cake different paths should you choose to do so. Second, you can see how the development really improves from the previous game. Take for instance your clone. Styx used to be able to create a clone that was solely used as a distraction. Now, Styx can manipulate the clone to cause havoc, or even leave it as a quick warp point should you find yourself in danger and need a rapid exit. This type of development and improvement is a welcomed addition to the game and goes a long way to creating a more enjoyable gaming experience.

You'll be happy to know that the graphics of Styx Shards of Darkness are finely detailed and look very nice, adding to experience when playing. Now granted the environments seem a little "cookie cutter" but they lend themselves to the fantasy time period and that goes for all the characters themselves. While you're traversing you'll also notice things like Styx's dagger sheathe glowing to give you a visual indication that you're hidden. It's this environment that will have you praising your Right Stick, as clicking it will give you an overview of your immediate surroundings as it highlights what is friend, foe, interactive items, and collectibles.

To help solidify the atmosphere of the game, you're given what I'd like to call a brooding soundtrack. This isn't some high energy retro synth onslaught, but a very melancholic sweeping soundscape that ties everything together in a tremendous package.

Styx: Shards of Darkness offers more improvements upon it's original than most other sequels you'll find in gaming today. This is due to the painstaking process of finding out what needed improving, how to improve it, then executing it properly. If you are a fan of games that thrive on creativity and stealth, then Styx: Shards of Darkness should be on your gaming radar. While there are a few issues that plague the game, the overall gaming experience is one of quality and craftsmanship. Earlier I asked if developer Cyanide ticked all the boxes that make up a quality stealth title, and the answer to that is yes.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Verdun

When you want to make a game it helps if there are things that you can turn to for inspiration, guidance and even some assistance from time to time. Now, take the FPS genre in a World War I setting and you have such a gargantuan amount of material to draw from, so much so that you would think that you would use this to help make one incredibly enjoyable and authentic game. You could think that in this case, but you would be wrong. Verdun, developed by M2H & BlackMill Games, is priced at $19.99 + tax, and this game tries to place you into the trench warfare found in WWI during the battle of Verdun. Now $20 is an incredibly high price point to ask, so the big question that has to be answered is, is it worth it?

Unfortunately not. Normally I would save my opinions until the very end and layout a general overview that highlights the good and the bad points of the title, leaving you with my final opinions to base your own judgement upon. Not this time. No, this time I'm giving you the truth right up front because sadly this is going to become like war very quickly, and remember, war is hell. So, with that out of the way let me essentially point out the pitfalls that made this game have potential, but then ultimately leaves you feeling like you have just been virtually robbed blind.

For starters, the whole "training tutorial" is comprised of several slides depicting some very vague information. They pretty much cover the basis of trench warfare along with your "classes" and their progression system, but you will quickly see that this means absolutely nothing at all. They don't tell you much in terms of controlling your character, so I suggest you look at your options before jumping into the gameplay.

Each game is like a massive war fought over and over again. There are multiple squads of 4 with open slots, and you can only select your character by which empty slot available. You can be an NCO, rifleman, machine gunner or grenadier. If in a squad, rifleman, machine gunner and grenadier are all taken, you can only spawn in that squad as an NCO, so if you wanted to be something else then you're forced to pick a different squad. If no position you want is available, you're S.O.L. For this example of my nightmare I chose NCO. Now, there are two modes you can play, Online or Offline. I just jumped right into multiplayer to see what's what.

Right from the beginning I found that the graphics are something I would expect from the original Xbox system, laughably poor at best. The character modeling is elementary quality and the atmosphere and environment almost makes you wish they robbed other quality FPS games because you're starting to feel like the one whose money was stolen from. I can honestly say that there are no redeeming qualities in the graphics department what so ever.

The only highlight I found in any of the presentation is the military song that plays in the beginning of each level, yet that's because the sounds of Verdun are just as horrendous as the graphics. The weaponry sounds are unrealistic and the voice of the NCO signaling a charge made me cringe every time. This is what I experienced as soon as I jumped into my game so I thought, why don't I try going through my options and switch weapons, which was a mistake because as soon as I hit Y to switch weapons (which were my binoculars), I get shot and killed and was forced wait 30 seconds to spawn in again. 30 SECONDS.

I waited my lengthy 30 seconds and respawned in only to see on my screen an icon that looks like an upside down pyramid and it says "MOVE HERE", so I follow instructions and work my way to that point. On my way there I get a pop up message with a countdown clock that says "Get back in 'X' seconds or you will be killed for treason." At first I didn't listen to it and managed to get to the point that the game said to go to, the countdown clock wound down to 0 and I was instantly killed for treason.

Yes, I went and followed what the game told me to do and got killed. SO I WAIT ANOTHER 30 ****ING SECONDS ON RESPAWN. Sigh. OK, so I wait my 30 seconds while pondering the meaning of the existence of this game and I come to the conclusion that the warning message > in game move message. This brought my attention though to the mini map on the bottom left hand side.

Here you can see the dividing line that your soldiers fight over. If you can manage to hold the line, your team will advance, but they will also face tough opposition to take the next line, thus creating an ever shifting balance, and should, god forbid, you have an overwhelming force, you will be rewarded with penalties. Yes, the game will actually penalize you if you are on a team with more people than the other; more concerned with being fair than realistic. Do you think in real life that a squad of 10,000 troops would say "Oh we are only up against 1,000 enemy soldiers? Well then we should just kill off about 7,000 of our men and make it more of a fair fight." No, you would never hear of that because that notion beyond the comprehension of anyone with an IQ of 2, but that's what you have here.

So, now I'm back in the game and I switched out to my binoculars, which apparently fixate at only a specified range, and I can bring up an action menu with my Right Bumper that offers me two choices: move or artillery strike. I also see a small red icon that moves with my point of view and depending on the triggers pushed, will signal either a strike or a move order. The strike proved to be my most useful killing tool as just after I launched it I ended up getting killed (your field of view is dramatically narrowed to next to nothing in binocular view).

Again, I wait in the respawn of hell. Now I'm an even 3 kills and 3 deaths. I respawn again and proceed to try and kill someone with my pistol. I see an enemy soldier approaching and I decide to flank from his right side. I approach within feet from behind him, press the Left Trigger to bring up the sights and click the Left Stick to hold my breath. I say a prayer, pull the trigger, and hit absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. I unloaded 10 rounds and didn't kill the enemy at all. I didn't even see if any of my rounds hit him. The enemy turns around, fires once, kills me and I'M OFF TO RESPAWN AGAIN! Now my total k/d ratio stands at 3-4.

I respawn again and within 4 seconds I take another bullet to the knee and I have to respawn again. Mercifully the game ended so I decided to take my meager amount of xp earned and try to find other matches, but thanks to some incredibly bad server issues, I found myself being forced back into the same hellish nightmare I just escaped from. I forced myself for whatever sadistic reason, to continue playing the game and hopefully find some form entertainment or enjoyment that would allow me to at least see a very vague reason why someone would, in the name of all that is holy, charge $20 for it. I searched beyond the center of the universe for this answer and found nothing. That's when I thought I would cut my losses and try the offline mode.

This mode was just as frustrating. Are you kidding me? The AI team looked like they were sleeping during bootcamp in terms of military tactics. I saw one character literally run into a wall non-stop, then an enemy came over the wall in front of an AI soldier, and my soldier who was running into the wall did nothing. Not one thing. Then the enemy AI shot him once and killed him. That's when I started to think more about this and what it represents, and I got upset. I'm sorry, but this has to be insulting to the men and women, or their family members, that actually took part in WWI, or in any military engagement.

To see such a pathetic attempt to try and deliver an experience that honors the people who fought and died during that war and charge 1/3 the price of a full retail game is almost theft in my opinion, and the developers of this game need to be ashamed of themselves for such a disappointment.

I feel that after this tremendous disappointment, everyone who purchased this game deserves a refund. Men and women gave their lives in one of mankind's most pivotal moments in history and this crap is how these developers pay homage? And they charge $20 for it? The graphics are poor, the sound is unrealistic, the networking is pitiful, the controls are pathetic and yet you are asked to pay for this experience. Do yourself a favor, VerDON'T buy this game.

Overall Score: 3.0 / 10 WRC 6

For many of us, we use cars as tools in our lives. From making our daily commute to work, to running errands, we as humans spend an overwhelming amount of time in our cars. For the vast majority of drivers however, that's about as far as most of us take our relationship with cars. We see them as a tool and nothing more, however, what we may be unaware of is the amount of history and influence that the World Rally Championship has brought us. It's this level of importance and excitement that Kylotonn has tried to infuse into their latest entry into the world of Rally racing with WRC 6. So let's start our engine and see if we can make it to the end in one piece.

For those that may not have played their rally games, Kylotonn is on a quest to deliver the premier Rally experience. For those who may not know what the World Rally Championship is, imagine taking a car like a Ford Focus, give it a turbocharged 300bhp power core, studded tires, a human GPS passenger and tell it to drive along this gravel pathway along the side of a mountain while reaching speeds of over 100mph, and do not crash. That's the type of racing you can expect from just one location though, and the beautiful thing about the WRC is that it travels all over the world, from dodging wild animals that may be crossing the road in Africa, to dodging solid snow drifts over 7 foot high in some of the Scandinavia rallies, everything is included.

Now each of these races is set up in stages and your primary goal is literally get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time. That time is then added to your time in the next stage and that total is added to the next race after that and so on. At the end of all the stages, the driver with the lowest time wins the Rally. So your primary goal is to beat the clock, and while that may sound simplistic, once you get to try and drive your car, you'll be rapidly singing a different tune. These cars almost glide over the ground in the hand of a master. While focusing on controlled slides, sweeping drifts, and tight hairpins, the car itself almost seems to be in a state of suspended animation, however like everything in life, when you start out you're going to be incredibly horrible. This is because the play control for WRC 6 is almost its very own hybrid style.

WRC 6 is not an arcade racer by any sense of the word, yet it's not a simulation either, so what we're left with is a game that is having a bit of an identity crisis. This saddens me because you can tell that Kylotonn has gone to great lengths just to deliver on the promises to take the feedback from the previous game to heart and come back with a release that should be the WRC experience we all wanted to have. One of the biggest gripes has to be the penalty system. See, when you go to view NASCAR as a fan you're partying it up under protection, however in World Rally Championship you're literally open and exposed and can get so close to vehicles you could high five the driver as they passed by. This type of experience is exhilarating to say the least, but this excitement also comes with danger as several spectators have been killed. Now how do you think a game like WRC 6 addresses your car, going 80mph into a crowd all because you forgot to slow down and apply your handbrake to make the corner?

They give you a 12 second time penalty. Yes, everything you do in the game that could result in you off the track for any reason will get you a penalty. Go slightly off the track and hold the X button to reset the car and it's a 2 second penalty. Should you go way off, the game will automatically reset your car and you will receive a penalty of 8-10 seconds. The only realistic penalty they offer is a 30 second one for puncturing a tire. This punishment delivery system will mean that you will be restarting races many, many times over, or settle for a 7-minute stage time. You'll find this out rapidly because WRC 6 throws you way into the deep end after it asks you the small questionnaire by putting you right into a rally stage, enabling you to figure out how the cars handle and how you should really think about handling the course. Before you go though you can watch as the person in front of you takes off which allows you to see what the course is like, but with over 3 minutes of viewing the ability to memorize every turn, dip, and obstacle is almost impossible. Despite this, I cannot stress enough, you will want to watch the car because of another gripe I have, your co-driver.

Driving in WRC has a driver, but also a co-driver whom reads out directions to you as you're thundering down the path at 70mph. These directions not only tell you what gear to be in, speed to take, but also what position and line to drive and so on. If you're new to Rally then the language will seem like some form of alien code. You'll hear things like "over crest, 3 tight left, don't cut into 4 narrows, caution rocks, into 5 tight right..." and again, all while you're flying down the track at 70mph. Now while this ticker of information comes flying at you along with all the rocks and trees and everything else, you'll find times where your co-driver says absolutely nothing for a few moments. It's like he suffers from a bout of sudden narcolepsy, so while you're trying to figure out how to drive the course, you almost have to use the Force when your co-driver decides to be quiet.

Now all of this you will experience before you get done with your first introduction to WRC 6. I strongly, and I mean borderline forceful, suggest you drive that introduction rally till you become one with the car and learn how the car handles and how you must approach the courses. After that education session, it's time to open up into the game of WRC 6. You'll have options to go into your main solo campaign, multiplayer, and some time attack challenges. In the solo campaign you'll find over 60 Rally stages that cover every combination of weather, visibility and type of terrain. As a special treat, WRC 6 also sports 11 Super Special Stages which Kylotonn claims to be a laser mapped 1-1 scale replicas. And you know what? They're right. I was stunned at this so I looked up the stages to verify, and my jaw hit the floor. As you progress you'll naturally be moving up in class and in cars which is good because not only do each of them handle and perform differently, they all look quite stunning as well.

This is because the graphics of WRC 6 really have moments where they shine. It's great to have an officially licensed FIA WRC game, so now you get all the real drivers which helps deliver an added punch of realism, and speaking of adding realism, the visual effects such as dust, fog, night time headlights, combined with physical damage to your actual car to encapsulate the entire visual package into one amazing experience. This is supported by the sounds of WRC 6 as well. You'll hear your exhaust "pop" during shifting, the rev of the engine, the tires straining to hold onto every inch of grip possible and even the gravel stones kicking up under your car ring true and through your speakers to help construct a violent, yet realistic sonic journey.

All this amazing Rally experience carries over into multiplayer and all the other race gametypes, including split screen, but you will notice some degrading graphics due to the halved screen size. Now sadly I cannot comment on any external wheel and pedal control system integration so I was unable to accurately test such feedback. I will say though when the dust settles, WRC 6 strives hard to dethrone another Rally game, and even though the effort is valiant, the issues that exist, especially pertaining to the gameplay, prevent it from overtaking it. However, if we see another improvement leap like what we have seen between WRC 5 and 6, I think we can start to see Kylotonn start knocking on the door of such companies such as Turn 10. If you're looking for a solid Rally racing experience, you can't do much better than WRC 6.

Suggestions: Tighten up the control system. Would love to see official WRC stages throughout the entire game.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands

For the longest time the Tom Clancy Ghost Recon series of games have been a source of both incredible enjoyment and tremendous frustration. This has always been part of the experience and while the more recent releases have shown an attempt to get things right, it always felt like something was missing. So, with Ghost Recon Wildlands, the latest game in the series, have Ubisoft finally worked out the finer details of how to improve upon this series, or have they published a game that would have Tom Clancy himself say it's fubar? Even with a few hiccups I think you may be quite surprised.

If you have never played a Ghost Recon game before you should know that your character is in charge of an elite squad of some of the top military soldiers that the U.S. has to offer. You are outfitted with advanced technology and weaponry and whisked away too distant, real world settings, where there are always numerous quests too complete and tons of enemies to kill. Upon saving the world you usually find yourself with little left to do, except play multiplayer, which can become tiresome as it doesn't hold the grasp of a gamer like other FPS or 3rd person shooters. This however, isn't the case anymore. Thanks to games like The Division, Ubisoft has really grown in leaps and bounds in terms of sandbox development and now they have directly applied what they've learned to the Ghost Recon series, and that's only one reason why you should be very, very excited.

Ghost Recon Wildlands puts you in the country of Bolivia. It has become overrun with corruption by a drug cartel. This cartel has its hands in every aspect and facet of Bolivia's operations, from bribing politicians, military, police and more, to silencing through intimidation and death, anyone who may raise a voice in opposition. While the revolution against the cartels has almost been suffocated, there is still hope that one day the fighters of the revolution will be able to stand against the military might of the cartel, but what they don't know is that one day soon their prayers will be answered. This hope is what keeps the country's citizens going while they have become enslaved as the cartel exploits them to produce the new main cash crop, cocaine. With a USA asset so deep undercover that he became the 2nd in command, his execution at the hands of the cartel raises questions and pisses off the U.S. government. This loss triggers the Ghost Recon team to drop in with a couple of goals in mind:

1. To empower and free the civilians from the control of the cartel.

2. Totally destroy the cartel and its network of affiliates.

The premise for the game is one that we have seen before in other games; however, the execution is what makes this game unique. For starters, when you first start your single player experience, if you press what I'm calling the back button, you can bring up a menu system where you can toggle between map, skill point assignment, loadout, and more. If you go to your map and press the LT to zoom out you will get a sense of just how big the game environment truly is. The map is divided up into sections (provinces) and each section has a series of missions and a number of collectibles to obtain to fully complete it.

While the map may be divided into sections, in this game you can go where ever you want right from the beginning. When I started out I spent about 8 hours alone exploring and just having fun with side missions and quests before I started off with the main story quest. The freedom to play how you want is incredible, but before you go bounding through the woods and fields and over the mountain tops, you should be aware of your factions.

There are three factions in Ghost Recon Wildlands, the Revolutionaries, the Cartel, and Unidad. While the first two are self-explanatory, the Unidad are considered to be military and will hunt you with extreme weaponry and ferocity. They will also attack Cartel members should any start shooting, so when you have a mix of both Unidad and Cartel fighters sometimes picking a fight between the two can produce some incredible, outpost clearing, fun. Now, similar to the police in Grand Theft Auto, the more Unidad soldiers you kill, the higher the Unidad patrol rating climbs which brings out other Unidad toys such as helicopters and military vehicles for you worry about. By the time the patrol rating is maxed you will be under such insurmountable onslaught that you may find it best to just run for your life. So while you're off killing Cartel members and rescuing more Revolutionaries, always keep a look out for Unidad, and if you have to engage, do it quietly so as to remain hidden. This can be accomplished thanks to your gear, or more importantly your drone and teammates.

I can't not stress enough how important your drone and team are to your existence. I suggest you hit the start menu and go to the tutorial option where you will learn about pressing up on the D-pad to engage your drone and down on the D-pad to engage your binoculars, etc. Earlier you read that I mentioned a menu where you can allocate skill points, and in that menu you can upgrade many elements from your drone, your squad, your own person, your weapon, and more. In order to accomplish this, you have to first collect the needed number of skill points which you can find at various outpost and enemy stations, as well as when you level your character up. Once you have the necessary skill points, you have to focus on your resources.

The revolution needs resources in order to fuel and fund their operation against the Cartel, so it's up to you to secure the resources. These range from fuel, food, medical supplies, and even communication resources, and all of them are vital to leveling up your character. Don't worry, if you should fail a mission another chance will respawn after you leave the area. Now when you have collected enough resources and have enough skill points you can upgrade the various elements which increase in value as you climb through the ranks and along the skill tree. Starting out I worked to focus on increasing my drone's battery, range and night vision. Then I focused on gaining the max number of Sync Shot options which gave me the ability to take out up to 4 enemies at once (3 if you don't shoot at one yourself). Let me explain to you why that made my life so much easier.

For starters I have to point out that your team AI isn't the best in the world, in fact it borderlines on silly at times, except for the Sync Shot. You scout an area for enemy targets, then after you have marked them automatically via your drone or binoculars, or even by weapon zoom, you can then designate up to 3 targets (4 is you shoot one) that you can have your 3 stooges eliminate. Once all the targets you selected have been lined up, just hold the A button down and like the London Bridge they all fall down. This can make overtaking any compound, even a Unidad one, much easier, so long as you use patience and tactical recon to see where the "stragglers" are that can be picked off. Normally this consists of sniper towers first, and then other random enemies that are away from others. However, all this prep can be helped if you just take the compound at night when people are sleeping. Then you can just walk up to one, grab them right out of their bed and knock out them out, and you won't wake a soul. Remember, when taking a compound, or any other enemy installation, silence is golden.

To do all of this however, you have to get used to the play controls, which can be a bit touchy to get used to. The LS and RS control your movement and direction of sight, and because the game is so open you won't have many issues with trying to position the camera into a good vantage point. Swapping weapons with the Y button is easy, and double tapping the Y button will switch out to your pistol. I did find a few issues with the play control such as times when the movement does feel clunky instead of fluid or when you go to hold the X button to tag resources you find in the field; you HAVE to be facing one part of the resources in order for you to successfully tag them. You can't approach from the sides and expect to tag them and it's things like this latter annoyance that is one of several minor detail issues that detract from the game itself. We got a similar taste of these gameplay issues in the Division, and it seems like they continue to plague this game as well.

I do have to point out though that the game is visually beautiful. Sitting on top of a mountain while you overlook a village next to a body of water while the sun is setting is absolutely hypnotic. The varying terrain and its corresponding vegetation and foliage, and how you can interact with it, is amazing. For example, a hovering helicopter hovering above overgrown grass, or how the water reacts to a helicopter flying low, is remarkably life like. The effects are truly a spectacular sight, however, the music and soundtrack to this game leave a lot, and I mean a very lot to be desired. While the gun noises and other sound effects are done moderately well, there's no real soundtrack that leaves you wanting to hear more of it. In fact, wherever I go I end up shooting all the radios and turning off all radios in the vehicles because I just don't want to hear that noise. I did though turn on some Apocalypse Now tunes and piloted my boat during the sunset and that moment felt absolutely amazing, and not one bit of audio came from the game. That's very disappointing.

There are a few more issues that need to be touched upon and one of those is your AI. Earlier you read that I thought your three squad teammates were like the 3 stooges at times and when you increase the difficulty you have hyper sensitive enemy AI, but your squad gains absolutely nothing in terms of performance increase. Plus, another thing that I never understood is how your squad mates, who have been in the service for years and are the tops in their field, find a challenge when taking on some tattooed cocaine thug wearing a tank top, sunglasses and an carrying an AK-47. These are targets that should naturally be dropped while at great distances, yet your team can literally walk right by them and nothing will happen, but if you peak your head right out of a clump of bushes it's like you set off some territory wide explosion that draws every enemy to your position at once. Other issues include minor bugs like your squad members not getting into vehicles you're controlling, or having them running around like they are looking into the sky, and while not game breaking they make the overall product seem unpolished at times. Nothing though, will prepare you for multiplayer.

Now, multiplayer is supposed to be the backbone of this game. You can jump in and out of any public game you wish, or you can have up to 3 friends together in a group. Now for the good news first. When you have 3 quality friends who work as a team and communicate, then you're truly getting the best that Ghost Recon Wildlands has to offer. Now for the bad news, that wonderful experience will happen very little of the time, especially if you're trying to play a public co-op session.

When you have other people in your squad their individual actions and outcomes will affect you as well. Let's say you want to infiltrate a base and go after some objective, and someone in your party decides to drive a car right in the middle of the base with horn blaring, well thanks to that guy you now have an entire armed base drawing guns immediately. On the plus side, another good point about the multiplayer aspect is how if you have a mission already completed and you join someone who is working on that mission, you will still earn XP and rewards from the mission, but your character progression will be halted until you move onto a mission you haven't done yet.

Another drawback of multiplayer is that you don't share resources. If you're in one building and your teammate finds resources in another building right next to you, then you have to go into that building just to collect the resources. This is an impact because you have to wait for everyone to make sure they get their medals or resources before you continue on, or you'll leave them behind. This is a natural drawback you will find when are trying to play a tactful, squad based shooter as there are more bad apples than good, so you'll naturally be playing more single player which then takes away the multiplayer experience.

Another drawback of the multiplayer experience is that if you have only one other teammate, then the other 2 squad members that you did have vanish. There is no AI to fill in any empty multiplayer slot, so unless you have 3 other friends to play with, you're going to have a depleted squad.

There are other glitches such as your multiplayer friends going invisible on your screen, or having car framerates slow and glitch to an almost complete stop, and all of these add up to bring about some blows to the body armor of Ghost Recon Wildlands. You have about as much of a chance to have a bug free multiplayer session as Stevie Wonder has of passing a vision test.

Another gripe I have is that there really isn't anything innovative about Ghost Recon Wildlands. You go through the different areas of the map and while you're uncovering it, you unlock various side quests and main missions within that area which help discover collectibles. Once I had uncovered the map section (my choice of transportation is helicopter), I would complete all the missions and gather the collectibles and then go on to the next section and repeat the same process. This can get tedious as there's no real difference in terms of missions, but if you think about it, there really isn't any other choice. It's a natural limitation that is found in such a narrow scope that it's impossible to break from. So essentially it's a type of game experience that naturally forces itself upon you.

I've deliberately left out micro-transactions discussion because outside of having an unnatural hatred for them, I think that if a company wants to include more content that can alter the gameplay to the consumer, then either include it upfront or in a DLC pass. But in the spirit of moving forward, after all that I can honestly say that Ghost Recon Wildlands is one incredibly enjoyable experience.

Despite the noted flaws and imperfections that permeate some facets of this game, I can easily see this title draining many months and moons from one's life, and you'll be smiling most of the way. If Ubisoft can improve on the quality that is Ghost Recon Wildlands, the future looks incredibly bright. That being said, our focus is on the current game, and overall it is one that can be very enjoyable, and if you find the right online players to play with, the game can be even better. Tom Clancy fans owe themselves the time to check this game out, as it is good enough to satisfy a gamer's craving for action, stealth, and a very large world to explore.

Suggestions: Polish the game's technical issues.
Improve some of the gameplay.

What is there is a great starting point and an addictive one, fixing the noted points can only make this a better game.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Ride 2

They say imitation is the best form of flattery, and if that is true then Ride 2 from Milestone S.r.l. has given some tremendous flattery. Ride 2 recently released on the Xbox One, and while the original had enough issues to give the game a flat tire, Ride 2 attempts to stay on track by incorporating some of the best qualities found in other top tier racing games. Now, you may be thinking that there hasn't been a good bike game developed for a long time and you would be right. This is due to the physics of multiple items in a 3-dimensional plane of existence instead of just one. So what does Ride 2 offer?

You just heard me mention about the challenges pertaining to creating a true motorcycle racing experience as opposed to a racing experience involving a car. This is primarily due to a few complex reasons. First off, the multiple breaking system used within the different corners offers varying degrees of control and function, and while some may claim it's similar to using the e-brake in a car it's not. While a car has a low center of gravity and a wide body to grip the road, a bike does not. This means that acceleration and control have to be fine-tuned using complex algorithms that have to take into account another problem, the rider. The rider IS (caps inserted for emphasis) the bike's center of gravity and it's not in a fixed position. If you want to do a proper motorcycle simulation you have to account for the way the bike will handle while shifting this center of gravity to different points on a bike which is something you don't have to worry about in a car. This is why I tend to think of a playing card. If you lay it flat on the table it has the same properties of a car, but turn it on its edge and that will give you a rough idea of a bike's properties.

This is why Ride 2 tries hard to incorporate the varying degrees of physics needed to make a quality virtual motorcycle racing experience. For the most part they succeed. With an ability to adjust the racing experience, you'll quickly come to experience everything I just mentioned should you be brave enough to switch the bike assists off and have to manage your own weight on the bike at all times. There is going to be a learning curve in regards how to handle a bike at high speeds and in cornering, and depending on how real of a simulation you wish to have, your chosen level will also determine how steep a learning curve you have ahead of you.

Case in point, I tried to do my entire first race in 1st gear, not on purpose of course. Yup, the light hit green and I floored it, which in turn caused my front end to lift, like ET going home, and within the first 50 feet I was already sliding along my backside and completely detached from my bike. I tried again and again, and admittedly it wasn't until my 5th retry or so that I figured out that the B button changed gears. That helped out tremendously....until I took my first corner.

This is when I realized that going 162 MPH into a sharp right hand turn was more of a fantasy I had in my head than something that was obtainable in this digital reality. I tried to lock my brakes but all that did was throw me like a lawn dart into a guardrail and over the side. It was here that I first discovered the magical LB button for rewind (just like you'll find in Forza) and after a while I finally got the hang of controlling the throttle response around corners and that's when things became very enjoyable, and less violent and abusive to my rider. And speaking of riders.

You get to create your rider from a small amount of pre-loaded variables. There isn't a great deal of customization and what is available is relatively pointless, so you'll essentially be here for only a few short minutes and then move onto your first race. You'll have the option right from the beginning to launch into the more linear campaign of single player style races, but there is also quick race, online racing and more. Being completely ignorant to the game's physics engine is where I decided to tackle the single player races first (this is where the story earlier above you just read of my colossal incompetence comes from) and it is also the same area I got to see just what Ride 2 brought to the table in terms of content along with quality.

For starters you'll see a plethora of options in terms of how many bikes are offered, how the races are structured, the customization limits applied to each bike, and so on. I selected my first bike and wanted to see what customization options it had so I pressed the X button and dove right into a "Forza-esque" upgrading system that I've seen for years. Intrigued by this I wanted to see how the tuning options related to a motorbike, and sure enough, in a similar fashion, I had the option to tune my front and rear brakes, suspension and more just in a similar fashion found in other games that rhyme with "Morza".

I had a limited number of bikes so I decided to go with some of the amateur races first (I had no choice since the other difficulties were locked until the previous races were completed). Each class contained about 6 races that varied from traditional 3-lap races to various mini games such as overtake 'X' number of riders for a gold medal. I went through the various pre-race options, and again I saw a heavy influence that was taken from other racing games. I was perplexed as to the amount of liberty taken at recreating various aspects and wanted to see how many more similarities there were, and I was shocked.

One of the biggest was the panning camera that you see cover a newly purchased bike. It almost follows an identical path to the camera system found in Forza games. This got me thinking though, why wouldn't you infuse similar elements into your game if you already know that what your basing it off of is an incredible racing simulation? Then the answer hit me, it's not about incorporating those elements into your game, but rather perfecting the content within the game itself that leads to the incorporation of such systems. Essentially what I'm trying to say is that just by incorporating elements from more successful games into your own game doesn't make it great. What makes it great is perfecting the content within the game itself. This can be easily seen in a games' graphics.

While Ride 2 tries to capture the Forza camera system, sadly the environments do not look nearly as impressive. To tell you the truth they feel tremendously dated. In one easy comparison, you'll instantly recognize Nurburgring in Germany. You note that a lot of the tracks are merely large tracks that are broken up into different sections, but all of it feels like it's something we could have seen back on the Xbox 360's early years. This is quite shocking since the install size of the game is over 31GB of space, the bike count is just over 170 and the load times are again quite lengthy. Just starting the game is quite long and in-between races you're looking and close to a minute of waiting. Unfortunately, this was not addressed in the almost 10GB patch that came with the game. Sound is not bat though, as you know you are racing a motorcycle, and you hear other ones, but that is all that caught my attention.

Despite the lackluster quality with some of its characteristics, Ride 2 still manages to provide a decent quality motorbike racing experience. With gameplay that is improved upon from the original, and many features taken from accomplished racing games and implemented within, you get the feeling that Ride 2 is a monumental step in the right direction for this series. If the original game was a reflection of this series' infancy stage, Ride 2 is easily where it starts to walk on it's own, and hopefully with Ride 3 we will see just what can happen when this game improves itself to the point where it can start to run.

Suggestions: Work on the following:

- shorter load times
- smarter AI
- better visuals
- deeper customization options


Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Torment: Tides of Numenera

When I was growing up I had a fondness for the types of books that were written in a 'choose your own adventure' style. I loved how it gave you a choice in how you wanted to experience the story and the freedom to feel like you were writing your own journey. Because of my youth at the time, I didn't know at these types of stories involved multiple story arcs and conclusions, but the whole aspect has been found in some of the most successful video games ever made. Torment: Tides of Numenera, which is developed by inXile Entertainment, is one such title. Now, you may be asking who are they and why should you care. I will provide you with all the answers you seek, and more, because this could easily be one of the best sleeper hits ever found on the Xbox One platform.

Black Isle Studios developed a game way back in 1999 called Planescape: Torment, and what was brilliant about this game was that it relied heavily on story telling, but to make things smooth, Black Isle Studios did something absolutely brilliant, they modified the in-game engine found in Bioware's Baldur's Gate. This was a stroke of brilliance and it paid off. Now, many decades have passed and the successor to Planescape has finally been released and it's called Torment: Tides of Numenera. I have to touch on this because it's one story that has to be told and explains how it came to even exist.

Starting as a Kickstarter back in March of 2013, the game was originally supposed to launch in December of 2014, and it was delayed to February 28, 2017. While that number of years’ for a delay is impressive, Torment also set a record on Kickstarter as it was the highest funded video game of all time on the platform raking in a titanic 4 million dollars, meeting its original goal in only the first 6 hours of its inception on the Kickstarter platform. It was clear that the public wanted this game badly. Normally when we hear a game is being delayed we are fed the traditional corporate line about putting polish on it, or fine tuning this or that, but for a game like Torment, the sheer amount of content found within would take even the largest big name companies years to pull off, and when I say amount of content, I say that because this was one of the largest RPG's I've played in a long, long time.

When you first start off you'll have to decide what type of character you want to play as. You can play as a Glaive, Jack, or Nano. These are your traditional classes and after you've selected one you get to decide what type of abilities you have, and I must point out that Glaives are the only ones that can receive individualized weapon class training. While you can still use weapons in the other classes, the Glaives get the bonus to attack while the Nanos get the bonus to magic. The Jack class is stuck right in the middle and takes a little from both sides. This class is more focused on traps, and while ranged combat could be an option, they can easily hold their own toe to toe.

As you create your character you will also see three colored pools from which you can draw from to increase your abilities. These pools are Might/Strength, Speed, and Magic, and they are talents that you can draw from to make tasks easier. For example, if your character has to move a large object you can use some of your Might/Strength pool to make sure you move it without hurting your character. Using the LS, you move the slider to the right and you will see an increase in percentage chance for completing the task.

The trick here though is balance, because you will have to replenish your pools through the use of items or by resting, so be weary that while you may use your pools now, there may be instances lying around the corner that require the same pool. It's always good to save after you complete a task so that should you need to buy an item from a vendor to increase your depleted talent pools, you can do that, go back and then interact with that other task.

You also have skills to select from that you can increase your knowledge which in turn will grant your character bonuses for what you need to have done. For instance, spending some points on the ability to have a bonus added to your unlock skill will mean that chests, and other secrets, will be easier for you to open. Once you're done with your abilities and stats, your character is created and the story finally begins.

The history behind your character is rather convoluted. The focus of the story is your character, who is called a Castoff. There was once a man who was obsessed with leaving a legacy on the planet. To accomplish this feat this individual created a sort of biological shell shaped in the form of a person to which the individual could transfer his/her consciousness to the body so death would never claim them. This greed became self-indulging and growing, ever constant as this individual would stop at nothing to try and find ways to improve their biological vessel; however, this came at the expense of discarding husks (his former shell) as one would discard a useless tool. Over the lifetimes the individual came to be known as The Changing God.

While it was thought that these humanoid style chambers would just rot into nothingness, this was not the case as somehow the original consciousness grew and developed within the vessel. This constant drive to cheat the inevitable caused the awakening of an ancient evil called The Sorrow. This creature of evil and death is driven by one thing, and that is to maintain the balance between life and death. While this entity seeks out The Changing God, unfortunately it is also searching for all the biological husks that have been discarded over the many centuries, and this means you as well. This is a rough, and I do mean very rough, backbone of Torment's story. The reason it's so sparse is because from this small amount of information, it's up to you to continue and write the story you want to write. This is found right in the beginning of the game.

Remember when I mentioned the 'choose your own adventure' books? Well get ready to read because you will read many novels worth of text throughout Torment. Seriously, the amount of text you will read reminds me of classic RPG/adventure games where it was nothing but one text box after another. Now, you may be thinking I'm bringing this up in a negative light; however, it's one of the greatest strengths of Torment. The story work and pathway development are so strong that you really wish you could experience the entire game in one playthrough. This is because in Torment your actions not only permanently shape the interactions you may have with others in areas of the map, but your own companions as well. Some may like what you do and not, but while we have seen this type of quality in some triple 'A' RPG games, Torment takes this to a totally new level in multiple ways. Not only are your game experiences locked in, but so are your rewards and items as well.

Case in point, towards the very beginning you'll come across a group of treasure hunters or bandits, or whatever you want to call them. If you diffuse the interaction without any form of violence coming to bear, then you net 25 xp per person. However, if you fight and kill everyone, then you gain over 100 xp plus gained loot from the fallen bodies, all of which you can sell for cash.

One thing to note about confrontations, it's turn based. These moments allow your character to have a move action and a combat action per turn, and once they are done it moves onto the next character and so on. So sometimes being a pacifist, or talking your way out of things, could be bad for you and yet sometimes it can be very good.

Another example would be a small side quest I gained when I first got to the center of the first town. I saw a group of people standing around where I could see someone suffering. I talked to a person nearby who told me that they were part of a team and he escaped and that he had a "safe and foolproof" plan to get his captive friend freed. Now, hearing the details of the plan I countered his idea by letting him know I would talk to the crowd and get them unified. He thought that my option was a "hail mary" and he discarded had any potential for success. Sure enough I combed through the crowd and talked to the few available people and proceeded to provide them inspiration through my chat selection options, and after the last one was convinced, the crowd unified together and set the prisoner free.

Now, I could have gone the crazy plan route and had a totally different experience. This selective interaction is constant as the northern star and a major positive contribution to providing entertaining experiences that provide tremendous depth. All of this is observed in a three-quarter angled view that allows you to zoom in and out, and for the most part all looks quite beautiful. All the different areas have their own distinct feel and thankfully the game has the music and special effects to match, but that is all second chair to the story and plot delivery system.

All this beauty does come with a price. Granted the text is the primary aspect that you'll be dealing with in every area of the game, but every new region requires the game to load not only all the text, but all the possible story branches and decision events for that area at that time, and in turn connect it to the other areas that you may not be at yet or those that come from where your choices will make deep everlasting impacts on your gaming experience. Because of this the loading times are very long and while the game is mostly loading a seeming library's worth of text in every region, be prepared to do a lot of waiting and reading.

Other minor gripes include random freezes and crashes that occurred, but they were far and few between. I also found the movement control felt a bit sluggish while maneuvering my character around the map, but that's about it.

Torment: Tides of Numenera has a galactic size amount of content done in a method that allows players to write their own story, and while other games give an option or two, this game gives far more options. Sure, this may not have the HD graphic renderings that fans find on other big titles, but that doesn't mean that this experience falls short at all. Despite a few issues with the gameplay, loading times, and some random crashes, Torment Tides of Numenera provides one of the deepest and most entertaining RPG experiences you will find on the Xbox One. If you like turn based RPG games with more depth than a black hole in space, this game is a must have for you. What will your story say about you? Pick up a controller and find out.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 For Honor

When you get a major publisher like Ubisoft to put its might behind trying to perfect the ultimate "Rock, Paper, Scissor" experience, and you throw in the some of the biggest names in war, you get a rough idea of the foundation of For Honor. Recently released, For Honor is Ubisoft's attempt to innovate the hack and slash genre, because let's face it, that's all you do. Hack and Slash. So, is this simplistic button masher just another generic slasher with a pretty skin, or does For Honor provide depth that will entertain you for months on end and hone your blade work?

Upon starting For Honor you're presented with numerous options for finding and creating games. However, none of this matters until you create your first character and choose which faction of three you want to fight for. You can then customize your shield, which is a simple layer system with limited available options for icons, but never the less, you can get pretty crazy with your choices, and I ended up personally spending a lengthy bit of time trying to get my emblems just right. I did note however that there are some items that can be unlocked through Ubisoft's Club, but when I saw that some were 50 Club points, I said forget that. I could understand maybe an armor design that would fit the Assassin's Creed world, or some other cosmetic change to your weaponry such as items like Excalibur, but only offering shield customization icons seems pretty weak, and charging you for them is even weaker. A small gripe, but none the less a gripe.

Having selected my character, the game automatically throws you right into the training sequence where I strongly recommend that you spend some time to learn the small intricacies of the game itself. The Left Trigger will be your best friend because that will not only help you focus on an enemy so you don't get overwhelmed, but it will also allow you to use the Right Stick to decide which angle you are going to block from. There are three possible zones to defend: Top, Left, and Right. This upside down triangle is going to be your saving grace as you will have to keep the Left Trigger held down, but move the Right Stick to the proper section to make sure you block the incoming attack. Failure to do so will ultimately result in your character taking damage, so make sure you practice blocking or go play something else, because you won't last long.

Just as the blocking is broken down into three sections for defense, those same sections apply to your offense as well. Utilizing the Right Bumper for light attacks and the Right Trigger for heavy attacks, you will quickly learn that the right time to strike is right after a successful block. The key though is that if you try to follow up a block with a heavy attack, make sure that the opponent doesn't interrupt the slow, heavy swing and land some more hits, so balancing your offense is also a paramount key to victory. The training continues to teach you proper techniques for breaking the block of your opponent by pressing X, and then following up with a throw by pressing X again, then you're sent out on your own to stake your claim against the warriors around the world, that is if you can find a stable server connection, but we'll get to that later.

From here you can choose to dive right into multiplayer, which will lead to your demise incredibly quickly, or you can go through the game's campaign. The premise of For Honor is military might and pure dominance for supremacy over the field of battle, so what better way than to experience it through the eyes of the different factions so you gain a perspective of the entire war instead of one narrow aspect. This will take you through about 18 levels and will task you to run through large, linear levels, clearing checkpoints, all the while hacking down everyone that isn't your same faction. Once you get to the end, there's always some dramatic scene that involves a fight to the death and then it's onto the next level, or chapter, in the story.

As you begin, the actions you complete within the campaign help level up your character and develop your skills by unlocking abilities that can help you in your gravest hours. To help expedite the process you can select various difficulties which all provide a corresponding XP boost; however, take note that the hardest difficulty is called Realistic, and it's called that for a reason. You can always replay missions on harder difficulties to earn more XP, but another thing that will help rapidly level up your character is the completion of side objectives, such as breakable items and scanned viewpoints. Now, throughout the missions there are breakable objects (because you have to have breakable pots in a war game right?) and when you break them you can uncover various items that will help your character overall, and then we have the viewpoints to observe.

The viewpoints really feel out of place as it requires you to be looking at a various random spots, such as up on a wall or down a hall in a side room by a door, and then you'll hear a voice describe the visual entry you just scanned. This is also a bit disorienting when you have armies charging you, flaming arrows flying past your head, and/or swords clashing all around you, yet here you are looking at the wall of a castle. Another gripe I will make about the gameplay is that the final execution window is microscopic in size. Once you land a final blow to your enemy that is a heavy attack, you will queue up an execution window where you have about a split second to hit either X or Y to execute. Doing this will replenish some of your lost health as well.

It goes without saying that the gameplay is ridiculously simplistic in terms of what to do and how to control it, but thankfully that gives you less to mess up and can lead to a more enjoyable gaming experience. Sometimes you don't need 40 buttons and 300 analog stick moves to have a good time gaming. By keeping the control and campaign simple Ubisoft allows you to essentially train repeatedly to prepare you for the heart and soul of For Honor, the multiplayer.

The multiplayer mode is comprised of many aspects you'll see throughout the campaign. For instance, Dominion will put you right at home with AI allies and it's just kill everything that's against your team while finishing some objectives till you amass about 1,000 points, then rinse and repeat. The Skirmish and Elimination modes both have issues, but Skirmish is a basically a 4v4 deathmatch, whereas Elimination essentially is last man standing. Now the common fault that they both share is that there's no way to individually single out one game mode over another. So basically when you pick Deathmatch, you have a 50/50 shot as to what game mode you get to play.

The other two modes of multiplayer focus solely on human opponents and are subsequently titled Duel and Brawl. In Duel, it's just what the title says; It's you versus one other person. The winner is the one left standing. This is where you want to go if you want to prove your worth. No teammate to blame, no evasion, just the outright skill versus skill of opponents, or what I like to call, the purest combat. Brawl is similar to Duel except that instead of 1v1, it's 2v2. This mode can get intense when you start to mix and match different character styles and different move sets. Without question you will find both your hardest challenges here as well as your greatest sense of victory and domination.

Another major victory has to come with the graphics of For Honor, because they are strikingly detailed. Every detail in the environments to those found in your character is brought to life in a way that does a sensational job immersing you into the life of the warrior. Alongside the stunning graphics is a dynamic soundtrack and voice overs that remind me a lot of the opening voice of The Lord of the Rings movies. It's little touches like this that can turn a regular hack and slash game into a truly grand adventure full of wonderment and excitement.

While all this incredible joy is being showered all over, now sadly comes the time when the hammer drops and some ugly truths are revealed. It comes with tremendous displeasure to announce that microtransactions are a huge part of For Honor. If you want to purchase a new character for instance, you'll need to have about 500 scrap (which is primarily found by destroying the breakable objects), and when scavenging for scrap this will take you an insane amount of time, so you pretty much have to engage in microtransactions just to get the character and design you want. I'm sorry, but this is something I strongly oppose and feel is a major weakness in the armor of this game. You would think that would be the worst of it, but sadly it's not.

The multiplayer aspect of For Honor involves peer-to-peer networking and not everyone is sitting on an open NAT with a 1GB fiber optic line. In fact, you'll find a vast amount of moderate and closed NAT types (how they ever enjoy multiplayer experiences is beyond me), and when that happens, the multiplayer of For Honor seems to develop tremendous lag and latency problems, which logically, will impact and have a negative effect on your gameplay experience. This is severely disappointing due to the simple fact that For Honor's heart and soul resides within the multiplayer, and if this suffers such a negative impact, I think it won't be surprising to see a community up and vanish from the game itself. So, if this issue isn't addressed, then For Honor's sustaining community will vanish and what is a social game without the social aspect?

Overall, For Honor does a great job trying to find a new way of telling a very old and very familiar story. It accomplishes so much that it does provide an entertaining way to push you through the repetition of a hack and slash game. However, when you least expect it, you get impaled right through the heart by a broken multiplayer experience where the fragments of microtransactions and more splinter through the game, and while the blow isn't fatal now, if the connection issues aren't addressed, it will be.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Doodle God: Ultimate Edition

Have you ever seen a sporting legend that stayed in their profession for longer than they should have? Someone unwilling to succumb to the truth that they are now in the twilight of their time and should gracefully step out of the spotlight and enjoy life, yet they soldier on. Doodle God does the same thing, except it's not sporting or an a legend. In fact, JoyBits is charging $9.99 for something that is so simplistic a monkey could play it, and that's probably because they would be the only ones to pay $9.99 for this game. Listen, I know I'm supposed to have an open mind for all games, but Doodle God is 7 years old. Let me repeat that: Doodle God is 7 years old. $10 for a 7-year-old game? Hmm... That got me thinking...

What in the world was JoyBits thinking? OK, for starters the game itself is about you doing one thing over and over again, which is combining two items to make more items, so on and so forth. You play a version of God who must develop and populate a planet that is in front of you. Apparently you're armed with the elements of earth, wind, fire and water. From here you literally have to open one option on the left side, and one on the right side. From there you use the Left Stick and the Right Stick to select the two various items you want to combine. If you fail, and you will countless times, then the game will simply give you an error buzz, and you continue on. If successful though, you will see an uneventful animation of the two tiles colliding and producing a new and different tile. From this new tile, you get to recombine it with everything else ALL OVER AGAIN, to see if you can make one more tile.

That's it. That's essentially all you do, matching tile after tile in boring repetition to the point where I actually caught myself drifting off to sleep, because when you take all the bells and whistles outta this game, it literally boils down to selecting one menu on the left and side, then open every single menu on the right hand side, and go through the combination process of every tile in every single menu on the right hand side. The process is so monotonous that the game tries to give you side quests and missions to do such as "make ice" or "make a mushroom", and quests like "rescue a princess from a dragon." That last quest I mention requires you to start with a limited amount of menu selections, where you must do MORE combining to fill out the rest of your squares, thus raising your completion percentage at the top left corner, and once it reaches 100% then you're complete with the mission.

To break up the tediousness of doing nothing but combining, the game breaks it up by giving you more options to do nothing more but, you guessed it, combining. Now normally I'd go off and tell you more about the control scheme and what does what, but there's literally no point in doing so as the rest of the buttons are incredibly redundant and pointless. Case in point, there's the X button to give you a hint. That's fantastic. Or you can just start making every combination possible and you'll essentially make all the hints worthless, but there is a dedicated button should you require that unnecessary hint. Using the Left and Right Triggers open menus on both sides, and you'll press the A button a lot. Remember the old Xbox videos showing that the controllers are tested in a facility and they show the buttons being pressed over and over again in rapid succession? That's you when you're playing this $10 game.

The graphics do look decent on the Xbox One, but that's not saying much for a mobile game that's nearly a decade old. Of course it's going to look better, but sadly it doesn't do anything to help cure the boredom of endless mind numbing combining. There is music in the game, but I'm unsure why. All you'll hear is the haunting sound of the error "buzzer" when you miss a combination. There is an adult setting for the game, the reason being is that apparently during the text that you read there's cursing and other "adult" ideas such as making vodka.

I have to sadly dive back into the whole combining nature and tell you that in the first stage of your development there are just shy of 250 elements you must make through combinations. Let that number sink in, then think of all the menus and all the options, all the button presses, and all the errors with an accompanying sound. When you get finished with that there's new modes, and guess what you get to do there? Yet even MORE combining.

In my opinion, this game shouldn't be called Doodle God, it should be called "match boxes together in a mildly mentally challenged state of mind until you either get so bored you quit the game, fall asleep, or just go do something else that's more productive". I think that wouldn't quite fit in the title area though so I guess Doodle God it is then.

I'm sorry, normally I'd carry on about a game whether or not it's good or bad, but I think it's pretty obvious at this point. If this game is a penny over $4.99 it feels like theft, pure and simple, so imagine how we feel about the $10 price point. If you're that hard up for literally one of the most repetitive matching games you'll ever experience feel free to pick it up, but when you feel that overwhelming sadness for having wasted $10 on something that now is the cause of your severe case of the boredoms, don't say I didn't warn you.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Sniper Elite 4

Throughout the years, the Sniper Elite games have taken leaps and bounds in terms of progression as they have tried to deliver the most realistic sniping experiences you will ever play on a console. Having originally only played the first game, I felt that premise was good; however, the execution I found to be substantially lacking. Now though, throughout multiple years and multiple evolutions, Sniper Elite 4 has launched, and like a fine wine, this series has only gotten better with age. In fact, I can say right now that this is going to be one of the predominant sniper experiences that you can find on the Xbox One console at this moment. Now without further ado, let's take a peek inside Sniper Elite 4.

Right from the opening menu you're faced with a few options to get your sniper experience going. These range from single player campaign, multiplayer, co-operative, and shooting range. Wanting to see how the bullet physics evolved I first loaded up the shooting range. Here you can take a variety of rifles out to the range and see which one feels best for you. When you enter the range (as is the case with every mode in Sniper Elite 4) you will have the choice to select the difficulty. This difficulty determines just how the game itself will react with your sniping. Bullet physics mean almost everything in this game, but as I was starting out, I selected normal which included bullet physics (which does include drop) and more.

As soon as everything loaded up I could see a dramatic improvement in the graphics and I started to head to the armory. It was here I went through the different rifles and noted the pros and cons of each. Once I selected my rifle I headed across to the firing range where I had the chance to hit both stationary targets and moving ones from a distance of 10 meters to over 150. Now there are somethings I have to mention up front.

First, if you have an Elite controller, you will want to cancel out the trigger lock for both triggers and I'll tell you why; Sniper Elite 4 combines a 3 stage aiming system where the first stage is just firing from the hip and is very inaccurate except at very close range. The second stage is a shoulder fire and this is what we've come to expect from a 3rd person shooter, and then finally you have your zoomed in scope aiming where you are able to pick off individual organs of your enemies. Now, should you have your trigger lock engaged you will never be able to go into the final aiming system, so you'll be limiting yourself to either hip fire or shoulder fire.

During my time in the shooting range I spent a few moments getting acclimated to switching between the 2nd and 3rd stages of aiming and I noticed that the game seems to hesitate just a hair when switching between the two which gives you a sense that the game is "locking in" the point of view you wish to use. But just getting used to the aiming modes and bullet physics is only part of the education, as there's one last major factor you have to learn to manage, and that's your breathing.

On the bottom right hand side of your screen you'll see a meter filled by a blue line which represents your stamina or "breath." When you are looking through your aiming sights you will see that this meter shifts to become a large meter on the left hand side of the screen. You can press in the Left Stick to hold your breath which will bring up a bullet targeting reticle which will tell you when you pull the trigger and the bullet will go there.

Now, as you continue to hold your breath, the meter will grow and the bullet targeting will substantially get smaller to indicate a more accurate shot. This mode is only temporary because as the meter increases to the top, it will change from blue to flashing red. thus reset all together and you will have to wait for the 'cooldown' period before you can engage in a precise shot.

This meter doesn't just deplete upon holding your breath, but it also depletes upon your character sprinting, but thankfully freezes at current levels while climbing or hanging from a ledge. This means that should you be sprinting away to a higher vantage point, upon your arrival you could find yourself out of breath and having to wait a few moments before you can start to acquire your targets.

I left the shooting range and decided to check out the other modes. Now given that this was an early review copy I could not find others to participate in any multiplayer or co-operative games; however, after going through the various menus I was impressed to see such a solid structure for both platforms of gameplay. In co-operative missions you can do things like spotter/sniper co-op or even tackle the main campaign missions together which could lead to some absolutely amazing sniping crossfire action. You have the option in both gameplay modes to er find a game in action or create your own through a private lobby system.

Multiplayer includes various modes such as Team Deathmatch and more, and both gameplay modes allow you to customize the settings such as level, difficulty and more. Even though I was unable to experience these modes due to the game simply not being out yet, I got the sensation that there has been tremendous focus to ensure the stability and entertainment in these modes is maintained for all players.

With the inability to find both multiplayer and co-operative modes I switched my focus over to the main campaign of Sniper Elite 4. Taking place during Hitler's rise to power and the territorial onslaught that the Germans had with their allies, the Italians, it's up to you to try and help your own allied nations overcome the growing terror threat and reclaim strategic positions in the regions to help liberate the neighboring lands and crush the opposition.

While the premise is historical, it does boil down to one simple thing, a massive sandbox full of enemies to kill and objectives too complete. After the first mission you are given what I'm calling a loading area where you will find various allies who, when you talk with them, will give you optional side quests to achieve during your mission. Then once you have acquired all your intel from available sources, you will proceed to one area of the map to start your mission.

Once you arrive in your mission area, if you press the back button you will see an overview of the entire map itself. In my gameplay time, I would plan my points of attack, and quite often I would find myself advancing to a certain point on the map where I would back track (sometimes all the way back to the beginning) and consult my map on how to traverse down a secondary pathway that would lead me to where I came from, but from a different vantage point which allowed me to seemingly create a pinch from both sides.

It must be pointed out that the enemy AI in this game isn't the brightest, but what they lack in overall intelligence, they more than make up for in numbers. However, they are substantially intelligent though compared to other shooters. For example, in one mission I tried to take out someone's liver and I missed, so this person dropped to the ground but wasn't dead. Another soldier found him, picked him up over his shoulder, and walked him back to what he thought was a safe area, where he set the enemy down and knelt down and patched him up, resulting in my downed target up and walking around.

So granted yes, there is a heavy dose of fantasy (last time I checked a sniper rifle round to the chest back in those days was pretty fatal), but you'll find that the number one thing that will give you away is sound. Your sound can give you away, but it can also be your friend if you figure out how to use it to your advantage. To do this I armed myself with my trusty rock, whistle, and combat knife. You'll see why I chose to bring a knife to a gunfight.

During the last mission I played I killed over 132 enemies, 117 of those were from knife kills. The way I did this was sound management and playing off some of the stupidity of the AI. The mission placed me within a small town so there were lots of buildings, and the town was adjacent to a neighboring church. Upon starting the mission, I pressed in my Right Stick, which brought up my binoculars (you'll be doing that A LOT of this), and using the Right Trigger I marked my enemies on my HUD and mini map on the bottom right.

Now I could go in guns blazing and leave a wake of bodies, blood and bullets, but I wanted to experiment and see if it was possible to go through a level, such as this, firing as few shots as possible. To do this I had to stick to crouching in bushes to not be seen (which was pretty hilarious when I had an RPG strapped to my back that was sticking out about 3-4 feet above the top of the bushes that no one seemed to notice). From there I would equip my rock and while hidden in the bushes, I would angle my throw to direct only one enemy at a time to get closer to me. Once they were within range I would switch out to my whistle and call them over to the bush (honestly if I were hearing a bush whistle I'd empty a clip into the bush before I went in there, but that's just me), where I would pounce and do an instant melee kill on the enemy and the body would automatically hide in the bushes. Step one complete.

The enemy AI will say something along the lines of "There's someone missing", and for some reason they knew that this fellow soldier went missing in this one bush that I happen to be hiding in (don't ask me how they knew because I have no idea). This is where things get interesting because you will either have one lone soldier coming, or, because the soldier looking frantic will draw other soldiers near him to follow along), a small squad of soldiers (the max I ever had around me was about 8 at once) will come along. If it's a lone soldier, all you do is wait in the bushes and when they approach, use your knife and pile up the bodies in the bush.

It is here where I would use some strategy. By now a section of the patrol unit was missing and this alerts the guards in the surrounding areas and they will go to where the last known location was. But I like my bush (giggity). So, I would see a small group of about 4 enemies headed my direction. This is where I switch out to my trusty rock and throw one away from me in a perpendicular direction.

Now all 4 enemies hear the sound to their side and turn and shift focus in that direction. All 4 enemies then take off in pursuit towards that area. During this time, I press in the Left Bumper and bring up my weapon radial where I select a delayed S-mine, and it's here that I hold down the Right Bumper to rig the body with this booby trap as I pick up the body and set him away from my bush.

The 4 enemies haven't found anyone so they start to spread out, but I want them together so I arm my trusty rock and this time I throw it back to where they were originally. Now they all run back to where the sound was but this time in the road they see a body of their fallen soldier. Alarmed by this all 4 start running towards the trap laced body. Now normally upon reaching the body, the first soldier would normally get caught in the blast and maybe the second, however, since I selected a delayed version of my mine, it allowed the few short seconds to allow the other 3 soldiers to catch up only to be caught in the blast. So I've already killed 6 enemies with one mine and two knife attacks, and no shots fired.

There are other ways you can adapt your gameplay to the situation. For instance, later on in that same level I managed, through a lot of walking and observation, to find a back entrance into a compound. Standing upright and running by the ladder going up into the compound I had triggered a total of 5 enemies alerted (running upright = lots of noise), so they sent one unlucky guy to come down the ladder and check out the noise. Hiding back from the ladder I called the guy over and used my knife to take him down. From here I applied the booby trap method described earlier and managed to get three out of the remaining four soldiers.

The 4th soldier got scared and flew back up the ladder and took a defensive position focusing on the ladder itself. During this time, I decided to plant a mine at the bottom of the ladder and use my whistle to draw him in and sure enough, like a moth to a flame, as soon as his boots hit the ground he was a stain on the wall.

This type of environment manipulation plays a critical role in Sniper Elite 4 and will serve a vital role in keeping your presence very low. There are numerous types of soldiers such as regular infantry, snipers, radio beacon transmitters, officers and more, and each of them carry with them not only details about them, but possible items and weaponry as well. You can find this information out through the binoculars. When you tag an item or an enemy with the left trigger, if you leave it in focus you will start to compile information on that target. This is incredibly useful since, for example, if a soldier who uses a radio beacon sees any disturbance, or you, then they will call in for reinforcements and that's when your day goes from bad to worse, because those can consist of Panzer tanks and other military vehicles that aren't so fun to play with. Sniper Elite 4 is far more of a strategic gameplay experience than a mindless shooter.

So, we've established that this game is incredibly fun and an intense experience, however there are a few drawbacks that take a shot or two at the game itself. First have to be the graphics. Sniper Elite 4 is a beautiful game with incredible water and lighting effects, and physics that can be incredibly fun. Trucks for instance have about 3 timed explosion tiers: the first one which destroys the truck, then the engine explodes, then the cargo. One time I killed an enemy soldier by blowing up the truck and when his fellow soldier came to check on him the second explosion hit which caused the door to fire off and instantly kill the second infantryman.

However, if you find yourself rapidly trying to change your vantage point, or even run for that matter, you'll find tremendous amount of screen tearing and it's very disorienting. You almost find yourself deliberately playing the game at a slower pace that you would want just to prevent that from happening and it seems to hinder the fluidity of the game's combat. Now, this is a huge issue since acquiring targets requires you to adapt to your environment and conditions in combat and if you're being disoriented because the screen is tearing, then that's a pretty major flaw.

Another flaw comes in the gameplay. With only a few quick-select slots, but a massive selection available from the radial menu, you find that the quick-selection slots are pretty worthless since the game pauses during your radial selection. I know that the game is trying to make you prioritize what you want at your fingertips and how snipers only carry essential items; however, when you force a balance between items, traps, and weapons, you quickly realize that all of these items are essential yet there's no way to select a different set of "quick select" options, so back again you go to the radial menu. This again creates a disorienting pause effect in the gameplay, and while I used it at times to tactfully plan my next few moves, I felt again that this was a massive setback to the fluidity of the game. This is why I stuck with my rock and whistle and controlled the environment.

There are some other light RPG elements though found within the game that adds to the game's enjoyment. For instance, when you hit various levels of experience you can unlock various perks for your sniper, such as decreased fall damage, increased heart rate recovery and more. Plus, every weapon also comes with its own set upgrades that require some certain criteria to be met before it's unlocked. In my case I used my rifle and its criteria were:

- 1. - Total Kill Distance = 10Km. (Completing this upgraded my rifle's damage)

- 2. - 25 Environmental Explosion Kills. (Completing this upgraded my rifle's stability)

- 3. - 10 Liver Shots. (Completing this upgraded my rifle's zoom)

- 4. - Mastery: 25 Double Kills (This can only be completed once the first 3 criteria are completed. Upon completion you're awarded a mastery skin for your weapon and a nice achievement for mastering one weapon.)

Sniper Elite 4 has come a long way from its first initial iteration and the evolution between games is night and day. This current release has the largest maps you will ever find in a Sniper Elite game. The combat is done in an incredibly balancd Fight Vs. Flight manner, and despite the flaws in the graphics and some gameplay issues, the game is an incredibly enjoyable experience from start to finish. Every mission in the campaign has tons of collectibles to find so you'll be enjoying the exploration as you traverse all types of terrain at all points of day and night. While multiplayer wasn't available at the time, if it's execution is carried out with the same detailed precision as the game, then expect that to be a major source of hour draining fun. It goes without saying that Sniper Elite 4 set its mark high on delivering a fairly incredible experience, and despite the few faults, it has hit that mark dead center.

Suggestions: Please fix the screen tearing and provide some increase quick selection options for the user.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Pixel Heroes: Byte & Magic

Have you ever found yourself playing a game that was so addictive that you found yourself getting absorbed by the repetition? Well if you haven't, then meet Pixel Heroes: Byte and Magic from Headup Games. This game first came out back in October of 2014, and normally that would start to send up red flags as I tend to consider games like these to be cash grabs due to price points, age of their content, and more. This game though, priced at $9.99, has a crafty way to snag that crisp $10 bill from your wallet and we will get into that latter, but first, the game.

Right from the beginning you are enveloped by pixelated retro graphics that harken back before a time when those who would consider a PSone an antique were born. Now, I know that a lot of games have tried to embrace a retro vibe; however, quite a lot have gotten it wrong and I think it's because they used it for a scapegoat in development. Headup Games on the other hand actually flaunts it in your face and makes sure you realize that of course it's an easy scapegoat. There were times when my character got hit and they would comment, "even my blood is blocky!"

Before you adventure begins Pixel Heroes starts you off in a bar where you can tell the type of game you're about to get into as you read the humor in the character chat bubbles. It's here in the bar that the game will center its hub so to speak. This centralized area is where you can recruit up to three individual characters. Pixel Heroes relies on the whole "rock beats scissors" motive with certain elements and elemental weapons working well against specific types and so on.

Right from the beginning you'll be choosing your characters, which range from classes such as dwarves, knights and barbarians to herbalists (yes those kinds of herbs), witches, clerics, and more. Some will have high strength with physical attacks but weak with magic and vice versa. These are all tactics we are used to seeing in games; however, take note of strengths and weaknesses because you'll be back at the bar picking three more heroes again... and again... and again...

This is thanks to Pixel Heroes' uncanny ability to not only deliver a quality humorous experience, but the ability to openly mock and impersonate other people, movies, etc. as you wander through the paths to and from various dungeons. For instance, I was greeted by a black pixelated person wearing a black trench coat and black sunglasses who called himself Orpheous and offered me a choice to take a red pill, a blue pill, both, or I could ignore him.

Various choices you make will be either beneficial or detrimental to your party, and sometimes combat is the best choice because while you may risk taking damage, you'll also gain experience which you can use to level up, plus you can gain some gear while you're doing it. Should you ignore these events though, you'll head straight to your dungeon and start the 8 rooms that can either be a battle or test of character, and this is why I mentioned balance was so important.

You will come across chests in-game. These chests require certain levels of certain stats to open, so while one chest may require a high level of strength, another may require a high level of faith, and so on. Should your character fail in this task they will receive damage in the form of a trap that could essentially halve your full health instantly.

You may think that you're going to be ok because you have health potions, but I cannot stress enough how you need to save as many of these as you can early on because normally the only way to gain more is through combat. This is why I found a need to almost always run with a healer, as their skills will grant the ability needed to keep people alive without the need of a potion.

Now, back to the bar. So, you have your chosen three characters and the rest of the patrons at the bar leave and get all pissed off at you for not hiring them for whatever reason. After they depart in walks a pixelated crazy person wearing a sign that says the "End is Nigh!". This person foretells the doom lingering on the horizon, and after hearing his tale off your go into the village. Before you leave though, check out the band in the bar, simply called The Band.

This is where you accept your various quests. You can only select one quest at a time and the quest will take you to one of the dungeons on the map. The quests come from villagers with exclamation marks over their heads and are sold by the floating exclamation marks company who won't sell you any, but everyone else is fair game. Once you talk to a villager you'll get some sob tale of a book missing, or a ring that was lost, etc, and now you have to prepare yourself for the task ahead.

You start with 800 gold and when you see that 200 gold buys one low health potion, you quickly realize you're dead broke. There is a temple in the village where you can buy potions and resurrect your fallen heroes for a price should you need. Once your hero dies, they are dead and gone until either revived at the temple for cash or your entire party is wiped out and you're sent back to the bar to start over.

This quirky method of enforcing repetition through humor is something that dramatically helps stave off the mundane actions you will be repeating for as long as you play this. The gameplay is interesting as all heroes have weapons they can use, but they also have unique abilities which can either deal tremendous damage or aid your characters in a special way. Even the whole balance aspect can be found here, let me explain.

Let's say you get yourself a cleric, or other magic user, that has the ability to dispel any status effects (absolutely critical); however, you can gain these same immunities by equipping gear that makes you impervious to it. Do you use a character slot for a character to use that ability, or do you take your chances and try to gain equipment that will make you immune, thus allowing you to free up a character slot for something else? These are the balancing acts that will keep you going insane, but also enjoying every moment of the ride. When you do get into a fight, you'll notice it's strictly turn based. Not only is it turn based, but your 2nd turn can't involve the same character, so Pixel Heroes forces you to utilize at least two characters. Oh, and those abilities I told you about earlier, there's a cooldown period (in turns) in between uses, so use sparingly and as a last resort.

One gripe I do have is that the inventory is so small that you will quickly, and I mean very quickly, find yourself out of room, thus forcing you to trash a bunch of your gear. Because unlike Fallout 4, you can't move onto the next room if you are carrying any fraction of weight over 20. I wish there were merchants before bosses that allowed you to sell your unwanted items, but rest assured you'll be hating the inventory capacity almost after your 1st dungeon.

There are a lot of RPG elements built into this little indie game, but as I wasn't sure what to expect, and in the end I wound up actually enjoying this game quite a bit. I loved the roadside interactions and felt that the comical atmosphere made the game more enjoyable, and in the end that's one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, we play games in the first place, because we want to enjoy them. Sure, there are some faults with this game, it's a few years old, and the $10 price point may seem steep for the content you're getting. If you really enjoy retro styled pixelated games that cram RPG elements and humor into a mesmerizing mix that will result in you spending hours in trying to get everything just right, then this game is for you.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Siegecraft Commander

With all the different genres of gaming that exist in the world today, one of my favorite is tower defense games. I'm secretly addicted to the strategy aspect of trying to overcome your foe through mental preparation rather than an outright assault. Recently, Blowfish Studios released Siegecraft Commander for $19.99 and it offers a new spin on tower defense. They have combined the elements of that genre with an overall real-time strategy (RTS) core. So has Blowfish Studios created a RTS game worthy of its' price? I'm not so sure it has, let me tell you why.

To start things off, you have your choice of what game mode you want to play in the form of campaign and multiplayer, and that is it. When you choose campaign you can pick what side you want to play as. There are lizard type creatures or overpompous knights to choose from; however, none of the selections will net you any substantial benefit over the other, and neither provides any worthwhile content to care about. In essence you choose from two pointless sides in a meaningless struggle that is based on poor humor and bad writing, rather than perfecting a gameplay experience that is entertaining. For this instance of description though, I'll choose the overpompous knights.

The campaign itself is laid out like a book where each level tells its own interactive story in its own chapter of the book. While this idea is a novel one that fits the atmosphere of the game, you'll rapidly find that the levels serve to be your tutorial guide, but more than that, you'll find that the repetition of the campaign will get incredibly boring and tedious very, very quickly.

Without any sort of dynamic plot, or any substance to help drive a comedic storyline, there isn't much of anything to keep you playing the campaign outside of the numerous 100 point achievements that can be gained. Sure, you have a total of two stories to play through (one for each race), but with each one providing the same lackluster experience, you really can't fathom why you would want to subject yourself to that much mundane gameplay with so little meaningful experiences.

The object of Siegecraft Commander is simple, you build towers and construct forces in an effort to overrun and destroy your opponents’ towers and destroy the enemy Keep. While you build your towers you have the enemy AI working against you, so for all the progress you make in the level, the enemy AI will rebuild and send their forces after your towers. In our case, with the overpompous knights, I found myself throwing out Outposts like crazy.

I should clarify something first before moving on though. To construct a building, you first start with your own Keep, press the A button on it and it will bring up a radial wheel where you select what tower you wish to build. Structures like an Armory, which can lead to building airships, or a Garrison, which provides you the opportunity to build barracks to produce troops, are two such things you can build. Then there are also defenses that you can build such as mortars that can attack incoming enemy defenses, or a ballista that can shoot down oncoming enemy airships. While it's good to have these protections, they will re-arm themselves after a cooldown of about 30 seconds, so should they fire once and the enemy forces keep coming, it's up to you to defend your towers.

To do this, you must first become familiar with how to build, and that is a different topic all together. To build these objects after you select them, you will see a green crossbow above your Keep, from here you will draw back with your analog stick and then fire your crossbow. Then you will see a cannonball fire from the tower and with it you will see it drag a string of walls behind it. This is how your objects get built and how your walls connect all your objects together.

One downfall is that it's easy to block off your troops from an area if you're not careful. Thanks to the walls, any sort of land troops will have to be directed around them, which can create not only a lengthy game, since they move at a snail's pace, but it can really draw out. This excessive building of towers will eventually lead to the game grinding to a massive halt given that it's apparent that Siegecraft Commander can't handle a lot of consecutive towers on the map at one time. And speaking of the map...

On the map you will find points scattered throughout that contain either blue or yellow magic crystals. As stated earlier, you can follow a natural progression of the towers and everything they unlock; however, to unlock everything you will have to take control over both yellow and blue crystal points in order to produce everything you need, especially in the realm of magic. Magic can be costly to obtain but it can offer tremendous benefits in both cooldown times and magical shields and spells that not only provide protection for your towers, but also turn the tide of battle by attacking your enemy's towers with magic.

While all of this seems in depth, the whole building process itself is a total letdown and near disaster. Should you block your troops in, you cannot destroy your towers on your own, so you'll have to wait for the enemy to destroy them before the troops can be of any use.

While the multiplayer aspect of the game can allow for up to 4 people online, there never really seems to be a point to doing so. With all of that being said though, the game does have a decent visual look going for it. I'm not talking a phenomenal artistic rendition, but it's far better than some other indie games that have been released on the Xbox One. The sound on the other hand is insignificant to the point where I found myself actually generating overly stereotypical voices just to try and add some form of real humor and enjoyment to the game. That lasted for the first few levels and then I got bored trying to keep up with all the mediocrity and I stopped all together.

With everything taken into account, $19.99 feels like highway robbery for Siegecraft Commander. I know I normally break into some form of summary, but I had to just had to say this right off the get-go. The play controls are oversensitive, the building mechanics are poor at best, the game delivers no incentive to play past the first level, and it slows to a crawl should you build too many towers. I am honestly sorry to more negative than positive, but this is sadly our reality. If you're into RTS games then please wait till this is either free with the Games with Gold program, or wait till it's $4.99 if you absolutely have to have this game. Die hard Tower Defense fans need only apply here.

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Very few developers can make a platform game worth playing. While the overall design may seem simplistic, the real challenge is fine tuning all of the game's intricate aspects. Earlier this year WayForward released their game Shantae and the Pirate's Curse and now they're back. They have recently released Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, on the Xbox One, for the price of $19.99. Their previous release was met with great praise. So, has WayForward delivered another enjoyable platformer, or have any dreams of a quality game sunk before we take flight?

For those who haven't played the previous game, the series involves the adventures of a Half-Genie female who was hired to protect a town. In this adventure you are awoken, in a sort of dream realm, where you encounter a mysterious spirit who vaguely informs you of grave danger ahead, and only you have the power to prevent the future catastrophe from happening. Then it's gone, just as quickly as it appeared, and you find your character waking in her bed and trying to decide if what she experienced was real or not.

Heading into the town (in the game silly) you'll get a sense of the game's control and notice how simplistic, yet precise, some of the inputs are. Your character, Shantae, still has her infamous hair whip, and of course the dancing does return. Shantae uses her belly dancing skills for multiple reasons, such as transforming into various animals, each one providing special moves and abilities, and using magical spells designed to help her throughout each level. This time around though, there are a total of 12 different dances to learn, so with only seven stages you will find yourself replaying them over and over again should you wish to unlock everything Shantae: Half-Genie Hero has in store for you.

WayForward has managed to combine several elements of classic franchises into a method of platforming that provides countless hours of entertainment. This is thanks in no small part to the story. Normally you would think such repetition would be boring, and most of the time I'd agree with you, but Shantae: Half-Genie manages to add levity to the situation in multiple ways.

The humor injected into the storyline that prides itself in frivolity and whimsy instead of being dark, brooding and dramatic is one way the game adds this levity I speak of. Sure, there will be some serious elements, but overall the story is meant to be enjoyed with a smile on your face, and that is what you'll have. For example, in game you'll find yourself fighting Risky Boots and her pirates as she attacks you with her "Part Omni-Organic, Partially Titanic, Ocean-Optional Tinkerslug" or as Shantae calls it: POOP TOOT! Risky undoubtedly hates that name and thus a battle ensues. These types of comical moments can also be found throughout the levels themselves and go a long way to helping numb the boredom found replaying a level numerous times. Before I continue though, I have to address something about this game.

It looks beautiful. From the character modeling, the 2.5D painted backgrounds to the special effects and the animation, almost everything pertaining to the visual look of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is a sight to behold. You almost get the feeling that you're playing a retro game, yet through the perspective of a modern day HD console platform, and you are in a sense. All the classic platformers that have staked their claim to greatness have done so by trying to deliver a visual experience to match the game you're playing, and this game does just that through HD.

The visuals are complimented by a varied soundtrack that actually quite surprised me, but sadly it wasn't quite memorable as the iconic platformers of old. Keep in mind though, I didn't say how the soundtrack surprised me. Sure, each individual land provides its own unique music, however none of it is very memorable to the point where you'd see...ahem, hear yourself humming the tune. It's more of a hodge-podge of electric synths and guitars fitted with a more Persian/Arabian personality.

There's a lot to like about Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, a humorous storyline, beautiful graphics, and gameplay control that is solid as a rock. Without a doubt, this game checks many of the boxes that make up a phenomenal platformer, but while it checks many of them, it doesn't check them all. For instance, there are familiar faces that you'll encounter throughout your journey, but there aren't as many new experiences as I had hoped there would be. When you also take into account that there is a fairly limited amount of levels and that you'll spend more time replaying levels to unlock everything, and some may believe that WayForward seems to come up a bit short when it comes to packing content into this game (Super Mario Bros had 8 main levels). That being said, this game is truly amazing though. To see how something that was born from crowd funding that has blossomed into a fantastic platformer series is pretty neat. Would I spend $19.99 to buy Shantae: Half-Genie Hero? Despite the faults, yes I would, and so should you.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Steel Rain X

Having been born in the late 70's I've had the pleasure of growing up throughout the different variants of gaming for over 30 years. There is one genre though that seems to stay as constant as the North Star, and that would be the side scrolling shooter games. Back in the day we had classics like R-Type that showed us what an alien onslaught looked like and how to upgrade our ship to do incredible things. These types of games were the foundation of what we know today. Developer Polarity Flow has released Steel Rain X on the Xbox One for the price of $9.99, and my biggest question to this would be does it do enough to revitalize the genre to warrant its' price tag?

The story of Steel Rain X is one we have seen countless times before. Humanity has collapsed and we must seek to the stars to ensure our survival. Along the journey, multiple frigates come into contact with an alien species named the Xenox (not to be confused with the copy company Xerox). Hopeful of peaceful contact, humans were caught off guard and out of the three Frigates that were dispatched only one survived the attack by the Xenox. This lone Frigate escaped to an isolated planet where scientists manage to find a way to adapt and utilize the enemy weaponry for human use. From here this weapon became an adaptable starship, and at the same time, humanity's last hope for survival. While this may sound intense for a story, the way it's laid out before you in the game itself is rather disappointingm but the plus side though is that these types of games never focus on their stories at all and instead focus on screen filling action, which I'm happy to say is the case here, despite a few hiccups along the way.

The controls take some getting used to. The Left Stick moves your ship around while the X, Y, and B buttons all correspond to your ship's firing formation, which are aptly named A, B, C. Your Right and Left Bumper, along with Left Trigger, all utilize power-ups that you collect throughout the mission or purchase from the store. Each firing mode offers its own identity in terms of firing pattern, strength, armor piercing abilities, and more. Throughout the missions, as you collect the various color upgrades, your ship and it's corresponding firing pattern will grow and intensify. Once you have the firing positions down though, you'll quickly find various colors will become your preferred choice.

Now that we've established that there will be a learning curve with the controls, let's talk about the learning curve with the real soul of Steel Rain X, the RPG elements. Imagine incorporating an element that would be reminiscent of Sim City in a side scrolling shoot 'em up game and that's what you have here. Once you beat the 3 stages on a planet you can send down a probe to colonize it (for a small fee of course). When the probe lands you will see the space open up to you and this is the land from which you will have to work with. Once colonized, you must first build housing for your civilians and then you will need power, so you will end up building a power plant. Once you have these two amenities you can start to look into developing other buildings such as a science lab, trade depot, manufacturing plant, and so much more. Through here you'll have to manage power consumption, resource development, and research progress.

There are a few tips I learned after playing for a while and that is start by focusing on building trade depots and science buildings. The reason for this is that Steel Rain X has a massive 3 column upgrade system that takes time to upgrade each node, and the more science buildings you have, the less time each upgrade takes. I managed to get one of the top tier nodes from 2 hours and 30 minutes down to just 12 minutes. But there is a problem that I found in the game, and that is the fact that the countdown timer is not accurate. Every second in the game is equivalent of 2 seconds in real life, so if you read that it takes 9 min to upgrade a node, expect 18 minutes of real time instead. There are a few other issues with the construction as well. Sometimes I would have 8/12 civilians assigned to a task, I'd build a trade depot which costs me 2 civilians, so now I'm at 10/12 assigned. I would destroy the trade depot and I would still show 10/12 assigned and some options that require more civilians were blanked out. This happened on more than one occasion and it appears that the game has a hard time even managing its own resources.

Another gripe that came into both the researching and the building menu is the pin point blue dot that is used as your selecting tool. This small dot is about the size of a point of a pen, really, it is, and it moves around the screen INCREDIBLY slow, so once you've found your dot, moving it to where you want is a chore on its own. The same goes for the research screen, however the background and the majority of the colors in this screen are the exact same color as this minuscule blue dot, so finding it is next to impossible, and once you find it, maneuvering the dot to select what you want to research is a straight up pain. I wish I could say that this is the end of it, but it's not. Not by a mile.

There are other options to pursue such as upgrades that you can purchase with coins, or building prototypes to help improve your ships, and even trading resources to buy Xenox materials for advanced weaponry. You can naturally setup your own self-sustaining system through proper building, but any and all upgrades will come only when you level up your cores, and even then you're forced into the research trees to gain access to the top tier upgrades. My issue here is trading. When you start trading you can select how much material you want; however, you cannot pick just 1 for whatever reason. You press right on the D-Pad and the numbers start to skyrocket almost instantly. I think the lowest I could ever select was 2, so plan on taking a very long time to try and fine tune just how much you want to trade. I found this process very tedious and worthless when I started to form camps that were self-sustaining.

After going through the various menus I dove into the campaign missions since my only other options were Arcade and Survival. It was here that I saw that the graphics of Steel Rain X weren’t groundbreaking beautiful, but they definitely weren’t a total disaster. Most of the time I found myself too caught up in dodging screen filling enemy fire to concentrate on the mediocre backgrounds or the decent model for the enemy ships and their variants. The sound though was nothing but a synth heavy techno blast of looped sounds that drove me up the wall. Listen, I get that they were looking for energy, but this was just way too much. I ended up turning the music down completely. It's a shame but sadly the graphics and sound don't do much to help this game along.

One aspect that I found well done was the difficulty slider that ranged from 1-10 which dramatically changed the entire feel and experience of Steel Rain X, and then if that weren't enough, the game offers up a Hardcore mode for that extra "oomph" when it comes to throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you. There were other touches as well that stood out, such as the ability to select either the main story missions, orbital patrol missions, side missions, your upgrades and more, all from the mission screen. This was a blessing because I didn't have to start switching in and out of many different menus and the mission screen acted as an almost secondary hub to the hangar.

A mixed bag of both good and bad, Steel Rain X tries to bring a new evolution into the world of shoot 'em up side scrolling games with its take on the RPG elements. Sadly, while the idea was well conceived, the execution could have been better. That being said, would I pay $9.99 for this? Of course I would. Like a kitten that is "not so cute" at birth, Steel Rain X is one of those games that you know is faulty and flawed, but it provides so much enjoyment that you can't help continue playing with it. For the price it's a fairly good value for money, and if you like shoot 'em up games then this title is most likely calling your name.

Overall Score: 7.4 / 10 Sky Force Anniversary

Growing up in arcades when I was younger, my quarters loved to find the machines that were classic top down scrolling shooters. I would waste hours upon hours shooting for top scores (editors note: pun intended), stacking quarters on the side for next game, etc. I had a chance to relive those glorious moments of my yesteryear with Sky Force Anniversary, out now on the Xbox One.

Originally released in 2004 by Infinite Dreams, Sky Force has seen numerous releases on numerous platforms throughout the years it has existed, and then in 2014 Sky Force Anniversary launched, and it too has seen release on various platforms.. Now almost 3 years later, this top down shooter comes to the Xbox One for the low price of $9.99. So after a decade, is there enough polish on this release to warrant a purchase?

Over the many, many years of gaming, top down shooters have always been sort of a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and when certain releases come out that are done incredibly well, they are herald as a resurrected force for many childhood memories. When Sky Force launched it received much praise for its quality work, and thankfully we see this here today as well with the "Anniversary" edition.

Sky Force Anniversary essentially boils down to you fighting a bad guy in a very big plane, but to get to him you'll need to tackle 9 levels of increasing intensity first. These games have really never been much about story and plot lines, but rather focused on screen filling action, a tense white knuckle grip on the joysticks, and the repeated smashing of the fire button. Thankfully Sky Force Anniversary does just that in spades. This is in part to the control layout which is very easy to pick up and play.

There is an opening sequence that will get you acclimated to Sky Force Anniversary's controls and mayhem. The Left Stick controls your ship while the Right Trigger fires your weaponry, and so on. This means that you don't have to split your focus between a screen filled with laser fire and a series of confusing and complicated menus. From there you'll see that the first level helps get you adjusted to the unending repetition that you will find throughout the rest of the game. Sky Force Anniversary is built around the premise that you shoot everything you can, then scroll forward and do it some more. You keep this simplistic pattern going until you come across an end boss, or the end area of the level, then you rinse and repeat. While some would say that this would be incredibly boring, I'd almost say that I agree with you; however, you soon realize that Sky Force Anniversary will hook you like a drug. Let me explain why.

See, most companies have issues creating a game that offers replayability, especially in this genre. This is why a lot of successful shooters are focused only on multiplayer, because you have to find a way to keep gamers playing even after they beat the main game. Sky Force Anniversary's hook is that it somewhat forces you to collect stars throughout your levels which act as your currency to spend on upgrading your ship. This means you can replay missions over and over again if they yield a high star output and you can then start building and crafting your ship and its upgrades into an incredible force of power. This feature plays right into the game's own trophy system where each level rewards you for certain things, like rescuing all the people in a level, destroying 100% of the enemies in a level, or even avoiding any damage in a level. While tasks that seem menial at first will quickly become very challenging should you decide not to upgrade your ship. However, in the middle of this, there is an issue or two to be dealt with.

One of the big issues with the upgrade system is the system itself. Let me give you an example. Let's say you want to put side guns on your craft (everyone loves more guns). Well that's great but it will set you back 900 stars to put them on. Then if you want to upgrade them you have to start paying in incremental increases of stars. The first upgrade will set you back 90, then 135, then 180, and so on, and by the time you get that stat maxed out, you will have sunk numerous hours just doing the same thing in tremendous repetition. When you factor all the upgrades themselves, and their initial start cost, and then upgrade cost, Sky Force Anniversary will have you hooked for weeks if you want to upgrade everything. But even though you'll be grinding harder than Miley Cyrus, you'll at least be having and enjoyable experience. This is thanks to the whole "Anniversary" touch.

As we've come to expect in today's world, when a company throws around the words like "Anniversary" you get the sensation that things might be improved upon. We saw inklings of this when games like Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary released, and Sky Force Anniversary is no different. There is a tremendous amount of visual improvement to where Sky Force is quite visually stunning. Even though there are only 9 levels, each one is done with a beautiful coat of paint and overhaul. This treatment also continues to every facet of the game, from the aircraft to weapon effects, all of which deserves high praise, for it truly is tremendous work. To accompany this graphical accomplishment Sky Force Anniversary sports an energetic, blood pumping, electronic, retro synth heavy soundtrack that will pulse throughout every mission and help keep the intensity driving.

For $9.99 there's no question that Sky Force Anniversary is a highly welcomed game on the Xbox platform. Infinite Dreams has done a great job providing quality entertainment that will literally make any extra time you thought you had disappear. Although I wish there were more variety within the game, overall Sky Force Anniversary is a must have game if you enjoy these classic top down shooters and it is a one of the better investments you can make for $9.99 on the Xbox One.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Furi

You awaken to find yourself locked in a prison and doomed to be tortured for all eternity. You struggle to break free only to realize that in order to gain your freedom you must press onward until you finally escape. This is the vague opening to Furi, an title developed by The Game Bakers. Priced at $19.99(USD), this indie game seems like a mix of Tron, Afro Samurai, and El Shaddai all rolled up into one intense and explosive boss fight after another. So can this indie title slash a hole in your wallet, or are there better places where you can spend your $20?

You should know that Furi is setup like a multi-staged boss fight. Similar to the very core that we've seen even from old movies such as The Game of Death, Furi begins with you imprisoned for some unknown reason and all you observe is your jailer reveling in their joy of torturing you repeatedly. You feel that all hope is lost when all of s sudden, out of nowhere comes a character dressed like they are straight out of an Alice in Wonderland movie on bad acid trip. Somehow he seems to free you, effortlessly, and also arms you with a sword that, when wielded in your hands, becomes a charged blade of pure energy. As you stagger slowly to your feet your told that you have to go and kill your Jailer, and that's when the game unfolds before you.

You learn that the prison you currently inhabit is but one of 12 prisons that have been put in place to prevent your escape. With that in mind, I should warn you that you should be prepare yourself to die, a lot. Furi is nothing more than a simplistic hack and slash game that has been stripped to its core to provide an incredibly frustrating experience, yet it is an incredibly rewarding one all at the same time. Each boss battle is setup in an identical manner. While the attacks vary in style, force, and other areas, the similarities equate to a simple test of your ability to press the right buttons at the right time. Oh, but it's not so simple. As you progress you'll rapidly become in love with your dodge ability, and if you want to have any chance at success you will have to learn how to parry, almost constantly.

Thanks to a very simplistic control scheme, Furi becomes more of a reflex exercise. You'll start out by walking incredibly slow between each encounter and during this time if you press the A button you will auto walk. This can cut down on the tediousness of each stroll as you can literally just set the controller down for your brief moment of Zen, but there are some instances where walking on your own can be a benefit. Granted it will take what seems like eternity to move at a snail's pace, but there are achievements that can be earned and an essentially meaningless dialogue to be heard, but once you've walked your way to the arena, it's time to fight.

Each boss fight begins with your character, and the opposing boss, having a health bar, and below this health bar you'll see small squares which I simply regard as lives. The rules are simple; attack the boss until their health bar is depleted and they will lose one of their 'life' squares. Once all the lives are gone the battle is over. Things seem simple on the outside, however, when you dive deeper into the game you'll see an exponential learning curve that will constantly alter and adapt to your current boss fight. What I mean by this is that your opponent at the time will change up attacks and expand their arsenal, so you must also adapt on the fly. For example, should you lose a life, you will start with full health on the boss stage you were just in, so if you die on the boss' 3rd life stage, then that's where you start again with both of you having full health. Given how many times your character will die; you'll be thankful for this.

Despite all the simplicity of the game, Furi looks beautiful. As I mentioned earlier, Furi looks like a hybrid of Tron, Afro Samurai, and El Shaddai all wrapped into one beautiful package. Each level is very well is done in its own unique beautiful way including those times when you find yourself making meaningful progress between fights. During these moments you'll also be treated to an electronic, energetic score that helps keep the energy up, where it needs to be, but yet it is not so overpowering or in your face. Granted the voice acting is far from entertaining, but the overall feel of both graphics and sound are true experiences in their own right.

So after all this, is Furi worth the $19.99 price tag? Sadly, I'm going to say no. When you break it down you're paying $19.99 to go on 12 boss fights and that's it. Nothing more, nothing less. 12 fights for 20 bucks. When you couple that with a tremendously lackluster story, some of the slowest walking in gaming history, and the sheer shallowness of Furi itself, I'd say a better price would be $14.99 tops, or a must buy at $9.99. If you're looking for a game that will give you ample frustration mixed with tremendous excitement, then Furi could be on your list. Don't get me wrong, Furi is a beautiful game to behold that can be a frustrating one to play, and it is a satisfying one to master, but the price of admission seems a bit too high for what you get as a whole package.


Overall Score: 7.7 / 10 Steep

Picture yourself riding in a helicopter through the Alps up to the summit of The Matterhorn. As you disembark from the helicopter you feel, and hear, the crunch of the fresh powdery snow beneath your boots. Your helicopter disperses and there you are, alone on the top of the mountain listening to the wind howl you feel your adrenaline start to pump. Off in the horizon you see the sun start to creep above the horizon and you watch as the mountains in the Alps twinkle like diamonds as their snow catches the sun's rays for the first time. You check your wingsuit one last time, say a quiet prayer, take a deep breath, and then you jump into the expansive world of Steep.

This is the world that Ubisoft Annecy have painstakingly worked to create, and like the mountain range itself, upon first look it can be a bit overwhelming. Sectioned off in a specific part of the Alps, Steep combines some of the most iconic mountains such as Mont Blanc, The Matterhorn, and more into one titanic snow filled sandbox. Priced at $59.99(USD), Steep prides itself on giving you full control over the mountain while delivering one exhilarating experience after another. However, Steep also aims to deliver an incredible simulation experience instead of an over the top arcade adventure. So, is Steep the winter wonderland playground you've always dreamed about or does fall like an avalanche speeding down the side of a mountain?

If you're expecting some form of story within Steep then you're going to be sadly disappointed. Steep is broken up into numerous events scattered throughout the mountain range, but first you must go through the tutorial which can be incredibly vague at times making you become part snowboarder and part Sherlock Holmes when it comes to figuring out what to do next. Events take place over four categories, which are snowboarding, skiing, wing suiting, and paragliding. Each of these events come with varying difficulties as well as tasks that you must complete to achieve either bronze, silver, or gold medals. There are some randomly scattered story missions that don't really pertain to any locked in plot structure; they almost feel like they are called "story" just to say that there are story elements within the game.

One thing you'll discover as you navigate through the tutorial is the simple fact that mission selection is one of the most complex and annoying tasks you will find in any game to date. To access the mountain overview you have to hold the B button down which will result in a spatial view of the Alps. Here you trudge through using a small disc selection tool that allows you to navigate all over the mountains and select items from your own trail to events and more. Again, this sounds good until you go through it and realize that it's aggravatingly slow and cumbersome. You would think that there would be a button you could press to bring up a list of available events that you've uncovered and that you could sort them by event type, difficulty and more, but you'd be wrong. Instead you start to almost feel like Ray Charles trying to navigate the mountains just to find one simple run to click on. I could easily see this being perfect for those who use a mouse on a PC, but on the Xbox One controller this is an incredible pain that will stay with you throughout your entire Steep experience.

Once you have a small understanding of how the mission system works you'll need to find more runs within the mountain range. In order to find various other locations on the mountain to unlock you must press LB to bring up your binoculars and then spend a ridiculous amount of time looking along the mountain range until you hear a chime and see a series of dark grey stripes which indicate a new event zone. Once you have found a location you have to zoom it into focus with your binoculars and pray that you're close enough to unlock it, but if not, then you'll have to find a way to get close enough. I found that an easy way to do this was, while you're in binocular mode, press the RS and create a user generated point of interest. I learned to do this after I found a zone but was too far away and I decided to paraglide towards it, but ended up forgetting where it was when I landed. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself so let's get back to the tutorial.

The tutorial is also a prime way to get you used to Steep's simulation and physics engines, which at times will make you want to smash your virtual snowboard in two, or cut your own lines on your paraglider. This is thanks to the g-forces that the game tries to judge and simulate on your rider, which sounds good in theory, but it fails miserably in execution. Numerous times I would be riding down the mountain and go over a small jump and my character would crash from the simulated g-force. There were even times when I went over a small patch of mountain that was smooth but not snow covered and instantly my g-force meter went off the charts and my character seemed to get hit with MAX G's as he seemingly collapsed and crashed down the mountain. Now, I can understand something like that should I be boarding down a mountain side at full speed and slam right into a tree, but a little textured patch shouldn't cause the same impact. I can comprehend why someone would think programming a g-force detection system would be a good idea, but I can also discern why something like this needs to be perfected in order to be of any use.

Steep does allow you to try to pull of some tricks; however, the physics engine is unpredictable at best and at its' worst it is name swearing bad. Everything seems tranquil and simplistic on the surface, but when you get into the depths of the controls you're in for a totally different ride. For example, if you want to jump you're required to hold down the RT to crouch and prepare for a jump, then when you hit a designated distance from the lip of the jump you're supposed to release the RT and your character, in theory, will take off from the powder and launch skyward into the air. This is singlehandedly the biggest problem with Steep, as the the area you need to release RT varies between jumps and there's no setting to select where you could have such zones included as part of your HUD. This would have solved a lot of problems, but since it's not included you essentially have to play a guessing game that ends in one of three ways. Either you miraculously hit your jump and soar through the air majestically, you time your jump early and go right into the jump itself crashing away, or the 3rd result is that you time your jump late and end up not jumping at all and just sort of fall over the ramp and crash into the mountain below.

Should you somehow make it into the air on a jump you can do tricks with the LS by pressing it left, right, up, or down. You will start to rotate or flip, but you have to make sure you time your release of the LS otherwise you'll go crashing into the snow below. Should you feel risky and decide to add a grab into the jump, just hit your LT or RT while in the air and you should grab the board, but as would be expected, you need to time your release otherwise, you guessed it, you crash. So, now that I've established the fact that jumping and doing tricks are about as easy to do as walking on water, and that the g-force meter is not well implemented, you can see the trend here. If you fail at almost anything you do then you'll end up a rolling ball of snow. Not really a shining beacon of enjoyment considering this is the game's primary function.

Steep is somewhat salvaged though thanks to the replay function it incorporates. Should you careen to your death you can just retry over and over and over again. Another bonus of this feature is that it's instant, so there isn't any loading that has to take place over and over again. I can honestly say that if it weren't for this feature I'd given up a long, long time ago. Get ready to repeat and retry more than you ever thought you could because even when you think you have the learning curve mastered Steep will always find a way to keep you on your toes and remind you that the mountain always wins.

Ubisoft Annecy has included seamless drop in and drop out multiplayer and surprisingly it works well. It works so flawlessly that during one play session I hit the replay function only to discover that at the beginning of my run someone else was standing literally on my head. While this is a nice concept, and I'm glad that it's included, I find that enjoying the mountains alone is perfect for me. And when I say enjoying the mountains that's because Steep is simply beautiful to look at and behold.

From standing on top of a mountain you can change the time of day with the d-pad, and every visual element is done with a masterful precision to detail. The lighting and snow effects are on a level never before experienced, and you can tell that this is where the bulk of the performance went to, and I'm actually thankful that they did this. Pulling up and stopping while on a snowboard and watching the powder spray and the small packets of snow trickle down from your landing area that carve out their own paths is incredibly life like.

Unfortunately the same can't be said for the soundtrack. Right from the opening screen the sound effects gives Steep an aura of majesty. It hits you that you're about to go one on one with a mountain that has claimed countless lives, so be ready. This ambience is incredible and then it all goes downhill when you hear the tunes that have been selected to play in-game. While the ambient soundscapes provide a wonderful backdrop, hearing the same tune repeated over again when you hit the replay function on any of the events drove me up the wall so much so that I ended turning the sound off.

Steep is a beautiful package that unfortunately, once opened, gives you more hassle and trouble than you may imagine. If you're thinking of trying to get gold medals on every challenge I wish you the best of luck because you're going to need it. While not most of the gameplay itself is far from perfect, Steep is the genesis of extreme snow experiences from Ubisoft Annecy. A revamped g-force system, tweaked physics engine, improved handling and better UI are some of the major things that hamper the gameplay experience. If they can make changes and improvements in these areas it could really bring Steep to a quality similar to those found in other simulation sports games. It's clear though that Ubisoft Annecy has potential to deliver an amazing gameplay experience, so I'm hopeful that we see more improvements from Steep in the future.

Suggestions:
1. Revamp the g-force system.
2. Tweak your physics engine.
3. Improve the handling.
4. Please make a better UI.
5. Look into ironing out minor glitches and bugs.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Dwarves, The

Action RPG games, if done right, can provide countless hours of joy and entertainment. THQ Nordic has tossed its hat into this ring with their latest attempt called The Dwarves. Priced at just under $40 plus tax, The Dwarves walks a fine line between overpriced budget beater and something that feels like it needs a bit more time to iron out the kinks and make the game better. I thought to myself, "Oh we got Dwarves, Elves, and Orcs, so this should be at least decent given all the quality source material to use as inspiration." And then I played the game and realized that sometimes, even with a multi-billion dollar, award winning blueprint to inspire you, like the Dwarves themselves, that THQ Nordic struggled to deliver as I'd hoped. Let me explain.

Dwarves starts out as a classic Orc versus Dwarf battle for passage through the gates of Girdlegard. It's during this first battle that you come to grips with the game's control, and I'm sorry to say it isn't that impressive. On the bottom left of the screen you will see not only your health, but your power meter as well. This is the meter which you draw upon to activate your abilities. You'll learn quickly since there really is no tutorial that your X button will become your best friend. I almost married mine. The X button allows you to pause the game to input your commands, so right away you can see some real time strategy elements playing throughout the game. Then you have to use the D-pad to select your ability and it's here that you'll notice a required number of points that your skill deducts from your power meter. But the simplicity continues.

For example, your standard command input will go as follows. You use the Left Stick to navigate to your enemy, then when you are up close you press X to pause the time, then select which ability you want to use on the D-pad. You'll then press the A button to accept your command choice and press X to resume time in the game and watch your actions unfold. The B button acts as your cancel button should you need it, but one thing to consider is that friendly fire is on. So when you hit your leap ability to jump deep into the nest of Orcs, just remember should any fellow allies be within your landing, you will cause damage to them as well. There's no option for turning this off but thankfully your health can naturally regenerate over time, so long as you're not getting hit. The control scheme doesn't have an attack button because the Dwarves will automatically attack their enemies if they are within range, which is disorienting considering you almost have to stand still if you wish to deal any damage at all to your opponents.

With your regular melee attacks dealing only so much damage, Dwarves focuses on your ability to manage your power meter through your use of your abilities. These abilities can consist of a mighty swing of the Axe that clears the line of foes in front of you by knocking them back, or jumping into the fray by landing with a thud that causes damage to everyone in the surrounding area and knocks them down as well. These abilities all take a certain amount of power from your meter and thankfully you can recharge the meter by causing damage, killing an opponent, or just simply wait while it charges back up. When you start to gather your party together you can also use the Left and Right Bumpers to switch in between your other members and cue up any abilities they may have. Your Right Trigger and Stick control the camera and zoom of the game, but that's something I'll touch on here in a moment.

Now that you’re up to speed on the control mechanics, I have to say that it's unfortunate that the plot leaves a lot to be desired. The Alfar, who are essentially evil Elves, have teamed up with the Orcs and they forcibly assault the gates of Girdlegard, and after ages and ages of the door holding fast, it's opened. Now the Orc armies rage war over the various lands and their inhabitants. You play the role of Tungdil, who is a Dwarf but was raised up by humans. During this upbringing you were taught how to read and write, so even though you may be married to a forge, Tungdil loves to learn about everything. Early on you are sent out on a quest and throughout your journeys you come into contact with around 50 distinct characters. Over time you can build up your own team of up to 12 companions which will make fighting the ceaseless hordes of Orcs that much easier, however, being that this is based off the series of books by a German author named Markus Heitz, you get the sensation that the story seems rather drawn out.

The reason I say this is because when you play The Dwarves, you will easily notice how colossal the map truly is. All the areas to explore and places to travel will open up their secrets over time but you'll spend most of the time moving from point to point making choices. This is why I STRONGLY recommend you save a LOT. Sometimes choices you make may or may not have unintended consequences. Saving also helps should you encounter a battle you can't seem to pass and you need to reload and chose a different path choice. The game does Auto Save, however, not often enough and if you're not careful you could lose a lot of progress.

Now even though the map may be enormous, the visual representation of the lands and the characters themselves are done surprisingly well. That is until you decide to move the camera or the characters and the screen will start to tear. What really struck me by surprise was how the loading screens in the beginning few stages experienced a screen tear that had a yellow streak going from the top right corner to the bottom left corner (the loading screen is also rather lengthy I may add). Aside from the numerous screen tears, when the game switches into a cutscene you see some wonderfully detailed figures, however, the graphics engine can't handle it and it starts to almost look like stop motion animation than smooth and textured CG. I found in terms of the audio that I was pleasantly surprised with the music as the soundtrack seemed to catch my ear then hold my attention throughout the game itself. I also found myself enjoying the voice acting and while there were moments that felt overplayed, the overall voice acting was a solid win for this game.

Having devoted lots of hours into this game I can say that The Dwarves provides a lot of content, but not a lot of meaningful content. It is definitely a game that will drain hours upon hours of your life away, but I felt that the more I played it, the less I actually wanted to. The story never fully grasped me. When I think about it, I spent about 70% of my time moving between points on a map, about 20% of my time watching loading screens, 8% of the time exploring and fighting, and about 2% of the time I was watching cutscenes. At the end of the day I wish The Dwarves would have improved the story, fixed some of the visual mishaps, and improved the loading issues, because I was hoping I could score this higher, but given some of the hiccups with the game I think you can find better gaming out there for the price of this one. Only die-hard fans of the genre need apply.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Darksiders: Warmastered Edition

Since the birth of man there have been tales of Heaven and Hell and the battle that is supposedly waiting to commence. The now defunct publisher THQ originally started their tale of this conflict with the game series Darksiders. Released almost seven years ago, Darksiders was a game that took people by surprise and it became a sleeper hit that rapidly developed a large cult following. Even though it wasn't marketed with the same steamrolling style as Battlefield, Call of Duty, Mass Effect, Halo, or any other triple A games, an overwhelming majority of those who played it will say they absolutely loved it given it's original story and main protagonist. Former publisher THQ had a hit on their hands.

Now, after a tumultuous past few years, with the closing of THQ and the formation of THQ Nordic, we have seen the reintroduction of the Darksiders series on the Xbox One. Oddly enough the sequel, Darksiders II, was released before the original, but hopefully the added capital gained during this time will mean more amazing things for the future of this I.P. Being that I didn't do the original review I must confess that this will be my viewpoint in this writing. Clocking in at $19.99 THQ Nordic has already hit a massive goal and I'll get to that in a minute, but for now, on to the review.

For those who have never played Darksiders before it tells the tale of the fragile truce between Heaven and Hell and the Charred Council who preserve the balance and peace between realms. During this time a 3rd kingdom emerged, which was the kingdom of man. Eager to gain an advantage in the celestial struggle, both sides fight with humanity stuck in the middle to suffer. This is when the Charred Council stepped in and sealed a truce between the realms and solidified it with 7 seals, and if these seals were eventually broken they would summon forth the call of the riders of the apocalypse who would descend upon the Kingdom of Man and judge both Heaven and Hell accordingly.

That is the premise to Darksiders, and in this original installment you get to play as War. He is one of the four summoned riders of the apocalypse, but there is a problem. According to the Charred Council the seventh seal hasn't been broken and War has apparently acted on his own as he was sent to the Kingdom of Man. To atone for his sin War must lay siege to the 'Destroyer' who has already started attacking humanity. How could a rider be summoned if the seals weren’t broken? Why would a call come forth if the balance was still kept? Who would try to manipulate the riders of the apocalypse and for what reason? These are but some of the questions that will be answered in the story, which is why it should never be spoiled for fresh eyes. Trust me, you'll thank me later.

One of the reasons that Darksiders became such a hit is the gameplay mechanics. Using a straightforward but simplistic layout, Darksiders manages to bring a solid feel to the game experience. Sure, you have your basic hack and slash attacks, but the ability to switch from auto-locking onto an enemy to independently targeting the field in front of you, allowing you to freestyle hack at anything that moves near you, can all be done seamlessly with very little jarring between transitions, making abilities easy to use through your sub-menus. These powers not only require something called wrath to utilize, but look absolutely devastating, but I'll touch on that in a moment. The gameplay is enhanced by some light RPG elements where you can upgrade your move set, weapon damage, health, wrath, etc. Despite having to get used to the camera all over again, these elements combine to make Darksiders an enjoyable experience from beginning to end.

Now, Darksiders plays well, but one aspect that will stand out simply because of its quality is the voice acting. War comes off as a stoic judge of righteousness who will always get to the point in a conversation. However, throughout the game you will encounter demons and angels that help bring this whole story to life in a way that was absolutely incredible given the game is almost seven years old. Speaking of the audio, War's demon companion is voiced by the legend Mark Hamill who does his iconic Joker voice and it fits the demon, and his mannerisms, brilliantly. Now, this game wears the title Darksiders Warmastered Edition and that is because THQ Nordic has released Darksiders with one massive overhaul, which is in the graphics.

Running now at 1080p 60fps this classic adventure masterpiece simply looks stunning. While the original was wonderful, this is a remaster that can be seen as setting the standard for how upgrading graphics should be done. New textures seem to blanket this game and the character modeling artwork really shines through in the higher resolution. One thing that did sort of strike me as odd though is that while the characters and overall graphics got a major steroid injection, the buildings found throughout the game seem unchanged, and it is almost like they don't fit or belong in this 'remastered' Darksiders world. While this minor detail is a setback, the new special effects found in using War's powers more than compensates for it.

Earlier on I said that THQ Nordic already hit a massive goal. Releasing a game that is almost seven years old, with the only major work being a graphic overhaul, the price had better properly reflect this fact, and for the Darksiders: Warmastered Edition it does. Worried that some other companies have released less and charged more, THQ Nordic have priced this gem at a sweet spot to solidify it as a must have. Yes, I know there is absolutely no extra content of any kind, and that only the visuals have received a facelift while the audio and gameplay feel untouched. The thing is though, THQ Nordic probably stared at the original game and thought if it works so well why should we mess with it? Undoubtedly, this Darksiders remastered game is most likely the best $19.99 you can spend on the Xbox One at this moment as you'll get a lot of enjoyment out of a game that is solid all around.

Suggestions: A complete overhaul of all audio elements would be nice, but it is not particularly necessary.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Watch Dogs 2

I'll say it, I loved the original Watch Dogs game. I know that this may start throwing some of you into an internet rage, but tough, it is what it is. Now Ubisoft has come out with its sequel, Watch Dogs 2, and not only has the location switched up, but so has the main character along with almost everything else. Now how can you change almost everything and expect to produce something of quality again? Does this new sequel pull off the "lulz" or should this be one to avoid?

As I just mentioned, I liked the original Watch Dogs game. I thought the story that was played out had merits of meaning and substance and centralized around a plot that had a beginning, middle, and end. In Watch Dogs 2 I don't get that same feeling. Gone are the meaningful nuances throughout the plot and instead replaced with a generic "I'm angry at the world" style hacktivism. Instead of something that would