Total Reviews: 37
Average Overall Score Given: 8.01351 / 10
Total Forum Posts: 114

Hellboy Web of Wyrd

I don’t know about you readers out there, but I must admit that I am a bit of a Hellboy fan. From Ron Pearlman’s two movies (2004 and 2008) to the reboot of the character in 2019 with David Harbour taking on the role of the devilish hero, each movie offers up a good time. Personally, I am a fan of Ron Pearlman’s version of Hellboy, given the humour that was included in each movie, but to each their own right? Well, now a game has hit the Xbox platform for fans to enjoy. Hellboy Web of Wyrd is a game that harkens to the animated movies in terms of visuals and story. I guess this makes sense given it is a video game. This roguelike brawler does have some enjoyment within, but you’ll have to look past a few flaws to really, fully enjoy it.

The story in Web of Wyrd takes place during the Falklands conflict which began in April 1982. Although Hellboy, and the rest of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) are not involved in the actual conflict that took place, you will be heading into psychically spiked versions of different places within the world, and these areas are known as Wyrds, hence the title of the game. Your goal during the third person based 10-12 hour campaign is to find out what is causing these psychic spikes that are spilling out into the different areas you must explore.

The story itself is not that bad. Sure, it won’t win any awards for the content and presentation, but there are a few twists and turns as you make your way through the game. I won’t spoil it, but as you feel like you are about to finish the game a plot twist occurs, the story continues, and you’ll have to go about exploring somewhat new areas while facing some new villains too. The best piece of advice I can give here is that as you go into Web of Wyrd, make sure it is with an open mind and open expectations.

Each area that you discover is basically a maze-like environment. While venturing throughout each you'll battle enemies, avoid traps, search for power-ups (called blessings), in-game currency, relics, and in-game lore, as well as seek out the area’s specific end boss. The power-ups that can be found help you with extra ammo, quick reloading, increased toughness (equivalent to a shield) or health, a chance for health to drop upon an enemy’s death, and a few more. All that is mentioned here is basically each area’s gameplay formula during the whole game. As you progress from one specific region to another, the level design grows in length and enemies are specific to where you are at the time.

Speaking of enemies, they are specific to each area you must explore. You’ll find that each level has traditional minion-like foes while there are four or five different larger and more powerful enemies in each. The latter have their own toughness meter that you must break to allow you to start to drain their health meter with your attacks (heavy, light, special, weapon based). Figure out their attack patterns, know when to attack or counterattack, and watch for the signals when to dodge. The bigger enemies also have attacks that cannot be blocked or dodged, but when you are about to get hit with one, running away to reset for battle is a possible way to avoid it. In many ways you will find the formula to be somewhat rinse and repeat; however, slamming enemies into walls or breakable objects didn’t get too old, as the sound of the crunching punch and inevitable enemy death was quite satisfying.

As you progress through the narrative that is presented, you will learn specific details about your homebase, which is in a house called ‘The Butterfly House’. It’s here you learn about the house itself, who the architect is that built such a structure, and more. You can also talk to your fellow NPCs to further the game’s story. Of course, it wouldn’t be a ‘homebase’ if you couldn’t purchase and upgrade a variety of weapons and charms, as well as your health, defence, and counter attacks, all which help our trench coat wearing hero kick some ass.

One of the biggest complaints that I have about Web of Wyrd is that there is not a whole lot of variation in gameplay mechanics. As you continue to play you will feel repetitiveness of the gameplay formula. You’ll also have to farm for in-game currency a lot, and if you are like me, not too good (but not too bad) at roguelike games. I found myself repeatedly farming levels to get the currency needed to level up specific weapons, charms and character attributes. It paid off for me, but probably added more playtime to my experience. I truly believe that those who are fans of the genre and play a lot of roguelike games will have an easier time than me.

Another complaint I have is the fact that there is no in-game map. You will find yourself, as I did, backtracking often to find a missed item. You’ll then need to make your way back original point. While making your way back, by memory, one wrong turn and you’ll find yourself lost and needing to just explore more to get to the right point where were left to move forward. Maybe this was a developer decision to extend the actual gameplay length, but it was annoying to say the least.

A final quirk worth noting is that Web of Wyrd’s control scheme is unique to say the least. You’ll find that the assigned buttons for various actions (e.g. gunplay, special abilities, dodging, etc.) don’t feel as natural as one would hope. To compensate for this, there is an option in the menu to remap the games assigned buttons, but still, trying to take on the game the way the developers envisioned it with the default control scheme feels kind of weird. Yes, I know this is a very tedious thing to complain about, but hey, it’s the way I felt when playing.

Web of Wyrd’s overall presentation is more positive then negative, but it does have its limitations. I really appreciated the cell-shaded artwork that the game is uses. From Hellboy and his overcoat, his stubby horns and oversized fist to the various environments that one explores, including the enemies that populate each one. Animations of all characters were smooth, fluid and without any major issues. The visuals draw-in more then I would have liked to see, but it is not jarring, and I did hit some slowdown two times during my playthrough, but given this is all I noted regarding any issues with the visuals, it’s not that bad at all.

The voice acting that helps tell the story of Web of Wyrd is very solid. A lot of hurrahs have been made regarding the voice of Hellboy being played by the late Lance Reddick, but it doesn’t take away from all the other voice actors. I found it somewhat ironic that one of the main NPCs is voiced by Mara Junot, who is currently the voice actor of Ikora in Destiny 2. As her and Lance Reddick converse throughout the game it is immediately identifiable who she is. The rest of the voice cast manage to do a fairly good job, but Lance Reddick’s Hellboy lines are very notable given he is the main character. I didn’t like the fact that during the times when you were talking to NPCs, or an enemy was talking, no one’s mouth actually moved, and I do mean no one. It was a bit of a letdown as you hear the voice, see the subtitle, but you don’t see the mouth of anyone moving when they speak.

As for the rest of the audio, it is fairly strong and helps make the game what it is. The atmospheric music changes as you explore each area, and you’ll find it picking up or changing pace during certain situations. The mood of the music seems to fit the nature and settings of the game. Finally, the sound effects does a good job at conveying the environments and on-screen action. From the final punch of an enemy who flies into a column causing it to shatter and fall on themselves, to the eerie sounds of each area that is affected by psychic spikes, it all makes for an enveloping aural experience.

I have to say I went into Hellboy Web of Wyrd with zero expectations, even as a fan of the live action movies. I walked away after playing with the view that it is definitely not a bad title, but it’s not a great one either. The visuals are good, the voice acting is solid, and the gameplay has some merits, although the latter is affected by the rinse and repeat gameplay that does become quite repetitive. If you are looking for something different, or are a fan of that short horned, devilish hero, then it would be worth your time to check out Hellboy Web of Wyrd.

Suggestions: I truly think that this game deserves a sequel. Take the time to fully flesh out the universe, add some spice to the repetitiveness, and have some bigger levels and make this a series that could be wonderful.

Overall Score: 6.9 / 10 Overpass 2

I remember reviewing the first Overpass in 2020. Back then I thought the game had some potential even with some of its negative aspects. Well, fast forward to 2023, and Publisher Nacon has released Overpass 2. For those wondering, the game released back in October, and we got a review code; however, it slipped between the cracks for me and alas I am writing this review in December. I don’t remember seeing too many reviews out there for it, which is surprising given it is a game that shies away from most traditional racing games that are dominated by circuit, street, and rally racing.

Overpass 2 follows the same formula of the original game. It challenges you to drive on various courses and areas, either in a circuit-based track, point A to point B course, or a hill-climb, and all of the race types are filled with natural or man-made obstacles. You take control of fully licensed 4 wheeled buggies (UTVs) and 4 wheeled ATVs from the likes of Arctic Cat, Suzuki, Polaris and Yamaha as well as some custom Rock Bouncers. Although the goal is to finish first in each of the events there are other factors to take into consideration given the nature of the races. Some races can have specific paths that give you an advantage while others are meant to strictly stay on the only path and don’t crash. This is one of the bigger features of the game that I enjoyed, as it just wasn’t another race clone, racing other cars on streets or gravel roads to win.

Although it’s classified as a racing game, it also has a simulation component to it. You oversee your support team throughout the career mode, which is the meat of the title, via a “center of operations”. You’ll be managing staff and activities throughout each season. The focus will be on your calendar of events, research and development, sponsorship, emails (in-box), staff (hiring and firing), vehicle repairs (the garage), and more. It’s more complex than just picking events, fixing vehicles and choosing the right staff. For example, you will hire up to three staff per department (e.g. mechanics, meteorologists, researchers, etc.). To hire the staff, you must scout them which takes time, and once the appropriate time has passed you will eventually hire them for their specific skills and service(s) while firing others. The R&D department on the other hand oversees investigating and opening better equipment for your current vehicles and opening new and improved vehicles.

The one thing that is very evident in Overpass 2 is that you must maintain control of your vehicle (I know... DUH!). You’ll be racing on various forms of terrain, in different types of weather, and facing varying forms of obstacles. Should you misjudge an obstruction, corner, or just lose control of your vehicle as you’re driving too fast, you will flip, tip, or crash, and quite often too. This was one of the bigger frustrations of the game for me, as I truly felt that the 'luck of the video game gods' was in play during some of these moments. The consequences of these are such that you are penalized with time penalties that can make or break your event. Going through my notes that I took as I played, there were many times that I wrote in caps when facing this kind of situation, as it was totally out of my control a lot of the time. I can tell you though, given this set of circumstances that you must manage, when you win an event with little to no penalties, it is very rewarding.

Something that was interesting, and a step back somewhat for the game when compared to the original, was when using the ATVs. In the original game I remember being able to control my character by leaning certain ways to counter when the wheels were starting to come off the ground when I didn’t want them to. I even checked my initial review of the first game, and low and behold I noted that fact in it. This time around, there is no way to lean when using the ATVs, or at least I could not find any instructions or control schemes to do so. I also found that when racing in the various events that the vehicle collision detection was quite wonky. Something like a simple cactus, pylon or even a light on the side of a road could literally derail my race as I flipped and flopped when I believed I missed or just slightly grazed it.

Something that did carry over from the first game is your ability to control the traction of each vehicle, which is quite important. Switching from 4WD, 2WD and Differential Drive on the fly can make a difference. The ability to change your traction while racing is important, as you can get better grip when you need it or open it up to speed on straightaways. You wouldn’t think that this would be a feature you’d notice to be so functional, but it is.

As you make your way through the career mode you will earn EXP points which allow you to level up and earn skill points that you apply to a skill tree. There are six different areas, from research, race information, vehicle, simulation, currency, and scouting. Each of these skills are geared toward improving the experience, such as earning more money or EXP per event, having your vehicle better grip specific surfaces, or toughening up your vehicle’s body to take less damage during each event to such things as having a faster repair time, better weather analysis, better research and more. It is a detailed skill tree that can assist you in your overall racing and management of your team.

Overpass 2’s difficulty can be tough, particularly at the start when you don’t have access to better parts, equipment and/or vehicles. You will want to quit more than a few times, but if you persevere you will be able to start to find your way through your first season, acquiring the parts and vehicles that will enable you to do better. You’ll also find the game’s AI ruthless as they don’t have any vehicle awareness and will just plough into you at various times in the events. You will have to be very careful around them given their recklessness.

During your career mode, you will be tasked with various events like product demonstrations, show off events, extreme challenges, and training days. These events lead up to the main event, where you are required to race three separate events, one in each different vehicle. As you get used to the different events, you can choose to skip various ones through your season; however, you cannot skip the main event. You can simulate one of the three events within the main event though should there be something you don’t particularly excel at or find too frustrating. When I did simulate an event in the main event, the outcome was varied, as I could end up at the back of the pack while other time, I ended up in the top three of a specific challenge. It’s a nice touch, and given how the game plays, something I appreciated.

Should you wish a break from the career mode, there is a Quick Race and Multiplayer mode. Quick race is best defined by its title, as you can pick from any of the tracks and their corresponding environments and race. This mode is actually advantageous in such that it allows you to tackle a track that you may be struggling with in career mode, but without any penalty (e.g. failure to place high enough that it may affect overall career placement). As for multiplayer, I really wish I could comment on it, as I wasn’t able to join any matches online as there were no available matches to be found. You can play split-screen mode for multiplayer; however, the limit being the screen size as you are cutting your screen in half. It’s functional, but not something that I think those who want to play this style of game will enjoy as much.

In terms of the visuals in Overpass 2, there were times when I found myself very impressed, then an event or two later, I found myself disappointed. The game can look like it is indeed using the power of the Xbox Series X at times; however, other times you’ll question which machine your playing in the first place. This is very evident when in your base of operations. The garage looks Xbox 360’ish while the character models are just the same. Of course, I need to comment on the game’s vehicles, which are realistic. I have been ATV’ing a few times in my adult life, but I do admit I have never ridden in a UTV or Rock Bouncer. Regardless, the vehicles overall look true to the source, including some of the accessories that you will open as you progress through the game (e.g. light bars, bigger or smaller tires (tyres for you U.K. folk), changes and netting). Seeing a vehicle’s shocks and/or tires responding to the various terrain one will go over was cool and seemed to be what you’d expect.

When racing, you’ll find that the game can be beautiful at times, with night racing being noteable from the headlights of your vehicles to the pockets of fans around a fire or light source as you race by. Various terrains can look good too, from the lime-like rock mountains to the rocky courses found in various mountain valleys to the muddy and rainy events found in various fields and forests. There are some stunning environments and vistas to be seen. And although it sounds like I am more positive than negative in the visuals area, I do have to question some of the textures used, or assets presented when finding the instances of 'WTF is this I am seeing?'. I wonder if some of the original game’s visuals were carried over to this current game, but I can’t say for sure.

While the visuals were a mixed bag, the audio can best be defined as “okay”. The generic ‘metal’ soundtrack had me turning it right down, or even off, given its unappealing nature. The various vehicles do manage to sound different, and as you level them up and upgrade, you’ll hear a slight difference now and then. The sounds of the terrain, weather, and environments do make up a nice plethora of sounds, from wind blowing or a dust storm making its way through the environment to running creeks, waterfalls, or creaky boards of a raised wooden section of a track. You will even hear the cheers of the crowd when passing the various groups along the course. Make sure to keep your expectations manageable though, and you will find that you’ll enjoy the sound that Overpass 2 offers.

As with the first game, Overpass 2 is not what one would consider a traditional racing game given the events you participate in and the sim-like management of your team. You will be frustrated when you first start playing, even if you’ve gone through the tutorial, but push through and it gets somewhat better. Like the original, the foundations of something cool is here. I know when I reviewed the first game, I hoped that there would be a sequel with improvements in various areas, and although there are some, Overpass 2 still has annoyances that continue to hold the franchise back. The experiment of the first game continued with the release of a second, but the result is one that feels like it could have used more time. So, the major question is: “Dare I wish for a third kick at the can?”. In some ways yes, but they need to take the time to make improvements, or the third time could be unlucky.

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

Suggestions: This franchise truly deserves the time to be developed right, with little room for errors. Please, should you take a third kick at the can, take your time, fix the negatives, and make it the game it can be.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Tiny Troopers: Global Ops

I am always one for a lighthearted twin-stick squad-based shooter that doesn’t take itself seriously. First released in 2012 on mobile devices and simply titled Tiny Troopers, the franchise was released on console in 2016 as Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops on the Xbox One. Fast Forward to 2023, and the game has gotten a sequel, Tiny Troopers: Global Ops. It’s a simple game, but one that does require attention as you play. So how does this cartoonish styled game fair? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out.

Although there is a story to be found in Global Ops, it isn’t one that I would classify as a deep and engaging one, and given the overall presentation of the game, it makes sense. You are a recruit who has joined a special operative squad. You oversee up to three other AI controlled squad members as you and your fellow Tiny Troopers make your way through the individual and varied six campaigns (or theaters of war as the developer calls them).

During each of the campaigns there are a set number of missions to complete, all with their own mini story leading up to a final boss mission at the end. The adventure through each campaign is presented through static cut-scenes. The dialog is totally B-quality, which in my honest opinion I think was the thing they wanted to do, as it adds to the uniqueness of the game. There are bad puns often, some cringe voice acting, and limited visuals during these breaks in the action, but it seems to add to the light feeling of the game. If my assumption is wrong on this, I have to say sorry ahead of time, but this is indeed what I think.

Tiny Troopers: Global Ops will take as long as you’d like to complete, as there are different skill levels, many collectibles to search for, bonuses for completing side objectives and more. I found myself going through each campaign and changing the skill level for each mission as I opened each one up, trying to get a higher score in each. There is a total of 40 individual missions spread out over the game’s six campaigns. I found that as I played it had a slight addictiveness to it. When I looked at how much time I put into the game before writing this review, I was kind of shocked to see that it was just over 23 hours. As the price of entry is low at $25.99 (CDN) that is some good “bang-for-the-buck” so to speak.

Given that this game is a squad-based shooter, there is some squad management. During the times you are in your Special Ops HQ you will level up not only your own character, but those in your squad too. From health, weapon proficiency, different weapons and skills to how you look via various customization options for your head, torso, and legs. You can definitely make your squad your own, given there are more than a few military based outfits as well as those that are over the top (e.g. clown suits). As I previously mentioned, you can play with up to three AI soldiers in your squad and you must manage them and keep them alive during each campaign. If one of them meets their demise it’s game over for them, as they stay KIA. You will have to substitute new character and level them up all over again, which uses the in-game resources (EXP) you earn for each mission.

The in-game action is simple, as you use both analog sticks, one to move and one to aim. You can switch between primary and secondary weapons with ease, and you’ll find some power moves (e.g. first aid, super speed, etc.) down the right side of the screen assigned to various buttons on the controller. It’s not a hard game to play. If I had to be honest, the AI soldiers aren’t the brightest bunch, and you will have to keep a close eye on their health, as well as keep them near you to take care off. There were more than a few times that I wasn’t paying too much attention and one would die as I could not get to them in time to resurrect them. Of course, the combination of me not watching and the stupidity of the AI was my demise. It’s not a game breaker, but it is one thing that you should be aware of given that attention you need to pay to them. What I found myself doing when playing single player though is just going into missions with my own character, and not include any AI teammates. I was able to do get through many missions this way, and not have to worry about others.

For those looking for some multiplayer mayhem, we have some good news, as there is both couch co-op and online multiplayer. While the latter is doable, you will find that there are very few, to almost zero, people playing this online. Not all is lost though, as couch co-op for a game like this is perfect. Sitting down with friends and/or family playing on the same screen for some Spec Ops action is quite fun. Yelling at your those in the same room as you to catch up or cover you is a blast, and harkens back to those games of yesteryear before the world wide web was developed and consoles went online. And besides, it’s easier to blame someone in the same room for your characters untimely death then just yelling at the computer AI.

The overall presentation is one that is pleasing to the eye, given it leans more on the cartoonish side of things. Each campaign has a different look to it, be it fighting in the desert, through mountainous valleys, or making your way across an enemy airport to name a few. You won’t get bored by the same visuals through the whole game which is nice. Character models are very much on the cute side with big round heads, different torsos, and oversized weapons. The looks match the high-pitched cartoonish voice acting as well. If you are looking for some good lighting, shadowing, etc, you find it here, just don’t expect the jaw dropping visuals of true current generation games. Although the Xbox Store indicates that this game is X|S enhanced, I can honestly say that I don’t know how, as it doesn’t push the hardware much if at all, but again, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad looking game.

At the end of the day Tiny Troopers: Global Ops is a nice follow up to Joint Ops, and even if you haven’t played any of the games on mobile, PC or on console, there is some fun to be had here. Fans of third-person twin-stick shooters will enjoy their time with Tiny Troopers: Global Ops, and those looking for a fun couch co-op experience should look no further. We can’t forget those that may need a break from all the heavy AAA titles on the Xbox Store too, as they should be open to looking at this relatively inexpensive game that is a nice break from the normal. Go ahead, shoot some terrorists in a setting that should bring a smile or two to your face as you play.

**Tiny Troopers: Global Ops was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Forza Horizon 5

I have been a Forza racing game fan since it debuted on the original Xbox. So, to say that I have experience with the series would be an understatement. When Forza Horizon launched on the Xbox 360 in 2012, I was hooked on its open world-like gameplay combined with the already solid physics engine of the Forza Motorsport games that preceded it. As you read this review, the next chapter of the Horizon series will be out for all to play, and that chapter is Forza Horizon 5.

Reviewing this latest release in the series was a daunting task, given the size, scope and number of things to do in-game. When you think about it, each Horizon game released has been bigger than the one before it, and with number 5, it is one heck of a BIG game. Horizon 5 takes place in Mexico, and it is the biggest map yet with some of the biggest races, events and environments found in any Horizon game. Playground Games has boasted that the Gran Caldera Volcano found in the game is the highest point in any Horizon game, and trust me, once you get to the top and look around you will notice the scope of the Mexican environment around you.

There is a total of 11 distinct and explorable biomes, and each one is different from one another. From the sunbaked sand of the Baja, the dense and intricately lit jungle area, the rolling hills of farm country to a unique and colorful city (Guanajuato) filled with cobble stone streets and tunnels, the latter which were designed to direct flood waters from the city core. Driving across the map takes time, and as you venture through each biome you will discover so much to explore and do. Speaking of things to do, there is a huge number of events to participate in all over the map, and we can’t forget the showcase and expeditions within each of the Horizon Festival areas. You are not forced down a linear path of what to do in order to open specific race types or challenges in your career mode. How is this handled you ask? Good Question.

As you participate in various events or challenges, you are awarded points, or as Playground Games calls them, “Accolades”. These points are awarded for how well you perform and once you reach a specific total you are awarded a Forza Showcase point. You then hit up an area in the in-game menu called Horizon Adventures where you can apply the point (or points if you have more then one) to a specific festival. It’s here that you find the various “Expeditions” in each of the individual festival’s map area.

Expeditions are events designed by Playground Games with specific vehicles, goals, areas and time of day. It is a feature that not only enables the new Horizon Festival zone to be opened, but it also focuses the story on you, a Forza Horizon star. There is a lot of dialog during these events, and I for one enjoyed all of it. Expeditions are a nice break from the traditional racing and they have become a staple of the Horizon franchise. From finding photo spots in a dust storm, racing jet-skis from point A to point B, to going through a hurricane-like storm with massive wind speeds and lighting hitting the ground, there is a lot of variety. There are a total of six Horizon Festival sites, each with an individual focus on different types of racing or events. They are as follows:

- Horizon Festival: Mexico - Mainstage
- Horizon Apex - Road Racing
- Horizon Wilds - Dirt Racing
- Horizon Baja - Cross Country Racing
- Horizon Rush - PR Stunts
- Horizon Street Scene - Street Racing

You can open these areas whenever you like and in any order by completing each festival’s first event, if you have a showcase point to do so. After you have completed the first event on each festival card you are then able to choose subsequent events as you earn more points.

As a single player game, one may find themselves overwhelmed with the number of things to do. This is clear once you open all the Horizon Festival sites and the events that are attached to each individual festival. It can almost be daunting as you move around the map and all the icons showing you where events are seemed to never end. God Bless the map filter that allows you to show what you want to see on the map, as you can thin things out depending on what you are looking for or what you may be in the mood to do. There is no shortage of stuff to keep you busy, that is for sure.

One of the biggest online changes to Horizon 5 is the new Horizon Life mode. Basically, this is where all the online activity of the game will be found. During my early time playing, and even after the game’s launch, there were a lot of “disconnected from the network” errors popping up, and I found that I would consistently have to try to reconnect. Regardless, being able to populate the world that you are exploring is what Horizon Life is about. It also allows you to access Horizon Open, which is essentially the area for PvP races. At the time of writing this, I was only able to play a few online races, so I can’t comment too much on this, but I am happy to see them fine-tune the PvP aspect in a way that seems to be more user friendly and without having to worry where you may rank versus other players. 'Convoy' mode is back too, should you want to get a group of friends or strangers together. It is a simple as driving up to them and once the ‘invite’ button comes up, press it to see if they want to join.

Another one of the new features of Forza Horizon 5 is EventLab. This allows player to create their own tracks, game modes and custom cars. The events that are created by users will then show up on the world map for you to interact with and challenge. Even this early into the game’s release there are some interesting tracks and challenges being made by the Horizon community, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this new addition and players get even more creative as time goes by.

One more new feature is “Gift Drops”, and this is just as it sounds. You can give Horizon players cars from your garage. There are two ways you can do this. You can drive up to a previous barn find (yes, they return this year) and deposit a car there, or you can go into your menu and do it from anywhere on the map. You have a choice to gift the car to anyone who plays the game or be more specific such as gifting a car to returning fans, those new to the franchise, or even community creators.

Horizon Events has been rebranded in this chapter of the series as Horizon Arcade. These modes allow random gamers to join together in what is best described as an almost infinite world of minigames. Find the blimp, enter the area on the map, and you are then enrolled in the madness that is to come. Teamwork is key, and all those who participate will be rewarded in one form of another.

Of course, it would not be a Forza game if it were not for the cars, and Horizon 5 starts off with well over 500. Over the course of the next year or so, Playground games will also be adding more cars to the roster via car packs, gifts and random vehicle drops into the game. I do have to note though with the number of cars comes a lot of those that we have seen before, but refreshingly, there are some new ones as well. As with all the previous Horizon titles, you can paint, apply decals and tune your car (engine, suspension, exhaust, tires, rims, etc.) to your hearts content. This is what makes a Forza game what it is, the ability to virtually tinker to make any car look and perform to your liking. In terms each vehicles handling, I would have to say that they all feel more refined and even a bit more realistic than before. I may be crazy; however, a friend of mine who bought the deluxe edition of the game, allowing early access, also noticed a change in the handling of the cars, so at least I know that I am not totally nuts. Who knows, maybe there were tweaks to the game’s physics model, but what ever I experienced, I did note it.

I know that I haven’t even addressed some of the games returning modes, like Stories, Super7, Season Challenges, Rivals, Photo mode, XP and Fast Travel signs, and a few more things, but I really must get on to the visuals and audio of the game, and I also want to address the accessibility options available. What I have noted in this review so far is what I believe needed to be mentioned, and the other stuff I just noted in this paragraph, while important to the gameplay and is without issue, must be put to the side.

The visuals and audio of Horizon 5, in my honest opinion, are second to none. What is even more impressive is the fact that this game has been developed to play across all the current and last generation Xbox platforms. It has a grittier tone that adds to the realism of its look. This is helped by the new SSD too, with very fast load times from the start of the game to a quick restart of a race or event. For reference, I played the game on the Series X and the Series S. Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way.

There are two playable modes for Forza Horizon; Quality and Performance. On the Xbox Series X, Quality mode is about bringing Mexico to life in 4K at 30fps without sacrificing anything. Performance mode is about playing the game in 4K at 60fps with some visual tricks to maintain resolution and the higher frame rate. I played both modes, and for me, I really wanted the full meal deal in terms of visuals, so I played in Quality mode. On the Xbox Series S, Quality Mode is 1440p at 30fps while Performance Mode is 1080p at 60fps. I do have to say though, that the Performance mode on the Series X looked just as amazing with little difference from Quality mode. The differences are minimal, but Quality mode has ‘higher’ settings (like a PC) then Performance mode. Bottomline for these two modes, they are both amazing and rock solid in the framerate department.

Visually speaking, Horizon 5 takes the genre to another level. The Mexican landscape looks amazing and very life like. From the opening showcase event that starts the game to just exploring many of the game’s biomes, there is a lot of reasons to be impressed. The scope of the map is huge, and it’s the biggest map ever found in a Horizon game. There are new weather effects too, such as sandstorms or hurricane like conditions. The sun beats down onto the Mexican landscape in different ways. This is very evident as you explore the deep and dense jungle biome. Light filters through the leafy canopy in ways that have not been seen before in the series. As for the various road surfaces, each one has their own texture design and look, so a cobble street, dirt roadway or muddy track has a 3D look to them that are distinctly different, and they are not just flat textures.

Go into the photo mode and take a close look, you won’t believe the realistic look of every surface beneath your wheels. Buildings are meticulously designed too, from the small houses in obscure locations, a small village which is very colorful and full of buildings, to a multi-level beach resort looking over cabanas, beach bars and sunbathing chairs. And to add to this experience is Horizon 5’s draw distance. It is something that you don’t notice as there seems to be very little to no draw-in as the Mexican landscape goes way into the distance. It really is something to see.

Car models are beautiful, especially when in motion. The different camera views give very different experiences, both in terms of speed and detail. Once again Playground Games is to be commended for their attention to detail for both the inside car views to the chase car and hood cams. You will be wowed by the reflections of a dashboard in a front window, a vehicle’s analog dials lit up and working during night driving, the environment you are exploring reflecting in the paint, to the way that the sun shows the tiniest of details like the dust and dirt on a car after exploring the Baja or after exiting a huge dust storm. Reflections have always been a strong point in all the Forza games, and it is found in full force here. Something that is worth noting is that the names of your fellow racers are not reflected this time around, it is a small detail, but very noticeable, especially to veterans of the franchise.

Along with those visuals I speak highly about, the audio is just as good, making for a more immersive experience. As with past Horizon games, the music you can drive to, via the 6 available radio stations is back. The variety of tunes is large, even including classical music once again. The in-game sound of the various cars and their engines are just amazing as how the cars look. Front engine, mid-engine and rear engine cars sound great, as their motors locale can be noted, especially if you are playing on a home theater system. The number of cylinders and how big the engine is also play into this formula. These sounds are heightened by what car view you use. The dashboard view makes the outside sounds somewhat muffled while the outside views provide the wind of a high speed car hitting over 200mph on a highway straightaway. The environments themselves have a level of detail that I didn’t think would be in-game. From driving by and startling a flock of flamingos, the various waterfalls and running water, weather sound-effects, to the crowd cheering you on, it is glorious and adds to the realism.

Finally, I must touch on the game’s accessibility features. Horizon 5 has a whole separate menu for those who may need accessibility options for one reason or another. Microsoft and Playground Games have openly stated that they have worked with the disability community while also using the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines when developing the accessibility features of Horizon 5. There is a long list of accessible oriented features that are in the game including:

1. Game Speed Modification (can make it slower)
2. High Contrast Mode
3. Color Blindness mode
4. Subtitles (adjust font size, background opacity, ability to highlight key words)
5. Customize the menu and gameplay font size
6. Screen Reader Narrator (reads text, buttons, and more aloud)
7. Text to Speech and Speech to Text options (for players who wanting to chat with other players)
8. Disable moving backgrounds
9. Notification Duration Setting (so have time to read it)

This is quite the suite of accessibility features, but there is one more that is being implemented. It is the use of sign language. When activated there will be a picture in picture display near the bottom of the game screen that will have a sign language interpreter signing the cinematics found in the game. I have to say that is very useful indeed.

Forza Horizon 5 is a must buy game for racing fans and casual gamers alike. I don’t know how, but Playground Games has made gains over Horizon 4 that I really didn’t think would be possible. The visuals are stunning, the sound is amazing, the number of things to do is almost overwhelming and the gameplay feels refined, making it an amazing open world racing game experience. The freedom to go pretty much anywhere in the Mexican will eat up a lot of time. Sure, there have been network issues, but these seem to be disappearing, allowing for an almost flawless experience. So, why are you still reading, go play this game on Game Pass, or flip a few extra dollars for the deluxe version and you get the VIP ranking, access to two expansions and a few extra cars that you might most likely enjoy.

*Forza Horizon 5 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series S and X*

Overall Score: 9.9 / 10 WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship

Rally racing is a sport that requires nerves of steel, insane driving skills and is usually not something the ‘average’ person thinks of as a popular racing sport. Codemasters and their DiRT series is widely known as the place to go for video game versions of this off-road racing game. There is another developer though that has the official World Rally Championship license, and that developer is KT Racing who have been working on the series since WRC 5. WRC 9 was released in early September 2020; however, since then Microsoft launched the Xbox Series X and Series S and KT Racing, along with its publisher Nacon, recently released an upgrade to the game allowing it to take advantage of new hardware and features.

I want to preface this review with the fact that I did not play WRC 9 when it first released. I received a press release a short while ago with details about the “next-gen” upgrades to the game, and I thought it would be good to cover the game as a whole on the Series X. I have dabbled in past WRC games, especially those that have been included in Xbox’s Game with Gold monthly downloads; however, not this most recent one, so, this review will cover gameplay and features.

WRC 9 is not an arcade-based racing game, think of it as more of a simulation, being that there is a lot of micromanagement in the career mode and that the driving is unforgiving. Luckily, there is a difficulty slider; however, it will not make the game a cakewalk, as you still will need to make sure you keep your rally car on the road, in bounds and pointed straight ahead. If you don’t there is an ability to restart the stage, and thank goodness for the SSD on the Xbox Series X, as the restarts are instant. If you are looking for a more casual experience, then there are other options available.

The meat of WRC 9 is found in the career mode where you can start in the Junior WRC class. It is also here that you will be in control of all aspects of your racing life. This includes, but not limited to, R&D, hiring new team staff (e.g. mechanics, engineers, agent, meteorologists, financial advisors and more), choosing your events, reading emails, paying bills, etc. It is a deeper mode than most will be accustomed to, but it really does allow you to feel like you are managing every aspect of your career. I enjoyed the fact that when going through the career mode, you get to make the choices that matter, from which event you participate in to hiring more skilled and more reliable staff. In terms of the latter, team members will not last all career, and recruiting and hiring replacements is a key task for you to manage.

What really surprised me was the depth of the game’s skill tree, which is the R&D of your career. It is here that you spend your XP points (levelling up one level equates to one point). There are four areas and they are crew, team, performance and reliability. The tree’s perks include such things as being able to increase your XP gains, having your agent find you more team tryouts, boosting morale, unlocking more team staff and of course gains for your vehicles in various areas. Be prepared to spend a lot of time picking the right perk on the right branch as it will cost you $25K to refresh your skill tree and start again.

If you are looking for something a bit lighter but with the scope of a long-term event, you can choose to race in season mode. In this mode, you choose the number of events and the locations you wish, and then challenge the AI to a ‘season’ of racing. Call it career lite should you wish, as it is a great way to do something meaty but without the depth and commitment of the career mode. You will also find the ability to do single races should you want to check out a certain track in a certain locale.

In addition, there is also a stand-alone challenge mode, which is a series of 50 challenges where you must beat each challenge and earn enough points to open subsequent challenges. They are wide and varied in their tasks, from beating certain times on specific rally stages, driving in specific weather conditions (extreme conditions) to completing various training to name a few. It is a nice ‘distraction’ that allows players step away from the depth of career or season mode and it is something you can do when you only have a small amount of time.

Something that has kept me away from the WRC series as a whole has been the actual driving/control of the vehicles, which frustrated me. Thankfully, that has changed. As I started to play my career, and check out tracks in single race mode, I started to feel how much the driving physics have improved. I was not all over the track as I was in the past WRC games that I tried. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to drive well, but I seemed more in control at times; and of course out of control when taking a chance to cut a second or two off my time. The cars feel different from one another too. A front wheel drive vehicle feels and reacts very different from a rear wheel drive one, and the advantages of an all wheel drive in the higher WRC classes is very evident.

Speaking of cars, as this game has the official WRC license; all the cars that are in the 2020 World Rally Championship are here, with all their current liveries and drivers. There are more than 50 teams including the WRC, WRC2, WRC 3 and Junior WRC classes. For those looking for some nostalgia, there are also a number of historic races, which includes rally cars of the past in including those from Ford, Lancia, Citroen, Volkswagen and more.

WRC 9 also offers up a nice selection of both multiplayer and social modes. One of the bigger additions in this area is the ‘clubs’ mode. It is here that you or anyone of your friends can create a customized championship and then put it out there for challengers to accept. You can keep your club private or open it up to the public for a more varied and larger audience. While I did not have the time to do this myself, the fact that this addition is there, and available for all, is pretty cool and can make for some highly competitive contests for you and any of your WRC 9 owning friends.

In terms of the traditional multiplayer modes, you will find quick matches as well as daily and weekly challenges. I went online to check out some multiplayer action; however, there were no players to be found whenever I tried. I cannot say why this is the case, but regardless, I was a bit disappointed to find no one. There is also an option for local split screen racing. I did not race too much in this mode, but the quick race or two that I did was impressive for split screen and the experience was competitive, especially racing against someone else who just happened to be in the same room.

The overall presentation of WRC 9 on the Xbox Series X was pretty much a winner; however, there were a few notable hiccups. The visual improvements on the Series X makes the game look very much like a high-resolution PC game with sharp lines and bright colors. Overall, each one of the 16 environments that you will race in are highly detailed and very different from one another. Racing on the snowy tracks of Sweden while trees blow back and forth to racing on the sandy, and at times forested, sections of Italy, you will get to race on very different rally courses. Lighting is very detailed as you see sunbeams cutting through forest canopies, the sun slightly blinding you as you come over the crest of a hill, to the shadows and lit areas resulting from your vehicles headlights when racing at night, all of it is extremely impressive and occurs without any stutter in framerate.

Another visual highlight are the rally cars found in the game. From the Ford Fiestas and Ford Focuses to more legendary cars like the Lancia Stratos, Audi Quattro A2 (1984) or the Citroen Xsara WRC 2005, all the car models are highly detailed. The available views for racing in these 4-wheeled beasts are varied, from the outside the car views (x2), in-car views (x2), bumper view and bonnet (hood) view. Seeing the inside of the cars rally-stripped details while racing, and watching your hands go through the gears or cranking on the e-brake was impressive. I tended to use the bonnet view the most as I love the view from this perspective.

If I had any complaints in the visuals, I can think of only a few areas. The first one is that some of the scenery can be a pixelated, like the aforementioned trees in Sweden or the trackside bushes in New Zealand. It was even more prevalent when watching a replay of a race in dynamic camera, as you would find your view stuck behind pixelated leaves of a dense forest. The second thing I noticed is that some of the environment can draw or pop up in the distance. They are not huge sections of the rally stage, it is not too disconcerting, and it does not happen all the time, but you can notice it when it occurs. The final area that I noted, and it is somewhat a nitpicky observation, is the fans that line various sections of the course. They are stiffly animated (if at all) and they are definitely low-resolution. I get it, they are not a huge part of the driving experience, but you will notice they can stand out from the rest of the visuals more often than not.

WRC 9’s audio is very good. Play in any of the outside car modes and you can hear the wind blow, water flow, leaves bristle and the crowd cheer. As for your vehicle’s sound, each class of car, from Junior WRC to the all out WRC vehicles sound distinctly different, as they should. Turbos whine, gearshifts click, and motors rev high. As you race you will note the sound of your tires (or tyres as they say in the European countries) as they skid on asphalt, slide on gravel, or slip on snow or ice. Debris kick up and hit the bottom of the car and it sounds very different during any of the inside views versus the outside views. Your navigator is very clear and very concise, helping you prepare for the turns and bumps ahead while the in-game music is very appropriate, and used mostly during the non-driving periods.

Overall, I have to say that I have become a fan of WRC 9, as it is definitely a deep and rewarding game. It portrays the ins and outs of managing a rally racing team as you are in charge of all the major decisions. As we are in the midst of the COVID pandemic, the actual WRC did not have the chance to race all of these real life rally courses, so you have the chance to represent what could have been. While the visuals do suffer a few hiccups over the course of the game, it still looks great and the sound is impressive. If you are a rally fan, or an all around racing game fan, then you should seriously look at WRC 9, as it will keep you busy for quite sometime and it is worth the investment.

**WRC 9 was reviewed on the Xbox Series X**

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Another holiday season is upon us, and with that means a new Call of Duty game. Holiday 2020 is also when the next-generation consoles (now current gen?) from Xbox and PlayStation arrive, and the new Call of Duty covers all currently available consoles. One thing remains steady though, if you are a Call of Duty Fan, then you should no doubt be picking up the recently released Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Why is this you ask? Well, even though some may find a few hiccups and some familiarity along the way there is a lot to like. To make this review somewhat flow, we will be covering the game in three separate areas: Campaign, Multiplayer and Zombies Mode game’s narrative takes place after the events of the original Black Ops. Dan Bunting, one of the Co-Heads of Treyarch, stated that this game “…dwas a chance to go back to the roots of the original IP“. The story heads back to the 1980’s once again. I found that I enjoyed much of the 80’s atmosphere, from the clothing, technology to even the music. Given that this is a Black Ops title, the dev-team wanted to make it seem like you were involved in a cold war, that being the East versus the West.

Not to go too deep into the story, but you take on the role of ‘Bell’, who joins returning CIA characters Woods, Mason and Hudson. Along with your new character, there are four more new team members that complete the squad. You are trying to track down an elusive man codenamed “Perseus” in an effort to prevent him from creating chaos and destruction in this 80’s version of the world. During your adventure you will also get a chance to play as a few of the other team members as you traverse the globe to various locales to complete your mission.

The game has a lot of stealth involved, as opposed to just going in guns blazing. Do not get me wrong though, if you are detected you can still use your trusty weapon to get out of a jam. I enjoyed that they put in some ‘sneak around’ parts like this, as it added some variety. The game also allows you to participate in dialog and make decisions that influence the game’s final ending. There are multiple endings based not only the decisions you make, but by completing two separate side missions that are not part of the direct storyline. To successfully complete these missions, you collect evidence that is specific to each side mission that allows you to solve the puzzles in the side missions before undertaking them. These pieces of evidence are found in the campaign missions.

As this game is developed by the studio that released the first Black Ops game in 2010, there are a lot of twists and turns that will mess with not only the story, but your mind. There are some big revelations in the game that you will not see coming, which makes this story so unique. Your central hub during the story is a Black Ops Safehouse that really makes you feel like part of a team that works from behind the shadows, which of course the CIA is well known to do, especially during the Cold War. If you are wondering how long the campaign is, if you have played any previous Call of Duty campaign(s) before, then expect the same 5 hours or so of gameplay.


Any Call of Duty fan knows that the multiplayer experience is where people like to hang out, and I think that this will be the case in Black Ops Cold War as well. What is interesting though is that Treyarch and Raven Software have stated that the campaign is just the beginning, and that multiplayer would be a continuation of what gamers experienced in the single player mode. The multiplayer story takes places a few years after the main campaign, and there is a detailed cutscene that leads players into this mode. The multiplayer is inspired by what Co-Head of Treyarch Dan Bunting said is “…the Cold War Vibe”.

There are 10 MP maps to kick off Black Ops Cold War multiplayer experience. You will be battling it out in maps based in countries like Central Africa, East & West Germany, and of course the USA and the Soviet Union. There are more maps and more modes coming after launch, and they are all free with no timed exclusives. This is great news, not only because it is free, but given Sony and Activision have participated in timed exclusives for many of their titles but with no timed multiplayer exclusives it allows Xbox players to play the content at the same time as PlayStation players. This makes sense though as the game is cross-play enabled for all consoles and PC.

The classic gameplay modes are back like team deathmatch, domination, free for all, kill confirmed, search & destroy and 5-point domination. New modes have been added to Black Ops Cold War multiplayer, and they are as follows:

- VIP Escort: 6v6 players - One team attempts to escort the VIP to one of two extraction zones while the other team tries to stop them from completing their mission. The team with the VIP can also win by wiping out the other team.

- Fireteam: Dirty Bomb: 40 players, teams of 4 – Each team of 10 must take down enemies, collect uranium caches, locate Dirty Bombs, and detonate the bombs they find.

- Combined Arms: 12v12 players – Two teams of 12 fight over a central neutral capture zone. Once captured, both teams move to a new one deeper into enemy territory. First team to infiltrate and capture enemy’s final zone is the winner.

You will once again find a Create-a-Class that allows you to fine tune your specific loadouts for specific modes. Something that you will find addicting, especially if you have not played COD multiplayer lately, is levelling up of your weapons, opening up attachments that make your gun perform better, and entering the gunsmith mode to do so. With each weapon having its own progression path and XP to earn, you will most likely find yourself playing a few more matches just to unlock that one attachment you have your eye on. Of course, you can’t forget the need for weapon skins as well, as there are many of them again for you to obtain.

Multiplayer plays as one would expect a COD multiplayer game to play; it is fast, it is twitchy, and it gets crazy at times. I did note some things that really made a difference for not only myself, but for some of the people I played with. New to Black Ops is a ‘Ping System’. You can use this to ping objectives for your teammates to see, such as locations of enemies or what specific area to focus on. It is assigned to the d-pad, and it is a great way to communicate with those you may not be in a party with. Something that also made a difference is something PC gamers have had for a long time, and that is a Field of View (FOV) slider. This can literally make your view wider, showing more area on screen then static FOVs. I won’t lie, it will take some getting used to as you may not be accustomed to having this kind of ability to alter how much you can see in front of you, but in the end many will find it useful.

One big surprise post launch was that there were little to no server issues. Getting into a match was easy and hassle free, and I was able to play with no lag or glitching. Past COD multiplayer experiences at launch were usually fraught with connection issues and other tech-issues that inhibited gameplay, but not with Black Ops Cold War.


As with many COD games, Zombies mode makes a return, and this time it is a little special. If you are fan of this mode, you no doubt know that Zombies was originally a fun little side game that was created to give players something new and different to do. It was filled with tons of Easter eggs for the dedicated fans. Since that time, it has evolved into a full-blown game mode, with past versions having their own narrative and continuing story.

The team that has been working on the Black Ops Cold War version of Zombies are team members who have been working on the mode as a whole since its’ inception, so you have many of the original people who have been working through various iterations of it. Black Ops Cold War Zombies mode is going back the Zombies roots with the original, but redesigned, area kicking off the story. This version is seen as the zombie origin story but expanding and reimagining it in new ways.

As with the multiplayer experience, you will find that Zombies mode is tied into the story of Black Ops Cold War. While not affecting your campaign, the story is tied to the world of the CIA as you search for the source of dark power in an old WWII bunker. The cut-scene that introduces you to Zombies is impressive and detailed while setting the backdrop for what is to come. This is just the first chapter of a multi-part story called “Requiem”. The new chapters that are to follow will be free to players.

The gameplay is classic Zombies, as you try to fight off hordes of the undead while progressing through the level, upgrading your weapons, finding perks, and staying alive. The zombies are very much the lumbering beasts they should be. You use the same operators that you use in standard multiplayer and you can use the load outs that you create for them. Searching and obtaining rare weapons and powerful perks is not only rewarding, but they can pack a punch too.

A new feature to the mode is the ability to ‘Exfil’. This allows you, and your team, to call in a chopper if you feel that things are getting too risky for you to continue. As easy and useful as this sounds, be forewarned that during the time period where you are waiting for your rescue helicopter to arrive the zombie spawns increase quite a bit and it can become even more perilous and crazy, with a high possibility of your squad being killed before you get out alive. So, use with caution.

I have to admit that Zombies has never been my most favorite mode; however, the time I did spend playing it was enjoyable, and working with a team member, or two, to progress through the level was challenging, but yet worthwhile. There is no doubt that many fans of the mode will enjoy it, and I do think that those who just dabble in it for fun will find they enjoy it too.

Final Thoughts

Presentation wise, Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War is very solid among all modes; however, it is not without some criticism. I played the game on the Xbox Series X, both pre-release and post launch. The game’s framerate seemed to be rock solid for the most part. The 4K/60fps was crisp and virtually hiccup free. The menu showed support for raytracing; however I was unable to turn it on. I also should note that my console did freeze and crash a couple of times during pre-launch play, but when I played after launch, I did not notice any more of this.

The various global environments are extremely impressive, from the lighting, shadows, and environmental effects that adorn each area (e.g. blowing dust, water flowing, etc.). One such area early in the game takes place in Vietnam where you are in a helicopter. The lush, dense forests, the river below flowing down its natural path, and the mountainous valley you fly through were all very impressive. What I found somewhat average on the other hand were the character models. Although some of the game’s characters look good, you will find others that lack detail and seem robotic. I cannot explain why, but at times you will be floored by a character’s design and look, including in the cutscenes, but then in next area you’ll ask yourself “what the heck did I just see”.

In terms of the game’s audio, I played using headphones for most of my time reviewing the game. I have to say that once again each weapon sound is great, and the explosions are plenty ‘boomy’. You’ll hear the subtle things too, like the breeze and blowing leaves while sneaking through a jungle, the sound of heavy rain hitting the ground as you navigate back alleys to the sound of someone throwing up in a bar bathroom. There were directional effects too, so bullets whizzing above you, grenades bouncing beside you, various characters (campaign or multiplayer) yelling at you from different directions, and zombies lumbering or breaking through barriers behind you are all very prevalent. There is also a lot of dialog in the game, and it is all voiced quite well. I was somewhat taken back by the voice actor who played President Reagan, as he seemed to sound very much like him.

There is a distinct difference between this year’s COD and what was released last year, that being the stellar Modern Warfare. For me, as a reviewer, that game set the bar for COD titles, given the story, the presentation, and of course the multiplayer that led to Warzone. Black Ops Cold War is no Modern Warfare, and so it shouldn’t, as it is its own IP, from the twist and turn story to the world of the 80’s Cold War. The game will also be tied to the popular Warzone game, allowing fans to experience some new content with the IP in mind.

Sure, this latest COD does not break any ground for bringing a new and innovative COD title; however, when you look as the game as a whole, and realize that a major chunk of it was developed during a Pandemic where everyone was working remotely, and you can appreciate the title including the story, the multiplayer, and the Zombies mode. Given all of this, you will probably be playing this title for quite some time given that there will be free content arriving in the future that enhances both the multiplayer and Zombies mode. If you are a Call of Duty fan, Black Ops Cold War is a decent addition to add to your game library. If you are a casual fan of the series, or even new to the franchise, then this game will still be something you can enjoy too.

Overall Score: 8.6 / 10 Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time

Crash Bandicoot has been around since the original PSone; however, a true sequel to Crash Bandicoot 3, also released on the PSone, has never been released, until now. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is out now and a quick scope of the World Wide Web indicates that it was 22 years ago Crash Bandicoot 3 was released, so yes, it indeed is about time. Developer Toys for Bob, who have worked on various Skylander games, remade the Spyro games, and remade the first 3 Crash Bandicoot games (N. Sane Trilogy), have been given the keys to make a brand new Crash Bandicoot game. While Toys for Bob is the main developer, we must give recognition to Beenox and Activision’s Shanghai Studio, as their names are in the opening credits as well. So, enough with the pleasantries, let us talk about the game.

“It’s About Time” is not only a play on how long it has been since a true sequel has been released, but it is also about a hint about the gameplay. Crash and his sister Coco (you can control one or the other) are tasked with moving about time (dimensions) to make things right again. You search for a series of four different masks (phase shifting, dark matter, time manipulation and gravity switcher) that play a role repairing what has gone wrong. These masks also allow new gameplay mechanics in various levels. It is an interesting story, and you will find some surprises along the way.

If you are a fan of the original three games (either on the PSone or the updated games included in the N. Sane Trilogy on current-gen consoles) then you know what to expect. You navigate through various themed levels using various gameplay mechanics. Each level has its own themed enemies, pitfalls and platforms that you will face. While there are a few familiar feeling levels, the majority of them are very original and highly creative. There are hidden paths to discover, bonus crate levels and hidden rooms to be found as you try to smash all the crates and collect all the wumpa fruit you can.

Every level contains collectibles, and the most important are the diamonds you are awarded at the end of each one. This occurs in one of six ways including how much fruit you collect (40%, 60%, 80%), breaking all the crates, how many times you die and finding a hidden diamond. Should you meet all the criteria and find the hidden diamond, you open a new skin for Crash and Coco. You will also discover a few other methods of opening new skins, but the majority are opened by the collecting the six diamonds.

You will have an opportunity to play as other characters, and one character early on has you revisiting dimensions as her journey through time will intermix with Crash and Coco’s. The character is Tawna Bandicoot, who has a hookshot rope and wall-climbing abilities. After first meeting her and complete the assigned level with her (not telling you where because no spoilers) new levels open up on previous dimensions and her specific levels will also open up as you play in dimensions not yet explored. It is a neat premise as these levels eventually intertwine into various parts of a level that Crash and Coco are completing. You will also get to play as some of the adversaries that you vanquish, which changes up the gameplay somewhat and offers up a bit more variety.

Each dimension has an end boss of some sort. The boss battles are basically a memorization of attack patterns and then countering them to whittle down a boss’s health bar. These boss battles mainly consist of characters that are well known in the Crash Bandicoot universe. It was nice to see the inclusion of all the recognizable characters given the history of the franchise. I should note that further into the game, and upon defeating a specific boss (no spoilers here), you will open up N’Verted Mode (more on this later).

There is a lot of stuff for completionists to do in this game. You can search for ‘Flashback Tapes’, which are literally a VHS tape found in each level. Be forewarned, you cannot die prior to finding them. If you die and continue going through the level, you will see the VHS tape, but you cannot pick it up. There are 21 of these tapes in the game, and once obtained you can play through a crate level that is assigned to that tape, which requires precise movements and quick thinking on the fly.

The previously mentioned N’Verted Mode, which opens later in the game, allows you to replay any of the levels that you may have beaten. The trick here is that each level is presented in a new art style with some different gameplay goals. This effectively doubles the levels that you play. You can collect more diamonds too, which are only made available in the N’Verted Mode.

All seems fine and dandy so far but Crash Bandicoot 4 hits a wall in a few areas that can affect how many will enjoy this game. Past games have you controlling the crazy marsupial in different manners, including when he runs towards the screen, away from the screen, and of course sideways (traditional 2.5D Bandicoot platforming). Judging jumps and navigating the surprise of unseen perils have always been a bit of a sore spot in past games, especially in the first two ‘views’ mentioned, and it once again rears its head here. Toys for Bob has implemented a new “shadow” feature, which is essentially a dot on the ground that shows you where you will land as you are in mid-air; however, you will still feel the frustration of missing a platform, hitting an obstacle that you trying to clear or clipping the corner of a ledge that is above you resulting in a untimely death, more often than not, just like the original games.

Along with the control and perspective issues is the general difficulty of the game. Simply put, there are many difficult stages in Crash Bandicoot 4 and they will put your skills to the test. Not only will you be making some split second decisions and well timed jumps, but the addition of the new gameplay mechanics of the four masks can really make for some incredibly difficult times. Although you are introduced to the new mechanics as the game progresses, later levels incorporate more than just one. You will be pressing buttons fiendishly fast while timing of jumps, slides and spins that all need need to be perfect. To alleviate some of this difficulty you can play the game in ‘Retro’ or ‘Modern’ mode. Retro mode plays like the original games as you have a limited number of lives, run out of them and you start all over. Modern mode implements a checkpoint system where when you die you start at the last checkpoint you hit while keeping track of your deaths.

Toys for Bob has also included a local multiplayer mode, both cooperative and adversarial. The co-op mode is called Pass n’ Play. Here up to four players take turns using the same controller navigating their way though a level. Once completed, each player’s score is added up, a winner is declared and it is off to the next level. The adversarial mode is called Bandicoot Battle and it is broken up into two separate modes. Checkpoint Races has players competing to see who is the fastest to each checkpoint. Crate Combo on the other hand has players compete for the largest combo of crates resulting in a higher score than others. Personally, it is nice to see a multiplayer mode in a Crash Bandicoot game; however, I didn’t find my time was too vested in it, but at least the option is here.

Visually, Crash Bandicoot has truly become a game worthy of this generation. I found myself admiring the vibrant colours as well as the art and level design of each dimension. You can see that a lot of effort went into making this the best-looking Crash game ever. I was playing on the Xbox One X on a 1440p screen and everything seemed to ‘pop’ off the screen. For me personally, my favorite level was a New-Orleans Mardi-Gras like level that was full of bright neon colors, unique enemies, floating character balloons and various gameplay mechanics. This is just one of the many distinctive and original looking environments. From pirate ships, tropical forests, Mayan-like temples to icy landscapes or desert valleys, all are made with solid textures, environmental lighting and many moving parts. You’ll be amazed not only in the variety, but how each one is original with different types of enemies and pitfalls you will face. I did not find any technical hiccups as the game ran smoothly and the framerate was solid throughout. Draw distance was incredible, allowing you to see far into the distance, especially as you make your way down your path, which adds to the immersion of each level.

The game audio is another highlight. In-game rendered cut-scenes are well voiced and all the character voices are in sync with their lines. You will find that not only do the cut-scenes have dialog, but there is also a lot of dialog in many of the levels you play. Sound effects are also bang on. If you are a returning fan, you’ll recognize so much, from the sound of collecting wumpa fruit, smashing creates, collecting an aku-aku mask to the sound of Crash’s spin attack or dying as you fail a jump or an enemy kills you. Music is best described as traditional to the series. It has a ‘beachy’ or Polynesian-like sound, but cheerful and somewhat cartoony. It also changes beat at just the right time, helping to bring the universe alive. I played using a headset (Turtle Beach Stealth 700 Gen. 2) and found there was directionality, great tonal balance and good overall balance of all the sounds.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is the true sequel that fans have been waiting for. The Unreal Engine 4 powered visuals brings the series into 2020 while Toys for Bob has kept to the original source material while adding some new gameplay elements, a personal touch so to speak. What has also made the jump (no pun intended) to this sequel though is the difficulty and control issues of the past. I really do wish the game was more accessible to new and younger fans alike, as some people may be turned off by this, but I don’t think it’s fair to heavily penalize the game for this fact, as it still is what made the series what it is. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is truly the best game in the series and I do hope we see another one on the upcoming next-generation consoles.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Minecraft Dungeons

When you hear the word Minecraft you no doubt think about the open world exploration game of the same name. It has been around for 11 years and has sold over 200 million copies worldwide. It is a basic looking game that has simple gameplay; however, it also has the depth and longevity that people will play for days, weeks, months and even years. Developer Mojang has recently rebranded themselves and are now Mojang Studios. It makes sense as Microsoft, who just happen own Minecraft, is looking at ways to further the brand. That brings us to this review. At the time of writing, Minecraft Dungeons was recently released on multiple platforms, and we are here to give our final impressions of the Xbox One version.

To compare Minecraft Dungeons to the original game that has been around for so long would be unfair, as they are two different style of games. Minecraft Dungeons can best be compared to the likes of Diablo, Torchlight and many other 3rd person ARPGs, whereas Minecraft is an open world exploration game where you can build pretty much anything your imagination can think of. Minecraft Dungeons may not have the depth of other ARPGs, and in many ways you can pretty much say that it is an ARPG-lite, but that does not mean there is not a lot to do to keep you busy. Add to this that the game can be played by anyone in your family, from the inexperienced gamer(s) in the house to the most die-hard of players, there are challenges suited for all skills, levels and ages.

The story of Minecraft Dungeons is a modest one. There is an unnamed Illager who tries to make friends with anyone he can; however, it seems that no one wants to hang out with him. Angry and frustrated, this lone Illager takes to the road, and once he finds what he believes is the end of it, he finds an evil orb (well, in the Minecraft universe it is a cube). He succumbs to the power of the orb and he becomes the Arch-Illager, a man who wants revenge on all those who ignored him. He goes on a rampage to destroy villages, capture the villagers, and become ruler of all. It is up to you to save the world and vanquish the Arch-Illager.

You can choose from an enjoyable selection of characters. There are visual differences, from clothes to facial features, but remember, you will be finding various armor that will change your look. The first mission you play, which opens your camp (base of operations) upon completion, is a tutorial for what lies ahead. You will learn the basics of weapon combat, enchanting your gear and using your artifacts as well consumables. Once you complete this and your camp is opened, you can choose from the various missions offered. As you progress, you will open some vendors who can provide you with level specific weapons and artifacts. I found myself visiting these vendors after each mission I completed, as I would get something special now and then. If you search the area around your camp, you will also find the odd chest full of emeralds.

The game starts at a default skill level, and as you level your character up, the level of difficulty will scale along with you. There is a total of three skill levels (default, adventure and apocalypse) and within each of these three levels are another six sub-levels. You have to finish the default skill to open adventure. Although the bump in AI difficulty is not game-stopping, and manageable, you will find yourself dying more then you did before. When you look at the sub-levels available, the game shows you how much the difficulty is multiplied over the ‘normal’ difficulty, what level of character you should be, as well as what power levels of gear you may get when they drop.

What I really enjoy about Minecraft Dungeons is that the game is relatively simple, but the more you play the more you realize that there is a level of depth to it that makes it more than it seems. You can equip so many different artifacts, which can range from healing, speed boosts or special attacks, to those that can summon animals to assist you in battle. You can also enchant your weapons and armor with enchantment coins (you get one every time you level up) that can provide you specific buffs and bonuses. These can range from weapons that create a poison cloud, or an enable an ability to stun enemies with an attack to armor that has a chance to negate a hit from an enemy, or add bonus damage when you strike. This kind of depth adds to the playability of the game, which is an incredibly good thing.

The controls for Minecraft Dungeons are very well implemented as well. It is not too complex, yet manages to allow you to do everything you need too easily. From melee attacks, ranged attacks, to using your artifacts, your healing potion or rolling away from danger, it becomes second nature in many ways. Be forewarned though, in terms of your ranged ammo, your healing potion and your defensive roll, they must be managed. You do not get infinite ranged ammo, as you collect bundles of arrows and they deplete during the use. As for your health potion and your defensive roll, once used they need to ‘recharge’ for future use, so you should keep an eye on them when you find yourself surrounded by many enemies.

Speaking of enemies (what a great Segway to this paragraph eh?), they are wide and varied, and as one would expect, they get more challenging the further into the game you go. From basic zombies, exploding creepers, annoying spiders and skeleton archers, to Minecraft Dungeons specific characters like knights with armored shields, Redstone monstrosities to a loot-pig. Yes, the latter is a real thing. Some of these enemies are simple to dispose of; however, if you run into a large number of them at the same time, you’ll find yourself in a live or die situation.

Gameplay length is varied and depends on how you play. If you race from point A to point B just to get through the game as fast as you can, your initial gaming experience will last about 5 hours or so. Minecraft Dungeons is not really a game that should be played this way. There are areas off the beaten path, secrets to be found and treasure chests to be open. Playing the game in this manner, searching every nook and cranny of the dungeons, you can expect a much longer gaming experience as well as the opportunity to find new and more powerful gear, weapons and more.

Minecraft Dungeons has an enjoyable multiplayer component. You can play with up to three others, either online or couch co-op. This allows for a good range of multiplayer experiences, especially if you are playing with friends or family at home on one screen. It is a drop-in/drop-out experience too, so players will not have to worry about exiting to a lobby to allow other players to join. Online play is pretty smooth, and you can separate from the main party and explore while you do your own thing. In terms of local multiplayer, it is a bit more restricting, as you are playing on the same screen. The in-game camera can pull back somewhat, but it is not split screen so you will have to say together throughout the whole game. In terms of the loot that drops, it is not a race to get the gear first. The game allows for gear to be dropped for each character playing, which is a nice touch.

Presentation wise, Minecraft Dungeons hits it out of the park. The traditional blocky look is recreated but with so many different areas for you to explore. Each area is themed and looks different from one another. The lighting is impressive, from the way the sun casts your shadow on the ground to the flicking of torches or the glow of mystical stones. The cuteness factor is also way off the charts, from the different armor you’ll find throughout to some of the crazy weapons that you can wield, to the cutscenes that tell the story. As for the game’s audio, the music is great. I found that it becomes ingrained in the background changing during specific areas or when pivotal battles or when new areas are discovered. Sound effects such as the wind blowing, water flowing, mine carts moving about on rails, and even your feet hitting the ground as you walk, there is a lot going on. I was impressed how in the snow under your feet actually ‘crunches’ as you walk. The large array of enemies that you face also have their own sounds, and you will be able to hear them as you approach.

Although all sounds rosy, there are a couple of things that I found that I thought took away from some of my enjoyment. They are somewhat minor, but worth mentioning. The first is that even after the game’s official launch, I found that the game would freeze for a second or two while exploring the various levels. I do not know if his has to do with the game loading what is to come next or an actual technical issue, but the pause is long enough to be noticeable. I even had one play session freeze and had to reboot. I also found the enchantment coins somewhat frustrating (IMO). They are easy to use and to apply to various weapons and armor; however, should you want them back to enchant something else, you have to ‘salvage’ (breakdown) the gear they are attached too, forcing you to delete something you might want to keep. I wish that you could just un-enchant the gear in question, for a fee if need be.

Overall, I found myself quite happy with Minecraft Dungeons. Developer Mojang Studios, along with Double Eleven, have taken the Minecraft franchise into a new realm as an ARPG that succeeds on many levels. Sure, the game may not be as deep as the hardcore ARPGs out there, but its simplicity, along with the hidden depth of character management (e.g. artifacts, armor, weapons), makes for a deeper game then some may initially think. The fact that you can be any level of gamer, from casual or new to a diehard one, and enjoy the game’s content is a testament to what they have created. You can’t go wrong with this title, whether you play the standard version on Game Pass or if you decide to purchase it outright on its own.

Overall Score: 8.1 / 10 SnowRunner

In 2017 I reviewed a game called Spintires: Mudrunners, a simulation orientated off-road driving game. As a driving game, it was not your traditional entry into the genre given the off-road simulation aspect. I enjoyed it, but it was not without some faults and I scored it a 7.9 out of 10. Fast forward to present day and a sequel has entered the fray. SnowRunners was recently released on both PC and Consoles. The title of the game is a bit misleading though, as it is not focused on snow covered locations, but given the inclusion of the new weather that you will find in one of the three areas, I can see why they used the title they did. So, how does SnowRunner compare to its predecessor? Well, I would have to say it is much better than the original.

You will explore three different areas including Michigan (4 maps), Alaska (4 maps) and Russia (3 maps). Looking at these three areas, you know where you will be seeing the snow. You start in Black Rock, Michigan, an area devastated by heavy rains and a flood. As you progress through this first area, delivering items and/or resources to rebuild bridges or clear rockslides, you’ll also rescue stuck vehicles, recover and deliver various trailers, as well as deliver food and supplies to those who might need it. This is so much different from the original game as the tasks are more diverse, and it is just the beginning of the game. Black Rock also acts as a tutorial as you learn the basics of the game, and how to do many of the tasks required as you progress deeper.

One of the biggest ‘Quality of Life’ (QoL) changes from the first game is that you are free to go to the first map of all three main areas. The fact that you can go and explore each area early in the game is a welcomed addition to the gameplay, as the original title was more linear, forcing you to go map to map. Having three areas that you can visit early in the game will allow you to start to build up your money and XP, as well providing an opportunity to add some new vehicles to your garage to help you in future tasks. It also adds variety as you can start to explore each of the different areas which changes up the scenery.

You start with a basic truck, or what is called a Scout Vehicle, and you explore the map in search of watchtowers. These towers, once accessed, unveil a certain portion of the map, showing where the various contracts and contests are, as well as upgrades for your various vehicles. Contracts are tasks that are assigned by companies in the region while contests are random tasks that are a benefit to random people or groups. You are awarded money and XP for your efforts when successful. You can do these contracts and contests in any order if you have them unlocked.

Getting cargo onto your truck is where another QoL change comes into play. You have a cargo management menu this time around, and you can auto-load and auto-unload with the press of a button. Going through the various types of cargo is a breeze. In some missions you only need to arrive at your location and drive into the dotted box, and viola, you are done and given your rewards. I honestly don't remember the original game being this simple and efficient in this area.

Leveling up is quite straight forward; the more XP you earn, the more you level up. It is not a quick process though, as you will have to do many contracts and contests to earn the XP. As you level up, you open options to customize your vehicles. Some of these options are only available if you find the ‘upgrade’ on the map and region you are exploring. The amount of vehicle customization is staggering. From engines, gearboxes and AWD drivetrains to roof racks, bumpers, shocks and fog lights, there is a lot you can add to your vehicle to not only make it more suitable to the environment, but the specific task that you may need to complete. You can also buy different types of trailers should one not be accessible on the map.

Controlling the various vehicles will take some time for people to adjust to; however, I found that the control was better than in Spintires: Mudrunners. I also found that the in-game camera was easier to use. The camera has less movement when you are in dense forests or rock walled paths, and it will take some time to get used to the angle you have when towing a longer trailer. This is not a fault of the game though, as it adjusts for what kind of terrain is around you. Having a camera that is very agile is important in this game. You will need to view all the terrain around your vehicle to determine such things as ground clearance, how deep your tire(s) are in mud/water, or what may be impeding your vehicles momentum. It is not a perfect camera, but it is improved, and it is useful.

The physics in SnowRunner are quite impressive. You will notice how your vehicle handles differently on various surfaces or how different tires will affect your trucks handling on or off-road. Once you start travelling with a trailer loaded with concrete slabs or wooden planks, you can feel the difference in steering responsiveness, braking and even how your vehicle will handle when going up inclines. I must warn you that this is not an easy game. Sure, some of the contracts or contests are very manageable, but some are also extremely hard. You will not only have to experiment with different vehicles, but different routes to get to your goal. I was trying to do one contract, which was required to open the next map and spent more than a couple of hours on it and I only finished 2 of 3 steps before calling it a night. Given the physics and the realistic-simulation approach, you just can’t hit the accelerator and get from point A to B. You will have to feather your gas pedal, drive in low gear, line up your wheels on a path and at times hope for the best. And do not expect to get through the game’s 82 tasks that quickly, as some will have you stuck (pun intended) for quite some time.

There is a multiplayer component to SnowRunner as up to 4 players online (private or public lobby) can take to the same map and share duties. All will earn XP and money even if any of you have previously completed the task at hand. It is a nice way to do some of the more time intensive tasks that are made up of multiple sub-tasks. Things to note in multiplayer are that you must go into the game’s settings to permit your co-op friends the ability to attach a winch to your in-game vehicle. This will help you to get unstuck or get your vehicle back on its’ wheels when needed. The other thing that you need to be aware of is that any in-game progress is only saved to the host’s game save. If you manage to do a contract that you may not have done prior to a multiplayer session, and you are not the host, when you go to play single player again the contract you completed online will still show as not completed.

In terms of the overall presentation, SnowRunner gets a lot of things right. Visually, I found that each map within each region is highly detailed. From the water ravaged areas within Michigan, the bleak and desolate areas in Russia to the snow-covered maps of Alaska. There is variety between all the regions too, from open areas, dense forests, rocky and mountainous areas to water soaked and mud filled bogs. There is also an in-game day/night cycle. During midday you will get the light of the sun from above or bleakness of clouds and rain. As dusk approaches, the light can change colour as the sun falls behind the horizon. Once you get into the darkness of night, you will navigate with only the headlights of your vehicle to guide you. You can manually change the time of day too (12:00 am, 6:00 am, 1:00 pm & 8:30 pm). Overall, the lighting is amazing, as the shadows cast by various objects change with the direction and intensity of light. You can also be immersed in a morning mist that blankets the area after a mid-night storm. Water effects are notable to as you’ll cross running streams, a water and mud filled bog, and of course various lakes with narrow paths to navigate.

The 40 vehicles that developer Saber Interactive has included in the game are incredibly detailed, and that includes within the cab. When I reviewed Spintires: Mudrunners, one of my biggest complaints with the visuals was playing from the driver’s view (first person) and how it lacked detail. In SnowRunner the bar has been raised, as the inside of each truck seems to have been painstakingly recreated. Moving gauges, switches and various lights, and even some old school cooling fans can be found within. You will be spending a lot of time driving using the outside view (third person), and again, the level of detail is amazing. From worn paint, rivets in the metal, the axels and suspensions straining to get over rocks, exhaust pipes and the heat they emit, to the the mud flaps, bumpers and horns that adorn each truck, there is a lot to take in.

If I had to nitpick anything about the visuals, it would be the texture draw-in. This is more noticeable in outside the truck than when using the in-cab view. You will notice that rocks, fallen trees and/or various textures will pop-in while you are driving. You will also really notice this when driving slow (e.g. locked in “low” gear). I think that I may understand why this occurs, as everywhere you go is so detailed and so full of scenery and objects it almost lifelike. I played on the Xbox One X and it was noticeable, but the game manages to do a great job managing the detail in this manner. For those wondering, Focus Home Interactive has said in their forums that in terms of the Xbox One X, the game runs at 4K (3840 x 2160) / 50FPS approximately + console setting to revert 4K. On the regular Xbox One it will run at 1920 x 1080 / 50FPS approximately.

The audio pretty much matches the quality of the game’s visuals. Each and every truck sound different, from the V8 engine of the Chevrolet C/K Scout truck to the deep roar of the Pacific P16’s 12 cylinder diesel engine, every truck has a distinct audio footprint. You’ll also notice the creaking of a heavy duty truck’s cab as you navigate over the bumps and berms of any given forest trail, along with the sound of a trailer you may be towing, as it too struggles to get over the various terrain. Given the nature of the varied locales and environments you will venture through, there are various sounds to match each one, such as running creeks or rivers, the sound of a dam releasing water, to that of downed trees cracking under the weight of your truck, the rain falling or any of the regions animals making sounds. Finally, the music that plays during the game becomes background music that is never annoying or overbearing. It is akin to some upbeat, as well as mellow, country-rock and even what I have termed country-jazz.

SnowRunner is a huge improvement over the game that preceded it. It is also a title that can be challenging but yet rewarding. The visuals are top notch, the audio brings the in-game world to life and the control and game camera are much more fine-tuned. Yes, there are a few hiccups now and then, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. If you are looking for an off-road simulation game that is not only different from the rest out there, but one that will give you a challenge and a lot of gameplay, then you can’t go wrong with SnowRunner, as there is no better game in the genre.

Overall Score: 8.9 / 10 Overpass

Racing games are dominated by circuit racing, street racing, off-road racing (rally), and the vehicles that one uses to challenge the clock, AI or other people, range from high powered exotics to everyday commuters. There are also the two-wheel too, again both on and off road. The formula is standard, as you race against other vehicles for first place or you race against the clock. Recently we had the opportunity to review a unique take on the racing genre, and that game is Overpass. Developer Zordix Racing has created a game that is original, giving you a chance to take on mother nature, as well as a few placed human obstacles.

Overpass challenges you to drive on various courses, either in a circuit-based track or a hill-climb filled with natural obstacles. You take control of fully licensed 4 wheeled buggies (UTVs) and 4 wheeled ATVs from the likes of Arctic Cat, Polaris, Suzuki and Yamaha. Although the goal is to finish first, there are no other racers on track, as it is all about getting the best time on whatever course you are. Sure, you want to go as fast as possible, but Zordix has taken this style of racing game to the max given the nature of the racing itself.

There are three skill levels that you can choose from, plus an even harder skill level that you need to unlock. I chose the middle skill level, Pro, which I had hoped would allow me the best balance of challenge and success. The career mode starts with a lengthy tutorial and this is VERY much needed if you want to succeed in the game. You’ll even find a few sections to be challenging, which is a sign of things to come.

The main crux of Overpass is its Career mode. Here you need to be successful in all the available races to move on to the world final. In terms of progression, it is not locked on a specific path. Although it’s not an open world, you do have some choice in what events you participate in as they are found in a ‘web’ of choices. You must beat events to continue to the next one. Some of the events open new items to purchase in the ‘garage’ (vehicles, shocks, frames, engines, and a few more things), but you have to finish in the top three to these open up. As you race, and place well in each event, you are offered contracts to sign from various sponsors, buy gear at a discounted price and even wager bets with other racers.

In the circuit tracks, there are both man-made obstacles (e.g. piles of telephone poles, concrete pipes, see-saw ramps and more) and natural obstacles (mud, rocks, gravel, water and more). For the hill climbs, the obstacles you face are all natural, and your trip from start to finish is made more difficult as there are multiple paths that you must find on the go to make it to the top. If you are looking for a game that is easy, then this is not it, as navigating all the obstacles, especially the hill climb courses, will take patience as you find the best route for you and you don’t get stuck. Some of the obstacles are mandatory, and these are identified by red flags at the entry point of the obstacle challenge. Should you miss the entry point and keep going, you are hit with a time penalty. All the courses are also marked off by tape, and should you hit any of the tape outlining the course, you are also hit with a time penalty.

One of the interesting features of Overpass when traversing the various environments is that you can flip your buggy or ATV should you not take the time and right angle of entry. You’ll have to give some thought to your navigation of both course specifics and that obstacles you’ll face. When you are using the buggies, there is not much you can to do counterbalance the angles you may find your vehicle leaning at; however, when using the ATVs, you can lean left, right or forward to help with counteracting the forces of gravity. It adds a bit more touch of realism. You also control the traction of some vehicles by switching from 4WD, 2WD and Differential Drive on the fly. You can also choose manual or automatic transmission. The ability to change your traction while racing is important, as you can get better grip when you need it or open it up to speed on straightaways. You wouldn’t think that this would be a feature you’d notice is functional, but it indeed is. If I had one complaint in this area, it is that sometimes your vehicle flips over too easy. There were more than a few occasions that my vehicle flipped during a turn, and I was puzzled as to why.

The challenge in career mode ramps up quite quickly. Circuit races are quite manageable and provide their own challenges; however, the hill climbs that you are faced with can be very frustrating. It is here that Overpass stumbles in its overall enjoyment factor. When navigating the various hill climbs, you can be making great progress only to be stopped in your tracks by a simple obstacle or angle. Wheels will slip on the terrain a lot and finding the perfect route through each area leading to the top requires not only skill, but a lot of luck. I can’t count the number of times that some of the hill climbs had me on the verge of throwing my controller. There is no doubt in my mind that many people may be turned off by this fact alone. That being said, once you pass one of these stages, the satisfaction of doing such is off the chart given how hard it can be. I wish that after so may attempts that the game would provide something like a virtual assistant/navigator to help with the struggle to the finish.

For those looking to open all the licensed vehicles, gear, and mods in the game, it will be a serious grind. You will be restarting courses, repeating various challenges and even a new career mode a few times to get everything open and accessible, but the feeling of beating it, or placing in the top three all the time, is quite satisfying. You won’t be getting through the six venues and 43 courses anytime soon.

For those looking for other modes outside of career mode, there are a few more to keep you busy, including quick race, custom challenge and multiplayer. Quick race is best defined by its title, as you can pick from any of the tracks and their corresponding environments and race. This mode is actually advantageous in such that it allows you to tackle a track that you may be struggling with in career mode, but without any penalty (e.g. failure to place high enough that it may affect overall career placement). You can repeat the track over and over without restarting and figuring out what might be the best way to tackle what is in front of you. You can experiment with different routes on a specific circuit or hill climb and then head back into career mode to find some success. Custom challenge allows you to create your own series of events from the venues found in the game and each course/track within.

Multiplayer is an interesting affair. It is not your traditional versus mode given the nature of game itself. You’ll be racing with other racers ‘ghosts’ in real time. This allows you to focus on the course in front of you and the challenges that they present, while not worrying about the other driver(s) on the track. It’s a simplistic affair, and more akin to a chatroom while you and your opponents are vying for the best time. While some may be disappointed about this, I can understand why, as it would be a crazy demolition derby at times, especially when going over, though and/or around the various obstacles. You can choose to run a course that is presented to you by the game, or you can add various tracks and create an event with multiple courses at multiple venues. You are always brought back to the lobby to ‘ready up’ and start the next race, so it is not seamless. There is no way that you can make a lobby private, or at least one that I could see. Your game will be public, and people join and leave as they don’t have the patience for you and others to complete what in-progress event. Finally, should you finish in first, you can watch your opponent(s) navigate the course; however, it is a ghost image of a static vehicle, with no animation or sound. It would have been nice to see an identical representation of what your opponent was seeing, with moving parts and driver. Regardless of its’ simplicity, and a few hitches, it was still nice to see multiplayer added to the gameplay options.

Visually, Overpass is solid, but not without some faults. The six different venues are quite different from one another. You’ll be navigating forest courses, beach courses, jungle courses, gravel pit courses, canyon courses and a man-made area within a forested area. You will also find yourself racing at different times of the day and night. Seeing the sunset on a beach-based course was striking. The venues are full of environmental centric scenery too including vegetation, rocks, water and more. The frame rate is generally pretty good, and the only thing I noted was some screen tearing that become noticeable, along with the textures in near distance popping in. You may overlook this though as there is lot of detail in the environments. In terms of the in-game vehicles, they are quite detailed too. The licensed brands all look different from one another right down to the cargo baskets, shocks to the size of tires. As you make your way across the many obstacles (man-made or natural), watching the sway of your buggy or ATV, the shocks compressing as your wheels go over objects, your driver leaning out of a buggy to see the course or leaning on an ATV to keep upright, and of course getting all muddy, all adds to the look of the game.

As for the audio, it’s a mixed bag. The menu music is rock-centric, and given what the nature of the game, it suits it. You won’t hear too many environmental sound effects though, as the sound of your buggy or ATV drowns it out. I found the majority of vehicle sounds to be grating. Yes, different buggies and ATVs sounded sightly different, but most of them sounded like a 2-cycle weed eater engine. Even my wife was surprised that the noise she heard from my office was the soundbar and not from someone outside weed eating. I wish I could have heard more of the vehicle going over rocks, tires or piles of telephone poles as the suspension would struggle to get over each item.

Overpass is a racing game that defies the genre, as it’s not what you would consider a true racing game. It is more of an off-road, slow paced driving game where you need to discover the best way to get from start to finish. It is one that will no doubt frustrate you often, and one where the sound may grate on your nerves, but the foundation of something special is here. I truly hope that this is not a one-off title, as a sequel to fix some of the annoyances would make this a game that driving fans must have, but as of right now, Overpass is an experiment that has many redeeming qualities, but the negative ones hold it back from being the great gaming experience it could be.

Suggestions: Please take the time and effort do develop a sequel, as there is such a great prospect of this franchise to carve out the niche it is and fill a need for an original race oriented game.

Overall Score: 6.8 / 10 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

The Call of Duty franchise has been going strong since 2003. For me personally, my first COD experience was on the Xbox 360 during the console’s launch, as Call of Duty 2 was released at the same time. There have been numerous games since. While the first 5 years or so focused on World War 2, a shift in the timeline occurred, and that change was COD 4: Modern Warfare. It was a ‘modern’ take on war, and there were three Modern Warfare titles in this franchise. The franchise has been set in other time periods released, including stories set in the future, but many fans have longed for another Modern Warfare chapter, and for those fans, that time has come.

Activision flew us down to an undisclosed location to review the game early. Over the course of a few days, we had the chance to play the single player campaign, duel it out in the online multiplayer, and try out the spec-ops mode. Although Modern Warfare does not have a number after it, it is indeed a brand-new story in the series. It’s a reimagining of the original, and once you finish you’ll see how this story fits in to the timeline. Developer Infinity Ward is once again at the helm, with some assistance from from the folks at Raven Software and Beenox.

There are two new major changes that I want to address right off the get-go. The first, and one that most gamers should already knows given the Beta was out a few weeks ago, is that Modern Warfare is the first COD to be crossplay compatible. Players across PC, PS4 and Xbox One can now play together in PvP matches. While some may worry that mouse and keyboard can have an advantage, there is an in-game filter that will match you up with only people using a controller if that is what you are using.

The other major change that has been made to the franchise, and one that I wholly endorse, is that the game’s XP progression carries over mode to mode. Any progress, such as weapon items, perks, kill streaks, camouflage, etc., carries over to the other modes. This feature alone is almost a game changer for the franchise, in my opinion. If you play the campaign and cooperative spec-ops modes more than PvP, don’t worry, you’ll level up along with all the weapons that you favour. If you just play PvP, of course things will level up for you too, and if you want to play a bit of cooperative or the campaign, you’ll carry your XP into those modes as well. This feature rewards the hardcore COD fans and casual fans of the franchise alike.

Single Player Campaign

Make no doubt about it, Modern Warfare’s single player story pulls no punches, and it has some scenes that will make you think. When I say that, it’s not because they are over the top, or overly gratuitous in their violence or content, but they reflect what is going on in the real world. You’ll witness public hangings, mass graves and public beatings in the streets. I winced now and then, not from the actual subject matter, just from the fact what I saw on-screen caused me to reflect that people in the real world are living circumstances in the Middle East very similar to what happens in the game. You’ll also come across instances where you are given a choice of what to do during some key scenes. Think of it as a test of your ‘moral compass’. I won’t spoil anything by telling you what these are, but when you get to them you’ll know. I had a brief discussion to Narrative Lead Taylor Kurosaki, and he stated that he and the dev-team really wanted to have players think, and talk, not only about the story in Modern Warfare, but also to think about the real world, and given what I played, and experienced, I have to say they have truly done this.

The story is linear in fashion and you control numerous parts of it. You’ll find yourself in various European cities as well as the Middle East as you take on a few different roles, from CIA operative Kyle Carrick, Rebel Leader Farah Ahmed Karim to SAS Kyle Carrick. Each role adds to the narrative which has a few twists and turns throughout the game’s 14 chapters.

I appreciated the back story to some of the characters and that you are given the opportunity to play as some of them during different time periods and events that influenced their life path. This is very evident when considering Rebel Leader Farah Ahmed Karim. You not only learn what the turning point for her was during her childhood, but you’ll play as her during this ‘revelation’. I found learning about a character’s motivation for what they do a great addition. This also creates a real connection to these characters.

I played the single player campaign on normal and took my time going through the various chapters. It took me around 5 hours or so, which depends on the gameplay skill setting you play on and the gameplay style you stick to.

In terms of Modern Warfare’s presentation, I found everything very solid. What was very noticeable is the new graphics engine that Infinity Ward uses. It is very much a step up from what fans are used too. From the lighting or character animations to the environment and the details in the weapons, no one should be disappointed. Going between in-game play and in-game cut-scenes is flawless, as they pretty much look the same in terms of quality and textures. You’ll find the nighttime scenes amazing to look at as the moonlight cuts through forested areas, explosions light up an area while city streets take on a different look depending on day or night, all of it is simply impressive. The details put into every weapon is amazing too. From various metal finishes, the way that a weapon fires a bullet, or series of bullets, to the way each weapon discharges a spent bullet shell, or series of bullet shells, you’ll find a lot of intricate details here.

Performance wise, the frame rate maintained relatively solid and I did not notice any slowdown or tearing while playing, even with lots of action on-screen at once. I did check out the game in 4K and HDR on the Xbox One X and I have to say it looked gorgeous. When I asked about taking advantage of the more powerful mid-generation consoles, I was told that the game was optimized by Infinity Ward Poland, and that each strength of each console (base and mid-gen upgrade) has been taken advantage of. Exactly what was done for the Xbox One X specifically I don’t have exact details, but it looks fabulous on the 40-inch 4k HDR TV I played on in my home office.

As for the audio, this again is another area that seems to have been improved upon. At the review event we were using Astro wired headsets (A40s), and at my home office I was reviewing the wireless Astro A50s, Gen 4, so I played the game using this headset. I felt like I was in the middle of everything that was happening on-screen. Switching to my sound bar, although there was a loss of being in the middle of the action (no surround), everything was very discernable, from the chatter of my squad, the music that was playing, to all the sound effects during battle. Speaking of music, it manages to hit the right level of intensity no matter what seems to be happening on screen. Whether I was using a headset or my soundbar, the sound could get extremely busy, but not in a way that was distracting.

I really want to take some time here to comment on the weapon sounds. The best way that I can put it is that they sound “impactful”. From the handguns and, SMGs to LMGs and Assault rifles and more, each weapon is very distinct sounding, and there is a lot of oomph when you fire them. Even the sound of a spent shell exiting a weapon is prevalent and very unique to each gun. It really is that good.

Spec-Ops (cooperative)

Let's get the ‘Elephant-in-the-Room’ out of the way right now given we are an Xbox centric site. Yes, there is a 1-year timed exclusive spec-ops mode for PS4 owners, and yes, I am very much not a fan about this. The mode is a horde like mode called Survival. In the end, it is one mode in the spec-ops world, and to tell you the truth, it’s not a deal breaker. I do agree with those that do not approve of this kind of business practice, as Xbox One owners pay the same price as PS4 owners, except Xbox owners get one less Spec-Ops mode. However, after playing what is available to Xbox One owners, I really don’t think this is a big issue gameplay wise and it is more about the business practices of Sony and Activision (positive or negative). Ok, with that being put to rest, let’s go.

Spec-ops is a four-player cooperative mode. There are two flavours for and that is operational and mission based. In terms of that latter, the game’s story continues in the mission-based spec-ops, while the operations based variant is more about matchmade challenges completing a multi-stage operation. We spent most of our time in the operation mode. Before we started playing, we were warned that spec-ops is very challenging and requires your team to work together and communicate. I have to tell you; they were not kidding. Make sure to choose a specific role that will be advantageous to you and your whole team.

The first mission we took on required us to download data from various points around a sports stadium and try to get out alive. It seemed manageable at first, as enemies would came at us during each download, but as we progressed the difficulty got harder and it never let up. It was crazy as enemies came from all around, and they were relentless in tracking us. We made it about three-quarters of the way through before we finally succumbed to the incredible number of enemies attacking us. We faced terrorists, juggernauts, snipers, and more. We tried this operation a couple more times, but we continued to get overrun. The next operation required us to infiltrate an airport, but I knew we were in trouble from the get-go as during the first wave of enemies there were two juggernauts who decimated us. We managed to get farther after a few more attempts, but again, we ended up getting overrun, and getting separated often. The final operation we tried had us heading straight into a military base, but as soon as we passed the gates, all hell broke loose. This happened repeatedly, and no matter what we did, enemy upon enemy attacked us from all directions, and a helicopter or two made things rougher. Add in a couple of juggernauts (again) and damn, we struggled.

My biggest complaint isn’t so much that it was tough as nails, it is that there was no break in the action if you finished a certain step. For example, once we downloaded the first and second batches of data in the first operation we played, I would have appreciated a break in the action; however, there was none. Enemies kept coming whether you were defending the download area or not. Add to this fact that enemies come from everywhere, even after you’ve cleared an area. The other issue is how quick you go through ammo. Although you have a chance to equip a crate to supply ammo, or can find guns that deceased enemies drop, you still must be very aware of ammo management. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about just about firing your gun with careless abandonment, but still, you really have to be on your ‘A’-game regarding your ammo as there are very few sources.

I hope that there is at least a realization by the dev-team that things just may be TOO tough for some players. While I fully agree that challenge is good, but if you just can’t succeed at the missions, giving a group of players a chance to change the difficulty would be something positive. However, the challenge of spec-ops also may encourage more gameplay for the completionists out there..

Multiplayer (PvP)

When we played PvP we did indeed play on an optimal network, but for the love of god, it is just like playing online in the wild after the initial impact of launch week when the servers get his hard early, so we think it’s fair to review the PvP here.

COD games have always had a huge following regarding the PvP play, and with Modern Warfare the dev-teams involved have made efforts to add new features to freshen things up. Along with their usual online PvP modes (e.g. Domination, Team Death Match or Headquarters) you’ll find some new things to play right of the hop, like Cyber Attack, Realism, Gunfight and Ground War.

Cyber Attack is best akin to a Search and Destroy mode. You retrieve an EMP device and try to plant and set it off near your enemy’s data center. This mode gets intense as teams battle for position and try to stop the EMP device from being activated. Getting down to your last couple of players (you can also revive each other) can be intense as you only have so much time to destroy the device after activation before it goes off. First team win to five rounds wins the game.

Realism is a new mode that I found interesting. This mode eliminates much of the regular COD interface for more of a barebones on-screen HUD. You’ll see that weapon reticles that are not part of the actual weapon are gone, and you’ll have to judge, and hope, that some of your weapons will hit their target (e.g. grenade launcher on bottom of assault rifle). It adds a bit more skill to the game as you compensate for the lack of such features.

Gunfight is a 2v2 mode that I didn’t think I would enjoy but ended up liking a lot. It’s a simple premise, as you are on a team of two playing against another team of two, and weapons change each round. There is also a variant called OSP Procurement where you find guns placed around the level. Each area for Gunfight is small, full of cover, and easy to traverse. All in all, it is a great way to play with a friend and hope for the best as the firefights can become intense, and somewhat crazy at times.

Finally, there is Ground War, and this is the biggest mode in the game in terms of player count and level size. You will find that the mode can range from 20 vs. 20 to as high as 32 vs. 32. During the review event I heard one of the dev-team say to their staff “keep an eye on the screens, we are going to 60 players”. This included all the media that was there (around 40) plus members of the dev-team that were not at the event itself. It was crazy playing in the largest levels of the game with so many people. The mode consisted of each team fighting for control of up to five zones at the same time. Each environment has so many different areas you can go to as they are pretty much open up to exploration everywhere. You can even get to the roof of various office towers and snipe from above. I ran up a virtual 13 story building to the roof and ended up taking potshots as people below, as well as those on other rooftops. Although I didn’t come on top of the scoreboard, I had a lot of fun in this mode exploring the levels, taking zones, and exploring more ways to get to certain areas on the map.

Like the single player campaign, the visuals are great. PvP uses the same graphics engine and you can tell. From a bright hazy day in the city (Ground War) to those modes where night vision is required (NGV mode), you’ll see so many details in each of the games 21 PvP maps. Although the number of maps is large, some of the maps are geared for specific modes, while others are interchangeable. Regardless, there are a lot of maps along with a lot of modes in Modern Warfare’s multiplayer arena.

One of the key things I noticed when playing was the physics engine. In past games I felt that the multiplayer was a bit ‘arcade-like’. This feeling, in my opinion, was when running, jumping (bunny hopping) and the general feel of getting around a level. After a few games I looked at one of the dev-team and asked if there was a change in the physics. He just smiled at me for a bit, asked for some explanation as to why I thought that, and then he informed me that they overhauled the multiplayer physics. The best way I could describe it is that it doesn’t feel ‘floaty’, and the bunny hopping is not nearly as prevalent. If anything, it feels better, and dare I say more realistic. From jumping/traversing over barriers or through windows to mounting your weapon on a door frame, wall corner, or concrete barrier to steady your aim, it all feels more fluid.

You can customize your loadouts to your hearts content. Given that Modern Warfare’s XP carries over in all modes, you’ll be unlocking guns, weapon attachments, and perks a lot. You will be able to visit the game’s Gunsmith where you augment the weapons you use in battle and assign them to specific loadouts. But be careful, as you only have so many ‘points’ that you can use in terms of augmentations and/or perks for your weapons. There is so much to experiment in this area that you’ll come up with many ways to run and gun. Of course, you’ll also find a wide variety of killstreaks that have made COD PvP the game mode it is.

Finally, I want to talk about Microtransactions. This was something that Infinity Ward/Activision wanted to address prior to us even seeing the game. We were told that there will be microtransactions; however, if the item is functional in-game then it will not be behind a paywall. This meant a lot to many of us listening, as what they are saying is that the game is not ‘pay-to-win’, and that with crossplay being enabled for Modern Warfare, they want everyone to have the same in-game experience. They have also recently announced a battle pass system, so you’ll know what you are paying for.

As a whole game experience, I am very happy with Infinity Ward’s new take on the Modern Warfare franchise. It is a very well put together game, from the reimagined single-player campaign, the 'hard-as-nails' cooperative mode (spec-ops) to the addictive and refined PvP with crossplay, no loot boxes, and an upcoming battle pass. The new graphics engine looks great, the sound is well done, and the controls make for an enjoyable time with the whole package. Many people doubt COD every year, but it’s with confidence that I can recommend that people think about picking up this game, as not only is it fun, but it will make you think too, given what the narrative team has done with the story. Oh, and one quick tip, make sure to check out something after the credits have rolled.

Overall Score: 8.9 / 10 Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

When one speaks of any kart racing video game, the first thing that people usually think of is Mario Kart, and rightly so, as it is truly a great racing game. There have been numerous challengers over the years, but most have failed to capture the magic of kart racing like Nintendo’s iconic series. That being said, the first generation PlayStation (rebadged as the PSone) did have a kart racing game of its own. In the late 90’s, Crash Team Racing, a game based on a character that many saw as the PSone’s mascot, like that of Sonic or Mario for their respective consoles, was released. It was developed by Naughty Dog and it did a lot of things right, so much so that the PlayStation faithful believed that they indeed had a competitor worthy to challenge any Mario Kart game, with tight controls, lots of content, very creative level design and visuals.

Fast forward to present day. Publisher Activision has been releasing reimagined, remastered and reworked versions of some popular games of the past, including Crash Bandicoot and Spyro. Each of these releases consist of all the original games that released on the PSone (three separate games in each compilation), but they were remastered to look like games of today. Not one to ignore the success of those remasters, Activision’s most recent release is Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, based on the original Crash Team Racing, as well as including some content from the two sequels that followed.

Believe it or not, there is semblance of a story to be found within. Crash, along with all the identifiable characters of the Crash Bandicoot universe, compete in races that accumulate in a winner take all. But wait, there is more! It’s not just about being number one for the sake of lifting the championship trophy, you are actually trying to save the world by beating all the tracks, challengers and sub-bosses. only to finally face off against Nitros Oxide, who wants to cover the Earth in concrete and make it one gigantic parking lot. Sure, it may not be a deep and engaging story; however, at least you have a purpose for your high-speed antics.

The story, or purpose if you will, is played out in the game’s adventure mode. Here you’ll progress through the tracks, sub-bosses and eventually the final boss. There are a total of 5 hub-worlds for you to get through. You can play the adventure mode one of two ways: classic mode or nitro fueled mode.

The classic mode mirrors the original game, as you play one character throughout the whole game, start to end, and you use only a basic kart to do so. Those you race against are from the original cast of characters too, and you’ll find no difficulty option. The other way to play is the nitro fueled mode. Here you can do a slew of things you cannot do in classic mode, such as choosing different characters or karts at any time, customize your character and kart with items earned during gameplay (e.g. decals, stickers, wheels, paint jobs) and you’ll race against a wider array of characters, including those from the sequels. You can also change the difficulty level in the nitro fueled, and this racing fans is a very important point.

Nitro-Fueled can be a very, very tough experience in both the modes. When I first started to review the game, I played the nitro fueled mode. I set the difficulty on medium and had difficulty winning races. I found that most of the time I finished in second a lot, with some races resulting in me being even lower down the field. My son was watching me play and couldn’t believe how perfect some of the A.I. racers were. On one track, which I think I ran at least 6-8 times, it had the exact same character winning each race, and even getting faster in some of the later races; it was crazy. I bumped the skill down to easy and found that I was able to win races with regularity, but it wasn’t without some back and forth for first place. And let’s be honest here, I didn’t even try to play the game in hard.

The difficulty of the game, in some manner, is what will bring old fans back while being able to cater to those who like a challenge and who consider themselves awesome racers. It really does come down to mastering the game's controls, memorizing the tracks (e.g. boost pads and shortcuts) and persevering. Sure, the game is MUCH easier when playing on easy, but for those who are looking for a challenge, the medium and hard modes are sure to suffice. If you are going to be successful in the medium and hard modes, you’re going to have to be “one-with-the-game” so to speak, as you’ll need any and every advantage you can get.

Once you’ve beaten any of the tracks, you can head back and take on various challenges, like relic races, crystal collect or CTR mode to name a few. The CTR mode has you racing while looking for, and collecting, the three letters “CTR”, and you also have to place first. The extra modes allow for more gameplay, and something that completionists will enjoy. Of course you are able to play a quick race as well, and this may prove to be an important mode, as learning the ins and outs of all the tracks is important for securing a victory. I found that I enjoyed the ability to choose from these extra modes and/or challenges, as they allowed me to go at my own pace, collecting relics or crystals and reaping the rewards of such.

Beenox has included a nice suite of multiplayer options to Crash Team Racing as well. There is both local (couch) multiplayer and online multiplayer. Local multiplayer splits the screen into a 2x2 grid allowing up to four players to go at it. From racing on any track to battling it out in the ‘battle mode’, being able to do so, while in the same room as friends and family is enjoyable, and may result in a little smack talk, as it did in my household. Online multiplayer is pretty much the same as local, but in this case, you’ll be racing or playing battle mode with people from all over the globe (up to 8-players). I did manage to get some time in both before and after launch. The time I had before the game was released to the public was very quiet, and I only got two races in, as well as a bit of battle mode; and both seemed to have some network issues.

My time after the ‘official’ launch was much better, as there were more games, and it seems that Beenox, and publisher Activision, had prepared for the public launch, as I didn’t have many, if any, network issues while I raced or engaged in a bit of CTF, Steal the Bacon, or Last Kart Standing. I think there are enough online modes to keep most happy, be it locally or online, when they want a change from single player racing. And yes, I may not have won every race or battle mode, but man, it was kinda fun for sure.

As you win, place, or show in any given race or mode, you will be rewarded Wumpa Coins. The number of coins you earn can vary and depend on the difficulty of the track you’re racing on and if you are racing online or offline. These virtual coins can be used at the ‘Pit Stop’, which is in-game store for Crash Team Racing. Here you will be able to buy customization items, karts, stickers, etc. What is worth noting is that all the items are basically cosmetic, so the game’s store is not for what some people call “Pay to Win”. All the items found in the Pit Stop are for looks and style. So, if you want a new character or kart skin, odds are you’ll find it here. The inventory changes very regularly too. You cannot use real money to buy Wumpa Coins, or the items found in the Pit Stop, so everyone has equal chance to get what they want with the coins they earn.

Crash Team Racing also features what the folks at Beenox are calling “Grand Prix”. The best way to understand this is that it is like seasons. There are specific Grand Prix’s during the next year or so, and you will complete specific challenges related to the Grand Prix at the time, and as you do so, you fill up your nitro bar. As you make your way up to “full”, you’ll earn new karts, items, customization, and characters. It’s a nice incentive, and something I think people will enjoy.

Crash Team Racing is a game that looks like it was developed during this generation of consoles. There are numerous pictures and videos out there on the ‘interwebz’ showing the original PSone version(s) vs. the current reworked game, and as one would expect, the difference is night and day. Each track from the original game, plus some from the two sequels, have been meticulously upgraded. Given that the original PSone was limited in it power at that time, Beenox has done things that make the environments look alive. The use of high-res textures, bright colours, shadowing, lighting, water effects and so much more, fans of the kart genre will love the modern interpretation. Although this game is very much updated for today's standards, there still lies a feeling of nostalgia. The track design remains the same, it’s just that the actual visuals have been updated, so you’ll still see a lot of what you remember from the original, just in modern day graphics. Oh, and for those wondering, I did not run into any visual hiccups such as frame-rate slowdown, screen tearing or any other glitches that some games may have.

In terms of the games audio, another two thumbs up here. From the sounds of your customized cart, your character that you choose, to the environment effects and the music, everything is upbeat, clear and makes for even more enjoyment. What is really notable here is that the in-game music is the original music, but just like the visuals, it has been reworked, but this time to sound even better. You’ll find it is more ‘melodic’ so to speak, as it is fuller (sound wise not size wise), seems to have more instruments and matches the original feel in terms of each track that you race on. You have the option to head into the menu and play the original music from the PSone era as well. It’s a nice feature, as you are able to hear the how much each music track(s) has changed, and how they still incorporate the original music from the original game.

I really enjoyed my time with Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, as it brought the original PSone game to life with modern day visuals and sound, and I got to play it on the Xbox One. There is a heck of a lot to do in the game too, so you won’t get through it too quickly, and for completionists out there, you’ll enjoy all that the game has you doing. It’s worth reiterating that the game can be tough, and that is something you’ll have to adjust to, as you memorize the tracks, their shortcuts and all. Don’t let this fact keep you from playing it though, as there is a lot of fun here for those who have not played the game in the past, and for those returning to the world of Crash Team Racing, you’ll be very happy with this remaster too.

Overall Score: 8.8 / 10 Crackdown 3

Oh boy, this is quite a difficult review for me to write. Crackdown 3 has been in development for five years, and fans, including myself, were expecting a lot. Well, the game has finally released, and it is available as both a standalone purchase or included in the Xbox Game Pass subscription. As I put words to virtual paper, it is my opinion that Crackdown 3 is a game that shows signs of brilliance now and then, yet, it doesn’t advance the franchise much, if any. It is not a bad game by any means, it’s just that it is not a really good one either.

The narrative of Crackdown 3 is simple. Cities around the world have been hit with massive blackouts, and the last remaining city with power is New Providence, a city controlled by Terra Nova and its leader Elizabeth Niemand. Terra Nova has been welcoming ‘survivors’ with open arms, even heading out and assisting those who need it, as they pick them up in their fancy ‘people movers’. Yes, I said ‘people movers’, as that is what they basically are. There are nefarious reasons for them doing so, which you’ll discover as you play. Commander Jaxon, and a crew of Agents, are headed to New Providence to discover the true nature of Terra Nova’s intentions. As they make their way towards the city, their ship is attacked, and all agents perish, except you. Your role, as the last survivor, is to discover what happened, who is control and to bring Terra Nova to their knees.

You choose from a small number of agents, and as with past games, you level your agent up in five different skill areas, which include agility, firearms, strength, explosives and driving. You’ll level these skills by using different weapons, completing agility and driving races, finding stunt rings, using your fists, finding hidden ‘leveling’ orbs (250 of them), as well as collecting the famed Crackdown Agility Orbs (750 of them). As you play, you also discover areas that have hidden DNA from the Agents that were killed at the beginning. Finding the various DNA adds new agents to your roster, each one having a certain strength in a specific area, and you can choose to play as one of them.

There is a ‘boss tree’ where you defeat lieutenants that run many of the city’s operations, from security, industry, transportation, Chimera production (and testing), technology and a few more, and eventually you will battle the Elizabeth Niemand herself. To kill each lieutenant, you take over, or destroy, various areas and/or complete tasks of a specific nature, all which are under supervision of the lieutenant in question. This can include destroying vehicle storage compounds, destroying Chimera harvesters, taking over monorail station locations, taking control of propaganda towers and more. You must do a certain number of these tasks in order to open the area where the lieutenant in control will be found.

The neat thing about this approach is that it is not linear, as you can go after any of the lieutenants in any order to finally battle Elizabeth Niemand. You don’t need to beat all of them either. You also don’t need to do all of ‘challenges’ for each lieutenant, as once you completed a specific number of them, the lieutenant’s area opens up. What is kind of a bummer here though is that some of these tasks can become repetitive, even somewhat blending into each other, given the nature of what you need to do.

The ‘journey’ to get to some of the higher lieutenants can be quite involved, and long. Most of the top tier lieutenants, and Elizabeth Niemand, are in the middle of the city, in the towers found within the area. You’ll have to find your way to the top each one, via platforming and battling the security forces that guard them. I enjoyed what it took to get to these lieutenants as it somewhat lengthy and needed some exploration.

You can also do the campaign in co-op mode. It is not a drop-in/drop-out affair though, as you must pick the mode at the starting screen. It is the same campaign as the single player, but there are some perks to playing with another. The first, and foremost one, is no matter where you are on the map in relation to your co-op partner, if you kill a series of enemies, they will get the specific mini-orbs that are associated with the type of kill. It is a nice feature, as you and your teammate can be in totally different areas of the map, but still benefit from each others’ efforts. Another neat feature is that if you, or your partner, have progressed far into the game, you can use your leveled-up agent, and there will be the outline of agility or hidden orbs that you found so you can tell them where one might be. The outline will only show up if your teammate, or yourself, has not found that specific orb.

You’ll use various weapons and grenades as you play. These weapons are unlocked by killing certain enemies who hold them, or by finding them in various areas of the game. For example, on one of the harder missions later in the game, I came across the uber-cool Oblivion gun, which fires and creates a small black hole to draw in all enemies, cars and everything around it. This weapon was sitting in a case after I beat a lieutenant that was associated with the Technology group. Some weapons are, of course, stronger against certain enemies and weaker against others and you’ll find out which ones to use and when.

Crackdown 3 also has vehicles for you to obtain and this includes an “Agent Vehicle”. In order put a vehicle in your garage, you must find, and at least get into, the various vehicles found in game. This includes those parked on the streets of New Providence, those found in enemy vehicle compounds, those on the public highways and side roads and those that are used by enemies to get around the city as they look for you. As for the “Agent Vehicle”, you will eventually open new forms of it as you level up your driving skill. One of these forms can scale horizontal surfaces (e.g. side of a building) while another is a tank with a turret, to assist you in battling the heavier armoured vehicles of Terra Nova.

The sad thing here is that vehicles handling is an issue. A lot are too twitchy in their control and you will find that you may or may not adapt. It’s disappointing, as there are actual races for you to complete, and stunt rings for you to go through, each of which are littered throughout the city. I found that the control somewhat ruined these types of activities and I stopped doing them once leveled in this area.

Visually, the game is a somewhat of a mixed bag, as there are times when there are incredible effects on screen, while other periods show flat textures or less detail (all screens are captured from in-game). The art style of the first two games remains, with the cel-shaded look. The bright neon lit city of New Providence is quite large and drenched in colour, especially at night. There are lots of areas to explore that look different from one another. One moment you’ll be in the ‘entertainment’ district, the next you’ll be high atop a tower looking down, then next you’ll be at a Chimera plant with oil-rig looking pumps and barren land. There is indeed some variety here. For me what really stood out were the weapon effects of the various special weapons. You’ll find that using a gun that spews out a stream of caustic fluid gives a green hue to the you and the area you stand on, where as when the homing rocket launcher results in firing the rocket and you see the rocket trail as it tracks its prey, resulting in an eye-catching explosion that is small to big, depending on what you hit. Particle effects and explosions are quite impressive and add to the game’s flair.

The narrative uses comic book looking scenes, mostly static with a bit of animation within. As one would expect, it has an art style that matches the game’s look. You will not find a lot of pre-rendered video given that the game does not provide the story that way. It is a simple method, and it works because it blends in with the overall presentation of the game, just don’t expect to be wowed by it. The story is also expanded through interaction with the various lieutenants, and even Elizabeth Niemand over your radio, as well as some chatter from the head of the agency and the girl (Echo) who helped to restore you at the beginning.

I was reviewing Crackdown 3 on an Xbox One X and a 40-inch UHD TV, and things managed to move along with little to no hitches, even when I was blowing up a boatload of cars or Chimera storage tanks, the game did not slow down. With the good does come some bad. First off, the game really does look like an up-rez’d title from the Xbox 360. While some of the environments look good, you'll find some of the areas kinda flat and lacking detail. You will also find that when adjusting your camera on the fly, it may result in some very strange angles where there will some clipping, or you disappear behind some of the environments polygons. And then there are the vehicles, although they look somewhat futuristic, and fit into the neon-soaked world, the geometry and textures of many, but not all, are very simple looking and did not feel like they belonged on the Xbox One X. Some animations also seem simplistic, especially when looking at the A.I you battle. Your agent moves fluidly throughout the environment though, and using a triple jump and double dash to navigate the rooftops is as good looking and fun as it sounds.

The audio in Crackdown 3 is, once again, a mixed bag. The voice acting is satisfactory, but not amazing. I was expecting to hear a lot of Terry Crew’s character, Agent Jaxon, but you do not, and what you do hear is mostly limited to the opening scene, as well when you take over a propaganda tower and change it from Terra Nova’s control to that of the Agency. Agent Jaxon spews out one-liners and encouragement to get citizens to rise up. I also noted that after beating Elizabeth Niemand, and when I had a couple more lieutenants to beat, I would be destroying or taking over their assigned areas (e.g. Chimera storage) and they would talk about Elizabeth Niemand in the past tense, as she was already vanquished. It was a nice touch.

The music and sound effects are very solid, as are the sounds of some of the weapons such as the thump of grenades launching, the streak of a homing rocket, to the black hole you create with the Oblivion weapon. The music is very techno-like given the futuristic neon lit setting of New Providence. At no time did I mute or lower the volume for the music, as it was not bothersome and it did not get on my nerves when taking on extended play sessions, and in my opinion, that is a good thing. I experience the sound cutting out at times up to a few seconds long, and for no apparent reason, which was a surprise and somewhat jolting.

Wrecking Zone (PvP Multiplayer):

Crackdown 3’s PvP is a separate game mode that you launch to play. It is strange to have to do this, but it might have something to do with the use of the cloud to power the mode. It’s a 5v5 experience and you can choose from a wide selection of different looking agents. There is no advantage of one agent over another as they are all fully powered up, so you can use the triple jump and two times dash ability to navigate each map. One of the big features that has been highlighted about the multiplayer mode are the fully destructible environments, which adds to how one may play given you can make a building tumble on your enemies. In terms of the modes, there are currently two modes available: Agent Hunt and Territories.

Agent Hunt is Crackdown 3’s version of Team Deathmatch/Kill Confirmed. Each team starts at opposing ends of the map, and it is an all-out battle to kill and recover the ‘banner’ of the opposing team member you killed. This mode goes up to 25 banners collected by either team. It’s straightforward as you try to kill the opposing team and you, or your teammates, pick up the banner up. It can be pretty chaotic, but I found that it was not as chaotic as the Crackdown 3’s other mode, Territories.

Territories is like a King of the Hill or Lockdown, as teams compete to control specific zones. There are two zones in play at a time, and once the ‘control’ timer of a specific zone reaches 60, a new zone spawns. Zones can not only be large in diameter, but also in height, as each zone can take up quite a bit vertical space. It adds to the limited strategy of the mode, as there are multiple areas in a zone where you, or a teammate, can try to control the point. Remember though, the environments are destructible, so you may find the floor blown up from under you, or the top of the structure tumbling down.

You’ll be able to see the outline of opposing team members in both modes once they are in range. This is helpful, as it can be crazy trying track or take down the other team as they jump, dash and hit launch pads that are found on the maps. I had an enjoyable time in Wrecking Zone, but in small spurts. The modes aren’t very tactical. Sure, you need to try to coordinate your taking of zones in Territories; however, that is if your teammates talk, which you’ll find doesn’t happen often.

One of the biggest omissions at launch is that Wrecking Zone does not allow for parties to play. You will have to play with random public players. Why they didn’t have the game ready for parties to play is a huge strike, as this the multiplayer screams for a group of friends to play together. There is also no ability to set up private matches, which I also think is another huge ‘miss’, given that it would be a heck of a lot of fun to just create a private room, and go to town knocking down buildings on your friends.

Visually, the multiplayer portion of the game is pretty solid. There is a lot of verticality to each map. I didn’t hit any slowdown when playing, which is impressive when you realize how much is going on screen at once. Each level has the same aesthetic as the single player game, but this time you and four others will be scaling buildings, structures, and even statues, as you look for the opposing team.

There is no doubt that the multiplayer experience has potential, but at this current time, it is very bare-bones, given the there are only two modes, a small number of maps and only nine weapons that you can choose from (primary and secondary). There is not a lot of strategy either, and it isn’t a deep experience; however, it is a nice change from the single player game, and when played in small bursts, it somewhat compliments Crackdown 3 as a whole.

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about this game. As I stated earlier, this game can show signs of brilliance at times, but as you play you get a feeling of “been there, done that” as you continue to go deeper into the game. Fans of the franchise should really enjoy it though, given it gives them more of what they have come to love; however, there is no advancement in the series, and this will be seen by some as a negative, as it should. Newbies to Crackdown should enjoy the experience as well, but it may feel dated to them. The single player/co-op campaign does offer some fun, and the items to find on map, from orbs, Agent DNA to voice logs, will keep completionists busy for quite a while. And as for multiplayer, you’ll have some mindless fun playing against other players as you create chaos by destroying the environment you play in while trying to reach a winning score. I suggest that you play the multiplayer in short spurts and you will most likely continue to enjoy it, as you take a break from single player play.

As for Crackdown 3’s value, there is no doubt that you’ll get your best ‘bang for the buck’ if you subscribe to Xbox’s Game Pass given its inclusion in the subscription service; however, as a game that you buy on it’s own, it is somewhat tough to recommend as a must buy at such a high price. In the end, Crackdown 3 could have been so much more, but for what it is, it is a title that you just put your brain on pause, work at getting your “kills for skills”, blow shit up and save New Providence city, while sometimes taking a break to play in the Wrecking Zone now and then. It’s a simple premise, but it is one that can be fun.

Overall Score: 6.9 / 10 Starlink: Battle for Atlas

A few years ago, Ubisoft unveiled a trailer for a new IP at their annual E3 press conference, and that IP was Starlink, which is a ‘Toys to Life’ game. At the time, it was just a teaser, and a bit of gameplay to show their vision, but not much information was released to those in attendance. To know that there was a new IP in production from Ubisoft was pretty exciting, given that they are well known for their Far Cry games, Assassins Creed games, and of course Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six games. Fast forward to the present, and Ubisoft has finally released the retail version of Starlink: Battle for Atlas.

I have to admit, my experience with the game has been non-existent before I got to review it, and I was not expecting much from it. That is not to say that I didn’t have faith; however, with many Toys to Life games, like Warner Bros. LEGO franchise and Disney’s Infinity being cancelled, and Activision’s Skylanders being currently on hiatus, I was not 100% confident given the status of past games in the genre. Well, after spending about 2 weeks playing it off and on, I have to say that I am very surprised with the Starlink experience.

Let’s get something off the table right away, as this game does utilize physical toys when playing. They are not particularly cheap, as a look on shows ships are $39.99 (Cdn), weapon packs sell for around $14 (Cdn) and pilots are about $13 (Cdn) each. The toys are very well designed, and built, and putting the pilot on the included adapter (found in the starter pack), and then adding the ship, is pretty easy. That being said, the thought of having to buy new toys for a new game may turn some parents, or gamers, off, as the investment may just be too much. But don’t worry, you can buy a digital version of the game which includes many of the pilots, ships and weapons in-game already, and you actually save money doing so. With that in mind, it really does come down to how much money you want to spend and if you really want the physical toys versus using the digital versions when playing.

The story of Starlink: Battle for Atlas is not a bad one, but it is one that has been played out before in many other sci-fi games. It all about good versus evil. You are part of very rag-tag group of individuals who are on the Equinox and involved in the ‘Starlink’ initiative. You’ll learn more about the origins of all the crew, and you’ll be introduced to new characters who join you as you venture forth. You fight ‘The Legion’, and the mysterious being that controls them. Saving the Atlas universe is your main objective. The narrative plays out through various cutscenes, as well as some comic book like panels that pop up during certain instances. You also get a lot of chatter from the rest of the crew, as you explore the planets, that unveil key points or what you need to do next. You can get through the games story in few short sittings totaling about 10 hours or so, but for those who want to enjoy the ride, collect all the stuff, do all the side quests, and level everything up to the max, you’re looking at least around 18-22 hours or more. Heck, I spent over 2 hours just playing the tutorial, not knowing is was just that.

In terms of the overall gameplay, I found it to be somewhat of a mixed bag. It is by no means a bad playing game, it’s just that the deeper you go into it, the more repetitive things become. You’ll be completing fetch quests, conquering and defending various bases or areas, destroying extractors, scanning the various planetary creatures, finding minerals and resources to help upgrade the various mining hubs and observatories on each planet, and more. They are definitely fun at first, but once you get 4 to 5 planets in, it can start to feel tedious. As you progress, certain areas will incorporate more difficult enemies, so make sure you’re the right level when facing them. You’ll also experience some outer space combat above the planets too; however, there is not much variance in this specific area, given you can only fight Legion enemies so many times before it becomes something of a ‘tions’ type event.

With that being said, there are some RPG elements to the game. First off, you earn skill points that can help to level up specific skills of your pilot. It will take a while to collect the skill points required to max out each character’s skill tree, but you can focus on various areas at first as you eventually max it up. There is some thinking involved in regard to where you put the points you collect, and you can match it to your play style.

Starlink’s ship weapons are each elemental based (Fire, Ice, Gravity, Kinetic and Stasis). Both your ship, and the weapons on it, can be modded with different types of mods. You will collect a lot of mods as you explore each planet (e.g. randomly or hidden ‘chests’, or when solving warden puzzles), and they range in both rarity and effect. For example, one mod may increase your defence, where as a rarer mod will not only increase your defence, but also add a resistance buff to certain elements. You can also fuse lower level mods of the same nature (need to have 3) to make rarer ones. If you put different elemental weapons on your ship and it will cause different effects. I found that when mixing gravity and ice I somehow got electricity effects. My favourite weapon combo was a deploying a gravity bubble, which would surround an enemy (or bunch of enemies), and then I’d fire another element into it causing various elemental effects to surround those who I wanted to defeat.

It’s amazing how quick one can upgrade any of their favourite weapons and place it on the ship’s wings. You can do it physically with the toys, or digitally with the digital version. You can even ‘flip’ a weapon to face a different way, so while one weapon may fire forward, another weapon can fire in another direction, such as having one that covers your back.

Oh, and one more thing, you can upgrade the Equinox as well. This is an important feature as you are able to level up 9 different areas, including the ability to create high level mods, the ability to open spots for more mod slots for your ship and weapons, the ability to carry more planetary resources, and more. It is interesting that they allow you to level up these types of areas, as it gives you incentive to explore more, earn more resources, and level up the specific areas of the Equinox once all the required resources or XP is met.

Starlink controls buttery smooth. The assigned functions of the analog sticks and buttons are very easy to learn, and the control you have on your in-game ship is quite good. You’ll be able to zip across a planet’s surface, jump over obstacles or enemy attacks, use your shield or boost without missing a beat, and head back to space with a press of the RB and pointing the ship skyward. Space combat is also smooth, if not simple, as you don’t have to be super accurate as many weapons track your enemy. Spaceship pilot candidates of all ages will enjoy what the game has to offer in this area.

Starlink offers a ‘drop-in/drop-out’ multiplayer experience for 2 players. When you buy a physical ship, it opens up a digital copy for a second player to use it along side you. There is no online multiplayer, which I think is a missed opportunity, as an online cooperative PvE experience is something that this game could have even shined more with.

The visuals in the game really did surprise me. I don’t know what I expected, but what I experienced was a fairly eye popping universe that is powered by Ubisoft’s Snowdrop Engine. The different planets do manage to separate themselves from one another in terms of their environments. For example, one planet is very sandy and has what is best described as ancient bones of previous inhabitants scattered throughout, even structures are made of such, while another planet has alien looking vegetation, lakes of super-cooled liquid, and a blue hue to it. There are different forms of creatures on each planet too and the various types are excusive to each planet you visit. You’ll also come across wreckages of different types of ships, you will battle different types of alien life, or the Legion of course, and you’ll see different structures as you progress from planet to planet. Adding further to the visuals are the little things, like the way water, or any water like substance, ripples as you skim across the top with your ship.

On a slightly negative note, you may come across some muddy textures, but they are far from being a game changing experience and I didn’t notice many of them. The frame rate is steady though and it runs with nary a hiccup. I was playing on the Xbox One X, but I was also sent the Nintendo Switch version to check out the Nintendo exclusive Starfox content. In terms of any visual differences between the Xbox One X and Switch, there is, what I believe, a resolution boost on the Xbox One X, but the game does not particularly look like it was ‘optimized’ for Microsoft’s mid-gen upgrade.

As for the sound, I was using a sound bar and a set of high end gaming headphones at different times. In terms of the latter, I felt that I was indeed in the middle of the action. From enemy attacks, launching into space, to just flying around the planet collecting planetary resources, scanning creatures and exploring the various structures. Everything sounded balanced and it helped the gaming experience. Using the sound bar was pretty good too, as there was ample bass and everything was well mixed, you just don’t get that surround sound feeling. Along with a fairly good library of sound effects, the music is just as good if not better. What was evident to me was how well it melded with the on-screen action, and it was not overpowering nor was it annoying. Finally, there is a lot of voice acting during the gameplay itself, as well as in the cutscenes that tell the game’s story. Each character has a personality of some sort, and as much as it is fairly well acted, don’t expect an Academy Award performance.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a solid game, and one that could be the start of a franchise that could, and should, get a sequel or two. The toys aren’t necessary to play, but they are great looking and solid models that are very functional given how easy it is to add or swap out weapons. The problem here is that the toys will add up in term of dollars spent if you want to collect them all. And yes, Starlink can feel repetitive at times, but the control, visuals and sound, and the RPG-lite features make for a pretty good gaming experience. I really did enjoy my time with Starlink: Battle for Atlas and I have no problem recommending it to any gamer out there.

Overall Score: 8.1 / 10 Forza Horizon 4

I am a fairly avid racing game fan. Sure, I am not the best virtual racer out there, but make no mistake, I can hold my own. I’ve played arcade racers, sim-racers, kart racers and more. Reviewing for an Xbox One centric site, I have sure had my share of Forza games over the years, from the pure racing of the Forza Motorsports series to the open world of Forza Horizon series. These two franchises alternate launching every second year, and this year it’s Forza Horizon’s turn with the release of Forza Horizon 4.

Given that this is the fourth game in the series, people want to know what has changed. While the formula is relatively the same, the gameplay has evolved to make this the best Forza Horizon game yet. Forza Horizon 4 is set in Britain this time around. The game starts off introducing you to this year’s iteration. As with any Forza Horizon game though, this is just the beginning as you are led through some of the games basics. The reason I call this a ‘tutorial’ of sorts is that as you start your journey you are somewhat guided through the general gameplay highlights. You are introduced to the various race types, how you will level up, what your world map consists of and more. Your attention is centered on the Horizon Festival, but this year is a bit different, as there is only one central hub, and no satellite festival locations.

In past Horizon games you were able to upgrade and customize your cars at various festival sites on the map. In Forza Horizon 4 this is not the case, as you will discover “Player Houses” on the world map, which are available for purchase via in-game credits. These range in price, and should you be a Forza VIP, one of the houses is free. The houses are located in various areas and they are your location(s) to upgrade, tune, and customize the vehicles you own (there are 450 of them in-game to start). You can also fast travel to these houses, which is a great way to cut down on any driving time you may encounter to get to the various events across the map.

Horizon Life is the focus of Forza Horizon 4. You will race in various disciplines, completing “Stunt” events, discovering hidden areas of the game, beating speed goals, etc. Each racing discipline has its’ own ranking to level up, from the street scene series, the dirt racing series, to drag racing and more. There is a total of 25 individual disciplines to rank up and they go beyond simple racing. You’ll level up such things as exploring the world map, collecting the various cars, danger signs, speed traps, drifting and even streaming on Mixer. As you level up in the individual disciplines you’ll also have an overall combined level to rank up too.

As you play the first few hours you earn influence (consider this XP), and this is important for two reasons. The first reason is that the more successful you are, the more influence you earn, the more you open up, from different types of races to showcase events. Yes, the crazy showcase events are back, and this time you’ll be racing against such things as a hovercraft, a jet, and even a UNSC Pelican in a Halo themed event. The second reason that influence is important is that during the ‘tutorial’ is that you will open up different seasons based on the amount of influence you collect. In a perfect world you’ll experience all four seasons (autumn, winter, spring and/or summer) during the beginning of the game. Once you earn enough influence to qualify for the Horizon Festival roster, the game explodes beyond belief, with so much so content and options opening there is a video for you to watch on what to expect.

One of the bigger things I noticed while focusing on Horizon Life is that it feels a bit more like a story. You’ll meet the various people in charge of the racing series, the festival itself, and of course other things (e.g. garage dude). Having short cut-scenes when you first meet these NPCs then hearing their input throughout your adventure, adds a bit of a narrative like feeling to the game experience. You’ll also be tasked to take part in various ‘stories’ chapters too. One example is that you’ll be hired as a stunt driver by a film director. This is not a one and done thing either, as there are more stunt opportunities that open up as you play, and there is kind of a story feeling to it. There is also another story that focuses on a streamer who is looking to do a few things during the Horizon festival to to gain popularity. The fact that there are these types of stories to help break up the regular racing is a step in the right direction.

Oh, and one more quick note, bonus boards make their return, as there are 150 influence boards and 50 fast travel boards to discover, clubs are back, and barn finds are also in the game again.

Forza’s well known Drivatars are in Forza Horizon 4, so if you recognize a name or two in the pack of racers your battling against, know that you’ll be playing against some of your online friends. New to the Horizon series though is that each game session you play will actually be populated with other online drivers. If you watched Inside Xbox last week, you’ll know that Ralph Fulton, from Playground Games, stated that there are individual servers holding over 70 people per session. You can talk to them with a quick chat feature. Each player will be represented as a ghost most of the time as it stops them from being able to ‘grief’ you by crashing into you.

And what would a racing game be without a multiplayer experience? Forza Horizon 4 addresses multiplayer play in a few ways. If you look in the menu, you will see the “Team Adventure” mode. Here you can participate in everything with a team, be it some of your online friends, or you will be matched with other online racers just looking to challenge this mode. There is a catch though, as you participate in the various events you will be earning a rank, and the better you get, the higher your rank. During the review period there were not a lot of people online, even after the Ultimate Edition allowed for early access, so we didn’t get to play much, if any, of this specific mode.

You can also just team up with a friend or two and not worry about any ranks as you venture around the open world. Here you can run the standard events with up to 6 people (called a convoy in the game). This just adds some online fun and chatter to take away from the grind of doing it all by yourself. I should note that the regular events found on the map can be played in cooperative and PvP too. Speaking of PvP, Playground Games have continued their love for PvP play in Forza Horizon 4. You’ll find games like Infected, King of the Hill, and even a ‘Tortoise and a Hare’ mode. As with the previous Horizon games, there are specific areas on the map where many of these special modes can be played. And, as mentioned, you can also participate regular racing events in PvP. Being able to play with a group of friends in many of the PvP modes is fun, and hilarious results are indeed bound to happen.

Forza Horizon 4 has been touting its biggest addition to its gameplay for quite some time, and that is the introduction of seasons. These seasons, of course, are autumn, winter, summer and fall. And while visually different, they also add a whole new dimension to the game. Seasons effectively change the way your car handles, as it should. Cornering, breaking, and general control is affected by each season. Autumn brings on the fall rain, winter brings on the snow, spring brings with it ‘spring showers’ and summer, well, it’s all about warmth and nice weather. Driving in these varying conditions changes how you drive on each route. Taking a sharp right-hand corner in the summer is very different then trying to do it in winter, with braking, traction and speed all being affected. Spring and autumn are the same too, as they produce different types of weather, from rain to sun to just being cloudy outside. Playground Games has done a fabulous job here creating different effects on your cars handling during each season that you play in.

Seasons change weekly starting with autumn. As mentioned, during the early stages of the game the seasons change as you gain more influence, but after you qualify for the Horizon roster, each season seems to last seven days. With each season comes season specific events, such as races, PR events and/or Forzathon challenges. What is important here is that ALL those playing Forza Horizon 4, and who have qualified for the festival roster, will be playing in the exact same season. This helps keep continuity for all players and the need to do specific events at certain times.

Forzathon makes its return, and with it something new, called Forzathon Live. Given the fact that you’ll be playing the game with over 70 other racers online, Forzathon Live is best explained as a public event in Destiny (Hey, I just recently reviewed the Forsaken DLC, so it is still in my mind). A warning will start on screen that a Forzathon Live event is going to start, usually within five minutes. On the world map will be a marked area, and at this area is a blimp (think Good-Year). Once you arrive at that spot you wait for the event to begin. As the event starts, you are notified of the first event criteria of three rounds, and your team will try to complete each one together. My first Forzathon Live included completing a speed trap challenge (certain cumulative KM/H to advance), a drifting challenge (certain cumulative score to advance) and a danger sign challenge (certain cumulative distance jumped to finish). Once you complete all three you gain points towards various Forzathon challenges and items. This is a great way to encourage people to work on their Forzathon point challenges as well as break up one’s time exploring Britain. Forzathon points can be spent at the Forzathon store for cars, clothes for your character, horns, and even wheel spins (yes, they are back too).

Forza Horizon 4 is an accessible racing title, something all Forza games have been in the last few years. You don’t have to be a racing game expert to have fun. There are many assists that gamers of all levels can, or not, implement to tailor their driving experience. The game also doesn’t require you to win every event to level up and/or advance. You can place lower in the specific event standings and still continue your adventure, but of course the better you do, the quicker things will open up.

Visually, Forza Horizon 4 is a looker. Whether you’re playing in 1080p/30fps, 1080p/60fps or 4k/30fps. The latter two are only available on the Xbox One X though. The game is also HDR compatible for the Xbox One S and Xbox One X too. I played my review copy in 4k/30fps, as I wanted as much resolution as possible, called ‘Quality Mode’. For those looking for a boost in framerate, and who have an Xbox One X, can choose ‘Performance Mode’. This bumps the resolution down to 1080p, but boosts the framerate up to 60fps. This mode is silky smooth, given the 60fps, but for me, I still found the 30fps pretty smooth as well, and it still had a sense of speed, so 4K it was. I do admit that I did notice some texture draw in now and then, but hey, I was looking for it, so this most likely won’t affect those just wanting to have fun.

The best way to describe the visuals are that they are bright and vibrant when needed, like spring or summer, or slightly darker hues when fall or winter arrive. I think that Playground Games have utilized an improved lighting engine this time around too, as it was very noticeable in spring and autumn and how the sunlight would break through the trees during these seasons. Reflections seem vastly improved as well, especially off the hood of the car. I noticed it right away as I started playing. Cars are once again meticulously recreated, and no matter what view you race in, as you’ll see a lot of detail. This was very noticeable when using one of the two in car views. The textures of the dashboard, the seats and the interior trim are very meticulous. The way the sunlight affects the dash or reflects on the window (windscreen for you U.K. folk) was very convincing too. As for Britain itself, I have never been there, but man, there are some very historic looking buildings. Brickwork was very detailed as were the different styles of houses. Rivers careen through the countryside, puddles form depending on what season it is, and there are even animals to be found in the country fields. The attention to detail is stunning, as there was even one point when I was in free-roam mode and a rabbit ran across the road. Who knew!

In terms of the game’s audio, it adds to the Forza Horizon experience. From the various genres of music playing on all the in-game radio stations to the environment sounds you hear as you explore, nothing is lacking. You don’t open all the radio stations right away, but with time they will be all available. From classical to rock to some EDM, you’ll find the selection wide and varied. Britain is a diverse country, from isolated villages, bustling towns, to the open fields and countryside with water features. As you explore your speakers will emanate with different sounds. And has been the history of the Forza games, the car sounds are wonderful. From retro hatch backs to the super cars of the present, they all sound different. Each view also has its own sound too. Using the in-car view sounded very different from the outside view. I was wearing a set of headphones that I recently reviewed, and I heard the tiniest of details, like birds chirping in the trees.

Forza Horizon 4 offers up a huge amount of content, so much so that I feel it is one of the biggest racing games, content wise, to ever be released. Add to this fact that Playground Games will continue to support the game for a long time coming with car packs, content expansions and special events, and you realize there is a heck of a lot to do. And yes, I know that the game is not perfect, but it is as close to being one as I can think of. At the end of the day Playground Games has made what some may consider a racing game masterpiece, given how much you can do, how you can do it, and how much you will enjoy it. This game is one that anyone who is looking for a rock-solid racing game with longevity should seriously consider.

Overall Score: 9.9 / 10 Gravel

I had the chance to preview Milestone’s latest racing game, Gravel, at PAX West last year, and back then I was intrigued, and kind of impressed for what it was. Fast forward to the present day and Gravel has finally been released into the hands of gamers. What is evident from my time with the final version is that It strays from the whole ‘simulation’ aspect that a lot of racing games stick to. It’s basically a pick up and play racer that many video game owners of all skill levels can enjoy, as long as they keep their expectations in check.

There is a quasi-story mode to be found in Gravel called Off-Road Masters. It is based on a fictional TV show called Gravel TV. You’ll be going through the campaign via a series of episodes (a total of 19 of them). As you progress you get a flashy TV oriented introduction as to what you’ll be doing, and of course upon completing the race(s) you’ll get a TV like send-off too. In the first few episodes you are introduced to the types of racing modes you will be engaged in. There are 4 different racing disciplines including Cross Country (race from point A to point B), Wild Rush (fantasy tracks), Stadium Circuit (like motocross racing for cars/trucks), and Speed Cross (traditional, but small, asphalt/dirt tracks). Within these disciplines you’ll find different types of race modes too. For example, in the Cross Country discipline there is a mode called Smash Up. This is a point to point race; however, as you race on the track, there are signs that display green or red arrows at the last second. These signs are the check points, and you must hit the green arrows to continue uninterrupted. If you hit any of the red arrows your speed and momentum are slowed down as if you hit a random object.

As you play you earn stars during each episode in the career (via in-race challenges) that unlocks the next episode, or more, further down the career path. There are quite a few episodes too (a total of 19), and they are sectioned into 2/3/4-episode segments, with the last episode of each section being a ‘championship’ involving a few races. Once this is completed you will come across a character that equates to a ‘boss’, who is basically a race ‘master’ in a specific discipline, and you will need to beat them too.

You’ll also earn EXP points as you progress. These are based on your placing in a race as well as such things as air time, drifting (called skidding in Gravel), high speeds, and other racing related actions. As you accumulate a specific number of points, and level up, new vehicles unlock, as well as new liveries for all the vehicles. In regards to the number of vehicles, it’s not as large as the ‘bigger’ racing games out there, but there is a nice selection. There are 19 licensed manufacturers in Gravel, with a total of over 70 cars. You’ll find various manufacturers including Mini, Toyota, VW, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Ford and Chevy racing vehicles to name a few. It’s a nice variety to choose from and each vehicle is geared for the discipline it’s found in.

When I first saw Gravel at PAX West 2017, I was told that sim-aspects, such as tuning, were not a necessary aspect of a game, as the options for such would be very few as the focus was on just racing. Well, low and behold, there are indeed tuning options in the game and they are more in-depth than I had expected. Sure, they are not deep simulation options, but you can ‘tinker’. The neat thing though is that you don’t need to hit up these ‘tuning’ menus to be successful in the game. Should you wish, you can just pick your vehicle and head on straight into a race, and win. I see the tuning aspect more for the gearheads who might be finicky on how their car handles and who are the type that find it fun dialing in a vehicle’s setting.

In terms of Gravel’s control, it is more arcade focused in this area. The vehicles control quite nicely. They feel quite similar; however, you will notice slight nuances, such as how the racing trucks and bigger vehicles are not as ‘snappy’ feeling in terms of turning in tight corners. I found that the level of adjusting my vehicle when trying to keep it on the track, or in its racing line, has to do with what type of surface you are on. From grassy fields and sandy beaches to the hard, or muddy, dirt in a stadium track or the snowy road on a mountain course, you do have to adjust accordingly. I found it fun to have to focus on navigating the tight corners in a stadium race then next race I’d kick out the back end of my car on a wide, sweeping snowy track in the mountains. Bottomline, the control in this game is not bad at all, and many people will enjoy driving the vehicles that are offered.

In terms of the game’s AI, it really does depend on what skill level you race on. When I review racing games, I tend to put the game on the middle difficulty. In Gravel, the default skill level is ‘medium’, which I left it on. The AI would prove to be formidable in the first lap or two, or in terms of point to point races, right at the start, but later in a race I could find my way into the lead. I found I was able to win more races than not, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t times that the AI pushed me now and then. I did not notice any rubber banding either. Overall, the ‘medium’ setting is not overly difficult, and should you want more of a challenge, you will want to push up the skill level of the AI racers.

For those looking to customize their racing experience, features wise, you will find that you can turn on/off such things as braking help, auto brakes, TCS, stability assists, automatic/manual transmission, a racing line, and how damage affects the game (e.g. cosmetic vs active). Personally, I find that options like this make the game more accessible to those who don’t usually play racing games, like my 11-year-old son, whose passion is for Fortnite and Overwatch. Being able to turn assists like these on or off allow the racing to be tailored for many different levels of gamers.

Should you just wish to check out the tracks offered and/or the different racing disciplines, you can hit the Free Race option found in the game’s menu. Here you’re able to do what you want, how you want, and you can change the types of weather, the cars on track, and the time of day, to name a few things. It’s a great place to just check out the game content and practice a new track or try out a new car that you unlocked. There is also a Time Attack mode, which is self-explanatory. Finally, there is also a Weekly Challenge. Here you are assigned a car, and you try to complete a random challenge. The first challenge available at the game launch was beating a certain time in a VW Beetle Speed Cross Car in Las Vegas.

Gravel also has the requisite multiplayer mode. You can go online and race up to 11 other players over Xbox Live. What is interesting about this is two things. The first is that you aren’t locked into one single mode, as each time you are in the lobby you are given a choice of multiple locations and game modes to choose from, and those in the lobby vote on what to race. The other thing that is somewhat interesting is that when the lobby does not fill, the game fills the remaining racers with AI bots. There are standard racing modes to those that are a little ‘non-standard’, like a king of the hill mode (called King Rush) and a capture the flag mode. Where the problem lies with the online multiplayer is that I went online on a couple of different days, and only found people online on one day. What we raced was fairly smooth and lag-free, and I managed to enjoy a few games. It’s disappointing that there are not a lot of people online, as I think there could be a good online community with this game.

The visuals in Gravel are fairly well done. The game utilizes the Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) and manages to produce some consistent, and eye pleasing graphics. You'll see reflections off the cars paint and there are some nice lighting effects. You'll find a wide variety of environments too, From snow covered mountains or the rough terrain of Alaska to the stadium tracks in LA Memorial Coliseum and the speed cross track in Las Vegas, the environments are pretty good looking. There is a nice selection of racing views too, including behind the car, two cockpit views (one farther back and one right up against the front windshield), a hood view, and a bumper cam. I preferred the close-up cockpit view or the hood cam, as the sense of speed was quite good.

You’ll race at different times of day, as well as in varying weather, and these manage to look somewhat convincing too. Why do I say “somewhat” you ask? Well, there are a few gripes, such as the rain not falling convincingly on your window in the cockpit mode, and some minor draw-in now and then. I also ran into a bit of ‘slowdown’, where the framerate slowed quite considerably, when racing at night in Las Vegas. All in all, I would say the game looked better more often than the times you will find something to nitpick at. As a side note, Gravel is enhanced for the Xbox One X, but how the game is indeed enhanced is another question. That being said, maybe that is why I didn’t see many technical issues when I was playing, but we will follow up and try to find out how it is Xbox One X enhanced.

Finally, as for the sound, it was good enough to pass on what action was taking place on the screen. From the different sounds of vehicle engines, environmental effects (e.g. cars bumping, rain falling, water flowing in a waterfall) to the sounds of tires squealing as they struggled to maintain grip on the pavement, it was done well enough, just not Forza or DiRT quality (you knew the inevitable comparison would be mentioned somewhere…right?). In regard to the game’s music, I tend to like to hear my vehicle’s engine, but what in-game music I let play was not annoying at all, and I didn’t mind it playing in the background at a low volume as I raced. You’ll find three separate settings for sound too, including stereo, home theatre, and TV speakers. I kept it on the home theatre setting as I was playing through a soundbar/subwoofer combo, and it managed to sound pretty good through this setup.

Gravel was a pleasant surprise, although it’s not as exciting as some may like. I enjoyed the various racing environments, and the different racing disciplines, that are offered and I think many other racing fans of all levels will too. What is disappointing is that there seems to be very few to no gamers racing online, which is a shame. I found that my time with Gravel was enjoyable, and without many issues. Sure, it’s doesn’t do anything to make it a must have racing title, but what it does it does fairly well, and it’s a pretty decent racing game that starts of the genre in 2018 with more of a bang than a whimper.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Spintires: MudRunner

When looking at our list of those games that still needed to be reviewed, I came across a title called Spintires: Mudrunner. I checked out the game’s trailer and discovered that it is a title that is not your traditional driving game, and I thought “why not”. Yes, like so many driving games out there, you drive vehicles, but these vehicles are off-road monsters that can tackle some pretty rough terrain. It’s a game that actually makes you think when playing, as you navigate through muddy trails, tree lined dirt roads, deep water puddles, and even cross a river or two. It’s also a game that when I first started playing, I hated, but after an hour or two I started to see the ‘hook’, shall we say, and I was somewhat enamored by what Saber Interactive created.

Spintires: Mudrunner is not a new game per se, as it was released on PC about 3 years ago. By gaming standards, it garnered quite a following, and this indie game has been a hit for quite some time. Publisher Focus Home Interactive thought it might make a good console title, so they got it ported over to the Xbox One, and it has made the transition pretty well. There are a few modes for players to enjoy, including Single Player, Multiplayer, and Challenge mode. What you must know is that it is not a game that holds your hand. There is a tutorial, but it is as basic as they come, and the game even tells you to check out the challenge mode to ‘learn’ more of how to play. I was like WTF, to learn how to play I must play a mode that isn’t teaching me, instead it’s a mode where I need to face challenges with a pass or fail. And fail I did.

The very first challenge has you driving a truck, with a trailer, and you need to deliver that trailer to a marked destination on your map. You need to back it in and line it up perfectly straight when you drop it off too. Well, I can say that I suck at parking a trailer, as I never got it to line up the way they wanted me too. I spent an hour trying to do this, but to no avail. I kept failing and restarting. Needless to say, I was very frustrated, and I just had to stop. With this negative experience under my belt, I thought would try the single player mode, and I kept my expectations low.

The single player mode does not have a story, but it doeshave some sort of purpose, as you are tasked with delivering logs to the various lumber mills on the map. There are six maps for you to play on, and you must strategize and do well on each map to open the next one. The logs that you deliver can range in size from small, medium or large, and the larger the load of logs you deliver, the more points you earn when delivering them to each lumber mill. It sounds simple to do, but it is far from it. Let explain.

To get your vehicle from the garage, to the lumber yard, where you get the logs, and then to the lumber mill where you’ll drop them off, you’ll have to venture through various terrain on each map. From mud, sand, water, and paved roads, to an open field just asking to be driven across, there is a lot of territory to cross to reach each of your destinations. Oh, and it is not just about pressing the accelerator and going from point A to point B. You’ll have to gauge how deep the mud might be, or how deep a river crossing is and how strong the current that goes with it is. You’ll have to take into consideration how heavy your truck is too, as well as your load of logs when you get them on board. You’ll have to look at the ruts on the path, how steep a hill might be, even how big the rocks and debris (e.g. cut down trees) that are in your way may impact your forward progress. You’ll have to take many things in to consideration, and that’s just regarding the route you choose to reach your destination.
Once you are well on your way, you may find that your truck (and trailer) get stuck somewhere, like a particularly deep mud hole or when you are trying to cross a river, or your trailer may tip over, and if full when this happens, it spills your load of logs too. But don’t worry, it’s not game over. You can get into other vehicles, come to the vehicle that is having trouble, and tow them out of the mud or water, using your trusty winch. You can also right your tipped vehicle back on its wheels (or the trailer for that matter of fact), and get it going again.

Did I mention that you cannot see the whole map at the beginning either? And that there is a full day/night cycle? Yep, you have to traverse the unknown to the various “watch points” on the map. Once you get to each Watch Point, a section of the map opens to your view. This is important as you will discover where new lumber mills are as well as the various places to pick up logs for delivery. You’ll also find more routes to get to your destination. The maps are useful too, as they show where water crossings are, as well as where the forest is too ‘thick’ to venture into, as well as some of the various terrains. As for the day/night cycles, the game really does take on not only a different look at night, but the way it feels to navigate across the maps becomes a bit tougher too.

Although the main crux of the game is delivering logs, you’re not only limited to just putting log-hauling add-ons onto your truck, as there are other uses for your various vehicles. There are fuel stations along each map, and you can refuel your vehicle there, but should you run out of fuel, you can head back to your garage, get a new truck, put a fuel carrying attachment on to it, come to where your truck is out of fuel, and refill it. You can also attach trailers that are like mobile homes, and you can then transport them to the other garage(s) on the map in order to unlock it for future use. Back to logging, the really adventurous can attach log cranes to their vehicles and actually pick up logs on their own and place them into the bed of a truck or onto the trailer.

The vehicles are key in this game, as you have quite a small, but varied selection of trucks to use. Some are lighter and not that powerful, while others are big brutes and have the horsepower to go with them. Of course, being heavier and more powerful is not always better, as you might just get stuck when you least expect it. You’ll learn what trucks are good for what, such as those that can carry small logs, those that can carry medium logs, or even two loads of such (e.g. in the bed of the truck and in a trailer), and of course there are those that can carry the longer logs. And be careful, you truck takes damage too, from driving over large obstacles too fast or going over a drop and hitting the ground hard. Although you can carry ‘repair’ points via truck add-ons, you may need to return to your garage to fix it before carrying on.

It’s strange how addictive this game really is in single player mode. It’s not a game that gets you all worked up, as it is even somewhat relaxing while you navigate over the various terrains that lie in front of you. Watching as your truck, and trailer when it is loaded, make it way through the tough looking sections is strangely mesmerizing. I found that when I played the game that I wanted to make the best time and take the best route, and when things started getting tough, I wanted to persevere and complete my task no matter what, but it didn’t get me frustrated when doing so, as there were a lot of different things I could do with the different vehicles.

If there is one big hiccup when playing the game, it is the in-game camera. Simply put, it is ‘wonky-as-hell’ as it is hard to control, and very hard to get just the right view to use. And when you try to adjust it, it can even get harder to control as it seems to have a mind its own as you try to get it to one spot and it just won’t cooperate. There is an in-cab view, and it is neat to play the game in this view now and then. Going over the crest of a muddy hill, you only see hood of the truck, the tops of the tree or side of a mountain, until you reach the apex, and once you start going down, all the scenery becomes viewable, including what obstacles may or may not be in front of you; however, the outside camera is such a frustrating aspect, it in some ways outweighs the good of the in-cab view.

Should you want to try something different, feel free to play the game in multiplayer. This is where Spintires: Mudrunners really shines. Up to four players can take to a map as you try to complete the same tasks that you complete in single player. Where this becomes so fun is that you can separate the duties, and have various people doing various things. In one such party, me and one friend were delivering logs to the mills, while a third person was opening other areas of the map via the ‘watch stations’, and the fourth person was taking the mobile home like trailers to the other garage to open it up. It was fun just chatting, telling each other of what a certain route was like, and we got things done quite quickly. We even used one of the party members to play the role of ‘tow-truck’ to get a truck or two unstuck and out of the mud. It was a fun experience, and fairly lag free too.

Challenge mode is, as I talked about earlier, the area where you are tasked to complete various challenges. This does add some life to the game, and mastering the challenges can be quite the task. The game itself scores you in all modes with stars that represent how well you complete each map or challenge. Funny thing, the less stars you get, the better you did, which is totally opposite of what people expect. You can also challenge each map by playing in hardcore mode. This has a lot of features disabled that you get when playing in casual mode, such as being able to skip the night cycles, or have your differential mode on your truck activated at all times, as it can break under such prolonged use.

Visually, the game can look incredible most of the time, but there are a few things that bring this area down too. First the good. The detail of each vehicle, along with all the add-ons you can install, is quite impressive. The wear and tear of the trucks is evident, as you are logging in very rough areas, so the trucks don’t look pristine. There is a lot of attention to detail too, such as paint wearing off, the odd spot of wear, and the metal looks very realistic. The physics involved in such things as slogging through the mud to making a river crossing is very incredible. There will be many times it looks as though you’re going to get stuck, only to see a wheel hit a dry section of the path and your forward momentum starts again. Going through the water is also impressive, as hitting a fast rushing river will cause your truck to follow the current, and you can see the struggle as you try to get your vehicle to the other side, and out of the water. The environments are fairly good looking too, from the trees, rocks and all the debris that may lie on a road, to the transition of day to night, and the glow of your taillights on the metal of your vehicle at night. The various surfaces, from sand, mud, grass and pavement, also look good, and seeing the tracks you make in particular areas of the map is impressive.

Where I was really disappointed was the in-cab view of the vehicles. Unfortunately, they are all the same, even though each vehicle is distinctly different. The dashboard is identical looking in everything you drive, and it looks like it was simply pasted to the inside. Although it was functional (e.g. moving gauges and whatnot) It was plain, low poly, and even the arms and hands of the person driving looked low-def. I think they could have done more regarding inside the cab of each vehicle, but they did not.

As for the games sound, it too is done well. From when you first fire up any of the in-game vehicles, the sound of your trucks suspension creaking as it goes over any of the rocks or trees laying on the road, to the sound of sloshing through a particularly deep section of mud or the splash of water as you start to drive through one of the many river crossings. Add to this the sound of nature all around you, from the swaying of trees, the sound of a rushing river in the distance, to the sound of critters in the forest, during the day or night. All in all, the sound is pretty good for a game like this, and it adds to the overall presentation.

Spintires: Mudrunner is a game that I was pleasantly surprised with, even after my first hour with it in the challenge mode where I I got so frustrated; however, once I started to play the single player mode, the game’s addictiveness and depth started to show. It has some pretty good visuals along with some pretty good sound too, and the game’s controls are fairly intuitive, unfortunately the in-game camera when playing in the outside view is very annoying and quite hard to control, causing more frustration than it should. There is also the concern of longevity, as there are only 6-maps, and playing in Hardcore mode to stretch the playtime may not be for everyone. The word on the street is that there is some post-game release support coming, but we don’t know what. In the end Sprintires: Mudrunner is a pretty good game, more simulation than just driving, and it definitely isn’t for everyone given the fact that it really does feel like a niche title, but don’t let that scare you, as it still is a fairly good game even though it’s not a mainstream game.

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure

Back in the days of the Xbox 360 (I can’t believe I just said that), and during the early time when the Kinect was trying to find its audience, a game touted to be Kinect friendly, as well as family friendly, was released, and that game was Kinect Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure. It was released in early 2012 with little fanfare. I reviewed the game way back then, and found that it was not what it could have been, with poor Kinect implementation (e.g. was too tough to control) making it a non-enjoyable experience. To tell you the truth, at that time I was going to give it a really, really low score; however, once my kids started playing (aged 6 and 8 back then) I saw that they somewhat enjoyed it, so I was not as hard as I could have been. Fast forward to present day, and the launch of the Xbox One, and Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure has been released, minus the Kinect in the title. It is a Xbox Play Anywhere title, so you can play it on any of the Xbox One family of consoles as well as a Windows 10 PC.

The premise is simple, you are a random child who heads on a school trip to Pixar Park. While there you meet other children who just happen to love Disney-Pixar movies and they are willing to play a ‘game/adventure’ with you in a particular Pixar universe. These include Up, Toy Story, The Incredibles, Cars and Ratatouille. To celebrate the new remastered release, the game now includes Finding Dory too. You simply walk into each area (they are very distinguishable), go the marked spot for the ‘game’, hit the “Let’s Go” command, and the child who wants to ‘play’ with you will come up and start talking as they lead you into the Pixar themed game you chose.

When you first play the game, it guides you through a simple character creation screen. There is not too much depth to this; however, it is nice that there is an option of some sort to make the experience more yours. Based on your decisions here, the game will show how you will look in the various game universes, like a toy robot in Toy Story or a racing car in Cars. It’s kind of neat, just not deep, so keep your expectations in check here.

Each Pixar movie world has three levels/adventures to play through, each taking place in the movie’s universe, but you are not playing any of the movie’s events. The new Finding Dory world only has two games for some reason, and we don’t know why, so in total you are getting a total of 17 levels/adventures to play. Personally, I found they were enjoyable for what was offered, and the fact that they were somewhat original, and not just consisting of having to play out a scenario that was actually from the movie. Yes, each mini-like game will be in the actual movie universe, and you will recognize much of what you see, but the games themselves are original and have their own simple backstory.

Each of the mini-games (or adventures if you want) are either driving or platform based. They usually consist of helping the characters from the movie in one way or another. You’ll also be collecting coins in each ‘adventure’ as well that go towards your total score at the end. For example, in Up you’ll be tasked with saving Kevin’s babies, and in Finding Dory you’ll be tasked to navigate the coral reef and ocean current while avoiding obstacles (e.g. jellyfish (‘The Jellies’)). In terms of the latter, you can only take the form of Squirt (the turtle) or Nemo himself. These ‘adventures’ are also short in length, and the faster you complete them, the better your score.

Given the fact that the game rewards you with a fast completion in each ‘adventure’, you may feel like there is not a lot here, but there actually is. Once you’ve finished all the three (or two in Finding Dory) adventures in each area, you open up new abilities, as well as secondary objectives, that help the gameplay stretch out. From being able to use an ability to reach areas you could not before, to using another character in a previously played level, there is stuff to comeback to. These will actually help you get higher scores too as you will find collecting more coins easier, and completing the new secondary objectives also rewards you with more coins that go towards your final score. Each score you get will reward you with a bronze, silver, gold or platinum medal. The better your final score, the better the medal.

Although this is a family oriented game, it really is aimed at the kids in the house. You can use a Kinect if you have one for your Xbox One, but I believe the preferred manner to play is using a controller. You’ll find driving and navigating the levels much easier, and you’ll be able to collect coins and complete secondary objectives much easier too. I really like the fact that the developers were given the opportunity come back and incorporate a controller option, and many will enjoy how better the game plays.

I played Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure on an Xbox One X. It has been remastered to take advantage of the new hardware, so the game is playable in 4K with HDR. I have to say that given what I remember when I reviewed this game five years ago, this current iteration does look better. It is much sharper and the colors are very vibrant and plentiful. From the deep orange hues of Radiator Springs to the bright and colorful coral that you swim through in Finding Dory, it’s all pleasant to look at. Many people may not appreciate the HDR, but I can say that the color really does pop off the screen. You feel like you are in a Pixar movie somewhat, but just not like those that you see on the BIG screen.

In regard to the sound, many of the original voice actors are back. Listen to the voices when you play any of the The Incredibles ‘adventures’ and you will recognize the voices right off the hop. I don’t know how many original voice actors did come back for the game as a whole, but there are some missing. One such example is Fin McMissile from Cars 2, who was originally voiced by Michael Caine in the movie. It’s clear that it’s not him in the game, but it is pretty close. Most of the voice work has to do with setting up each ‘adventure’ as well as concluding it. There are general sayings from the characters as you play as well. As for the rest of the sound, the music suits the theme of each area, so Cars music sounds distinctly different from Ratatouille whereas Ratatouille sounds distinctly different from Finding Dory. As for the sound effects, each one is geared towards the movie it is based off of, so in Finding Dory you’ll hear the fish swimming around you and the whoosh of the East Australian Current when you hitch a ride on it, and in Cars you’ll hear the roar of the car engines and an explosion or two. Kudos to the team at Asobo Studio for putting many of the sound assets from the movie environments into the game.

Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure is a good game that should be played in short spurts, given the nature of how the quicker you are, the better your score. Sure, the game isn't a heavy narrative driven experience, but for kids of all ages, maybe even those kids that may be grown up, Rush manages to provide some quick and easy entertainment for those that love everything Disney and/or Pixar. And the fact that the game has been ‘remastered’ to take advantage of the Xbox One X, as well as using a controller to play, is another plus. Rush may not be that deep platformer fans are looking for, but man, to be able to play as your own character in five of the six universes offered is fairly enjoyable, for the time that it lasts.

Overall Score: 6.9 / 10 Super Lucky's Tale

A good 3D platformer is hard to come by, and when one is released it’s always compared to the champion of this genre, any of the Mario games. In many ways I almost find this unfair, as the bar is so high given Mario’s success. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that any platforming games should be given a ‘pass’ just because, as that would be silly to think. Microsoft has recently released a 3D platform game of their own onto the Xbox One family of consoles, and that game is Super Lucky’s Tales. After playing through the game prior to its release, I have to say that it’s a title that really had me thinking about what makes a good 3D platform game and who the intended audiences can be. With this in mind, I think that Super Lucky’s Tale deserves a close look by Xbox One owners, as long as they keep their expectations in check.

Lucky, a young fox, is the brother of a great adventurer named Lyra. Her latest search was for the “Book of Ages”; however, she was not the only one looking for it, as the dastardly gang known at Kitty Litter, was also after the book. They confront Lyra on her return home, and in the melee that follows, young Lucky sacrifices himself to save his sister as he is sucked into the book, along with the Kitty Litter gang. In the book Lucky is tasked with returning each world back to its inhabitants, and of course defeating the Kitty Litter gang while doing so. It’s a simple narrative, and one that continues to play out through the course of the game. Sure, it’s not an award winning story, but it does keep you a bit vested in why you do what you do.

Lucky has a set of skills that will help him in his adventure. This includes jumping (with a double jump nonetheless), whipping his tail to stun enemies, and burrowing under the ground to get past obstacles or avoid enemies. You’ll find the controls very responsive and easy to master. If there is one area that you may struggle though, it is with the 3D camera. Developer Playful has limited the adjustments that allow you to move it from center to the left or to the right, and not fully either, as it’s almost like the camera is on a 45-degree plane or so. You may find yourself misjudging your leaps and jumps because of this as it can be hard to land on that one platform. I found that attacking enemies was also a hit and miss affair at times (the first set of enemy ghosts when saving a child ghost in Spookington infuriated me because I couldn’t get the right feel or angle for dispensing them for quite a few tries). These things are worth noting because it can make the game a bit frustrating at times.

There are a total of four worlds for Lucky to explore: Sky Castle, Veggie Village, Holiday Canyon and Spookington. Each world has their own inhabitants, such as wormals in Veggie Village and the ghosts in Spookington. The villagers from each world have been affected by the influx of the Kitty Litter gang, and they need your help to liberate themselves from them. Each world is filled with multiple stages that require your platforming prowess to finish. There is a classic platforming mechanic in Lucky’s Tale; in order to open the various stages, as well as the boss stage, which essentially helps you move to the next level, you will have to collect a specific number of four-leaf clovers to do so.

The game’s stages are a nice mix of 3D plaforming mixed in with 2D platforming stages making an appearance too (actually, I consider them more 2.5D). They are well designed, and each fit in with the theme of the world you are in. If there is one thing that is worth pointing out here, is that you never know what you are going to get until you enter the next stage. Each one is crafted with care and Lucky has many areas to explore within. You’ll even find one stage set in a maze where you must find ways to get from A to B while activating moving walls, avoiding numerous enemies and trying to collect all the collectibles. Getting to the end of the levels is always rewarding, but not too hard, and you are treated with a clover to add to your collection. Oh, and you should know that finishing the stage is not the only way to collect the clovers.

Throughout the game you will find a lot of other ways to collect the precious clovers than just finishing the stage. The most obvious is by searching for and collecting the letters that spell LUCKY. Finding these letters can range from very easy to challenging, but the need for extra clovers is there so you should be searching for the letters. You are also awarded a clover for collecting 300 or more coins in each of the worlds levels. Some levels have an abundance of coins, well others will only have a few extra to spare, so you better collect them all. I remember one level where I finished the level with 303 coins, and I made sure to collect everything, including the coins that drop from disposed enemies. Finally, there is a hidden trapdoor, or one that is hard to get to, in each level that will allow you to enter and complete a task to get another clover.

Each world has a boss stage, which of course requires a certain amount of clovers to open. Boss battles are not too hard, as it’s just a matter of understanding their attacks, their patterns, and how to avoid them. I found that if I died, it was not the fault of the boss level itself, but a lapse in my timing or judgement when avoiding an attack or obstacle. Beat the boss and it’s off to the next world you go, with a small cutscene involving Lyra and her advice.

The central hubs for each world, which themselves are platforming areas full of coins and diamonds (equate to specific number of coins), contain trap doors to be opened. These trap doors take you to extra challenges, such as puzzles where you must figure out how to get fox vases to certain spots on the board. You’ll also come across “Burrow Runs”, which is like an endless runner and you only control Lucky’s jumping and burrowing. There is even a marble mini-game where you control a tabletop board with a marble on it while avoiding the perils that lie in front of you as you make your way to the exit. All these mini-games are fun, but they won’t require a whole lot of brain power, just a bit, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Super Lucky’s Tale is a single player affair, which is kind of sad, because a platformer of this nature would be great in a cooperative mode of some sort. You won’t be finishing it in one sitting either, but then again you won’t be spending weeks playing it, unless you do a little at a time. One of the biggest things I noted for this game is the skill level required to play it. The dev-team wanted to make it playable for everyone in the family, and in many ways it is. You don’t have to collect all the clovers, especially in the early world levels, to advance, and younger gamers will be able to handle some, but not all, of the skills required to succeed. Each time you reach a checkpoint your three-heart life meter is replenished (if needed) for the next part of that specific level. For those older gamers out there, collecting everything found in the game will require you to have to think outside the box now and then, as well as have some mean platforming skills. With this in mind, the dev-team’s intentions are realized, but not just perfectly (e.g. damn camera can cause some much headaches at times).

Visually, the game is very bright and vibrant, and the overall look fits the theme of the game , which is of course to be cute and somewhat endearing. I played on the Xbox One X, and I have to say that the 4K resolution is nice, but it doesn’t necessarily push the hardware. Each world is colorful and themed, so you will find one with a focus on wrapping Christmas gifts while another is all about a Halloween like environment. Characters of all shapes and sizes are well designed, and animate quite well, especially Lucky. He runs on all fours, he jumps with a style his own, and of course when he burrows, the cute little cartoonish trail of dirt he creates is kind of charming. I didn’t run into too many, if any problems technically speaking. Sure, the camera could be a hassle more than a few times, but that is not cause of the technical limitations of the game engine but more on game design itself.

Wrapping up the visuals is the sound. There is no voice acting, as each character talks in jibberish and you read the dialogue that is presented. The music can best be described as quirky and something that one would expect in a platforming game, but it doesn’t stand out as anything fabulous. Finally, each world, and the levels found in them, have some great sounds, from waterfalls falling, machinery machining, and black tar pits bubbling. Overall the sound does a fairly good job, it’s just that it’s not something that really stands out.

Super Lucky’s Tale is a 3D platforming game, priced at $39, that is indeed made for the family to enjoy. That being said, it sticks to the tried and true nature, and gameplay style, of what make platform games what they are. If there is one area to complain about, it is the in-game camera, which can cause more than a few untimely deaths at the worst times. Super Lucky’s Tale doesn’t do anything to make it stand out, but it is not a bad game and one that does deserve a look if you want to play something different on your Xbox One this year.

Overall Score: 7.1 / 10 Forza Motorsport 7

Since the days of the original Xbox, there has been one racer that has seemed to be the go to racer on Microsoft’s console platform, and that game is Forza Motorsport. It’s is a closed-circuit racing franchise that aims to provide a somewhat sim-like experience for fans to enjoy. I can remember playing the first game in the series and thinking that it was a step forward in the racing genre as it leaned towards a more realistic approach then arcade like. It’s been 12 years since the first game was released, and the Xbox One now sees the latest incarnation, Forza Motorsport 7. To think that the franchise is now on its 7th version in 12 years is somewhat impressive, as the game keeps evolving with each iteration, and the latest one is no different. The game is accessible to a wide range of gamers, there are 32 racing environments to challenge racers, more than 700 cars, lots and lots of track options, and of course there are the graphics and sound.

When you first start playing the single player experience (career), you are thrust into a few real-life driver’s shoes and tasked with driving their vehicles. For example, in the first race you take on the role of Michael Muller, and you race in Dubai, the new fictional track created by Turn 10. There are a total of three introductory races with three different drivers, and they are basically a tutorial for those few who may not have played a Forza Motorsport game before. Once you complete them, it’s off to the full single player game. You can choose from a male and female driver this time around, and you can put them in different driving gear (suits and helmets) when you start. As you progress you’ll earn more gear which can make them look more unique.

Forza Motorsport 7’s career mode is called the Forza Driver’s Cup. There are a total of six different cups to win in your quest to be crowned the Forza Driver’s Cup champion. As would be expected, the higher the cup, the faster the cars become, the bigger the tracks are, and the more laps you are expected to complete. You can fine tune your racing experience, from the AI difficulty (Drivatar based again), car assists, and more. You even have the ability to turn off the ‘aggressiveness’ of your opponents. This will disable the other cars from doing literally anything (e.g. side swiping you or blocking your lane) to stop you from being number one. I raced with this on and off, to see the difference, and to tell you the truth, at this point, prior to the game hitting its retail launch date (the day of writing this review) I didn’t notice too much, if any, difference. You’ll find that the AI opponents can be tough, especially at the start of a race, and finding your way through the pack can be ‘bumpy', as you’ll rarely, if at all, get out of the pack without a scratch, as there is more bumping and grinding of bumpers and side panels then you’d hope for.

You don’t have to worry about finishing every event in each cup to win the virtual hardware as you only have to focus on accumulating a set amount of points to win the cup and go to the next one. This is a great feature as it allows the game to feel less like a grind (race wise) as you try to make to the final Forza Driver’s Cup podium. Each event in each cup varies from specific cars, challenges to showcase events. The latter can range from silly, like bowling with your vehicle (make your way around a track hitting large pins for points), to more realistic, such as reliving what the game calls “Moments in Racing” where you relive and recreate specific moments in real racing. I found that even though I was racing in closed circuits for the whole game, that it didn’t always feel like a chore to get it done, as I was able to pick and choose which events I wanted to race as I attempted to get the set number of points to complete each cup.

If you are wondering how much time you’ll spend becoming the Forza Driver’s Cup champion, it really depends on what you are going to do. If you are just straight out racing, and not tuning your cars, shopping the online auctions (which are yet to go live), or creating your car liveries, I think I can give you a reference point. After winning the third cup (called the Evolution Cup) out of the six available, my actual race time, that is the actual time on the track, was just over 6 hours of driving. Now remember, as you progress the events get longer, so expect even more time to acquire the last three cups.

As you race in the career mode (and Free Play) you’ll earn in-game credits (CR) as well as XP. The credits allow you to buy vehicles. XP is used differently this time around. As per usual, it is used to ‘level up’, but this level is not reflected in your rewards. New to Forza Motorsport 7 are Milestone Awards, and these are awarded each time you reach 25,000 XP. The rewards are not based on how high, or how many times you have reached the 25,000 XP mark, but it is based on your Tier Level. This is where your in-game credit management will be very useful, and important, in getting to the higher Tier Levels. Let me explain.

Your Tier Level is based on your car collection. You start off in Tier 1, and have access to an initial group of cars where you can buy (collect) specific ones that interest you and add them to your garage at any time. There are five tiers of cars, but more Tier Levels for you to level up. In terms of the five tiers that the cars are in, they are common – uncommon – rare – super rare – legendary. Within these tiers each car has a ‘collector score’ attached to it, and the higher the tier the higher the price and the higher the collector score. As you accumulate cars, your total collector score adds up and this dictates which Tier Level you will be at. With that in mind, as you climb the Tier Level and reach milestone rewards, your Tier will allow a certain level of rewards. You can choose one of of the three rewards offered, which includes in-game credits, cars and gear. Some of the cars will be free, but some will result in you having to spend in-game credits, but these are usually higher tiered cars with a high collector score at a very heavily discounted price. The game really does force you to pick and choose what milestone reward you deem the best in terms of what is most advantageous to you at the time.

It should be noted that some cars in the Car Collection cannot be bought, as they can only be acquired through such things as Prize Crates, Specialty Dealer, Forzathon, competing in various events in the single player races/mode, and by completing Showcase Events. The “Speciality Dealer” offers up nice cars but they are very few and can range from affordable to very expensive.

If you want to just race a track, away from the confines of the career mode, or try to become proficient at a track that is giving you trouble, you can hit up the Free Play mode. Here you will be able to choose which track environment you want to race, and which course set up you wish to run on. You can also choose which class of cars you’ll race against, how many opponents, and of course the time of day and the weather. You can earn XP and credits here too, so if you feel the need to just race and not worry about it affecting your career standings, and get some much-needed practice in, it’s here that you’ll be spending some time.

As this game is aimed at any level of racer, the options offered are amazing. From making a race super easy for total novices to making it very sim-oriented and hard to control with little room for error for advanced players, all gamers will find a lot to adjust. Turn 10 has always boasted they want to make the Forza Motorsport franchise a game for everyone, and I believe they have really done that. From auto-braking, full race lines, to turning off the AI aggression or turning on a feature called Friction Control, that when you race on a wet track or go off the track into the grass it does not affect the speed or control you have. Anyone can find a series of settings to make this a racing game for them, and that includes the true gearhead. There are not only game assists to turn off, but as one would want in a sim-based game, you can also tune your car to your hearts content, making the vehicle drive the way you want (e.g. gear ratios, tire camber, brake settings, tire size, right height, etc.).

Turn 10 have made some changes to the wet weather and corresponding wet tracks that are a result. In Forza Motorsport 6, huge puddles would form, which of course would cause you to hydroplane or lose some control should you try to go through them. It affected how you raced in the virtual wet weather. In Forza Motorsport 7, wet weather once again plays an important role in car control; however, the big puddles are not nearly as prevalent this time around. It doesn’t mean puddles don’t exist, they are just not as ‘big’ looking but yet they do indeed affect how your car controls should you go through them. Overall, it’s a nice subtle change.

I am always amazed by how racing game dev-teams can make cars control so differently, and Forza Motorsport 7 is no different. Each class and make of car handles so differently from each other that you’ll need to adjust on the fly. From a Mazdaspeed 3 hatchback, a Formula Mazda open cockpit racer or Audi R15 Le Mans car to a 1969 Camero with a blower, Dodge Challenger Demon, Subaru 22B or Ram Runner pick-up, they all handle differently and require a driving finesse that are each their own. Don’t expect to just get in any car and drive to victory, well, at least on the Above Average or Highly Skilled settings and above, as you’ll have to really learn the ins and outs of the vehicle you are driving at the time. Turn 10 has once again done a great job in car control and how each one feels like it is a vehicle of its own.

Last year Forza Motorsport 6 offered up the gameplay feature of mods (via mod cards), and this year that is taken much further in such that Prize Crates are the way you acquire them, along with other items, such as cars, driver gear, and emblems. For the uninitiated, mods are cards that you can use during races, giving you extra credits or XP based on the card you use (e.g. race in cockpit mode only, race in rain, race at night, finish 200m in front of other cars, etc.) The Prize Crates are bought with the in-game credits you earn. Now, they are not necessary to win, but they can very much help you earn extra XP and credits through the mods that you can get, as well as a rare car now and then. Of course the extra XP helps get rewards, and the extra credits help buy cars.

There are different types of crates, each representing different things, such as mods only to those with a chance for mods, cars, drivers gear and emblems all in one. What you get is random though. There are also different levels of crates, such as ones that allow you a much better chance for the very rare stuff, but they cost more. You have to be smart at buying the creates, or you'll find yourself racing tracks just to earn credits to buy more creates and/or cars. At the time of writing this review, there have been rumblings of Turn 10 monetizing Forza Motorsport 7, via these creates, but there has been nothing officially announced in terms of what, when and how this will be.

Of course, what would a racing game be without any multiplayer goodness? Forza Motorsport 7 has you covered. There is a split screen mode for you to sit on the same couch with a friend and enjoy some high-speed racing action. For those looking for a ‘bigger’ multiplayer experience, you can head online and race up to 23 other racers. The 23 other racers can be all online players, or they can be a mix of online racers and Drivatars. As in the past, you can make our own lobby and control all the game options from track or type of car to the number of cars you race against and more. I had a chance to head online and play on release day (the day of writing this review) and for the most part it was hassle free and lag free; however, what hasn’t changed is how when racing with complete strangers in public lobbies the race can turn into one hell of a crashfest in the first few turns, as everyone won’t give up a line, or will do whatever it takes to get a head of you at the start. That is why I prefer to race in private rooms with my online friends.

As with past Forza games, liveries, tuning and photos are back. You can once again share your car designs, your tuning set-ups as well as photos and replays. You can also search for something that you might be interested in. As an added bonus, if you’ve created any liveries, or have specific car set-ups (tuning), from some previous Forza games you can transfer these into Forza Motorsport 7. As a bonus, if you are a diehard Forza fan, you might just get a few ‘rewards’ when you first fire Forza Motorsport 7 up too, depending on how much you’ve played any of the previous games in the Forza franchise, both Motorsport or Horizon.

Leagues are back in Forza Motorsport 7, but as of writing this they were noted as “coming soon” on the menu screen. Here you can race in a scheduled race series where players are organized by skill level. The events can be weekly (they were in FM6) and start off with an introductory league followed by a class challenge and then specific car challenge. It's a true test of one’s skill as you go against other real people for bragging rights. Forzathon will also be implemented in Forza Motorsport 7. For those who don’t know what this is, it is a small period of time, usually a few days, where if you complete certain challenges you are rewarded for doing so. Exactly what will be rewarded is yet to be announced.

Visually, Forza Motorsport 7 is a great looking game. I was impressed by its predecessor, but this follow up is even better. We all know that this game is set to be a demo of what the Xbox One X can do, but even on the Xbox One S it’s a looker. You’ll notice how the textures are very detailed (e.g. new Dubai track has some incredible rock textures throughout) and that the lighting/shadows in the game are very much improved. This is very evident when racing on tracks where the sky is partly cloudy and partly sunny, as one section of the track is bright whereas the other has a darker look due to the cloud cover. The cloud system in Forza Motorsport 7 is the same one used in Forza Horizon 3, so it’s dynamic and can change from sunny to overcast to raining (with thunder and lightning). And speaking of the rain, when you race on any wet track for the first time and watch as you get water splashed onto your car from the car in front of you, you'll realize the detail of the visuals.

I noted that the color pallet is somewhat different then I remember on many of the tracks, and I don’t mean in a bad way. If anything, some of the old favorites that you might be used to racing (e.g. Silverstone, Nürburgring, and Laguna Raceway to name a few) seem to have an even more realistic look to them, and not video game like. Along with this, the textures of the various track surfaces you will be racing on are varied and very noticeable. Finally, you can see how your windshield wipers start to ‘rattle’ at high speed, the individual suspension moving up in down when racing in an open cockpit car, the heat waves rising from the very hot track, and if you look around at the inside of your car (e.g. sides) anything that is loose will also be rattling or shaking (e.g. strap door handles). All of this moves in 1080p@60fps without so much as a hiccup. Racing with 24 other cars that look details, and move smoothly along the track, is impressive.

Adding to the great visuals is the great sound. Each car continues to sound distinctly different, from a Mazdaspeed 3, the Nissan GT-R Forza Edition to any of the 1960’s muscle cars or the newly introduced Mercedes Racing Truck (Rig). Environmental effects continue to make the game sound even better too, be it the sound of the car if you are inside the cockpit or using an outside view, to the ‘whoosh’ of the wind as you speed by the pillars on one bridge found on the Prague track or when you enter a tunnel when in the Alps, Dubai, or Rio, and the whine or roar of your car starts to echo somewhat. You can’t forget the sounds of your car going over the rumble strips of any track too, and each time you do it in a different car, it manages to sound different depending on what you are driving. There is music in the game, but I chose not to listen to it as I wanted to hear the roar of my cars. There will be support in the future for any music you have on One Drive, so you’ll eventually be able to drive to your own tunes.

Having put many hours playing Forza Motorsports 7 since we got our review copy, I am amazed that I found so much to enjoy given it’s the seventh iteration of the game. This version of the franchise continues to evolve the sim/circuit experience that it aims to conquer, and it is accessible to all levels of racing fans and general gamers alike. The visuals and sound make for a presentation that is next to none on the Xbox One, and the gameplay feature set is one that will keep you playing for months to come. The Prize Crates have me a bit concerned about the possibility of monetization, but there is nothing written in stone yet. Right now I have to give a big ol’ congratulations to Turn 10, as they have once again set the bar high for the Forza Motorsport franchise, and I will be honest here, I can’t wait to see what the retail version looks like on the Xbox One X come November 7th.

Overall Score: 9.5 / 10 Redout: Lightspeed Edition

Let’s face it, racing games are a big thing on consoles, but you won’t find a lot of futuristic ones, and when you do, the inevitable comparison to games to two such game will always be made to WipeOut and F-Zero. In many ways I can understand this, as these two franchises have set the bar high for futuristic racing games. With that said, the Xbox One has recently seen a release of a futuristic racer for fans to check out. Developed by 34BigThings, Redout: LightSpeed Edition (referred to simply as Redout in this review) was released earlier this month. Fans looking to get their fix of techno pounding, high speed, eye-candy filled racing will no doubt find that this game meets these criteria; however, there is more to a racing game than just the looks and sound.

As one would expect in a racing game, there is not much story attached to the action. It’s really all about racing on all the tracks, in various modes, while making sure you are the one to come out on top. The premise of Redout is that the year is 2560 and the planet you reside on is kind of in rough shape after mother nature has let forth her wrath upon the planet. Even being in such rough shape though, there is always time for people to enjoy themselves, and one such enjoyment is watching the Solar Redout Racing League. Hey, who doesn’t enjoy a good anti-gravity race now and then right?

You are a nameless pilot within the racing league, and your goal is to climb the ranks as you race though the numerous number of tracks, events, and locations. This is the crux of the Career mode, and what is basically the core gameplay of Redout. Don’t expect any narrative to go along with your fight to be the best, as it’s just about racing in one of 28 ships in any one of the 11 events that are scattered throughout the career mode. Each ship has various attributes that make a difference, so find the one that suits your racing style and you’ll find yourself competing in each event for a gold, silver, or bronze medal, which, when awarded, gives you money and XP.

As you race you can open up power-ups for your ships. There are a total of 12 power-ups, six passive (always activated) and six active (you must manually activate these), each having four levels to upgrade, using your in-game money to buy them. You can only equip one active and one passive power-up at a time, so choose wisely. These power ups range from those that drain your opponent’s energy to use for your own turbo (active), to those that make your hull stronger or keep your ship on the track a bit more with better magnets (passive). Don’t be fooled though, as they won’t give you a huge advantage, but they give you an extra ‘oomph’ when you need it.

There are a total of seven different planets to race on, and the base track on each planet has numerous layouts (from short to long). The events range from simple time trials (racing alone), last man standing, to all out racing against other ships. You’ll even have to race in ‘boss’ races which take the planets various track layouts and links them up into one long track where you race against the ‘boss’ of that area. It’s a neat premise given how the one track is a number of smaller tracks linked through what is best described as teleportation gates from one section to the next.

You definitely won’t be finishing the career mode in one sitting, that is for sure, and what is appreciated about this is that it is not particularly linear, so you can dig into the career mode a bit at a time. You can choose what events that you want to race in, as long as have the class of ship open and your character has those career races open too. So, if you only have time for a race or two, you can pick which ones you want to race, which shouldn't take that long in theory. It’s nice being able to do a particular race(s) that you want (as long as they are open), and in any order, even when you have some time restrictions. This is indeed a well thought out design in the game.

As with any racing game, and particularly one that simulates high speed of an anti-gravity ship, control must be spot and, and this is where Redout hits a small speed bump along the way. The actual control scheme is a dual analog stick set-up. You use the left stick to turn left and right, but what is interesting is the right analog stick is used for strafing left or right (helps with sharp corners), though you can also use the right analog stick to lift the nose of your ship up or down, which is useful to stop, or limit, your ship from grinding the track on loops and certain hills. This control scheme is quite intuitive and you’ll find no issues using it. Where it lacks though, is not in its implementation, but the fact that the game can move so fast, and the tracks have some extremely tough corners to navigate, that you will hit the walls or fall off the side. It’s not because of the control per se, but just the speed and design of some of the tracks themselves where you’ll find yourself having issues that can affect the gameplay.

Another issue that is definitely worth noting here, is that the game difficulty ramps up as soon as you open Class II ships. Now, it would be expected that a racing game get harder as you open the faster and better controlling ships, but man, I won’t lie here, I breezed through the Class I races more often than not, then as soon as I unlocked my Class II ship, it was amazing how fast and how skilled the AI racers became. I was always fighting, and at times struggling, to keep in even the top three. The game is challenging, there is no doubt about that, so be prepared to be on your ‘A-Game’ at all times to secure a gold medal against the AI.

What kind of surprised me with Redout was the multiplayer options. You have the ability to play online with up to 11 other racers and there is also a split screen option. In terms of the latter, when playing in split screen, that are four types of races available (Race, Pure Race, Score & Boss). Split screen runs very smooth and allowed me to race against my son without any issues. Heading online, you’ll find three race types (Race, Pure Race & Boss). I’d love to tell you how the online racing was, but every time I went online I could not find a match, and when searching for any servers with hosted games, there were none. It looks like there is very little to no online community for Redout, which is kind of sad given that it’s not a bad game at all. Gameplay wise, Redout is quite a gold medal contender.

In terms of the visuals, they are very unique as such that they are clean and full of various geometry. There is a wide range of locations to race, from the dusty world of Cairo, the cold landscape of Alaska to lava filled world of ‘Volcano’ (yes, it’s called Volcano) or the space setting of Neptune. Regardless of where you race though, each of the seven worlds offer up a new scenic experience when you open each one, and they are unique from each other; however, given the speed this game goes at you may have trouble enjoying the work that went into the visuals. When I opened up the world known as Vertex, I was surprised. This world is a pixel based world, and I felt like I was racing in the world of Tron, but with 34BigThings' own take on that universe.

Technically Redout is a spectacular game. It runs at a solid framerate and is very, very smooth. I don’t think I ever noticed any hiccups during racing. There is great use of lighting, shadows and many special effects. One such use is when racing in Cairo, as you come across sections of the track that are shrouded in by the dust of a sandstorm. It was pretty impressive entering and exiting these sections of this one particular track. Kudos to 34BigThings for their effort in the visuals, as it won’t go overlooked given the beauty of each track, each world and all the environments you race in.

Finally, as for the sound, I have to again say well done. The music is the highlight here. The techno beats that blare as you race are perfectly matched with the on-screen action. Not once did I find myself wanting to turn off the music. The techno is also nicely mixed, as you’ll find an enjoyable, and varied, selection of it throughout the game, from strictly electronic made tunes to that which is filled with guitar riffs. As for the sound effects, the ships sound eerily quiet as their mag-lifts help propel them across the track, and as you race by certain parts of any track you’ll hear the ‘whoosh’ of the wind when you pass the various trackside scenery. I played Redout using a soundbar I recently reviewed, which has a separate subwoofer, and man, the music and sound effects rocked my home office.

I went into Redout: Lightspeed Edition with very little expectations, and I came out very surprised. The game has solid visuals and great sound, all which really help this game come alive on-screen. The speed that you race at is very fast too, and without any issues such as slowdown, screen tearing or the like. The game’s control is just as good, as the combination of using both analog sticks when steering is very intuitive and useful. Where Redout seems to stutter a bit though is that the speed itself, along with the track design, can cause you some trouble, as hitting the wall on repeated occasions is unavoidable, and the AI ramps up its challenge very quickly, but these issues don’t make it a bad game. Fans of futuristic racing, and fans of racing games as a whole, will find a lot to like about this game, and for the price I think that most will get some great “bang for the buck” out of it. It’s just sad though that the online community seems non-existent.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Destiny 2

Reviewing a game like Destiny 2 is no easy task, given that it is considered an open world game that you head online to play. It has lots to do, lots to see, and overall there’s a fair amount of gameplay. As I sit here at my desk wondering how I want to do this review, I thought that it would be important to break it up into a few parts, and that includes the single player campaign, the cooperative experience, end-game experience, and of course the adversarial multiplayer experience (PvP). So, without much more of an introduction, here we go.


When the original Destiny was released 3 years ago, expectations were high. Activision and Bungie spoke of a MMO like environment where console players could play with each other in an environment not experienced before. There were promises of a 10-year plan, an online infrastructure that allowed for a social experience like that not found in a console game previously, and of course it was Bungie’s first game after departing from Microsoft’s nest and leaving Halo behind. When the game finally hit players hands, although there were some positive aspects to it, the original Destiny was somewhat panned for its lack of a narrative during gameplay, the need to read Grimoire Cards outside the main game to understand much of the story (and lore), and the fact that it just felt like a grind most of the time. Well, the sequel is finally here and we’ve played a lot of it.

As a single player game, Destiny 2 manages to correct much of what was wrong with the original. There is a narrative this time around, and you are not just going from planet to planet completing various missions without any explanation. There is a story to follow and there are numerous cut scenes that allow one to get a sense of why they are doing what they are doing. It is evident that Bungie learned a lesson in this area, and that is you need to give a compelling reason for gamers to want to play through the story, and in Destiny 2 they did just that.

Much has of story’s premise has been discussused, and Destiny 2’s Beta made clear what gamers are to expect. The Red Legion, an elite faction of Cabal warriors, have taken control of the tower, and much of Earth. Their leader, Dominus Ghaul, is looking to take the ‘light’ away from humans, and have the ‘Traveler’ bestow it upon him, as he believes that he, and the Red Legion, are worthier of it than the human race. Given that the game is out already, I am not going to go over the story for two reasons, the first being that if you really want to ruin the plot, you can find it on the internet. The second reason is that I am not going to be that guy that is going to ruin the plot for you. The story is solid, and it really does a good job of telling the tale of Destiny 2. Zavala, Ikora, and of course Cade-6 make a return, along with some new NPC’s to help the story move along. You’ll find yourself watching the cut scenes, learning more about the characters, and wanting to press on. It’s such a vast improvement over the original game and it is much more amazing in terms of its scope.

The main campaign will take anywhere from 8-12 hours depending on how you play. You can rush through the story missions one by one, but you will hit a chapter that requires you to be level 15. You’ll also be opening your characters subclasses (for a total of three) which relate to Solar, Arc and Void elements. So, with this in mind, you will want to make sure you do other tasks on your way through the game to help you level up. Luckily, there is a lot more to do this time around that is meaningful and not just an added task that feels like a grind.

Oh, and a quick tidbit, if you are new to Destiny, you’ll be treated as such, as your dialog during certain points in the game will be vastly different than that of a veteran player who is returning. I played the game about a month ago, as a new player, at a review event, and over the past week and a half, I have been playing on my Xbox One S in my home office where the game recognized I was a returning player, and there are scenes where the dialog is very different.

One thing that is new, and quite enjoyable, is that Bungie has added a new set of tasks called Adventures. These side missions have mini-narratives within them. They help flush out characters and/or parts of the story that take place on the planet you are on. For the veteran players, Adventures are like expanded patrols, but with a story. Not only will you get XP and rewards for completing these adventures, the fact that they are somewhat story based help them become more enjoyable too, and not just a grind to get your level up. Most of them are also multi-sequence, in other words, not just one thing and done. As someone who has played a lot of the first Destiny, I really appreciated the inclusion of these new side-quests in the manner that they were offered.

Another way to help you level up, and help you earn new gear on your adventure, is the addition of another new feature, Lost Sectors. On each planet you’ll find hidden entrances throughout (usually a cave like or underground environment) that are marked, and once you enter them, you are treated to a large area to explore, lots of enemies to fight, and a special chest to open. Lost Sectors are marked on the map of each planet; however, they are not exactly where the mark on the map is, as you’ll have to look around to find them. Each of the Lost Sectors has a special mini-level boss like experience at the end, and upon defeating them you are given access to open a ‘loot chest’ to collect your rewards. They definitely make for some added gameplay.

Something else that Bungie included in Destiny 2 are scannable items littered throughout the planets you explore. These items are not necessary to find in order to enjoy the game, but in many ways some of them provide more minor back story, or interesting tidbits, to the game’s universe itself. They could have really gone deep with these, almost Grimoire Card deep, but even though they did not some of the stuff you’ll discover, and scan, are pretty cool and you’ll learn even a bit more about the world you are exploring. You’ll either just come across these items or you can use your map to find the general area that they are in.

In terms of how to figure out where to go, and what to do, the storyline is very clear on the missions you must complete, and where to complete them. The Red War missions are identified with a big red logo on the map. In terms of the adventures, you’ll see them via the bright orange logos on the map. Getting around the world of Destiny 2 has been streamlined and improved from the first game. Bungie eluded to this during their reveal, as they said you would not have to go to orbit to navigate your way around the world(s). The new system allows you to use quick travel points that are now in the game, and being able to see each planet and their environments, and travel straight from where you currently are to the new point you want to go is a time saver. It’s simplistic, streamlined, and much easier to use.

Visually, Destiny 2 is a looker indeed. Fans who are returning, and newbies alike, will be impressed with what Bungie has done with the graphics. Sure, it’s Destiny, but you are getting new planets, which means new environments to explore. Enemies from the past games make a return (Fallen, Taken, Hive, and of course Cabal) and you’ll find a lot more detail to them, and even some of them move faster or differently than before (e.g. when a Vandal tries to scurry away they look like a spider speed walking or when a Psion tries to hide you can see their jetpack ignite when they do so). I was fairly amazed with how much actually changed with the in-game enemies and they did a great job adding more details to each race of enemy.

Having played the game almost a month ago on the PS4 Pro, I was wondering what the Xbox One version would look like, and I can honestly say it looks great. With incredible use of lighting, shadow, and special effects, there is a lot to look at. The overall environments are detailed, textures are varied, and everything has a refined look to it. Something that really struck me in the visuals is the fact that there is SO MUCH to explore, from the outside world, the insides of buildings, caves, caverns, and of course hidden areas. Each area of each planet seems to have multiple levels of areas to explore. You feel less guided or bottlenecked in Destiny 2 as there are so many places to find and discover that are off the beaten path. Technically speaking, everything is pretty rock solid, but I did run into some slowdown when a ton of enemies and online players were in one spot (e.g. pubic events) and there was a barrage of explosions, weapons firing and lots of action on screen. This was only an occasional hiccup though.

As for the game’s sound, it is very notable. From the individual sounds of different weapons, enemies who utter their own alien language, to the voice acting in the cut scenes and, of course, the music, it has all been improved upon. There are a lot more cut scenes this time around, and the voice acting is not only well acted, but there is a lot of it. There is also a lot of NPC dialog too, especially during the missions and the adventures you complete. I found the use humor more than before, which was a nice change (hello Failsafe). In terms of the music, it really adds to the gameplay experience. It is evident that there is a lot more music to support the on-screen action and it sounds much more “symphonic” so to speak. You’ll find that not much, if any, seems to repeat, and it really matches what is happening on screen. Skye Lewin, Music Director and Composer at Bungie stated that the goal of the music was to “support the story”, and that wherever the player is doing in the game, the music should support them in terms of what they are doing. One of the goals was to have different music palates of music for different destinations, and even characters. He also said that the game and its music should “…have a musical identity”, and after playing I would say that this goal was met.


Destiny 2 is meant to be a ‘social’ experience, that is, the game is can be played with others online. Sure, the story mode can be played, and enjoyed, by one’s self, but there is a lot to do in Destiny 2 that is best shared with others. That being said, you’ll find that most of your time in a fireteam will be spent playing the game after you’ve beaten the main story, and this is simply known as the End-Game. You’ll finish the story a long way away from the maximum power level of 350, so the End-Game is important to continue levelling your power up.

Exploring the vast world of Destiny 2 is so much better when playing with others. Like the original game, you can only party up into a fireteam of 3 players. For me this is a misstep, as it’s still a small number of people. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you should be able to party up to 6, 8 or 10 for the regular stuff, but 3 is pretty damn small. Given that there seems to be the magical number of 4 for PvP (more on that later), why not encourage 4-player fireteams. Regardless, 3 is the number and we will have to live with this at this time.

Being in a fireteam allows one to do things like Strikes, as well as share the duties when doing patrols (basic quests that are not story driven) and joining others in Pubic Events. I am adding public events in the cooperative section of this review because they are best served when completing them with others, either those in your fireteam or random public players.

Public Events, which can be completed during the campaign or anytime during the End-Game, are where you are tasked with a challenge that involves any number of stages. It is boss based and rewards you for your efforts. You can see on your map where these will take place, and how close to they are to activating, and this is Godsend. No more having to rely on 3rd party apps this time around. And given the addition of fast travelling, you don’t have to traverse the whole map to get from one area to the next, so getting to various public events is a breeze. Once you get to a public event you can then go up to the flag marking the spot and “Rally Up” (fills your special attack as well as power weapon ammo) as you wait for the countdown timer to kick off the event. But wait, there is more.

All the public events have a feature where, if you manage to do the extra steps (criteria) during the event, the public event becomes a Heroic Public Event, which not only means it will be tougher, but the rewards should be better. This is a great feature as it adds incentive for you to first find out what you need to do, and of course doing it makes the event more rewarding.

Strikes make a return to Destiny 2. Veterans of Destiny don't need on read this section. These are a total of 5 strikes to play in the Xbox One version and they are all available in the game’s strike playlist. They are basically challenges where you go from point A to point B facing the challenges that lie ahead, all culminating in a final boss battle. You earn gear for your efforts, as well as XP. Should you not be partied up in a fireteam the game matches you up with up to two other players. Destiny 2 allows you to speak to your fireteam in either party mode or a fireteam mode. The latter allows you to speak with strangers you may be partnered up with. It’s basically an in-game chat. The strikes are fairly straight forward as you have some basic platforming aspects, harder enemies, and of course the inevitable boss battle. They are fairly well designed too, and a good way to help grind to get some better gear or weapons.

There are new World Quests to play after you beat the game. There is one World Quest per planet. To open these, you must complete the main story and be level 20. These are one-time quests where you complete various steps to beat it. Once you do you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a weapon quest which, when the requirements are met, will result in a new weapon. As you make your way through the steps you’ll find that they have minimum recommended requirements for power level, but they are not something that locks you out of completing it.

Nightfalls also make their return in Destiny 2, and again, they are a great way to help you acquire higher level gear (Destiny Veterans, feel free to skip this paragraph). You can run them as many times as you want, but you can only earn high level and rare rewards once per week (and for each character if you are running more than one). These challenges involve levels from the strike playlist, but there are added challenges in the form of more enemies, harder bosses, and certain criteria to meet if you want to complete the nightfall challenges. Currently the nightfalls are timed, and you must complete it before the timer runs out. There is no indication if the nightfall will remain timed or not. You can also opt to try to complete the nightfall on “prestige” difficulty (power level 300 or above), which is much harder. All nightfalls require teamwork, memorization, and a lot of good weapons. If you successfully complete the nightfall Zavala will reward you with a legendary engram too.

Also adding to the End-Game experience are weekly rewards that that are set forth by Ikora and Cayde-6 earning you reputation and loot for each. For Ikora, you can complete 5 level challenges for an ‘Ikora Faction Reputation’ package or you can complete what is known as meditations. The latter are opened after completion of the main story and you replay story missions that earn you loot, XP and more 'Ikora Faction Reputation'. In regards to Cayde-6, he has a weekly Milestone that challenges you to complete public events and patrols, and once you hit the magic number you return to Cayde-6 for your reward. Of course there are also Crucible (PvP) challenges, and particularly one called Call to Arms, that when completed gets you what the game calls “powerful gear”.

Finally, as of writing this review, the Leviathan raid was released, which is a crucial part of the Destiny experience. This raid takes you on a ride of more epic proportions against the Cabal, but not too epic in such that the recommended level for completing the raid is 260-280. You’ll team up with up the 5 other guardians, and you’re in for a treat, and lots of loot, as with any raid t in the original Destiny. It will require lots of studying to know how to effectively beat it, and to know where all the loot chests may lie. Team effort is required as you’ll be breaking up into sub teams during the battle all in an effort to take down various sections of the raid one part at a time. Your best bet at learning this, next to just doing it, is to check out the videos on YouTube, Twitch or Mixer and see how others did it, and then take your shot at doing it yourself.

Bungie is implementing a "Guided Games" feature, but as of writing this the mode is in Beta. It is basically a mode that allows gamers to get help with from more advanced players (e.g. clan members) in such things as nightfalls and the raid. Until the mode is in full swing, we won't be saying anything else about this.

Something that also deserves mention in this section is the addition of Clans to Destiny 2. These are specific groups that you can join with others. You can only be in one clan at a time too. You and the people in the clan can earn XP towards the clan 'level' which allows for rewards as you level your clan up, such as increased glimmer during gameplay or a chance for better rewards when playing certain events with clan members. You, or your clan members, can also participate in PvP, Nightfall, The Raid and/or Trials of Nine, and if you are successful when doing so, you and your clan members can claim engrams from Hawthorne (one of the new NPCs). Being in a clan is more than just being in some sort of ‘elite’ gang (at this time), as it allows you to earn rewards and have your gameplay mean something for the group. You can also communicate directly to your clan members when arranging various things to do (e.g. strikes, raid, etc.), which is as simple as going into the clan profile and using the communication tool to get the word out. I for one was worried that clans would be sort of ‘elitist’, but alas, it is not as it is kind of a neat thing to add in the way they did, as you don’t have to be an elite player to be part of a clan and you can enjoy the clan rewards.


Destiny 2 has changed up its PvP, known as Crucible, making the team smaller in number. In the original Destiny teams were set to 6v6 for the majority of the time, now the Crucible is 4v4. You get a total of 10 maps out of the box, and as of writing this review the internet is abuzz stating that since the Raid was released there has been one more map added for a total of 11 on the Xbox One. In terms of the modes offered, there are three returning modes including Clash (team deathmatch), Control (hold capture points (there are three) to earn points) and Supremacy (kill guardians and capture their crests (in engrams) to earn points while reclaiming fallen allies’ crests). There are two new modes including Countdown (one team must deliver the ‘bomb’ to one of two objectives, set it and have it blow up while the other team defends) and Survival (can only revive teammates a certain number of times, run out of revivals and die, your team loses).

I find that 4v4 can suit some of these modes, and what I discovered when playing is that communication is key especially with less players. When I was at the reveal event in May of this year I interviewed David “Deej” Dague, Bungies Community Manager. He stated that the change in PvP teams is about empowering people to feel like they play a part in the match and have them feel like a part of the team. Where my concern lies in this new 4v4 structure is that the smaller sizes could somewhat fracture PvP players, and even alienate those that only like to come around occasionally, particularly during Iron Banner, as the numbers are now quite limited. Another factor with the smaller teams is that you’ll only be able to play with 3 of your friends (or clan) at one time, whereas the original Destiny allowed for a larger group to gather, allowing you to play with more of your regular friends at once in public matches. For a game that focuses on the fact that it’s an online social experience, people who rarely frequent the PvP mode may feel like they aren’t good enough to run with those that always team together, and they may start to feel the sting of loses when all they want to do is try to have fun in the mode. As well, when you are playing 4v4, and you lose one, 4v3 is a lot different than 6v5, the latter feeling more manageable. I actually do hope that they bring back 6v6 somehow.

There are two areas of crucible to join: Quickplay and Competitive. Bungie states that Quickplay has less emphasis on skill and more on connection. It’s the “fastest route to a game”. In terms of Competitive, the matchmaking will take longer, but the servers will try to find players who match your skill and have a good connection at the same time. It is said to make the “quality of [your] gameplay experience worth the wait”. Now, after playing both modes, I didn’t find too much difference in terms of players and you will find skilled guardians in either area, so be prepared for any quality of players in the match.

The levels in the Crucible look great, and are very much equal with the rest of the game. Bungie has developed some nice maps, with some being more open and multi-faceted with many routes while others felt simpler and more direct. The action can get frantic now and then too, as some modes lean towards 4v4 more than others (e.g. supremacy vs. control). Like I said earlier, I am not a huge fan of the 4v4 change, but I can say that when you are in a group that is communicating and strategizing on the fly while playing, the feeling is great, and almost empowering, as you pull off multiple wins. I experienced this one night when completing Shaxx’s “Call to Arms” milestone with three other friends. However, as someone who also went in as a single player now and then, during the review process, I felt out of place as other players didn’t want to chat, and they focused on themselves rather than a team. Even as a single player in the original Destiny crucible, I can’t really say I felt this way as much as I did during Destiny 2, and it is definitely worth noting.


There has been a lot of chatter on the internet about the Eververse vendor in Destiny 2. The main complaint is that it costs real money to buy shaders and other items for your Guardian. Now you can indeed grind for most of these, as you earn bright engrams after you ‘level up’ each time when you are the maximum light level of 20, and you also can get random drops. In my honest opinion, the need to purchase Silver to buy items at the Eververse vendor is strictly discretionary, you can do it or not. The key here is you don’t have to, as you can still grind it out. So, I find this a moot point. As for the current issue of “shader-gate”, the previous method of shaders being permanent and interchangeable was great, and the new method may seem like a small step backwards, but in the end you don’t have to buy them as you can earn them through your bright engrams and random drops.

Given that I am reviewing the game on the Xbox One, I have to honestly admit that I am not happy with how Sony has once again locked up exclusive gear and content for at least a year at a time. Xbox owners pay the same price for the game, but yet Activision and Bungie have a ‘deal’ with Sony to provide exclusive content for PS4 players. I could understand 30 or 60 days of exclusive content, but for one year at the minimum is just wrong, and kind of a slap in the face of Xbox One gamers, given it was Xbox One gamers who supported Bungie and their Halo series on the Xbox platform. It’s my hope that this process ends soon and that all Destiny fans, be it on the PS4 or Xbox One, have the same game for the same price…..period. Ok, enough about that.

Destiny 2 is an evolution of the first game as it rights many of the missteps of the original; however, it is not a game that has gone out and made radical changes and added new and innovative things to make it a brand new experience. What it has done is taken what was there and fine-tuned it to make the core Destiny experience a better one than its predecessor. It has made necessary changes to allow for a meaningful experience when playing through the single player campaign as you watch the story play out in front of you. This was extremely lacking during most of the first game. Bungie has also provided things to do after you finish the main campaign, and help you along the grind for your power to hit the maximum level. In terms of the End-Game, there is lots of opportunity for players to get better gear, find those legendary and/or exotic weapons and armor, and get themselves the loot they have always wanted. That being said, one of the main concerns about Destiny 2 that the group of gamers I play with regularly has, and something that is worth noting, is that although there is a lot to do, the content may not be a daily affair. Given what you can do to level up during the End-Game, there doesn’t seem like there may be enough content to run something EVERY day. So, take this into consideration. In the end Destiny 2 is a very solid game that is so much better than the first, and with that being said, it will be interesting to see where the journey takes gamers from here.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Voodoo Vince: Remastered

Rewind the clock to 2003, when Microsoft’s original Xbox making waves. This big black bulky console, with a built in hard drive (first of its kind), was just the start of what would be become the Xbox Platform. Along with the console came some Xbox specific games, and one such game was Voodoo Vince. I didn’t get the chance to play the game back then, as I was invested in the world of Halo, but I know many of my gaming friends who did and they enjoyed it. Well this 14 year old 3D platformer has seen a rebirth of sorts. Voodoo Vince Remastered was released for the Xbox One a few weeks ago as a Play Anywhere title (PC and Xbox One). It’s a full remaster of the original with updated visuals, widescreen support, and an improved framerate. So, how does this 14 year old remastered game feel in the realm of modern day gaming? Well, not too bad to tell you the truth, but it’s not without a hiccup or two.

The premise of Voodoo Vince Remastered is a simple one. It takes place in a twisted interpretation of the New Orleans. You are a voodoo doll in Madam Charmaine’s shop, and a group of goons are looking to steal her zombie dust. The job is kind of bungled and the baddies end up kidnapping Madam Charmaine while managing to spill some of the dust they were taking. This dust brings you to life, and your journey as a living burlap voodoo doll begins as you are tasked to collect the missing dust and save Madam Charmaine. The story is one that makes sense in this 3D platformer, and yes, it’s weird to be a living voodoo doll, but it’s a game that is meant to be fun, so what would you expect, right?

As this game is a 3D platformer, you’ll find the game broken into various zones, from a city setting to the swamps of New Orleans. Each zone results various gameplay elements, such as jumping, running, searching, and even playing music, as you venture forth to complete each area. For a 14 year old game, there is quite a lot to do in each level, ranging from traditional platforming, flying an aircraft, boat racing and even a mine-cart level, so there is more than you’d expect here. Of course you’ll be fighting mini-bosses and end-level bosses as well.

Vince has a set of combat skills to help him along in his journey including head stomps, punches and a spin attack. You’ll find that the punches seem somewhat weak, but when you consider that Vince is a voodoo doll, this kind of makes sense. You’ll rely on his spin attack more often than not. One of the really neat features of this game though is that Vince can harm himself (hey, he’s a voodoo doll that can regenerate back to life) which in turn harms others or helps him solve puzzles. For example, you can get hit by a large number of arrows only to have these same bunch of arrows hit your enemies or you can throw yourself into miscellaneous fan blades, shred yourself up into bits, and become material to weigh a switch down to activate. These deaths are kind of cute, in a cartoony way, as you’ll always come back to life and continue your adventure.

Along with all the action comes collecting. Yes, as you’d expect in a game like this you are tasked with collecting quite a few things. Now to be fair, you do not have to search overly hidden areas to find them, as the developer has been nice enough to make most of these somewhat easy to find. This takes away that false sense of gameplay length forcing one to have to have to search every single nook and cranny. There are a TON (caps put in for emphasis of course) of collectibles to collect too. You’ll collect Dust Bags (increase health bar every 100), Skull Pages (increase amount of energy for voodoo powers every 50) and Voodoo Icons (each one unlocks new Voodoo Power). In terms of the latter, there are just over 30 Voodoo Powers for you to open up, which are all very useful during the game, so you’ll want to make time to find them. These powers are only used when your Voodoo Power Energy level is at a point where it is enough to use the specific power, so you won’t be using them all the time. Smart planning for the use of these powers is needed.

Although Voodoo Vince Remastered is quite nostalgic, and has some charm to it, it definitely is not the perfect gaming experience. Sure, much of it has manages to move into the modern era with little difficulty, but some of the aged mechanics also cause a bit of grief. One of the most notable is the in-game camera. The camera seems to move too slow and you’ll find that at key moments it goes all wonky causing a few untimely deaths. You’ll definitely fight it for the right placement more than a few times. Another issue is that some of the ‘action’ controls feel a bit off too, and you may find such things as a double jump really an issue, so much so that you’ll you may want to throw your controller on occasion.

Voodoo Vince Remastered is strictly a single player affair that should last anywhere between 8-10 hours or so. Should you need to find the last of a few collectibles, then tack on a bit more time, but not too much given how visible the collectibles can be. The skill required to complete the game is not overly high, which is a good thing as it allows so many different gamers the chance to experience something from the original Xbox days.

Presentation wise, the game looks fairly solid, as it has been updated with modern day visuals in 1080p widescreen. Now, you have to remember that the game is 14 years old, and it was not designed from scratch for the Xbox One, but you’ll still find some pleasant graphics and effects littered about the game, just keep your expectations realistic. As for the game’s framerate, it generally does a good job, but there are times that you will notice some slowdown. It doesn’t affect the overall gampelay, but it definitely noticeable for sure.

In terms of the sound, I have to say that Vince himself was fairly well voiced, and all the supporting voice actors and sound effects make the game what it is. You will find a few instances when Vince looks at you from the screen to give you a wiseass crack that is context specific too. What I really enjoyed personally though was the jazz based soundtrack. I am not a jazz fan in anyway, but given the setting of the game, the music really suited the in-game locations and action, and it was a nice little treat. I am sure some may disagree, but my opinion is such that it wasn’t that bad at all and added to the game experience.

Overall I would say that Voodoo Vince Remastered is a fairly solid remaster, even with a few issues brought forward by its age. Sure, the camera is slow and out of whack at times, the framerate slows down now and then, and the control can be problematic here and there, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. What are these positives you ask? Well, how about updated visuals, good music, easy to find collectibles, varied gameplay, the addition of achievements, and a price point that doesn’t gouge for a remastered game. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think the price ($14.99 (USD)) is pretty damn fair for what is offered here. For those gamers who never experienced Voodoo Vince on the original Xbox, and even those who did, feel free to check out this remastered version and take a trip to days of the original Xbox and a game that showed how enjoyable the platform could be.

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition

I did not play Bulletstorm when it released in 2011. It was a new IP that was developed by People Can Fly and EPIC games, the latter being the company that created the Unreal Graphics Engine. It was an FPS game that just didn’t interest me even after all the PR hype and trailers were released. Fast forward to 2017, it seems that People Can Fly want gamers to have a second chance to experience their game. Bulletstorm: The Full Clip Edition is a remastered version of the 2011 title with a few added bonuses thrown in. So, without any reservation I thought it was time to see what all the hub-bub was about six years ago, and simply put, I can see why so many people enjoyed it.

You take on the role of Grayson Hunt, leader of a ragtag squad called Dead Echo. You were once a government funded “hit squad” under the direction of General Serrano. During the game’s first couple of stages you discover that General Serrano wasn’t totally honest with you and that you were basically doing his dirty work, as he was misleading you to kill innocent people. You have a chance to avenge the lies and deceit that were thrust upon you and your squad, and it’s this lust for vengeance that fuels the story, particularly why you find yourself on the abandoned resort planet of Stygia where you crash landed and are now looking for way off. It also plays into how your sidekick, a cyborg named Ishi, came to be and why he fights alongside of you.

What is great is that the story starts right from the start, and it’s all playable, not just some cutscene or two. There are a few twists and turns during the story’s 7 Act campaign, and I enjoyed it. Sure, it’s not a Pulitzer Prize winning narrative, but what many people have to understand is that the game does not take itself seriously, even though you’ll find some serious messages in it. This is evident from the dialog that takes place throughout the whole game. Yes, it is juvenile, and not for the ears of young ones, but it doesn’t try to be something else during the game, as the one liners, full of cussing and inappropriate jokes, are the mainstay of all the character’s banter. Some lines may make you cringe, if not from the ‘raciness’ of the comment but to how cheesy it may be.

One-liners aside, it really comes down to the gameplay and how Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition feels. As an FPS game, I was quite impressed with how smooth the game felt. The controls are good and aiming/shooting is pretty spot on. If I had one complaint it is the cover button, which is assigned to pressing down the left analog stick. I wish the cover would ‘lock’ so I did not have to continue holding the stick down. Minor complaint in the big scheme of things though. Overall the game’s control helps make the game what it is, as it’s a fairly refined experience.

One of Bulletstorm’s main features is that you have an ‘instinct leash’ along with a ‘boot to the face’ attack, and by using these tools, along with the various weapons in the game, you can dispatch enemies in creative fashion. This is a main attraction because it fuels the “Skillshot” system. This system rewards you for how stylish you kill your foes, and you can buy upgrades for your weapons, charge shots, as well as more ammo. These kills aren’t only weapon related, but environmental too. Nothing like grabbing an enemy with your leash, pulling him to you, and then kicking him into a cactus or venus-flytrap like plant to kill them off.

As you get more weapons (you can assign two special weapons to the left and right d-pad, while having the standard machine gun always available) different skillpoint shots open up. You’ll come across DropKits that allow you to upgrade your weapons and see the skillshots that you can be rewarded for in terms of weapon kills and environmental kills. The list is LONG as there is a lot of ways to kill your enemies, and some are VERY creative. Don’t worry though, as you don’t have to do every skillshot in the list to have fun with the game, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

When playing the single player campaign on normal mode I managed to get through the game in about 7-8 hours. I did this over a weekend, playing when I had time away from my kids. There was a time or two where I thought I was nearing the end, but it wasn’t and there was still more to play. I found myself enjoying the experience all the way through too, from exploring the environments to finding new and gruesome, ways to kill the enemies I faced. There were times that I felt the game might get repetitive for people, as you may rely on just killing in the same fashion for stretches at a time, but overall the pace of the game is intense enough, and there is a nice mix of things to do (e.g. use a chain gun during a railcar sequence or control a remote control dinosaur-like robot and lay waste to enemies) that the game itself never gets too stale.

If you’re looking for more than the single player campaign, there are a couple of different modes in the form of Echoes and Anarchy. Echoes has you playing in a specific part of a campaign level, earning a score. This part of the map plays out like that in the full campaign, so you’ll be fighting the enemies like you did in the story, but in small snippets and to place on a leaderboard. Anarchy on the other hand is a horde-like cooperative mode. Here you must beat a target score in order to continue, and to be successful you need to comple team-based skillshots. For example, one player kicks an enemy into the air while the other kills him with a well time shotgun blast. You’ll be able to use your environments, for even higher scored skillpoint kills.

As this is edition of Bulletstorm is called “The Full Clip Edition”, there are a few bonuses that come with it. There are six new maps added for the above referenced Echoes mode, and all of the DLC that was included in the original game also comes included. There is also a new game mode called Overkill. This opens after completing the single player campaign and it enables all weapons and skillshots from the beginning of the game. If you manage to pull off all the skillshots for certain, or all, weapons during your initial playthrough, you get unlimited ammo in Overkill Mode for that particular weapon.

One of the biggest additions comes in the form of Duke Nukem’s Tour mode. You’ll play through the whole campaign, but instead of the role of Grayson, you’ll take on the role of Duke Nukem himself. It’s a pretty interesting concept given that all the dialog that is supposed to be Grayson’s is now Duke’s, and there are Duke specific dialog to be heard throughout that is not heard in the original campaign. It’s unfortunate for us here at XBA as we had to delay our review to check out what Duke had to say in the game given that the DLC would not open until the actual launch day on the Xbox One. But you know what, waiting to play as Duke was somewhat worth it and it added to the second time I played through it. It’s a nice addition to the game indeed, but do note, you had to have pre-ordered it to get it with the game and if you didn’t, it’s worth $4.99 on the Xbox Store. We have been contacted by the PR company who state that dev-team People Can Fly are aware of some lip-syncing issues with the Duke dialog, and we have been told that they are working on a patch to fix it.

Presentation wise, Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition holds up quite well. The visuals look somewhat enhanced and like they belong on the Xbox One. On the other side of the coin though, you will find some textures that are indeed a throwback to the Xbox 360 days, as well as some character animations at times, including during cutscenes and some gameplay. It doesn’t ruin the atmosphere of the game, as it’s a pretty good looking game overall with long draw distances, good level design, and interesting character model choices, it’s just that the game is 6 years old for goodness sake. But don’t let that fool you, technically it’s solid as I only ran into about three instances of slowdown and no major issues beyond that. As for the sound, I played using a set of headphones as I didn’t want my kids to hear the game. The audio is pretty good. It’s directional with great weapons sounds, good environmental effects, and I actually enjoyed the juvenile banter that went on between the characters. As for the music, it really matched the on-screen action, especially when you are in a heated battle with many enemies.

Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition is a solid remaster and is a game that many should have some fun with. It has enjoyable gameplay, visuals that manage to look good, control that is spot on, and the experience as a whole is fun. As a game experience, it’s definitely worth picking up, but I find myself having difficulty telling you to buy it at the full price of a new retail game. If you can get a deal on it, pick it up without question; however, if you’re on the fence, it might almost be worth waiting, given the full price you’ll have to pay for a remastered game.

Overall Score: 8.2 / 10 Riptide GP: Renegade

I enjoy a good water based racing game. I remember when my then girlfriend (who is now my wife) bought me Wave Race 64 and the memory expansion pack for my N64. I loved that game, as it was my first true jet-ski racing game. The physics and look of the water was amazing at the time and I played the game for as many hours at a time as I could. One of the more memorable ones since then was Hydro Thunder. I spent many hours playing it on my Sega Dreamcast, and I also played Hydro Thunder Hurricane on my Xbox 360 when it was released in the Xbox Live Arcade. Well, a game with those kinds of experiences has been released on the Xbox One. Developer Vector Unit, who made Hydro Thunder Hurricane, have made a game with consoles in mind. Riptide GP Renegade was released a few weeks ago. PS4 owners have had the chance to play this since 2016, but it is a new game to the Xbox One platform and I am here to give you my opinion.

First things first, Riptide GP Renegade provides a story. This was somewhat surprising given the fact that I just thought I’d be arcade racing through the water against other racers. The story is not deep, but it does have a bit of meaning. You are a champion hydro jet racer who was set up by another racer who was jealous of you, and you spent two years in jail for illegal racing. You are now out of "The Pen" and are looking to take down the racer who framed you as they are basking in the glory of being the new champion. You must start in the in the ‘beer leagues’ so to speak, as you race illegally to gain new team members, make a new name for yourself, and eventually get a chance to challenge the racer who cheated you out of your glory.

Career mode is the meat of Riptide GP Renegade. Here you’ll chose a racer (male or female) and have some customization options, from color scheme, number, to a decal or two. It’s nice to make your racer your own so to speak. Being Canadian I tended to keep to a red/white color scheme that would make my country proud. You knew it was me racing, that was for sure. Oh, ADHD moment here, did I mention that this game is a Play Anywhere title, so feel free to play it on your Xbox One or your PC, as you can do either as progress carries over to each platform.

Speaking of racing, you’ll be racing a lot given that there are well over 180 events for you to do. The events are found in stages, and you’ll be going through various stages that have multiple events for you to complete. There are story related stages, and then there are some side quests. These side quests are found in your career mode, but they are not necessary to complete as they just add some background to other characters. With all this being said, the number of events is insane. The event modes range from straight out racing, elimination (last place during specific time period is eliminated), freestyle (stunt mode) and slalom (race between markers – best time and least number missed). To say you won’t be doing much would be a lie.

The biggest issue with the number of events though is no matter how different, and how many there are, the fact is that you’ll be doing them on a limited number of tracks. There are around nine or so tracks, and as you race through the large number of events they can start to repeat quite quickly. I personally wish that there were more tracks, maybe a minimum of 15 or so, given how many times you’ll find yourself on each one. Some of you out there may feel like the racing can be a grind now and then, and to be honest it can, but it’s bearable as the tracks are very well designed.

Yes, the track design is solid, and some of them are quite alive as you race on them. The one thing that really struck me is the water effects and how good the hydro jets look cutting through the H20. Each track is its own area too, from flooded cities and city park waterways to those that make their way through, and under, a futuristic city or are found in desert setting that houses a submarine base. You can’t say that the dev-team didn’t try to get creative. Within these tracks are various branches, and even hidden shortcuts, and you will find many areas to pull of stunts that power up your ‘turbo’ to get you that extra boost of speed. There is a lot of stuff going on too, as each track has various environmental themes, such as stormy waves, city traffic moving above, or a warehouse beaming with activity. Oh, and should you search you’ll find an easter egg, yes, a literal easter egg, on each track, just look hard for it.

If there is one thing that is evident in this game, it is the competitive curve. This is how aggressive the AI can be when racing. You’ll find that the AI will put up quite a battle, even early in the game even when in normal mode. This is even more evident later in the game. Upgrading your hydro jet is imperative, and getting new ones, and upgrading them, is just as important as you progress through the game. You can place anywhere from 1st to 3rd and earn stars, and by doing so you open the next event, and then when you have enough stars, and events beaten, the next stage of events opens. As you find yourself racing in the latter stages your room for error is much more narrow and you’ll have to race an almost perfect race, which we all know is not always possible. So be prepared for a bit of “agony of defeat” now and then, and just take it for what it can be, a very competitive experience.

Should you want a break from the world of single player, there are a bevy of multiplayer modes to play, from local (split-screen) to online racing. In regards to the local racing, to be able to play with a few friends sitting in the same room, split-screen, is a throwback to gaming of old. And surprisingly the framerate holds up with a few players playing on the same screen. Of course you can head online to race too, and although I didn’t get too many races in online, the experience wasn’t that bad at all and online racers may be able to find a race or two to keep their interest. Having both online and local multiplayer races is a great addition and something that people should definitely consider.

Presentation Riptide GP Renegade is good. As I mentioned earlier, the track design is solid. The graphic engine that powers the game runs smooth and there were nary, if any, technical issues to be found. Given the entry price of the game ($9.99), you’d expect a budget title to look like a budget title, but this game looks above that. Sure, it’s not a triple-A looking game, but it doesn’t look bad either. As for the sound, the hydro jets sound like….well, what a hydro jet might sound like. I dunno, I have never seen one so who am I to judge, but the overall sound effects, from vehicles to that of the environment, sound pretty good and get the job done. The music is EDM like, and has a good beat which suits the futuristic time period of the game, but you’ll find that it becomes repetitive after a while as you race the same tracks over a long period of time.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by Riptide GP Renegade. Given the price of admission, this water based racer offers a long single player mode, and some local and online multiplayer racing that can be fun too. Sure, it’s not the most perfect racing experience, as it can feel like a grind at times, and the AI is as tough as nails to race against more often than not, but these points don’t take away from what the game does well. For those looking for a different racing experience, and one that won’t break the bank, take a long hard look at Riptide GP Renegade, and for those non-racing fans out there, you should also take a look at this game too, as the price is right and it is a fairly enjoyable racing experience.

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 Spheroids

When asked to review Spheroids, developed by Eclipse Games S.C., I was a bit hesitant as I am not what one would consider an expert when it comes to playing platform games. I enjoy them, but I admit that when it comes to mastering them can struggle more than I wish. That being said, as I played Spheroids I found that I was pretty successful in my efforts to make it through the game, and low and behold, I didn’t suck too much. But I know that many of you platform game fiends out there are wondering: Is Spheroids going to be worth the time and money? Well, that just depends on what you are looking for.

You take on the role of Lucas, a good young Canadian kid. Lucas is tasked to help his friend Otto, who happens to be a scientist. One fine day an alien form, called Spheroids, decide to leave their alternative universe to try to take over ours. It’s a simple story that is played out through various cutscenes between 8 different areas. The cutscenes are more focused with the places that you end up going to defend and introducing you to new forms of Spheroids. The 8 areas that you will find yourself venturing through include Japan, Brazil, Egypt, Russia, Kenya, India and Greece. There is one more area for the game’s final battle, but I am not going to tell you as it will be your job to find out yourself.

Each level within an area has a simple goal, use the tools that you are given and clear out each area as you make your way from start to the finish of said level. You’ll be popping Spheroids with your “modified drill hook” as you jump, hang, and roof walk your way through 32 levels spread out across the 8 areas. The thing that most diehard platforming fans will note, and even casual fans, is that the it does not push one’s gaming limits to the max. It is a strictly go from point A to point B with very few puzzle elements, and what puzzle elements you do run into will not tax your brain power as you’ll find them very straight forward. The reason I say this is that I found nothing in this area to be difficult, and you all know from my statement above that I am not an expert at these games.

One of the neat features is that different Spheroids are introduced as you make your way through the game’s levels. As you begin you’ll find yourself facing the most basic of bouncing Spheroids, but the further you get into the game the more different Spheroids you’ll come across. There are those that split multiple times and there are those that will split and if you don’t dispose of the smaller Spheroids that are a result, they will join up and become ‘whole’ again. There are also those who need to be hit multiple times before they die (these also split into smaller Spheroids), there are those that come down quicker than any other, and finally you’ll find some that can’t even be shot in the first place. Sure, the game may not be that difficult, but experiencing the different types of Spheroids as I made my way through the game was kind of nice.

Another neat feature of the game is that it introduces a couple of new gameplay mechanics as you get into some of the new areas. Of note is the use of a grappling hook and the introduction of anti-gravity boots that allow you to walk on ceilings. What I found with these mechanics was that it added a new way for me to save my ass more than a few times. It also allowed me to be kind of creative in some of my approaches to various areas of the game, using my anti-gravity boots in ways that may not have been intended. If I should note anything here it is that the grappling hook was not always as accurate as I wished. There were more than a few times that I went to grab one of the designated areas with the grappling hook only to have it target another one further down the screen. I was able to adjust to this fact, but given that this one mechanic was not has accurate at it should have been it caused a bit of a misstep now and then.

There was one gameplay mechanic that reminded me of another ‘retro’ style game that I played way back, and that game is Mutant Mudds. In Mutant Mudds you had the ability to teleport into the back or foreground to complete various parts of a level. In Spheroids you will come across teleporters that let you go into the background to access switches, enemies, and collectibles. This aspect of the game was very Mutant Mudds-like, but it was also done in a way that continued to add to the charm of the game.

So, I have mentioned a few times that Spheroids is not particularly a difficult game, and yes, the 4-6 hour adventure it isn’t hard, and that is due to a few things. The first is that the check points in each level are plentiful. If anything, they are somewhat predictable too in such that once you reach a check point you know that you are about to head into a challenging (if you can call it that) part of the level or just about at the end. Another key factor here is that if you kill only a few enemies in a part of a level that is littered with them, and you die, those enemies stay dead and you don’t have to worry about facing them all again. The ones that are left alive are the only ones that will be there when you respawn and get to that part of the level again.

The game also has an in-game store (in the form of an arcade cabinet) at the start of each level. Here you can upgrade your character (e.g. extra health) or you purchase in-game items with in-game currency that lasts as long as you stay alive in the level (e.g. double hooks). I know that I purchased a double hook on many occasions as it allowed me to fire much quicker and pop many more Spheroids than if I was only using the single hook. The big question for many though will be is there need to purchase items or are upgrades necessary? For some, like me, maybe, but for the hardcore platforming fan, probably unlikely, but just the fact that it’s offered makes it worth something.

I for one am getting weary of the whole ‘retro’ graphics in indie games. Although I know there is a need for developers to keep costs low and not put all their funds into visuals, I can’t help but tire of so many 8 or 16-bit style games. That being said, I actually kind of enjoyed the retro look of Spheroids. Maybe it was the fact that each area was created so well to match the areas they were representing. One such area is Japan, as you go through the level it is has Cherry Blossom Trees and pink petals flowing through the air from those trees. Greece was another area as the blue and white color scheme was well represented on the various Greek like buildings that were in the background. Eclipse games seemed to really put some effort in the retro-style and I kind of liked it, which was a shock to me.

As for the audio, you’ll come across sounds for the various Spheroids, and there are some light environmental sounds too, and of course there are sounds of the weapons and tools that are at your disposal for this adventure you are taking on. There is no voice acting at all, as the cutscenes, which take place in Otto’s lab, consist of chat bubbles with fast moving text. The music is best described as some upbeat techno-like sound. It is all right during the start of the game, but it varies so little throughout that some will either tune it out or turn it off.

Spheroids is a cute looking and very playable platform game, unfortunately it hits a few bumps as it’s hampered by how easy it really can be, and the fact that it’s not as long as some might hope. There is no doubt that casual fans of the genre, like myself, can feel like a platform game king when playing; however, diehards of the genre will find I way too easy and should only apply they need a much needed break from the rest of the games out there right now.

Overall Score: 6.7 / 10 Moto Racer 4

During the past few days I have been playing the latest game in the Moto Racer franchise, simply titled Moto Racer 4. Selling for a price of $39.99, this game has recently been released in N. America on Microsoft’s current-gen console, and for better or for worse it’s the newest two-wheeled racer for fans to play. So, is it worth the time or should you pass it up for something else?

Right off the hop, and as briefly mentioned above, this game leans towards the ‘arcade’ control type of game, and it is as far from being a simulation experience. There is no realism here as the tracks, racers, and the racing itself, is all about speed, tricks, and pulling of some crazy moves while speeding down the track. You’ll be racing on two different types of motorcycles, street and dirt.

There is a career mode, but there is no story attached, you just get to pick a racer and go through the various chapters/stages. You will see a small paragraph for each event, within each chapter, that tells why you are competing in that specific event, but nothing more, nothing less. If there is one thing that I noticed right off the get-go it is that your racer looks very much like a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger. It’s kind of crazy, but it’s true. Each racer has their own set of stats, from control, speed, acceleration, etc., and it will be up to you to find the one racer that suits your racing style. You can customize your racer and ride with various color variations too. Each bike can be upgraded as you race as you will earn skill points; however, each motorcycle has a maximum setting of its own in each area, so you won’t ‘max’ out your motorcycles in all areas.

During the career mode Moto Racer 4 does something that I found to be a great idea, and that is it lets you choose what level of the objective you can target. It is based on a three-star system, but you choose which level of stars you aim for. For example, you can choose to finish first or third in a race, or you can choose to beat one of three times in a time attack race. It’s a neat little system as it allows you to dictate what you think you can or cannot do. It also allows you to succeed when you think you might not, and as you get better you can come back and challenge the harder objectives to earn even more stars in total.

The career mode itself has 10 different ‘chapters’ with some of them branching in various directions. You advance to the next chapter/stage by earning the stars that you get when completing events. Within each career chapter you’ll find events/challenges and they can vary from time attacks, straight up races, reaching check points for ‘x’ amount of time, slalom races (dodge between vehicles), elimination and even one called “Catch Your Prey”, which is where you are ‘x’ number of meters behind first place and you must catch up to them. You’ll even find some of the challenges rely on using a specific racer than the one you might be using. You can also earn ‘style’ points as you compete in the various events too. Overall there is a nice smattering of different events for you to race or challenge, and it will keep you busy for a little while.

The AI is a mixed bag. I found that after choosing the right rider and motorcycle, learning the tracks, and figuring out when to hit the wheelie button (think turbo boost) that I could match or beat the objective that I set. You can also get aggressive and knock other riders off the track should you want, but I found I wasn’t too successful when I tried, maybe I just wasn’t good enough at the angle of the hit, so to speak. There will be times that you’ll experience some rubberband AI (catch-up) but in my time playing it wasn’t always prevalent. I had a few races that were close, there is no doubt about that, but with time, and practice, there was nothing that couldn’t be overcome, even if I dialed down the odd objective to two stars.

Control in a game that involves racing virtual two wheeled machines is somewhat important. When I first started playing it felt like the control was loose; however, with time I adjusted and found it really wasn’t too bad. You’ll have to brake when going into some of the sharper corners, and weaving in and out of traffic is manageable, except for when that one car or truck shows up out of the blue. When racing in the dirt bike class you’ll have to get use to using the ‘B’ button to kick out your back wheel and ‘drift’ around the corners. Speaking of the dirt bikes, you can also pull off some cool moves while you race, including flips, sidekicks, and a slew of other aerial moves. It adds to your style points which you will find have a higher ‘goal’ amount in the dirt bike racing then when street racing.

Should you want to take a break from the career you can go into quick race anytime you want. It’s a nice way to practice and get used to new riders and motorcycles. You can choose from single race, championship, time attack and hot lap. Many of these are found within the career mode, so again, great practice. There is also some split screen racing, which is great for those days you may be sitting at home with a friend gaming and you just want to do something different. Moto Racer 4 also allows you to head online. You can join random races or set up your own, either private, friends only, or open to the public. There are street races and dirt races with single race, king of the road, last man riding and golden helmet modes. Surprisingly, and somewhat sad, is that even on launch day I could not find any races to participate in online. So, I can’t say too much here, which is disappointing as I would have liked to test it out. There is a nice array of multiplayer options that should keep diehard fans happy though.

Visually, the best way I can describe the look of Moto Racer 4 is that it is like a late Xbox 360 game or very early Xbox One game. The dev-team used the Unreal 4 Engine, and it doesn’t look particularly bad, it’s just that 3 years into the life-cycle of the Xbox One I expect more, especially using this graphics engine as it’s a very capable one that has produced good looking games in the past. The track design is commendable though, as there are varied environments to race in. The various street locations, and the dirt track ones, are very different from one another. For example, during a street race you may find yourself racing over a Golden Gate like bridge and then the next race you’ll find yourself on the wide open straights of a desert road. Or if racing off-road, you could find yourself racing in an airplane graveyard then next race find yourself racing in an open cave-like setting. The only down fall here is that the overall number of tracks is limited and the actual visuals look dated as they don’t have the ‘oomph’ you’d hope for. On a more positive note, technically the game ran fairly well and quite smooth, with very little hiccups invading my gameplay experience.

Finally, as for the sound, I did get somewhat annoyed of the constant sound of the motorcycles after a while, as they had a knack at sounding virtually all the same. As for the sound effects beyond the bikes, you’ll notice some environmental sounds, but nothing that really immerses you like you’d hope. The game’s soundtrack is…. interesting. It is a mix of techno and hard-rock, and I didn’t mind it too much, but the more you play the game, the more you’ll find the tracks starting to repeat, which can become quite bothersome in itself. I guess the best way to describe the audio is that it is functional and can get the job done.

So, what is our verdict here at XBA. Well, Moto Racer 4 is a very arcadish two-wheeled racer. It has the benefit of having two different classes of motorcycles to race, and there is a career mode that allows for tailoring of the game’s event objectives to match one’s skill, something I haven’t seen too much in racing games. Unfortunately, the online lobbies were empty, the visuals are somewhat dated, track selection is limited, and the sound is nothing to write home about. For $40 I feel that some may feel the price of entry is too high. If this game was offered at $25, it might be worth some serious consideration, if not just for something different to play, but at its’s current price it’s hard to fully recommend it as nothing particularly stands out as wowing you. That being said, diehard racing fans, especially those of the two-wheeled nature, could find something to like here.

Overall Score: 6.1 / 10 Dead Rising 4

Dead Rising first released on the Xbox 360 in 2006, yes that is 10 years ago, and the most recent game, Dead Rising 4, has just been released on the Xbox One. Both these games feature Frank West, the dark humored photo journalist that managed to save the day in the original game. Fast forward to Dead Rising 4, and Frank is headed back to Willamette, where the first game took place. Developed by Capcom Vancouver, this latest entry into the franchise has the staple sarcastic humor that has made the series what it is, oh, and of course there is lots of zombies to kill and many ways to do it while dressed in zany costumes should you wish. And, just so you know, you'll find a few changes and additions to the gameplay as well.

The game starts off with Frank, who you control, immediately fighting zombies in a mall. Think of it as a tutorial so to speak. As you make your way toward the level’s boss you wakes up in your house, and you are now in Dead Rising 4’s universe. Frank is a college instructor for investigative journalism and he is awaiting the arrival of one of his students, Vick. She picks him up under the guise of playing mini-golf, but this is a sham. She takes him back to Willamette, the last place he wants to be. She tells him a that a source of hers told her of an old missile silo/base where “body bags go in and body bags go out”. She wants to investigate with Frank’s help, but of course he wants no part of this given his last experience in Willamette, but Vick is persuasive.

Once the two are inside they realize they are onto something big as zombies are being experimented on for some unknown reason. As they make their way through the base Vick decides to do something that attracts attention and both her and Frank need to escape. They are separated and once Frank makes it out he sees Vick leave without him. Frank is blamed to attacking a military staff at the installation which forces him to go into hiding. Fast forward to a few months later and Frank is once again teaching college, but in a small unnamed town under the name of Hank Smith. The Director of Zombie Defence & Control, Brad Smith, has tracked him down and recruits him to investigate what has happened in Willamette since Frank and Vick were at the missile silo/base as was there as a new zombie outbreak occurred on Black Friday. To add further drama to the story, Vick is knee deep into her investigation of events leading up to it.

Overall, you’ll find yourself invested in the story as things play out. There is much more narrative then what I have laid out above, but I have always been an advocate of not ruining a good thing. What I can say though is that you’ll find the current story can link to the first Dead Rising and I think this is great. Given that it pays homage to the first game that started the whole series is pretty cool and it does it in such a way that it makes sense and doesn’t feel corny or forced.

The story plays out over 7 cases (think of them as chapters). At the end of each case a summary of what you have found throughout your game experience is displayed and you are given a ranking based on your progress. It should be noted that at various points in the narrative you will be tasked with investigating certain areas with your camera, which has a night vision and spectrum vision mode (both new to the franchise). Both these modes will become necessary to solve not only the investigations, but some basic puzzles as well. For the story centric investigations, as you find clues, and snap pictures, the narrative continues and once you find everything you can move on.

Although the tale plays out in a very linear fashion, the game is a sandbox affair that allows for a lot of exploration. One of the biggest changes, and one that may bring about a lot of debate, is the removal of the 72-hour timer. Personally, I think this was a smart move, but I am sure there are Dead Rising fans who won’t agree. For me I see it as truly allowing you to have the time to explore your environments, and trust me, whether it be during your first play through, or after you completed the main story, you’ll be doing a lot of exploration, which is not a bad thing. There are so many things to find such as panic rooms, newspapers, cell phones, blueprints, etc. that help not only tell the story, but add to the gameplay.

Of course, you’ll need weapons, vehicles and some form of first aid to assist your efforts in your fight against the undead, and Dead Rising 4 has you covered. Your weapons come in three flavours: ranged, brawl (melee), and those you throw. These range from pistols, machine guns, baseball bats, tire irons, car mufflers, grenades, acid, gasoline, and SO MUCH MORE. Even Christmas items like giant candy canes, Christmas wreaths, choir bells, giant presents, and many, many more can be used. It’s pretty crazy what you might find to dispose of a zombie or two. Switching between your weapons is easy too, as each ‘category’ is assigned to the d-pad and with a simple press in one direction you can equip that category of weapon. As for first aid, should you find your health low, you only need to press down on the d-pad to replenish it. Simple…effective….and easy to do during the mayhem of killing a horde of zombies.

One of the new additions to Dead Rising 4 is the ability to wear an Exo-Suit. This new combat ready exo-skeleton adds some neat mechanics to the game. You’ll find the ‘suits’ in various areas of Willamette as well as in some parts of the story that require you to use it. Along with heightened speed, and strength, you can also use Exo-Suit only weapons that you find (e.g. railgun, battle axe, jackhammer, tractor shovel) or you can power it up with added parts. It’s fun to put on the Exo-Suit and just run through the zombies, and other enemies, that you will come across.

Another new addition to the gameplay is the introduction to two new types of zombies. There are ‘fresh’ zombies and ‘evolved’ zombies. The ‘fresh’ zombies are exactly what it says, those who were recently killed and just turned into a zombie. They are faster and stronger than regular zombies and they have red glowing eyes. The ‘evolved’ zombies are very quick and have a bit of combat strategy. They jump, hang off walls, and are much stronger than any zombie out there. They have green glowing eyes as well as a green aura around them. These two new types of zombies are a nice change from the regular slow and meandering ones, and they add a bit more challenge and spice when fighting them.

Blueprints are really one of the mainstays of Dead Rising 4 as these allow you to combine so many different things in the game making for some crazy weapons, and vehicles too. There are a huge number of blueprints (55 in total) to find throughout all the areas you’ll be exploring. You can randomly come across them or buy a map from a vendor that will show you all their locations. To say there are some interesting creations is an understatement. From the Ice Sword (freezes zombies and then breaks them into bits), Holiday Junk (Christmas wreath that when you hit your enemy it zaps it and those around it) and the Blambow (crossbow that launches fireworks that explode when hit their target) to the likes of Raining Nails (a gun that fires explosive nails in a bunch at a single time), the Do-It-Yourself-Grenade (a martini mixer filled with chemicals) or Dynameat (a hunk of meat with dynamite in it which the meat attracts zombies and the dynamite explodes). Of course, vehicles are just as crazy, such as Sling Rot (combination of tow truck and a hearse) or the Warmonger (combination of a Military DRV and ATV). Blueprints add that ‘over-the-top’ way to dispose, and travel, through the zombies you come across.

Dead Rising 4 has a skill tree system that allows you to use Prestige Points (think EXP) to make you a
stronger character. Earn a specific number of Prestige Points and you will level up earning a skill point which you can spend on a ‘box’ in one of four areas: Brawling, Fortitude, Shooting and Survival. These buffs will help you in the long run, from adding extra slots in specific inventories, adding extra health, improving health or stamina regeneration, making your weapons more accurate, affecting how much health is cured when using first aid/food, slow down your stamina use, and many other areas. Overall there are well over 100 ‘boxes’ over the four attributes to spend your skill points on as you level up.

As you explore the world of Willamette you will find ‘Events’ that are basic, and optional, side missions. Such things as helping a survivor, destroying enemy equipment, or finding an Exo-Suit, will pop up and add to the gameplay. Some of the NPCs will also give you things to do, such as investigating a rumor of some sort and putting the rumor to rest. All of these things give you extra Prestige Points and Scrap (in-game currency). It’s worth noting that should you complete the events where you assist and save a survivor, they go back to the emergency shelter in that area. Each area has an emergency shelter which is the ‘safe house’. There you can buy clothes, weapons, food, maps (for locations of items, blueprints, etc.) and vehicles. Each time you save a survivor and they return to the emergency shelter, that shelter levels up and you can buy better items.

Should you pretty much ‘plow’ through the game’s main story, and only do a little exploring, you should be able to get through the game in anywhere between 10-15 hours. That being said, and as referenced above, there is a lot to search for in the game and a lot of items to find that will not only enhance your experience (Ummmm hello, dress up as Akuma from Street Fighter), but also add to the challenges that you can complete in-game. As Frank is a photographer, you’ll find that you are able to take pictures of everything, and there are photo trials (challenges) for you to do. There are also combat trials and exploration trials to complete as well. These trials are not necessary, but add to the gameplay, especially for those completionists out there. I found that I would search for hours on end just to see what was in each area of Willamette. Fans will enjoy what they can come across when searching the various buildings, stores, and areas.

Dead Rising 4 adds a cooperative mode, but it is not the traditional co-op campaign mode. This time around you and up to three others (totaling 4) can team up and play in a series of episodes that are their own mini-story. When we had the chance to play with Capcom Vancouver online and the best way it was described was as a combination of the original Dead Rising and Left for Dead. This is because you are given a time limit to complete your task(s) and once you survive long enough you must make it to the safehouse within a certain time limit. The characters that you choose to play as are based on 4 NPCs from the story mode, and you’ll learn a little more about them as you play. Each of the 4 episodes is different and they change daily, so the daily game experience varies. You must make it through all episodes to be successful and Capcom Vancouver says this should, on average, take around 4 hours.

During our multiplayer game time, you could sense the similarities to Left for Dead, as you are scored for your performance (e.g. zombies killed, first blood, highest hit streak, etc.). It is also a free-for-all when it comes for special weapons and health items. Fresh zombies, with a bag on their back, make an appearance during your play and should you take them down and search the bag you’ll discover that there are special weapons and items inside. It’s a first come, first serve approach too, as whoever picks it up gets it. Multiplayer mode has its own skills, its own trials, and its own blueprints (Gold Blueprints). The time we spent in multiplayer was relatively fun, and there are multiplayer specific achievements, but my fear is that it may become repetitive after extended play (meaning weeks not days) and it may not hold the attention of all those who play it. That being said, it’s there and it is fun when you first play it.

The voice acting is pretty good. Franks one-liners and sarcastic comebacks will result in a chuckle now and then. The overall voice acting is fairly solid for all the characters, and there is a lot of dialog as the story progresses. I played most of the game using a set of high quality surround sound headphones and I was impressed. From hearing the hundreds upon hundreds of zombies surrounding me moaning and groaning, the music in various vehicles I drove, to gunfire from other enemies in the distance, it was surly an audio delight. Even the little details of a hidden cellular phone buzzing that you could track down from the sound was a nice touch. Fans should enjoy the details here, well most of them except for the annoying sound of semi-automatic gunfire from one sect of enemies. You may even want to take the time watch the credits for all the music in game, as there are a lot and it adds to the holiday cheer.

Although there is a lot of good in this game (IMHO), there are a few quirks to be found. First off, the visuals are solid, and the number of zombies on screen at once without any slowdown is impressive. There is a lot of Willamette to explore too. It amazed me with how much of the area and buildings that you can actually go int and explore. The size of Willamette Memorial Metroplex (the new mall) is impressive and there are a lot of places to go. Unfortunately, with something this big, you’ll find a few glitches now and then, like limbs coming through walls or a zombie who you cut in half results in their bottom half getting up and running around wildly. These types things happened occasionally and were worth noting. Another issue is that when items are close together it can be frustrating to pick up the one specific item you may want to use. I found that sometimes I spent more time positioning myself to pick up a weapon/item then I did looking for it. Finally, it’s also worth noting that if you spend a lot of time in one specific area, things just ‘reset’. You’ll find that the horde of zombies and all the enemies resets, the events reset, and vehicles reset (the latter is not as noticeable). I would have preferred that if I was in one area for an extended period exploring that things were relatively the same as I left them, not repopulate them with the same horde of zombies, enemies, or events.

Dead Rising 4 is a continued testament to what makes the series fun, that being how it doesn’t take itself so seriously like many other zombie games out there. Capcom Vancouver has done a great job with this latest game in the Dead Rising series, and although some may argue that the omission of the 72-hour timer is a mistake, we think it was a great idea as it should make the game that more enticing to so many gamers. In the end this holiday zombie killing experience is recommended for those Xbox One owners out there, as it’s humor, it’s content, and all there is to do in-game is quite enjoyable, even despite a few technical glitches.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

There is no doubt that the Call of Duty series has taken its fair share of criticisms in the past and present. Most recently you can see it from the number of ‘dislikes’ recorded on YouTube for the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s announcement trailer and the some of the fan base criticizing Activision and Infinity Ward for making COD: Modern Warfare Remastered a bundle only option with the newest game. It’s amazing to see such a vocal crowd say so much about a game they haven’t played. Well we here at XBA have had a chance to play the game and are here to tell you as much as we can about it.

First off I need to get the ‘elephant in the room” out of the room. This game is not Battlefield. There, I said it. I know so many people are planning to compare this game to EA’s annual franchise, and in reality you shouldn’t as they are two different games. I know many will not agree with me, and that’s fine, but the truth is that COD is its own beast, and EA’s game is its own beast as well, and they are two very separate games, so stop trying to compare them. They offer up their own experiences, story, and gameplay features. Ok, I think I ranted enough about this.

This review will be covering the gameplay experience with Infinite Warfare, given that Modern Warfare is the same game of 2007, but remastered in both visuals and sound. We will be focusing on the single player aspect, the multiplayer experience, and of course the cooperative gameplay of the new Zombies mode of Infinite Warfare.

Single Player (Story) Campaign

After playing through the Infinite Warfare’s campaign story I must say that I am quite satisfied with the single player experience. COD games have been known to come up short in this area in the past. I have played through every campaign in a COD game since COD 2 debuted on the Xbox 360, except for Black Ops III. Last year’s game just didn’t grab my attention in the single player area. Much has been discussed by Infinity Ward about trying to make this year’s single player campaign one you want to play and pay attention to, and after playing it I believe I can say they did a good job here.

As far as the campaign’s story goes, and without giving up too much information, you are part USNA. Your enemy is the Settlement Defense Front (SDF who splintered off and started their own fleet/army. They are a war machine ruled by its military and they are viewed as the enemy to the rest of Earth. They are “revolutionists” given how they want nothing to do with Earth in any manner. You take on the role of Nick Reyes, starting off as a Lieutenant and who is unsuspectingly promoted to Commander and Acting Captain of the Spaceship Retribution. This happens after the Earth is attacked by the SDF when they did not expect it.

I’d go into further detail, but I won’t, as you need to experience narrative yourself. But what I can tell you is that the story that plays out, from the cutscenes or actual gameplay, is one you’ll want to pay attention to. You can tell that this is not your typical single player COD campaign, as there is a wide collection of characters to follow, and you’ll want to listen to the dialogue that occurs as it all has relevance during the game. As for Nick Reyes, you’ll see how he adapts and changes who he is throughout the story making decisions he never thought he’d make. You get invested in what goes on. In a nutshell, given the surprises that occur during the story you never know where the plot is going to take you.

One of the big complaints that fans already have about Infinite Warfare is that it was announced that it would take place in the in space. Well, let me say that even though this is the case, the game feels “grounded” and you feel like you are truly in a battle no matter where you are. There is no reliance on overly fancy or over-the-top futuristic weapons. The game plays like a COD game. You’ll find that any weapons of the future are based on the guns of the ‘past’. Energy and ballistic weapons must be reloaded and the guns feel solid. I was quite surprised with how they didn’t feel exceedingly sci-fi like.

Infinity Ward has tried to mix things up with this year’s story campaign and you’ll find yourself involved in battles on planets, battles on enemy ships, and you’ll even battle in space outside enemy ships as you try to board the enemy craft. In terms of the latter, think of these aspects like the space battle in Moonraker (James Bond film) but it’s not cheesy and there is some strategy as you use your grapple cable to go from cover to cover. You can also use the same cable to kill your enemies in a few different ways. There are also new battles where you are flying a fighter jet called a Jackal. The Jackal battles are intense, and once you learn how to pilot the fighter in space it becomes an entertaining part of the game as it’s a gameplay mechanic that is implemented well and adds a change of pace in the battles you partake in.

There are side missions in the game, called “Targets of Opportunity” but these missions are not ‘tacked-on’ as they have relevance to the story. They open early on in the game and the missions entail boarding enemy ships (ship assault) and killing “most wanted” SDF officers, destroying certain items on an enemy ship, and/or flying Jackal missions destroying enemy ships or outposts. When you explore what targets are available you can see what rewards are offered for completing the mission and you can decide accordingly on what to do. More “Targets of Opportunity” become available as you progress too.

There are also little touches that make the story mode even more unique. For example, as you progress you can watch ‘news’ snippets that are based on some key moments of the story, as well as the “Targets of Opportunity”, that you complete. Usually you can view them in the staff area where other staff will comment on the news that is being played on the ‘screen’. It’s very cheesy news video, but it’s a small, and nice little touch. These are optional and you don’t have to watch them if you don’t want to. You’ll also see that your ship gets slowly repaired after battle too, so it is never the same inside given the repairs that occur. Also, as you go on missions you can find areas on enemy ships or mission installations where you can access new weapons, new attachments, or improvements to other weapons and they become accessible in your armory (e.g. you can upgrade your hacking grenade to take over bigger shielded robots).

It took me 8 – 9 hours to complete the story mode, and that includes all the “Targets of Opportunities”. Oh, you may want to watch the credits too, just sayin’. There is a total of 31 missions, when all the individual story chapters and all the “Targets of Opportunities” are counted together. Some parts of story seem like one long mission, but they are broken up behind the scenes into several missions that just stream together. The reason you’re unaware of how many actual missions there are is that there are no loading screens as the story plays out seamlessly even with your breaks of gameplay. There are some LONG (caps added for emphasis) gameplay sections, especially in the last ‘chapter’ and you’ll feel like it goes on forever (in a good way though). Just when you think you’re done, you suddenly realize you’re not and you keep going as the story plays out further. And for those looking for some hardcore challenge, try playing the game on Specialist (more damage, no regenerating health, need to find and use replacement helmets and nanopacks to heal yourself) or YOLO (You Only Live Once) mode.

Although the story mode is a much-improved narrative, there are going to be pundits out there who will slam it no matter what it does. And sure, you’ll find that there are some staple COD gameplay elements such as choke points, the need to fight an insurmountable number of enemies at one time and the prerequisite to cross some invisible line/barrier at times before enemies will stop respawning. In terms of the latter, it’s not as bad as in past COD games that I have played, so there is a bit of silver lining there.

The visuals are in Infinite Warfare are fairly solid. What you’ll notice though is that there is a film like quality to the cutscenes and that the gameplay has that “Call of Duty” look which is clean, sharp, and quite bright. The environments are quite varied (including competitive multiplayer). Planets look different from each other (e.g. ice versus rocky with pockets of gas) and ship interiors vary depending on where you are (e.g. weapons area, captains deck or the engine room). Flying the Jackals is also impressive visually, including battling large enemy battleships and then flying through the debris of the ship you destroyed taking out the SDF’s Jackal like fighters. And we cannot forget the weapons either. They are very detailed and if you look closely at some of them you can see how they are based on weapons that are current today. This was something that Infinity Ward worked with military advisors on as they wanted to stay within the realm of how weapons may develop in the future.

Nary a hiccup was found when playing, as the framerate seemed steady most of the time and I didn’t notice any technical issues. I was impressed with the lighting effects, especially the level where you are on a mining asteroid and you need to dart in the shade from building to building before the sun starts to shine down and literally burn you alive. Although there is nothing particularly wrong with the games visuals, there are critics, and I can see why as the look of all COD games has kept pretty much the same, just improvements in level design, special effects, and general wizardry for getting things looking good.

The audio is a very strong point of the game too. From the voice acting, the special effect sounds (in surround sound of course) and the weapons. The fact that the guns are supposed to be in the future, but they still sound, what I can best describe as, plausible. From ballistic based weapons to energy based weapons, they sound somewhat realistic, if I can say that for weapons that don’t even exist. When you change the mag of your gun and then pull the trigger you’ll understand what I am saying. Guns sound different from one another too, so an LMG is distinctly different from an SMG or Assault rifle and the ballistic weapons sound different from the energy based ones. In terms of the voice acting, although it’s not Oscar material, it’s quite decent, and you can hear that the voice actors played their roles well. One of the highlights is a new robot soldier, Ethan, who is part of your assault team. His voice work is terrific (for a robot) and there are some very well timed comical moments that make his role in the game so interesting. He has his own personality, as evidenced by his lines, and he added to many of the missions he played a part in.

In general, the rest of sound does its job well, from walking on ice, rock or dirt, the sounds of your own troops, or enemy troops, as they scream and yell in battle to those times when you find you and your assault team crawling through the maintenance ducts of a ship, you’ll hear it all. You’ll also notice the little details such as the sounds of putting on your helmet when going out in space, the sound of weapons in the vacuum of space, the sound of hyperspace drives igniting as you travel from planet to planet, and the sound of your ship as you walk through it with all the chatter, the sound of repairs, and the Zero G world outside putting pressure on it your ship’s hull.

Multiplayer (Adversarial)

If you have played any COD games over the past few years, then multiplayer should be rather self-explanatory. There are your usual modes in Infinite Warfare such as kill confirmed, free-for-all and team deathmatch (TDM) as well as some core eSports modes such as hardpoint, CTF and uplink. It’s all standard for COD fans nowadays and Infinite Warfare continues the heritage of such. You can even create custom games and be a ‘codcaster’ should you be streaming on Twitch or YouTube.

There are a few new additions to multiplayer in Infinite Warfare. The first, and most notable, is the fact that you equip your soldier with what is known as a Rig. Each Rig has a specific set of abilities that are tailored for a specific type of play style. Each of the Rigs comes with different payload options for you to think about (1 weapon & 2 abilities). Three Rigs are available when you first start your online experience (Warfighter, Merc, Synaptic). The other three open as you level up (FTL - level 15, Stryker -level 31 and Phantom - level 36).

The Warfighter is considered your typical ‘soldier’ in a COD game; the Merc plays a defensive role as they provide cover fire and defensive items for teammates; finally, the Synaptic is a robotic soldier which is adept at speedy close quarters combat. The three Rig classes that open as you level up also have their specialties. The FTL Rig uses experimental tech and is adept at guerilla warfare; Stryker is a support role for all other team players on the map; and Phantom is a Sniper/Marksman role. You’ll find that as you level up, open new perks, and items for your guns, that the Rig you choose will be one that suits your gameplay style.

Another new addition to the multiplayer experience is Mission Teams. There are four different teams that have you adapting to different objectives depending on what team you pick. Only one team is open from the start (JTF Wolverine) and they are just concerned with killing the enemy. The other teams become available at level 15 (Orion – strategy is their key to their gameplay and missions), level 30 (Sabre Team Seven – Equipment plays a key role in their missions) and at level 45 (Wraith – Specializes in assassination and covert ops). The Mission Teams, and their objectives, add a bit of variety in what you are doing as there are specific goals, and as you rank up in your team you are rewarded with items for customization and prototype weapons.

The other, and final, noteworthy addition is crafting of weapons. You can start crafting weapons in the “prototype lab”, which is found at the Quartermaster, and if you are at the level the weapon you want, and you have the salvage parts, you can ‘make’ that weapon. Salvage parts can be found in either the “regular” or “rare” supply boxes, cards from the supply boxes that are duplicates break down into salvage, and levelling up mission teams can reward you too. Once you have enough salvage you can then start your crafting experience. If you are lucky you can also find a “rare” card in a chest that will open one of the higher prototype guns and you won’t have to “chain” your way through crafting to get to that particular gun.

When talking about the crafting and prototype system, I spoke to Infinity Ward about the possibility of it giving players unfair advantages. It was noted that the rarities and differences in the guns aim at playstyles and traits, not making one gun overpowered (OP’d) that someone will run amok with and make the game experience miserable. You should, in theory, be able to find a gun that is lower in ‘rarity’ (e.g. rare or legendary) and match up with someone using a gun that is higher (e.g. epic).

Two new modes have been added this year as well, defender and frontline. In defender you rush to the middle of the map and try to gain control of a drone. You basically play keep away and can pass it to your teammates to help you do so. A bit of strategy is involved as you pick your Combat Rigs to match how you play (e.g. keep the drone or protect the drone carrier). After holding the drone for a minute the drone resets and it’s a mad dash to get the drone once again. I found that this is pretty enjoyable new mode and I had a lot of fun playing it. Frontline is more of a TDM based mode. Each team’s spawns are clearly laid out and you want to kill your enemy outside the spawn points, as that is where the points count. It’s a nice change up from regular TDM as being killed when I spawn has always been a complaint of mine.

You’ll find some variety in the maps, environment wise, as they take place on different planets with very different areas highlighted, and you’ll even get to fight in a space station. The maps are quite detailed as well. I hear time in and time out that COD devs use an old graphics engine, well, by the looks of the maps the graphic engine is highly refined and does a great job of looking good. From the cold steel of the innerwalls of a space station, the pod-like structures in Frontier, to the reimagined Terminal, fans should find a lot to enjoy when looking at the visuals in this game. In terms of their gameplay design, many will recognize how they are designed, with choke points, sniping alleys, and areas meant for close quarter weapons versus medium sized areas for assault rifles.

In the end COD multiplayer is COD multiplayer, it’s fast, twitchy and has a gameplay style and tactics that work. People who play it come back because they enjoy it, so if you are not a fan of previous multiplayer, that is ok, you don’t have to like this, but there are people who do, and I can see why. If anything, Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer gives new maps, new weapons, and some new features that help make it a somewhat better experience, but there is also a lot of familiarity with it, which has brought back many COD fans in the first place.

Cooperative Play (Zombies Mode)

Zombies mode has become a staple with any COD game since it debuted a few years ago. It has garnered quite the following and this year’s version looks to change things up. Zombies in Spaceland takes place in the 1980s, and in a theme park nonetheless. You are part of a group of four kids (prom queen, jock, nerd/geek and rapper) who have been asked to come to a mysterious theater where you expect to audition for a role in a movie; however, you are magically whisked off to another world, which turns out to be the theme park where this Zombies mode takes place. Of course you have to fight for your life as you battle wave after wave of the undead.

One thing is very clear, and that is there is a warped sense of humour in Zombies in Spaceland. From having to battle exploding Killer Clowns, using interesting weapons to kill zombies (exploding 80’s ‘ghetto-blasters’) to following the directions of the theme park’s DJ, who is played by David Hasselhoff. For the motivated zombie killer, you can even use the rides and ‘attractions’ as weapons. For example, there is a dance floor found in the theme park that, when there is power and activated, the zombies will go onto the flashing dance floor and dance, and once there is enough of them, the disco ball will start firing lasers and kill them all. You can use a variety of the rides and attractions to do this kind of stuff and it’s pretty neat to watch it unfold.

You’ll find the level design choices just as interesting, from battling zombies in the park’s souvenir store to being able to ride a roller coaster and shoot carnival targets, and zombies, while doing so. Even death is handled differently, as you find yourself in the ‘Afterlife Arcade’ and you can try to earn the chance to come back to life by playing theme park arcade games such as throwing basketballs through hoops, playing skee-ball or putting a coin in an arcade machine to play some very early Activision published games (think Pitfall people).

As long as you stay alive as a team you can discover what a large theme park you are battling zombies in. You haven’t felt panic and urgency in a game until you run out of ammo in this mode and you run for your life with a horde of zombies chasing you. Hearing the footsteps and growls get closer as you frantically search for ammo, or a new weapon you can afford, will keep you on the edge of your seat. In all Zombies in Spaceland is truly a great take on the Zombies mode and something fans, and non-fans alike, should enjoy.

So, we come to the end of this long review. With Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare developer Infinity Ward has managed to do a lot with this year’s COD entry. It has a story mode that makes you want to play the single player campaign as it keeps you engrossed, and as there are no loading screens the story keeps on playing out in front keeping you involved in the narrative all game. In regards to the multiplayer, although there is no ‘ground breaking’ feature, what Infinity Ward has added, from the Rigs, the Mission Teams to the crafting, makes for enough new additions that add to the familiarity of what already exists making this area one that fans will enjoy. And finally, the cooperative Zombies mode is a fresh take on what has become an exciting mode and the fact that it’s such a different setting from past zombie modes before make it refreshing and enjoyable. As a whole Infinite Warfare is not perfect game, but that doesn't make it a bad game as all three gameplay elements (story, multiplayer, cooperative) combine to make a solid game that fans, and even non-fans, can enjoy and one that shouldn’t be overlooked this year.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Skylanders Imaginators

The Skylanders franchise was a gamble for publisher Activision in 2011, as making a game that required you to purchase real ‘toy figurines’ to play seemed risky. Well, the game was pretty popular and you couldn’t find many of the game’s figurines come Christmas of that year. The franchise has seen a yearly release since that time with each new entry doing something different. From giant Skylanders to Skylanders you had to trap to mixing and matching Skylander parts to Skylanders in vehicles, it’s been an interesting journey. One thing has been missing over the years though, and that has been the ability to create your own Skylander. Well, the number 6 seems to be the lucky number for fans, as Skylanders Imaginators, the 6th game in the franchise, now allows you to do just that.

I have to preface this review and let you know that my 12-year-daughter does most of the Skylanders playing during the review process. I get my hands dirty too, be it through cooperative play with her, or when looking for something specific to address. Skylanders is a family friendly title that all ages can play, but come-on, we know that the kids are the ones it’s targeted so I tend to really focus on that aspect; however, one cannot deny that parents can get hooked with too, so we can’t forget about them either.

Story wise, Kaos is back once again, and that dastardly nemesis of the Skylanders troop still has plans to rule the world of Skylands (stubborn isn’t he?). He has found the power of mind magic and he is creating an army of his own Skylanders called Doomlanders. It is up to you, with your self-created Skylanders called Imaginators, and other existing Skylanders, to defeat Kaos and his Doomlanders. I could get deeper into the story, but that would take the fun away, so this ‘tidbit’ of information will have to suffice.

Skylanders Imaginators has to be one of the biggest Skylanders games, content wise, that I have ever experienced. The main feature to this year’s game is the ability to create your own Skylanders. You save your ‘creation’ to an elemental crystal. It’s a simple process but yet it is much deeper than one might expect. You start off choosing your element and battle class. The battle class is your fighting style (e.g. ninja, knight, bowslinger, smasher, bazooka and more). With 10 different elements and 10 different fighting styles there are 100 starting points to choose from. You get to tailor what your Skylander looks like, what attributes they have, and what armor they may wear. From hair to eyes to ears to even tails and size, you’ll then head onto your armor and where you put it (e.g. shoulder guards, backpack, leg and chest armor, etc.).

The amount of visual control you have over your creation is pretty much unlimited. You can use pre-set options, basic customization options, or head on into the advanced options to color every little detail you are allowed to in order to make it special looking. Toys for Bob didn’t want to take any customization away from the “younger audience” either, so the different levels of customization make it easy, or as deep, for whatever one wants to do, no matter how old you are.

As any Skylander fan knows, each Skylander has their own unique personality, and in Imaginators you can create your own personality to your liking, including some great sayings from a fairly extensive library of such. You take various parts of a saying and chain them up together to create a ‘tag-line’ of your own making. Of course you can also name your character and create a voice from the menu of options. You can also assign your character a specific theme song (e.g. funk) as well as assign their weapon its own sound too (e.g. cartoony, magical, and even an 8-bit video game like sound).

Skylanders Imaginators introduces new Sensei Characters (separate figurines) – considered masters – and they each represent one of the 10 battle classes. For example, there is Sensei Ember, who represents the Sentinel battle class (double edged sword); she was one of my daughter’s favourites. By bringing any Sensei onto the portal fans get a training bonus by upping one’s custom character level cap, and they also provide Imaginators of the same battle class with a new technique for their customization options to add or try out. When using a Sensei character, a new on-screen meter shows up that represents the Sensei’s Ski-Chi super move, which only they have. This super-move fills as you dispatch enemies and you must figure out when the best times to use it are. Sensei characters are also able to open up Sensei Shrines throughout the game’s levels, as well as Sensei Realms. There are challenges to be found in each one you open and the Sensei characters are the only ones who can enter and take these trials on.

As I mentioned above, I consider this one of the biggest games in the franchise to date, content wise. Along with custom Skylanders, and the Sensei characters, there is the game itself, and there is A LOT (caps added for emphasis) to do. Sure, you could rush from A to B and complete the story mode without exploring, but what fun is that? There are a TON of collectibles to be found, from Imaginite Chests (contain custom pieces to create more, or modify, custom skylanders), Troll Radios (you get your catch phrases here) which have mini-games, Soul Gems, and even more secret areas with more secret items and more hidden treasures. But wait, there is even more.

There is a new board game called Creation Clash, which is based on the Skystone game of past Skylander releases. Strategy and smarts are required to win but Imaginators eases you into it. Arena Battles are back too, as you once again go against waves of enemies in the traditional three round matches. It’s a great way to test your custom created Skylander’s strengths and weaknesses and a nice way just to kill some time (pun intended). You will also find Battle Gongs, which are Sensei dependent. Here they get their own challenge of enemies that come in waves, but once you beat the challenge you will find that you are rewarded handsomely. You can also take selfies throughout your adventure, and you will find that there are specific spots that the game challenges you to do so. Finally, one of the biggest returning features is Skylanders Raceway, reminiscent of Skylanders Superchargers. You’ll find yourself racing on land, sea, or air tracks, and you can race couch co-op with a friend or head online to race up to 4 players. Are you getting the point of “BIG & LOTS OF CONTENT”? There are hours upon hours upon hours of fun here.

Presentation wise Skylanders Imaginators is a winner, plain and simple. The visuals are simply impressive. From the level designs to the characters in motion, it’s all gorgeous. There are effects galore too, from water, lighting, lasers, explosions and vehicles, to name a few, for you to see, all rendered in colourful detail. The draw distance is impressive too, giving you a sense of actually being in the world of Skylands, a land that stretches way into the background. Technically speaking, me and my daughter did not run into any noticeable issues, and the camera, while not always perfect, was not a major issue during gameplay. And of course we cannot forget the music and voice acting.

The cutscenes, which seem to use the in-game graphics engine, are great to look at, and even better to listen to. The voice acting is wide ranged and plentiful and there is lots of humor to be found throughout. Original characters continue to be voiced by their original voice actors, or at least is sounds like it, and it makes things feel just right, continuity wise. When you hear Skylanders mocking the fact that long time villain Kaos is back again, given he has been their foe throughout the franchise’s existence, it’s actually pretty funny, and it’s this voice acting that makes it great to listen to all the characters speak. The music adds to whatever you’re doing at the time, be it exploring the Mysterious Ancient Place (M.A.P. (Get it?)), trekking through the countless long levels, fighting enemies during a boss battle, racing on any given track at Skylanders Raceway, or just hanging out at Skylands Academy. The music has an uncanny knack at matching what you are doing to a tee.

As per usual, all the previous Skylanders toys are compatible with Imaginators. This makes for hundreds of characters for you to play in game. You can complete Skylanders Imaginators with the starter pack, as you don’t have to buy any of the others should you not want to, but there are areas in the game that require the new Sensei characters or different Elements, but it’s not like you need ALL of toys coming out. That is the beauty of Skylanders, you don’t have to buy everything to play, and you can buy things as you go if you want to.

To add some further fun, fans can download the Skylander Creator app on iOS and Android mobile devices to create Skylanders anywhere they may be and eventually transfer their creations to the game. I had the chance to download the app on my Samsung Galaxy tablet and I have to say I was impressed. Pretty much all the same options that are in the in-game creator menu are available for the app. The app also allows you to open up more chests to get more items to create your Skylander. You can also head online to the Skylanders Imaginators store from the app and have your character created into a card, printed on a t-shirt, and even made into a 3D printed model. At the time of writing this review the 3D printed model was the only thing not active yet in terms of availability, but once it is it will be limited in numbers. I was lucky enough to get a Skylander I created, named Sir Boomalot (yes, I made that up), sent to me as a 3D printed figure. It’s fairly detailed, has individual colors throughout, and it works on the game portal. Regardless if you buy anything or not, the app’s ability to allow you to create on your own mobile device, and transfer it into the game, is not only handy, but impressive too.

Skylanders Imaginators proves that the franchise continues to strive to provide a quality gaming experience full of fun for families with kids looking for alternatives to the AAA shooters, sports and driving games that continue to hit consoles out there. Being able to create your own Skylander is a great addition and the Creator App for mobile devices is pretty darn cool. This latest iteration of the game has the most content I can think of in a Skylanders game, and there are hours and hours of exploring, creating, chest opening, and discovery to be had. The only negative that I can think of is I can’t imagine where the series will go from here, but hey, we’ve been surprised before.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Destiny: Rise of Iron

Destiny, Bungie's current franchise, has been quite the ride since its release over two years ago. In 2014 it released to quite the fanfare only to be received with mixed results. Some loved the ability to play a FPS on consoles in an MMO-like setting while others found it to be devoid of any story and an empty experience. During the first year a couple of expansions were released that, again, found mixed results from gamers and critics. In 2015 Destiny got its biggest DLC, called ‘The Taken King’, and critics and fans mostly praised it as it made some major strides in gameplay and Destiny become more of the game people hoped it would be when it first launched. Well, it’s 2016 and the next major expansion for Destiny has been released. Rise of Iron has been playable for over a week on the Xbox One (sorry Xbox 360, you were left behind this time) and in a nutshell it’s a fairly solid piece of content that Destiny fans should enjoy.

Rise of Iron’s campaign focuses on Lord Saladin, the last Iron Lord on Earth. He is the keeper of the Iron Temple (the former home of the Iron Lords and new social space for Rise of Iron on Felwinter’s Peak) and overseer of Destiny’s monthly PvP event called Iron Banner. Before the guardians existed the Iron Lords protected Earth. Unfortunately, Lord Saladin is the last of that breed alive and the reasons for such are somewhat explained. It’s a story that has a lot of lore behind it, and although it does indeed enlighten fans a bit as to what happened, it could have been fleshed out so much more.

The single player campaign takes about 2 hours or so too complete, with a total of 5 missions for you to participate in. During the story you’ll find yourself back in one of Destiny’s first experienced environments, the Cosmodrome, in a new area called the Plaguelands. You’ll discover, and learn, about a self-replicating nanotechnology called SIVA and you’ll fight a new group of Fallen called Splicers, who are SIVA enhanced. They have new weapons and new strengths that make them a little more challenging this time around.

The missions are typical Destiny fare, as you venture through the SIVA laden and snow covered levels, and through a few familiar levels too, but the 2 hours you play just seems too short. Personally, I wish that the campaign was double the size, as it would have allowed the ‘lore’ of the Iron Lords to be truly expanded upon. Heck, many of the weapons and gear you earn in Iron Banner are named after some of the Iron Lords who once protected the Earth and it would have been awesome to know who each weapon or piece of gear is associated with and why. In some way it seems like a missed opportunity for a deeper story, like that which was developed for The Taken King. That being said, what story is there is complimented by great voice acting and awesome cutscenes to watch.

One has to remember that Destiny is not all about a story mode for you to just venture through, as it still is about online play with other people, and that is where Rise of Iron continues to provide content that should keep fans happy for a while. Along with the new story campaign comes two new strikes and a new raid. One of the strikes is an original strike (Devil’s Lair) remastered with a SIVA twist. The other strike, “The Wretched Eye”, is brand new and features some typical Destiny battles. You’ll have to coordinate your plan of attack in this one given the fact that you’re dealing with two enemies at the same time in the boss stage. All in all, the new strikes are a nice addition, even the remastered one, but as with anything you do over and over, the can feel repetitive at times.

There are also new quest lines (4 new exotic weapons), new bounties and a new strike list (SIVA Strike List - recommended light level of 350) for guardians to complete. It’s nothing new for veterans of the game; however, the reward of Rise of Iron gear and weapons is the hook. Of course you’ll be aiming for a higher light level this time too (max level is 400), so the addiction of finding that one piece of gear or that one weapon with the right “roll” and higher light level once again rears its head. The addiction to have something new and something that your friends may not have yet will push veterans, and even those new to the game, to play that one extra strike or finish that one more step of a quest line. Something I have really come to learn during my venture up the path for a higher light level in Rise of Iron is that your reputation level amongst all the vendors in Destiny (from Eris to Variks to even the Queen's Representative (Petra) from the Reef) will play heavily in your climb. You’ll need these vender’s rewards to continue leveling up your new weapons and gear, as you’ll need the boost from these via infusing to get your new gear higher....and it’s different from playing the SIVA Strike list over and over again.

New to Destiny, via the Rise of Iron DLC, is Archon’s Forge. The best way that I can explain this is that it is similar to the Court of Oryx in such that it is a series of challenges that you start with Siva Keys you’ll find throughout the Plaguelands. As of writing this I have experienced three different levels from easy (fused - green), medium (enhanced - blue) to hard (perfected - purple). If you are going to attempt the hard challenges make sure there is a large group of people hanging out as it makes them so much more manageable as you’ll be swamped by a large number of enemies. These battles can get quite intense and chaotic and are a nice way to pass time when you just want to kill a bunch of enemies. What you will also find though is not a lot of people stay in the Archon’s Forge, but when there are a lot there seems to be quite a number of people using their SIVA keys to do the challenges.

One of the main treats to Rise of Iron is the fact that there is a new raid called Wrath of the Machine. As with the other raids in Destiny it is a six-person affair that takes coordination and planning to beat. It consists of five stages that requires guardians to take on their own role within. All team members will find it best to learn all the mechanics and how their individual role will help to advance and eventually complete your teams effort. Having spent some time talking with the ‘crew’ that I run with, especially those that levelled up quicker than I did and managed to play the raid a few times from when it was released, the consensus is that it is a raid that provides some excitement and variety because each section seems more involved and it feels more rewarding this time around.

Finally, we can’t forget PvP. There is a new mode called Supremacy, which is enjoyable. Best way to describe it is that it is similar to Kill & Confirm in COD. Put down a guardian on the opposite team and they drop a “crest” that matches their class and grab it and you get points for your team. First team to reach the score limit wins. There are also some new maps which are fairly well designed and look good. The new levels are Last Exit (Venus), Skyline (Mars) and Floating Gardens (Venus) and these are playable on the Xbox One. Each one has the same environmental specific look that other maps have, and if there is one thing I can always say, Bungie sure makes there PvP maps look good. They are solid additions to the world of adversarial multiplayer in Destiny and are a welcome addition.

Destiny’s strength, that of the addiction to find the right light level gear and weapon, plays to many, it may also be a weakness to others. This genre lends itself to “the grind”. Looking for better weapons with better stats, looking for better gear (e.g. armor) with higher levels, and looking chests to open or for areas and ways to obtain special items to allow you to complete special quests are highlighted in Destiny. Many people do not have the patience, or the online friends, to consistently do this with, and unfortunately Rise of Iron does not fix this fact. Does it make it a bad addition, not necessarily. I run with a consistent group of players (up to about 10 of us online at one time). I always find that I can do strikes, complete quests or bounties, finish patrols, or do many other things that are Destiny related, including those tasks found in found in Rise of Iron, while socializing online. With that in mind many others are in the same boat so to speak and this should not be too much of an issue, if any, for those diehard Destiny players.

Overall Destiny: Rise of Iron is a fairly solid DLC package for the price. The addition of a short, but fairly cool storyline is appreciated, as you learn more about Lord Saladin. The endgame has lots to do too, with new areas to explore, new items to find, and new adventures to be experienced. We can’t overlook the new raid either, as it seems to be a hit amongst Destiny fans out there with some highly sought after rewards. All in all, I think that Destiny fans will enjoy, and appreciate, this newest DLC and will grind their way to the highest light level without much, if any complaints. And for those that have yet to experience Destiny as a whole, there is a ton to enjoy just not here, but in the whole collection. See you in the Plaguelands Young Wolf.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Forza Horizon 3

I like driving games, and the Forza series as a whole is a franchise that I enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I have played other games in the genre, and even those on other platforms, and I can admit that there have been are other racing games that are good to play, but overall, the Forza series has seemed to be the most entertaining for me. From the days of playing the original Forza Motorsport on the original Xbox I was hooked. In 2012 a new racing experience with the Forza name attached to it was released, called Forza Horizon for the Xbox 360. The idea of racing in a ‘festival’ filled with wild music, wild events, and an open world feeling, combined with the Forza Motorsport handling, seemed to be an entertaining mix. Developer Playground Games showed the world that the racing genre was not just about racing on closed circuit tracks. Well, the third iteration of the Horizon franchise is upon us, and if anything, it clearly shows that this series keeps getting bigger, better, and simply put, more addictive and fun.

The past Forza Horizon games had a slight semblance of a story, as you were a “rookie” racer trying to make it big in the Forza Horizon Festival. In Forza Horizon 3 though you are no longer the rookie, as you are now the master. This time around you’re in charge of running and growing the festival, which takes place in beautiful Australia. You’ll compete in exhibitions and championships, take part in PR stunts (e.g. speed traps, speed zones, etc.), and of course race in Showcase Events, all in the effort to grow the Horizon Festival to the biggest it’s ever been. You’ll have Kiera helping you out too, as she keeps you briefed on key points throughout your adventure. Your goal is not just to earn money, or get better cars though, but you also want to gain fans, and the more fans you gain the bigger your festival becomes.

This year welcomes a bit of driver customization. From choosing what your driver looks like (there are pre-created characters that are male and female) to what Kiera and Anna (your virtual assistant and on-board vehicle navigator) call you. There is a wide selection of real life names to choose from, as well as nicknames. They didn’t have my name, but they did have a name that my Fijian friend’s mom calls me, so I went with that. Regardless, there should be something there for everyone, and if there is not, I say “look harder dammit”.

Forza Horizon 3 is a HUGE game (caps put in for emphasis people) as there is so much to do. You’ll be racing for hours upon hours, and I mean that. There are so many events that open up as you progress that you’ll always find something new to do. From circuit races, point to point races, to the now famed bucket list challenges and showcase events, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Playground Games’ goal seems to be to keep you busy throughout your time playing. Along with the regular races and special events you’ll find separate street races, speed traps, speed zones, drift zones, and 150 bonus boards (XP and quick travel discounts) to break. We can’t forget the barn finds either, where you are alerted to hidden barns in a specific area and radius, and it’s up to you to find the barn and discover the treasure within. There are also new ‘danger signs’ where you are treated to a chance to pull off a high octane and high altitude jump. Successfully land it and gain even more fans. The other new feature I wanted to mention are the “beauty spots” that you can discover. These are picturesque spots all over the map of Australia. Find one and with the simple press of the X button you are treated to a quick fly over of the particular spot with a short explanation of what why it is a ‘beauty spot’. It’s not only a bit informative but it also shows off the visuals in Forza Horizon 3.

In Horizon 3 you’ll also be recruiting other gamers ‘drivatars’ for participation in the Horizon Festival, and this is based on those drivatars that you’ll find on your map. You can only have four drivatars on your team, so there will come a time that you have to fire one of those who are not performing well. It’s a neat feature but I think that it could have been fleshed out a bit more. That being said, to have this added ability is kind or cool too and something that has not been done before.

Another new feature that has been incorporated into the game is called Horizon Blueprint. The trick here is that you can take any of the events you go to, edit them to your liking, and share them with other Horizon 3 fans. You can set events to match your own tastes and preferences. With a simple click to the left on whatever event that you want to become the master of, you can change the race route itself, how many routes you may have to race, time of day, weather, car eligibility, and more; you can even name it too. Once you change an event it populates into your friend’s games. You can challenge the Playground Games events or those created by your friends, and all the XP and rewards of either go towards your in-game progression.

One of the coolest features in Forza Horizon 3 is the fact that you can play the game’s campaign cooperatively. You can drop-in and drop-out seamlessly, and when you or a friend drops out, the rewards and progress follows. The game keeps track of what you and your friends do in cooperative mode so there is no having to repeat what anyone did when playing with friends versus when playing solo. The game allows you to progress with friends as much, or as little, as you want, and you don’t lose any progress when going back to a single player experience.

The online experience doesn’t end with the cooperative aspect either, as there is a lot of adversarial mayhem to be had. Of course you’ll find straight up racing, from individuals racing for their own glory to team racing where you try to get your team to accumulate the most points (finish position) in a series of races. There are also the crazy events that you can participate in too, found in the Forza Playground. Specially made games like ‘King’, where individuals are in a walled off arena and some of the drivers are identified as ‘the king’, players need to smash into them to take it away and then try to keep it for as long as they can. There is ‘Flag Rush’, where you must find the coloured flag and then get to the matching score point/area. Finally, you may play ‘Infected’, where one driver is infected and the rest of the drivers try to stay uninfected, last one standing, so to speak, wins. We had a chance to head online with the dev-team playing all of what I just mentioned, and it was quite fun. We played under network conditions that were not heavy given it was during the review period, so if things don’t hold up during the launch week, we’ll address it as needed. Bottom line though, when running well, online adversarial play is fun, from straight up racing to the crazy custom games added by the Playground Games team.

Yes, there is lots of racing to do, but Playground Games didn’t stop there, as the game does have the franchise word “Forza” in its’ title. There are a lot of options for tuning your car. Head into your garage and you’ll discover you can tune your car’s setup to your liking. Yep, just like in Forza Motorsport, you can tinker away with so many facets of your car that you can get every horse power to the wheels and improve your acceleration, braking, and cornering. That being said, for those like me, who just want to race or don’t have the true gear-head mentality, there is the option to ‘auto tune’ that will add parts to your car to take it to the top of its current car class, or make meet the requirements for any class above it. Simple but yet effective.

Customization once again plays a role in the cars themselves. You’ll find a lot of options to make your ‘rides’ the way you want to look including rally racing parts, off-road racing parts, street racing parts, etc. There are 30 new styles of rims as well wide selection of body kits from the likes of Rocket Bunny and Liberty Watts. You can also customize your liveries and your license. For those that have made custom liveries and designs in the past when playing other Forza games, you can import them from Forza Motorsports 6, Forza Horizon 2 and Forza Motorsports 5, so you won’t have to re-do all your designs from scratch.

It should be noted that the Forza Auction House and Storefront are back. For the uninitiated, the Auction House is a place to buy and sell cars with the community. You can buy low, sell high, simply do what works for you. You can find the car you want or sell the car that you don’t need. There is an “Elite” tab where you can view the top Forza creators. If you see one you like, you can visit their Storefront. You’ll see all their creations (e.g. vinyls, liveries, tuning, pictures, etc) and you will be able to pick something you like and get it for yourself. As of writing this, the Auction House was live and it I even purchased a 100K+ car for just under half of its’ regular value.

The visuals in Forza Horizon 3 are nothing short of amazing. Now, I have never been to Australia, but man does it ever look beautiful in the game. From the sun soaked beaches, the city skyline of Surfer’s Paradise, the flat and sandy Outback, to the lush green rainforests, the visual diversity of the game is incredible. Weather changes dynamically too, from sunny, to overcast, to wet and rainy. Each state of weather has amazing effects, from the sun breaking through the clouds and hitting all the scenery, including your car, to rain drops hitting your windshield, beading up, and running off. I was in awe a few times as I raced through the game’s rainforest just after a rainstorm, and the roads were slick and wet while the sun cast down it’s beams of light through the trees. Seeing this game in motion is truly a delight. If I had one, and I say only one, complaint about the visuals, it is that you’ll notice textures pop in now and then, but only when you are going at a slow speed; however, it definitely doesn’t take away from the game experience.

Technically speaking, the game runs at 1080p/30fps, but I honestly have to say it’s the fastest 30fps racer I have played. When driving any of the supercars and racing down an open stretch of highway, the sense of speed is almost unmatched in a racing game that is only 30fps, especially when using the inside or hood view. As for the framerate, it stays solid and I did not notice any slowdown throughout my antics all over Forza Horizon’s virtual Australia. I was happy to see that even with lots of traffic on the streets, the varying environments (e.g. city vs. outback vs. rainforest), different times of day (e.g. sunrise vs. afternoon vs. sundown vs middle of the night), and all the scenery around the map, nothing affected the framerate when playing.

Finally, there is the game’s sound, and I have to say that Playground Games did a fabulous job here too. Each car sounds like its own beast, from the buggy like Ariel Nomad (one of my favourites), a Ford Woody Wagon, to the cover car, the Lamborghini Centenario, your TV, headphones, or home theater speakers will sound great. As for the environmental effects, they too are spot on. Race in a flooded roadway and you’ll hear the splash surround you as you go through, race on the sand and you’ll hear it being kicked up under you, race on a wet road and you can hear the spray of the water, and race on dry pavement and you’ll hear your tires squeal as you start to lose traction. Of course if you’re near the beach you’ll hear the sound of the rolling surf, and if you’re in the rainforest you’ll hear your car’s sound amongst all the trees. It’s amazing to hear all the variance in the sounds, but it pays off in spades.

Of course we can’t forget the music of the Forza Horizon 3 either. There are 8 radio stations to listen to, and new to this year’s game is the integration of Groove and the ability to play any playlists/music you have on your Onedrive. In terms of the latter, the fact that the feature is offered is great, and you may find driving to your own music fun, but for me personally, driving to the radio stations found in Horizon 3 is a treat. From heavy metal, alternative, and even classical music, there is a lot to choose from. And of course you have the DJ’s to listen to as well, and they can spout off in-game time sensitive lines, which is perfect. You’ll also get some skill songs popping up now and then, which increases your bonus multiplier for the duration of the song and can make for some serious skill scores. In the end it will be up to you to decide what you listen too, but there are a lot of options to choose from, and you’ll enjoy them all.

Forza Horizon 3 manages to capture much of the familiarity of the previous two games while adding a whole lot more to do, making it as close to a perfect racing experience than ever before. The addition of cooperative campaign is smart as it allows you to play through the game with a friend or two and enjoy everything that there is to do in the game’s virtual land down under. The Horizon Blueprint feature is also a great addition as you are truly in charge of the festival’s events. I honestly tried to look for something wrong with the game, but each time I played, I had a blast, and when I was done I wanted to play more, and that speaks volumes. All in all, Playground Games has done an excellent job with the series’ third iteration and made it something that racing fans of all levels, from the diehard racer to the casual driving game fan, will enjoy. Forza Horizon 3 is a game that deserves your attention as you’ll be playing well into the late hours of the night, it’s that big.

Overall Score: 9.6 / 10 ReCore

At E3 2015 Microsoft teased a game called ReCore. It was a game shrouded in some mystery given that it was just a teaser trailer and not too much information, if any, was given. At E3 2016 this past June, ReCore was fully unveiled to the public and the reception was generally positive. Given that developers Comcept (headed by Mega Man legend Keiji Inafune) and Armature are fairly well respected, there was some buzz about it. The demo, which revealed a combination of platforming and shooting, wasn’t half bad, and the game was looking good at the annual E3 show. Fast forward to the present and ReCore has been released to the masses. At an entry price point of $40 ($50 CDN) many wonder if this Microsoft Studios published game is just a cheap one shot experience or something that was priced under the regular cost of AAA game, but would offer some ‘gaming’ value. Having put the game through its paces over the past week, we here at XBA believe the game deserves your time, even though there are a few hiccups during the adventure.

In terms of the game’s story, Earth is in a critical state and mankind has moved on to another planet where they are trying to terraform it. The new planet is known as Far Eden. Joule, the main protagonist, wakes up to find out that the whole terraforming process has been thrown “out-of-whack” and the robots that are on the planet to help them with the terraforming have turned against her and the other people, and to complicate things a little more, those ‘other people’ are nowhere to be found. Joule, and her corebot Mack (a robotic companion), set out to discover what has happened on Far Eden and try to get the project back on track. During their adventure they make a lot of discoveries about the world they are currently inhabiting, both good and bad. There are a few surprises to be experienced during your adventure too.

The narrative in ReCore is not that bad. During your quest you can learn a lot more about the story, and the people involved, by finding audio logs hidden throughout the open world and the ‘dungeons’ you play through. These audio logs add more context to the narrative, as you hear various tidbits from various people in charge of the mission to Far Eden, including Joule’s father, about stuff that was going on during the trip to, and start of, the terraforming phase. They are not crucial, but they do add further background about some of the things you find, and some of the things you’ll see. Sure, the story won’t win a Pulitzer Prize, but it’s not bad and will have your attention as you play.

ReCore is a great mix of Platforming, Combat, and Adventure. I was very surprised with how many elements are mixed into the gameplay. Being that the game is 3D in nature, I had concerns that the platforming would be disappointing; however, the mechanics for platforming are quite good. With the ability double jump and dash (mid-air or on the ground) you’ll find that there are many opportunities to make those jumps that seem almost impossible. I can’t count the number of times I thought I would not make a “leap of faith” only to just reach edge and climb up. The platforming mechanics are such that they manage to make this a better game.

As for the combat, it's fairly well implemented too, but it can be repetitive at times. As you progress through the game you are given access to coloured ammo that represents the colours of your enemies. You want to make sure to match the colour with that of your enemy’s core. You will encounter enemies later on that are not on your colour scheme (e.g. purple and green) but you can shift through the colours you have and find the one that seems to do the most damage in battle. As the enemies get tougher, and higher in level, you will find that you’ll be reacting and changing colours on the fly, using your autolock feature on the enemies while firing away. There are many instances when you’ll be forced to jump and dash out of harms way, and you’ll feel some insurmountable odds at times. Your corebots are your best friends though, as you are allowed to take two with you on your journey outside of the safety your own crawler. Use their weapons to attack certain enemies when you are fighting three or more and your battle becomes manageable. That being said, you’ll have to keep on your toes at all times when fighting multiple enemies who all have different coloured cores.

There are two main ways to vanquish your foes: you can whittle their shield and health all the way down causing them to explode or you can whittle their health to a certain point allowing you a chance to extract their core and get their coloured material. It’s up to you to decide as both methods are useful. Destroying your enemies gives you items that allow you to research blueprints and make new parts for your corebots, where as extracting your enemies core gives you material that you can fuse with your corebots own core to make them stronger in the areas of attack (red), defence (yellow), and energy (blue).

Progressing through the game seems to flow nicely, until you all of a sudden you hit an area where you need more ‘prismatic pores’. I was somewhat surprised that I could not advance any further a couple of times, and discovered that I had to go back to other areas of the map to collect more prismatic cores. Luckily there are indicators on the map after you move forward where these cores are located. It can be as simple as fighting a few waves of enemies protecting a chest holding one of these cores, to having to fight one special boss-like enemy who seems to have a knack at breaking your efforts, to extract its prismatic core. You can also go to some special dungeons that have prismatic cores to find within them too. Regardless of where you get these cores that are needed to advance, or open up other areas, you’ll find that it kind of breaks up the flow of what was a fairly good experience up to that point. Sure, it’s not a deal breaker, but it was kind of jarring to have to all of a sudden backtrack and collect more cores to advance.

There are a lot of RPG elements to ReCore, something that was not hinted at leading up to its release. You’ll find that changing parts on your corebots allows you to instill certain spiffs such as increased shield recharge and increased maximum health. To do this you have to research various blueprints that you discover in hidden chests throughout the games open world, as well as the levels that you explore. These blueprints rely on various materials to make the part you want, and the materials are obtained by destroying enemies and finding other chests full of mats. Of course the farther into the game you go, the harder the enemies, the better the materials you can get. There is also the idea of not only matching the colour of your weapon with the colour of the enemy, but certain corebots are stronger against certain types of enemies, no matter what the colour. It’s these RPG type of gameplay elements that I think will surprise many.

Now, all may seem good, but there are indeed a few setbacks that actually affect the gameplay experience. The first is the LONG load times. Yes, I put the caps for emphasis. I actually started to find that the load times were unbearable during one area that I was struggling. I took out my phone and timed the reloads after my deaths, and low and behold the load times were two minutes. Yes, I said two minutes. Throughout my gameplay experience there were a lot of long loading times, which I just didn’t understand. Another issue I had with ReCore were the in-game glitches. I found many times that geometry disappeared or I fell through the ground/floor resulting in me having to jump around to get my character on screen. I even had an issue where I was extracting a core during a key point of a boss battle and the game just stayed in the extraction animation for a couple of minutes. It would not let me move but I could still cycle through the colours of my weapon. Luckily though it eventually reset and the level continued. Finally, there were framerate issues now and then, as well as texture pop-up in the distance while exploring the outside world. These visual glitches were really disappointing given that at times the world of Far Eden looked incredible. From the character, corebot, and enemy design, the various rock faces, dungeons, platforms, and man made vehicles you could traverse to the shimmering sand, there were occasions that I was really happy to stop and just look around the environment.

ReCore is a single player only experience, so don’t expect to head online for any cooperative or versus play with others. My adventure took about 11-12 hours. I did some random exploring, searching for chests, and of course obtaining more prismatic cores. Something that I noticed towards the end of my adventure is that it seemed like the game was stretched out longer than it should have. I won’t add any spoilers here, but after you meet Victor, a character that is kind of key to some of the story, the lead up to the end seems forced. Platforming and enemies thrown at you just for the sake of adding a bit more. I found myself frustrated as the enemy fights could get difficult given what I had to face in the small area they presented it in. There is more to do after the final credits roll, as you can access and complete dungeons not related directly to the story (e.g. Arena or Traversal Dungeons) and each of these have their own challenges and/or secondary objectives. You can also search the open world to find any chests you may have missed and level up your character and corebots to the maximum level. Of course some of these also allow you to complete achievements should you wish to get all those. So, there is more to do after you finish the story, but it’s not imperative to do so.

ReCore is a game that is surprising in many ways. First off, with gameplay mechanics that were not advertised, the larger than expected game map, and the RPG elements found within, most will discover that there is quite a bit to do in Far Eden. That being said, the glitches, the long load times, and the uneven pacing of the story towards the end is some cause for concern. At the end of the day though, ReCore is a new IP brought to you from seasoned developers, and although it is far from perfect, gamers will no doubt have fun with it. Oh, and the cheaper price doesn’t hurt either.

Suggestions: Hopefully with an update or two to the game, the load times will be greatly decreased and the visual glitches will be mostly resolved.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Project CARS Game of the Year Edition

Project CARS started its life as a kickstarter campaign, which was relatively successful given the fact that the game was released. After a bit of research on the interwebz, one will discover that the game was made for $5,000,000, and the money was contributed by the gaming community as well as the developers themselves. It was released in May 2015 on PC, Xbox One, and PS4. It was received fairly well and got some pretty good reviews, but there were some critics out there who indicated that the game was full of bugs, felt not finished, and wasn’t even playable on some occasions. It seems that the Xbox One version had the most noted issues, from control input not registering, audio bugs, to framerate issues. It was a rough road (pun intended) for the Xbox One version given that some didn’t even recommend it at the time.

During the past year, developer Slightly Mad Studios has maintained their support for Project CARS fixing bugs, addressing issues identified by the community, and releasing DLC in the form of more cars and tracks. Many say that over the last year the game has become what they had hoped it would be and not the version that was released in 2015. With that in mind, Bandai Namco Games has released Project CARS: Game of the Year Edition (GOTY Edition).

Along with the core game that was released a year ago, you now get 50 more cars, 4 new tracks, and 60+ community created liveries. On top of that, you also get about 500 fixes that have occurred since the game launched. That is a lot of fixes I tell you. We here at Xbox Addict have been playing the game over the past week and a half or so, and I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised given how good it really is. But mark my words, it’s not a game for everyone, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

Let’s get this out of the way right now, Project CARS: GOTY Edition is a simulation racing game, and its PC roots show in such that it’s not really a game that you can just ‘pick up and play’. It has a lot of depth, a lot of sim features, and the control of your cars really shows its’ sim pedigree. The amount of menu options is pretty staggering too. You have control of everything from your visuals, weather, car options, car set up, pit strategy, control options, and the list goes on. It’s pretty daunting to see so many settings at your fingertips. I know that it took me awhile to get through them all and figure out what I should or shouldn’t change in order to make my racing experience more tailored to my needs. I think that those obsessed with having total control of what and how to do things will really enjoy the options offered.

As I have spent most of my racing time in Forza 6 since that game’s release, Project CARS: GOTY Edition was somewhat of a change for me in terms of the actual racing. From the simulation feel, the control, to the way you progress through the game’s single player mode. The career mode is a simulated 10 years. You just don’t get into a car and race through different classes though, as you have sign with a team and start your career racing go-karts. The career mode does a good job of making it like you’re actually doing something meaningful, and not just racing. There are messages to be reviewed after every race, you can view your yearly calendar to see upcoming races, and there is even a “FanCHAT” section that simulates what it would be like for fans to tweet you during your season. It’s not just a ‘pick your car and go’ type feel.

As you progress through the ranks during each year of your career, you are given invitations to race in special events, sign with other teams, and get chosen for specific races. For each race you participate in there is a practice, qualifying, and race day. There is a lot of racing during each simulated calendar year, and you do have the option to skip/simulate races at certain points. As I look at my notes that I took during my gameplay/review time, one thing was in caps and underlined: THIS IS A DEEP GAME.

One of the game’s biggest challenges is the control, especially if you are using a controller. Now, remember, I have been playing Forza 6, and while that game has a sim aspect to it, they are two very different games, and control is one of those big differences. At first you might think that the control in Project CARS: GOTY Edition is off, or just too twitchy at times, but as you play you’ll learn that the control has nuances that have to be mastered. In some ways I truly believe that the game may even be better played with a force feedback steering wheel, but it is not needed.

As I went through the beginning of the career I was I was all over the track, but with time I was able to get the feel of each vehicle I was playing at the time, which in itself is part of the sim aspect as each car feels and handles differently, and seeing my times get better was rewarding. So although the control is indeed tough to master, it is manageable, and even fulfilling once you get the feel of it. Oh, and did I mention your track weather also affects your control, including dry, wet, to slightly damp roads? Of course it does, it’s a sim game.

Given the sim nature of Project CARS: GOTY Edition, you can tweak your car to your hearts content, but you’ll find that the tweaks are to the equipment that is already on your vehicle. You don’t add new parts, but you change such things as gearing, camber, breaking, etc. It’s amazing how much tweaking you can do. You can also save settings, so if you have a set up for a various track or two, then feel free to do so. For me personally, this was somewhat overwhelming. In Forza 6 I tend to rely on auto-tuning, as I am not a true gear-head, so having to try to tune my car on my own was quite daunting. Once again it leads me to point out the sim level of this game, and not in a negative manner either.

Should you want to take a break from the career mode, or want to get some time to practice on other tracks, there are a few more options open to you. There is a ‘Solo’ mode, where you can do a quick single race weekend, as well as an ‘Online’ mode, which is self-explanatory. You do get to view the servers and see what the racers are doing (e.g. tracks, cars, etc.). You can also choose a ‘Driver-Network’ mode, which is a special event mode where there are even prizes awarded at times, and there is the ‘Free Practice’ mode, which is great for practicing on tracks you may not know well. The final two modes are a ‘Quick Random’ mode, which is an online multiplayer mode where you are dropped into to a race with strangers and you don’t know what cars are being used or what track is being raced, and a ‘Time Trial’ mode, which is a chance to get the best laps of any particular race or track.

The online mode allows for up to 16 cars on any one circuit at a time. And like the career mode, there is a qualification session that is used to determine your position on the grid. I personally found that the qualification sessions added a bit of intensity to the experience as you want to get that better grid position than all the other online racers. Like any other racer that is online capable, it really comes down to those who you race against (bashers versus those who want a clean race) and the nature of the online connection. The few races I did were fairly enjoyable, and I did not come across to many of those bashers that I speak about. I have to say that there are some diehards out there who were accustomed to the sim aspect of the game, and boy were they good.

Graphics wise, from outside views (part of or the whole car in view), cockpit views, to all the tracks you race on (35 locations and 100 different track setups), they were well represented visually. You’ll get the usual staple of tracks from Silverstone, Laguna Seca and Nurburgring, to ones that I had no clue about like Rouen les Essarts (France), ZIO (China) and Snetterton (England). The tracks have been recreated in good detail including the sideline detail, crowds, and track specific features. As for those interior car views I mentioned, there are two different cockpit views, one from the driver’s side and one that is further back and centered.

There is an interesting helmet cam where you actually see from the eyes of the driver through their helmet. You can even see the outline of the helmet visor as well. Your view or head position will change as you drive too, such as those times when you enter into a corner, and you’ll also find that your focus will even change (e.g. speedometer and RPM cluster will be blurred when racing down a straightaway but when you slow down and enter a corner they become clear).

There are also different times of day to race in as well as different weather conditions including sun, rain, fog, clouds, dusk, night and others. The rain effects were fairly impressive. I noticed that when I was behind a group of cars on a wet track when it was raining that it became harder to see in front of me from the spray of all of cars then as opposed to being behind just one car. And as an added feature, weather can change as you race too. I had a one such race that included rain, then showers, then a sunny break, and back to showers and then rain.

Technically, Project CARS ran solidly. I can’t recall any slowdown, even when a large group of cars went into a tight corner at the start. The games draw-in is fairly consistent, although you will notice it slightly on some tracks. The Xbox version runs at 900p/30fps, and the experience is smooth all around. You’ll find lots of special effects too from shadows, lens flair, impressive lighting, and great water effects (e.g. rain on windows). The damage model is impressive too, from dents, hanging bumpers to hoods flying off and wheels breaking away. Overall Project CARS manages to hold its own against the visually pleasing Forza 6, or any other racing game on the Xbox One, for sure.

In terms of the game’s audio, Slightly Mad Studios did some good work here. From the high pitch whine of a go-kart to the roar of an Audi R8 V10, all the vehicles sound pretty good and very different from each other. As for environmental sounds, from rain pelting your windshield, knocking fenders with other cars as you enter a turn to the sound of your ‘racing brakes’ as you hit them to slow down when entering into an ‘S’ turn, you’ll notice a lot of sound. You’ll even have your pit crew manager speak up now and then too.

Project CARS: Game of the Year Edition is a simulation racer that deserves a close look. The car models are good, the tracks are well recreated, and the options for racing are quite plentiful. And although the game’s control is tough, and takes work, it’s not by fault as the game leans on its simulation roots. Make no doubt about it, this game is for the diehards as casual fans may find it too unforgiving, and that’s not a bad thing though as the game is good at what it does, providing a fairly deep and engrossing simulation racing experience that the hardcore fans will appreciate.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Coffin Dodgers

There is no denying that the world of kart racing games is owned by one franchise: Mario Kart. There, I said it. I thought it was prudent that we just get that out of the way right now. It’s true though, any and every kart game released on any platform is inevitably compared to Mario Kart given how much that series has gotten it right through the years. So, with that in mind, when heading into this review of the kart racer Coffin Dodgers, an indie game developed by Milky Tea Studios, and recently released on the Xbox One, I wanted to keep an open mind. Well, I am glad I did because if you strictly compare this game to the bar that Mario Kart has set you’d be very disappointed; however, Coffin Dodgers isn’t that bad, and there is some fun to be had here.

The premise in Coffin Dodgers is simple. A new resident has come to Sunny Hills, a nice retirement village for those to relax. It seems that the Grim Reaper has a plan, to retire in this little suburban setting and ‘harvest’ the souls of the residents that live near him. Well it’s not that easy, as seven feisty residents aren’t going to take this sitting down, or laying down when they are napping of course. They challenge the Grim Reaper to a tournament, one that involves scooter racing. It is a last man standing challenge; whoever is in last place at the end of each stage dies. What the Grim Reaper didn’t tell these seven brave seniors though is that once they lose, and their soul is his, they come back as a zombie racer hell bent on stopping anyone from winning.

The story itself is kind of interesting, but I feel there was a missed opportunity to make it really work. It starts off with a simple intro, from when the bad ol’ Reaper comes to town, to when the seven residents take a stand and challenge him to the racing tournament, but what’s there could have been more substantial. As you race you don’t get much of an update of the story and only a brief cutscene between stages of who lost and whose buried as a result. Even the ending is short lived. Personally, they could have done a lot more with the story telling and it could have been really enjoyable. In simple terms, it was a “swing and a miss” here. Sure, you might be able to get away with no story if your game is a stellar kart racer, gameplay wise, but as I mentioned earlier, Coffin Dodgers is not the best game out there, but it’s not bad either. Let me explain.

Coffin Dodger follows the same tried and true kart formula that is found throughout the genres existence. Here you have seven different characters, a kart (in this case scooter), power-ups, you earn XP and in-game money, you can upgrade your cart between races, and you have different environments to race in. Where part of the game’s weakness lies is in the control, as it is twitchy as hell. Yep, I said “…as hell”. It’s just not a smooth controlling game. I found myself having to really focus on fine tuning my in-game movement using the analog stick, more so than I remember doing in any kart racing game in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, it is manageable, but it could have been more refined, that is for sure.

Another issue is the length of the single player mode. It is only about a couple of hours max. Should you want to extend it you can try to get some of the more specific achievements, which aren’t that hard, but you may need to race certain tracks a few times in order to complete the task at hand and get the ‘cheevo’ sound to ‘ting’. The AI in the game can be cheap at times, but they are not hard to beat in the long run even though you’ll find the odd “face-palm” now and then as you wonder how they caught you, but this is not too often which is nice to see in a kart game.

But not all is bad though. The game has that ‘kart’ feel to it. There are some neat powers ups, such as the machine gun, speed burst, and missile launcher. There are others too, so there is some variety. There is also a melee attack that you can power up, and if you’ve powered it up enough you can knock your foe off in one strike. This is handy when you miss a power up or you haven’t come up on one yet. As you play, you are encouraged to modify your scooter, from the engine, the gearing to your storage basket and exterior mods, everything you modify has a purpose and makes your scooter a better racing machine. These aspects of the game are fairly good and something worth mentioning.

There is local multiplayer, via split screen, but there is no online play. I think that this game could have used the latter as it would have been nice to play the game online with some fellow reviewers that I know. The local multiplayer is ok though, as my son and I had some fun. He is turning 10 this year, and I found that he somewhat enjoyed racing against his ‘old man’ and that he didn’t mind the game at all; however, after about a half a dozen races or so he said that he was done and wanted to do something else.

Presentation wise, the track design is ok, but it could have been better. The visuals that correspond with all of the tracks have a simple cuteness to them, but you can tell that they either started to run out of ideas or that they didn’t have the time they needed to really make each environment more. That being said, there are some neat aspects to each level, such as the UFOs firing laser beams at the road in the ‘Farm’ level to the subway cars that block your path in the ‘Village’ levels main tunnel.

Technically I didn’t notice any issues even when the things got busy on the screen. Coffin Dodgers uses the Unreal 4 Engine, so when you get knocked off your scooter you become a limp crash test dummy and can be funny at times. Finally, the game’s sound is adequate at best. The kart sound effects, from engine to power-ups, get the job done, and the music is noticeable, but not memorable. If anything the game could have benefited from voice acting to tell the story and this is something that was lacking.

While Coffin Dodgers is not a bad game by any means, it does not excel in any one specific area. What really hurt this title from being something special was that it had a story that, if fleshed out, could have been comedy gold, even while the control was somewhat iffy as well. Luckily, the rest of the game, from the track design to the sound, was just good enough to keep it from belonging in the basement of bad indie titles, and for $11.99 you could definitely do worse.

Overall Score: 5.9 / 10 Action Henk

I have never been a “speed runner” game fan. It’s not because the genre isn't any good, it’s just that I am not adept at playing them given given my somewhat well known lack of patience that people have pointed out I can have, so I tend to stay away from them for my own sanity sake. With that being said, when I took on the review duties for Action Henk I really was somewhat hesitant in terms of what I was getting into. So, it was with an open mind, and prayers for my own sanity, that I started playing, and after more than a few runs of the various tracks offered, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with what developer RageSquid has done in creating Action Henk.

You shouldn’t expect much of a story with any speed runner, and this game is no different; however, there is something of a story here and it manages to set up why you are doing what you do and why you are doing it. Henk was once a “great” toy, actually, he was “Toy of the Year” back in the day, but since then he has since let himself go a bit (check out his belly) and someone steals his prized trophy that celebrates his once greatness. It’s time for Henk to get back into the ‘game’ and show that he still has some mad skills that made him such a star. He'll have to beat other toys to do this with the hope of getting back to greatness.

Action Henk starts in some child’s messy, but pretty cool bedroom. Each speed run takes place on a level that is made up of various items, such as the recognizable bright orange “hot-wheel” like tracks, wooden building blocks, and other stuff you might find in a bedroom filled with toys. You’ll be jumping, wall jumping, and butt sliding (yes, butt sliding) on some very well put together levels that shows RageSquid put some thought into each one. Don’t get comfortable though, as there is much more to Action Henk then the bedroom levels. As you progress through the game Henk is faced with more types of challenges, such as swinging (grappling hook) and super jumping (launch pad) as well as new areas.

As you play you’re gradually introduced to the more complex mechanics, and levels, and you must manage your way through them, even if you need to re-run more than a few levels. That being said, to master the harder levels is whole other task, especially later on. Luckily controls are spot on and as you take on the various challenges ahead of you there is the ability to reset at a past checkpoint (it won’t reset time though) and you can also retry the whole level at any time with a simple press of the ‘B’ button. You’ll be also racing against a ‘ghost’ that is your target time, and if you get stuck you can watch and see how the ghost gets through a particular section you may be stuck on. Mark my words though, even with some help like this you’ll still be challenged more often than not to get through a particular level.

You progress through the various stages which contain a number of levels in each one. As you beat each level you earn medals for your time (bronze, silver or gold) which tally together to eventually open more stages. Once you get through each level in the stage you eventually face a boss, which is another toy in the stage; beat the boss toy and you move on.

Should you get a gold medal in every level of a stage, a bonus level opens up. There are dozens upon dozens of levels to challenge you in Action Henk and each one takes anywhere from 20-40 seconds or so, but it’s not as easy as beating it on the first run, as I’ve mentioned above, you’ll be challenged a lot and you’ll be running and re-running various levels to get more medals or even just get through.

If there is one thing that is very evident with Action Henk is its addictiveness. You’ll want to play “one more time” in an effort to shave off a fraction of a hair more off your time so you can get a better medal, beat a score on your friends list, or climb the online leaderboard. Fans of the genre know that this is generally the way these speed runner games play, but for me it was amplified a bit as I haven’t played too many of these before.

There is also a multiplayer mode. You can’t help but appreciate the fact some form of same screen multiplayer is included allowing you to battle it out with friends when some bragging rights are at stake. Sit on the couch and race against your friends while yelling at each other to try to take them off of their "A" game. Kind of reminds me of gaming in the old days when you had to be in the same room.

Visually, Action Henk is pretty well done. The characters are well designed and I really appreciated the humour, right down to how Henk let himself get out of shape after he reached his peak. The levels are well crafted using items in each area to highlight the challenges you face on each level. Every level and stage is brightly coloured too and technically the game is solid.

There is a smattering of short cutscenes throughout the game as well, and although they are far from outstanding, their quality and voice acting suits the general style of the game, telling what narrative is there. As for the sound, music is suitable and really matches the 80’s or 90’s “action hero” aspect of a kid’s life (e.g. having the toys and posters in one’s room), but you’ll find that it doesn’t particularly add to the overall experience, which isn’t a bad thing, just something that is there.

Sure, at the end of the day Action Henk is not particularly original in its concept for a speed runner game, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Its setting is quite original, the learning curve is gradual, and if you want to master it you really need to practice, something that a game like this should have you do. If a noob like me could have fun with it, there is no doubt that fans of speed runners should enjoy it too.

Suggestions: An online multiplayer would be an added benefit for those looking for a bit of long-distance speed running against a friend.

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops

Through the ID@Xbox program, there have been a fair amount of what would be considered smaller titles that continue to be released, enabling smaller developers to make games that can be downloaded onto the Xbox One HDD. We have seen so many different types of games hit the Xbox platform as a result and many hidden 'gems' so to speak. Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops., previously a mobile game, has been ported over to the bigger screen for some console gaming love. After spending some time shooting, running, and rescuing POWs, I have to say that developer Epiphany Games did a fairly good job making a mobile game into a console game.

Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops has two separate narratives given that the game is a melding of two different versions. There is the “Soldier” story and there is the “Special Ops” story, the latter being to one that follows the first, a sequel so to speak. Each of these stories represents each of the mobile versions that preceded the console version that is out now. The story is basic; you are fighting evil and need to conquer different types of enemy soldiers, and many of the levels have you completing specific tasks while doing so (e.g. destroying all enemy buildings, escorting people out of the warzone, or rescuing prisoners to name a few).

The story is not particularly engrossing, but it sets up each chapter of missions. I enjoyed the manner the story was told. You watch a set of comic book “story panels” that are very stylish. The cute characters that make up the Tiny Troopers universe take center stage along with a lot of text bubbles, but don’t worry about having to read, the text bubbles are accompanied by some cheesy, but very appropriate, voice acting.

The game is a twin-stick shooter, a genre that I have never been to adept at playing; however, Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops wasn’t too difficult to play. You control up to three characters, who are in a group, with the left analog stick and aim/shoot with the right analog stick. A few buttons (e.g. RT, RB & LT) are assigned to some more powerful weapons such as grenades, rocket launcher and air strike. You can purchase a ‘supply’ drop during combat and a package drops into battle with goods, but you’ll also find some of weapons throughout the level.

If there was any frustration in controlling your characters it was the fact that you’ll find when controlling a group of three, one of them can easily get ‘hung-up’ on something in the environment, such as a rock, tree, or fence post. To manage this, you’ll have to move your other character or two to allow the stuck character to be able to line up and move back into formation. It is not a deal breaker, but just something that could become a nuisance now and then.

As you play through each mission you kill as many enemies as you can while completing your main objectives, all of which total a score that is based on your kills, what you destroy, and more. It’s not that simple though as there are local residents that you have to shoot around and neutral targets to avoid as killing or destroying these takes points away. You can also find dog tags and medals scattered throughout the level, along with enemy intel and/or other enemy weapons that should be disarmed. The more you kill/destroy in a row the higher your multiplayer will go, maxing out at 4x. It all helps in achieving your overall high score. There are also four difficulty levels that you can choose from during each mission.

Once you complete a mission your score is converted into ‘command points’ which you use to purchase upgrades, items and outfits. Upgrades come in the form of rate of fire, increased damage, accuracy, longer firing range, speed, etc. You can also unlock other ‘mercs-for-hire’ to assist you on various missions too. As you play your soldiers earn XP and rank up, becoming tougher in future battles. If one of your soldiers dies in battle, you can resurrect them at the end of the level using the medals you’ve found throughout the levels and game. If you don’t have enough medals, then they are KIA’d forever.

In terms of gameplay length, you can finish this game it in one sitting, but that is not how this game should be played. In total there are found 60 missions found within eight different chapters, four chapters per story (Soldier & Joint Ops). You’ll find that each mission level takes anywhere from 5-10 minutes or so, depending on what you need to do, and how much you look around. Add everything up together and you end up with a bit to do. That being said, you won’t want to finish this game in one sitting as it is something that you should be playing in order to take a short break from the routine of playing other games or if you only have a short time period to get a gaming fix. It’s not that the game is bad, but it’s mobile roots show in terms of playing in short bursts, and in some ways it defines how it should be played.

As an added bonus, there is a zombie ‘horde’ like mode. Here you are tasked to survive increasingly harder waves of troops of undead soldiers and, wait for it…...zombie chickens. Although it’s a nice add on, and a bit of a change from the regular gameplay, you will find that it becomes somewhat repetitive even though the game does try to add some different scenarios. I have to say though, that as a mindless distraction, this mode still does work out ok. It would have been nice to have some sort of multiplayer (local or online) for the game as a whole, but it does not. This would could have been an added feature that was worthwhile.

In terms of Tiny Troopers presentation, the visuals are simple while the sound manages to add a bit more to the game. You won’t find a lot of detail to the game’s levels, but the simple style and polygonal look don’t detract from the gameplay. The characters are fairly cute, and adds to the simplistic charm; however, as a sum the game’s looks are simple and uncluttered and they won’t wow you. As for the sound, I was somewhat impressed as the music matches each level and you’ll notice that as you get closer to ‘conflict’ it gets louder and more intense. Sound effects, like the graphics, are basic, but they match the cuteness of the characters, and you’ll even hear the gunfire and explosions of other battles in the distance. Overall, the presentation for this game works, given the content and style the game aims for.

Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops is definitely a fun little ID@Xbox title that many people will enjoy in short spurts. Sure, it’s not a Triple ‘A’ title that is a must have, but for 10 bucks it’s a game that you’ll find you can come back to often and get reasonably entertaining gaming experience. With a cute presentation and easy to pick up gameplay, it is an ID@Xbox title that definitely shows you don’t have to provide some engrossing and deep gameplay to have some fun, and it’s all offered at a very affordable price.

Suggestions: An added local or online multiplayer could have added so much more, maybe if you make a sequel you can consider this add-on next time. It would add further replayablility to the overall experience.

Overall Score: 6.3 / 10

Site Statistics

Registered Members: 79,592
Forum Posts: 725,965
Xbox One Titles: 6,128
Xbox 360 Titles: 1,086
Xbox 360 Kinect Titles: 95
Xbox 360 Arcade Titles: 586
Original Xbox Titles: 987
Staff Reviews: 2,554
Member Reviews: 10,339
News Articles: 16,539
Screenshots: 38,876
Xbox 360 Achievements: 45,112
Xbox 360 Faceplates: 2,016
Cheat Codes: 1,706

Latest News

See News Archives

Community Forum Activity

KeyWe Giveaway!
Post by Variation-XBA
0 Replies, 23825 Views

2021: XBA is still here
Post by shrew king
38 Replies, 196813 Views

Watch Dogs: Legion
Post by Nato King
0 Replies, 122404 Views

Xbox Series X or S
Post by Nato King
5 Replies, 139295 Views

Spellbreak Grand Magus Pack (3) and Starter Pack (7) Giveaway!
Post by Variation-XBA
0 Replies, 129670 Views

I pay $ 1000! I search the Element 54 Canadian launch Team signaturen Faceplate
Post by Smill
0 Replies, 150975 Views

Xbox one no signal
Post by debrartin
0 Replies, 141331 Views

do you remember?
Post by SnoochyBoochy
3 Replies, 208993 Views

i haz xbox
Post by SnoochyBoochy
0 Replies, 163495 Views

Claiming the first thread of 2020
Post by Kraft
7 Replies, 258662 Views

Important! I pay $ 1000! I search the Sweden launch and the Element 54 Faceplate
Post by Smill
3 Replies, 147189 Views

Squad Up
Post by samslophead
0 Replies, 249838 Views

TERA Skinned Xbox One X Giveaway!
Post by Variation-XBA
0 Replies, 177083 Views

Starfield Release expectations?
Post by DJ tx
4 Replies, 305917 Views

Issue with Xbox live on Xbox home
Post by rcmpayne
0 Replies, 165501 Views

© 2000-2024 - All rights reserved. All trademarks are properties of their respective owners.
Xbox is a registered trademark of Microsoft. is not affiliated with Microsoft.

Made in Canada
Site Design by Cameron Graphics