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Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade Intermission Review - Half-Measure

Fri, 06/11/2021 - 22:21

Final Fantasy VII Remake's tone often slides between light, funny moments and dark, tragic drama. But from the first moments of Intermission, the DLC mission added to the game with its Intergrade PlayStation 5 upgrade, it's clear this new episode is mostly a comedy. In jumps Yuffie, one of the original game's optional characters, and immediately her dangerous espionage mission to infiltrate the evil Shinra Corporation in Midgar is played like a kid goofing off. It's a vibe that really works for the DLC, trading on the fact that Remake continues to be great about establishing fun, eccentric characters.

Taking place in the middle of Remake's story, during the portion in which Cloud is separated from his compatriots, it follows Yuffie as she embarks on a mission to steal a secret Shinra weapon on behalf of her homeland, Wutai. Though the mission is dangerous, Yuffie approaches it with all the seriousness of a kid playing pretend--even though she's on her way to first meet with Midgar's Shinra resistance movement, Avalanche, and then sneak into the headquarters of a company that recently concluded a full-scale war with her home.

The trouble with Intermission is that this side story doesn't feel essential to anything going on. Sure, the DLC is providing context and backstory for a character that fans of the original Final Fantasy VII know will show up later in the story, but Yuffie's mission is largely about her wandering around areas we've already seen, floating past but barely interacting with Remake's cast, and taking part in minigames to waste some time. Yuffie's a fun character to spend time with, even if you don't have history with her from the first iteration of Final Fantasy VII, but it all comes off as a tease for something better down the road in FF7 Remake's next installment. And after the remarkably deep and excellently realized version of the story that is Remake, Intermission feels like exactly that: a half-measure to fill time while we wait for the real show.

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Guilty Gear Strive Review -- Burning Like A Roman Cancel

Fri, 06/11/2021 - 17:05

Guilty Gear Strive is, like so many of its predecessors, the pinnacle of a certain kind of fighting game. The series, known for its highly technical (read: complicated) set of systems, rewards players for investing time to master both its universal systems and the nuances of its individual characters in a way that few other series have. Strive maintains that tradition and throws in a couple new ideas that bolster its bold anime-inspired flash without making the game any harder to learn. While the core fighting experience has only improved, many of the game's less savory tendencies remain in place, including its non-playable story "mode" and yet another set of kludgy Arc System Works-style avatar-based matchmaking menus. As in most fighting games, those problems are secondary: Players, particularly veterans, who want to put in work will find Guilty Gear Strive to be a wild time.

If you're counting, Strive is the eighth primary entry in the Guilty Gear franchise, so its fighting style is something of a known quantity. Strive retains many of the nuances of recent entries in the series. There's the tension gauge, a special meter that increases when you attack or move towards your opponent and fills more slowly when you play defense. There's faultless defense, a strategic extra block that trades tension to prevent chip damage and help you get some distance from an opponent. For a newcomer or casual player, Strive will feel just like a Street Fighter-style fighting game. Most special moves feature quarter-circles and charge motions, and thus may feel familiar at a glance, but there are many, many small nuances for you to learn in order to get the most out of its particular mechanics.

There are two major changes that longtime players will need to adjust to. Strive removes the "Gatling system," a sort of hierarchy for canceling attacks to sustain combos, and changes the series' signature "Roman Cancel" system, which allows you to trade half of the tension meter to cut short the animation before or after an attack to more quickly recover. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not yet an expert on how to use these mechanics to great effect, but it seems that the combination of these two leads to more back-and-forth with shorter combos. I found that most of my fights, even against players way beyond my skill level, kept to a rapid tempo filled with short organic combos--flurries of light attacks anchored by a heavy or special. In theory, the Roman Cancel opens the door for high-level players to unlock longer strings with a precisely timed maneuver that keeps a combo from ending.

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Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade Review - Materia Improvements

Wed, 06/09/2021 - 12:00

Editor's note: In June 2021, developer Square Enix released an upgraded version of Final Fantasy VII Remake for PlayStation 5, which included improved visuals and technical performance, as well as some new features, including a photo mode. Our impressions on how the improvements impact Final Fantasy VII Remake on PS5 are written by Phil Hornshaw. The original review of Final Fantasy VII Remake was first published in April 2020 and is written by Tamoor Hussain.

In the opening of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife, a mercenary and former member of an elite private military group called SOLDIER, takes on a job with an eco-terrorist cell named Avalanche. Their mission is to blow up a reactor that siphons Mako, the lifeblood of the planet, and uses it to power the sprawling industrial metropolis Midgar. The group infiltrates, braves resistance from Shinra Electric Company's forces, and sets off an explosion that renders the reactor inoperable.

In the 1997 original, what followed was a hop, skip, and jump through a few sections of the city back to Sector 7, and the safety of Avalanche's hideout. In Final Fantasy VII Remake, having carried out the mission, you're asked to walk the streets in the aftermath and witness the harrowing consequences of your actions. The sector lies in ruin, fires rage, buildings are crumbling, and the heartbreaking human cost is laid bare.

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Stonefly Review - Buzz Kill

Tue, 06/08/2021 - 15:53

When Stonefly promises a chill and tranquil adventure it's not telling the whole truth. Annika, a capable young pilot searching for her engineer father's stolen mech, finds herself under frequent attack from the bugs that protect the resources she so desperately needs. Much of Stonefly is spent propelling your insectoid mech through an arboreal maze, hopping from leaf to leaf and catching the breeze to higher layers of canopy. But the various minerals you must extract to craft mech upgrades are fiercely protected, and so the game's rhythm becomes one of sedate exploration punctuated by frantic skirmishes.

While Annika can modify her mech for combat, improving existing functions and installing new ones, the pattern remains the same throughout. While airborne, she can shoot at enemies directly below her; damage them sufficiently--basic enemies take only one hit while the toughest will require multiple strafings--and they flip over onto their backs. Once vulnerable, enemies can be blown off the edge of whatever leaf or branch constitutes the current battlefield, and thus eliminated.

It's a neat system in theory that echoes the typical shield and health combo of many shooters and other action games. You've first got to take out an enemy's shield by flipping it onto its back, then you can target its health by cannoning it out of the arena. Unfortunately, a few additional factors contribute to the flow of combat feeling overly chaotic and ultimately frustrating.

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Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Review - A Riveting Adventure

Tue, 06/08/2021 - 14:00

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is a game about counterparts. In this strange new setting, everyone has a doppelganger who looks almost identical to the one we know, but their circumstances have changed them. Ratchet's new alternate dimensional counterpart, Rivet, may have had a harder life than him, and it's shaped her personality in surprising ways, but she's still the same heroic person at heart. The same can be said for Rift Apart. The new generation of hardware has made some dramatic changes for the better, but in a very welcome and comforting way, this is still the Ratchet & Clank you've come to know and love.

The title may be "Ratchet & Clank," but Rivet is the real star here. Ratchet and his robot buddy Clank are the template that helps inform what we learn about Rivet and her own journey, and the vast majority of Rift Apart takes place in her universe. She also seems to get slightly more playtime, even if the stages are split roughly evenly as the two heroes divide-and-conquer to enact their universe-saving plan.

Once the game begins in earnest, after a brief tutorial in Ratchet's Megalopolis, the bumbling but sinister Dr. Nefarious transports himself and the titular duo to another dimension. When Nefarious gets there, he finds that it's ruled by an Emperor Nefarious. The Emperor is conspicuously absent at the moment, so our Dr. Nefarious just helps himself to the throne, and no one, including the evil executive assistant, seems to notice that he's a pretender. Meanwhile Ratchet and Clank are separated, and Clank is picked up by the freedom fighter, Rivet.

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Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown Review -- Time for a Combat Seminar

Fri, 06/04/2021 - 11:56

While Virtua Fighter has gotten attention in other games, such as guest characters in Dead or Alive 5 and as minigames in various Yakuza titles, the once-venerated 3D fighter seemed to be forgotten for a very long time. But with Virtua Fighter 5 once again revamped and re-released, does this star of the fighting game world still shine as brightly? Yes... but, speaking as a veteran Virtua Fighter fan, there are a few issues that keep Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown from claiming its crown as an all-time champion.

Considered the granddaddy of 3D fighting games, Virtua Fighter sparked revolutions in visuals and gameplay and, even now, it holds a great deal of respect among fighting game fans. Its simple three-button control scheme and comparatively small character roster hides an incredibly complex and rewarding game--provided you're willing to put in the time to learn and improve at it. Some games in the series--such as the excellent Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution--are known for amazing tutorials and learning tools, along with engaging and replayable single-player modes. Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown, however, eschews that to focus on competition, and more specifically, online competition.

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Gameplay-wise, Ultimate Showdown will feel very familiar to veteran Virtua Fighter players. The base fighting engine is based around the earlier Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown, with all of the moves, characters, and stages carried over from that game. There are a few minuscule changes, such as different colors of hit flashes to indicate normal and counter hits, but the overwhelming majority of the gameplay is unchanged. And that's perfectly fine--VF5FS had some of the best fighting action you could find anywhere, with incredible depth of gameplay that has kept many playing for years on end. What is new, however, are the graphics and music, which have been completely redone in the Dragon Engine that Sega's RGG Studio has been using for its Yakuza series. Character models and stages have been rebuilt from the ground up, and it all shines with a visual polish that has Virtua Fighter looking better than ever.

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World of Demons Review - A Cut Above

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 23:30

Developer Platinum Games' style is instantly recognizable--flashy, fast-paced action that oozes with personality and flair. World of Demons brings that signature style to Apple Arcade, giving you control of a samurai named Onimaru and thrusting you into, well, a world of demons. That successful Platinum formula translates well to iOS devices, with simple touch controls and quick action that looks and feels great on the smaller screen. There are some issues lying underneath--mostly in the camera system--but those problems aren't enough to derail this otherwise solid action experience.

World of Demons follows Onimaru, a lone samurai fighting against an army of vicious demons called yokai. Our hero is building an army of his own, however, as every enemy he defeats will join him in the fight against the game's main antagonist, the demon king Shuten Doji. Onimaru himself controls exactly like a Platinum Games protagonist, deftly running around stages while slashing with his massive katana. Consecutive presses on the attack button will result in stylish combos, with better rewards given for higher combos at the end of a skirmish. Holding down the button will slow attacks down, making strikes more powerful but making you vulnerable to enemy counterattacks.

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The yokai Onimaru battle comes in all shapes and sizes, from small bean farmers to massive pink blobs, each with its own attack abilities. Each yokai is assigned a color (red, blue, or green), with each color having strengths and weaknesses over the other in a rock-paper-scissors system. Defeating a yokai adds it to your collection, and before each chapter you'll be able to equip two yokai for the following mission. Other yokai defeated during the chapter are added to a "deck" and disappear after one use.

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Miitopia Review -- Eyes Without a Face

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 10:24

When I reviewed Miitopia on 3DS in 2017, I wasn’t terribly impressed. The game was dull, simplistic, and felt so random that I barely felt like I was playing it. But, as we’ve learned over the years, games can be improved significantly from their initial launches, and I figured that a Switch remake of Miitopia would be the perfect opportunity for Nintendo to fix the flaws of the 3DS release. Unfortunately, while there are notable improvements, the core game is still the same tiresome, repetitive experience from four years ago.

Miitopia is a game where you take created Mii characters--based on yourself, friends and family, celebrities, fantasy characters, whoever--and “cast” them as player and NPC characters in a simple RPG story. The Dark Lord of Miitopia is ruining the peace and stealing the faces of the populace, so it’s up to you and your merry band of adventurers to gear up and put a stop to his wickedness, with plenty of goofy character interactions and dialogue snippets along the way.

It’s a cute and fun concept, and to Miitopia’s credit, the Switch version of the game features a fully revamped character creator that lets you go all-out with creating incredibly detailed Mii characters by layering different hair, eyes, facial features, and additional shapes. It takes time to make a really impressive Mii, but if you’re willing to put in the effort, you can make some astounding creations. If you don’t have that sort of time, you can use Miis made by other players by entering their Access Code or pick from a selection of currently popular Miis. It’s a bit cumbersome not being able to search in-game for specific characters (it took me far too long to find a good Hank Hill) but with some online sleuthing on social media you should be able to find some good created-character libraries.

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Knockout City Review - Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, And Dodge

Fri, 05/28/2021 - 10:02

Knockout City's colorful, cartoonish aesthetic plays host to a relatively straightforward game of dodgeball, putting two teams against each other in a war waged with red rubber balls. But once you start factoring in deployable gliders, balls that can trap opponents in cages, and throwing techniques that can bend your shots around corners, Knockout City's identity starts to bubble to the surface. In between the satisfying thunks of direct hits and the grace of each character's movements, Knockout City features a satisfying level of depth that balances its pickup-and-play nature with a compelling competitive element that's difficult to walk away from.

Each of Knockout City's rotating modes rests on the fundamentals of finding a ball and trying to hit opposing players twice with it for a knockout, racking up your team's score in the process. Knockout City makes this both simple and satisfying by automatically targeting enemies for you, but giving you control over the distance and power of each throw. You can take a longer time to charge up for a faster swing of the arm but expose yourself in the process by limiting your movement speed to do so. Judging how much power to put behind a shot and balancing that with the distance between you and another player is critical, and just one of the many micro-decisions you'll need to make during each skirmish.

The balance between the two creates a dynamic that allows Knockout City to be approachable enough for casual play but still retain smaller complexities for competitive play to leverage. And when you start coming up against more savvy foes, additional mechanics start becoming more important. Just like in the real game of dodgeball, you can catch balls tossed your way to avoid taking a hit. In Knockout City, this applies a stacking effect to the ball, causing it to travel faster if thrown again quickly after being caught. You can quickly find yourself in an escalating ping pong match with another player, adjusting to shrinking catch timing windows with each exchange. Without the need to manually target enemies, Knockout City allows you to focus on timing and positioning instead, which makes its fast-paced action more manageable.

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Mass Effect: Legendary Edition Review

Wed, 05/26/2021 - 03:00

It's been a whole console generation since we last saw Shepard, Tali, Garrus, and the rest of the Normandy crew. Mass Effect: Legendary Edition remasters BioWare's space opera RPG trilogy for the new generation of consoles, enhancing the visuals, implementing quality of life improvements, and making welcome adjustments to certain content for all three games. In those adjustments, Legendary Edition occasionally draws unwanted attention to parts of the trilogy that haven't aged gracefully, but as a whole, this remaster is a good way to see what all the fuss is about if you missed out on the first three Mass Effect games the first time around, or are just looking for a reason to dive into them again.

The core of Mass Effect is its choice- and consequence-driven narrative. As Commander Shepard, the first human to be given the role of a Spectre (basically a space cop) in the interspecies Milky Way government, you are put into many situations where you have the final say on how things go down. Your choices in the first game can influence how characters perceive you or how events transpire in the second, which then can domino effect into the third. It's up to you to decide whether you wish to be a paragon of virtue or a results-oriented renegade in your mission to defend the entire Milky Way's galactic society from a large number of conflicts, while an even greater threat looms on the horizon.

While this consequence-driven system seems to allow a great deal of agency in how you resolve certain conflicts, it's rigid in its design, basing the entirety of Shepard's morality on a binary system of Paragon and Renegade choices. Its simplicity does make the system fairly approachable, reducing the complexity of every decision to a "morally good" and "morally bad" choice for those looking to play through the trilogy entirely Paragon or Renegade. Additionally, from an accessibility standpoint, splitting Shepard's choices into a rigid binary helps with better understanding the underlying nuance to certain dialogue choices before picking them.

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Famicom Detective Club Review -- The N.E.S. Murders

Tue, 05/25/2021 - 13:45

When you think of a private detective, you might see a tough guy in a felt fedora, cigarette perched above his chiseled jaw, puffing moodily in an office chair with the blinds drawn. If Nintendo has anything to say about it, though, next time you picture a gumshoe it will be a skinny, teenage boy who can't remember his own name.

That's because the publisher has resurrected both Famicom Detective Club outings: The Missing Heir and The Girl Who Stands Behind. This pair of adventure games debuted on the NES in the late ‘80s and cast players as a kid sleuth solving crimes in rural Japan. These remakes are impressively thorough, eschewing the pixelated graphics of the originals for a striking anime-inspired look and full Japanese voice acting. Mechanically, both titles are still products of their time and, as a result, progressing through the story can sometimes be frustratingly opaque. But, the stories themselves--particularly The Missing Heir's--are compelling enough that I was willing to put up with some outdated design to see them through to their twisty conclusions.

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In Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir, your 17-year-old protagonist wakes up at the foot of a cliff with no memory of how he got there or who he is. With a little help from the man who found him, he heads back to his job as an assistant sleuth at the Utsugi Detective Agency. The eponymous detective is nowhere to be found so our forgetful friend--who I dubbed Philip Marlowe, after Raymond Chandler's PI--must work to solve a case with his fellow assistant detective, Ayumi Tachibana. The case in question involves the death of Kiku Ayashiro, matriarch of the rich and powerful Ayashiro clan and chairwoman of the corporation that made them rich and powerful in the first place. While the autopsy results suggest that Kiku died of natural causes, the family butler Zenzou suspects foul play. Prior to your amnesia, he had hired you to investigate her death. As you begin again, you have two mysteries to solve: who murdered Kiku, and who were you before you lost your memory.

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Biomutant Review -- A Flawed Mutation

Mon, 05/24/2021 - 15:00

Biomutant's post-apocalyptic open world differs from the norm, even if it's guilty of adhering to a few familiar tropes. The remnants of its neglected towns are still populated by dilapidated buildings and roaming bandits, and its overgrown roadways are littered with the burnt-out husks of abandoned vehicles. But Biomutant also utilizes a vivid color palette that makes its verdant fields and picturesque red mountains pop with the kind of striking vibrancy that's rarely associated with the apocalypse.

Throw in some furry anthropomorphic creatures, and Biomutant's character design and general style is certainly atypical of the genre. Yet it also consists of a mishmash of fairly obvious influences, from a Breath of the Wild-esque structure to combo-driven combat that's similar to Devil May Cry, and other familiar elements from the likes of Fallout, Max Payne, and Borderlands. It's a flavorful petri dish, for sure, and there are plenty of uneven and drab aspects to its overall design and structure. The mixture between old and new ideas doesn't always sit right, but Biomutant also manages to carve out its own identity amid its many inspirations.

This begins with the character creator, as you step into the flocculent skin of one of the aforementioned creatures--an odd hybrid between a squirrel, rat, and any other scurrying critter that comes to mind. Choosing a breed affects your starting stats to a certain degree, and you can pump points into specific attributes if you fancy, say, dealing more melee damage or increasing your chances of bartering with merchants. If this sounds like your typical by-the-numbers RPG progression system, it's because it is. There's some personality to the character creator, as your body shape will change depending on which stats you opt to emphasize--big head for intellect, big biceps for strength. Ultimately, however, your starting attributes aren't especially significant. You're able to put 10 points into a category each time you level up, so it's easy to build a fairly well-rounded character within a few hours.

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Days Gone Review - Farewell, Oregon

Thu, 05/20/2021 - 12:27

Editor's Note: In May 2021, Sony ported Days Gone to PC. In addition to compiling two years' worth of updates since the 2019 game's initial launch, the Windows version offers opportunities for enhanced graphics and performance with more powerful gaming PCs. Mike Epstein delivers his impressions on the game's technical improvements and how they may change your experience playing the PC version of Days Gone. GameSpot's original review for Days Gone is below in full and the assessment for the PC version is integrated at the end. This review contains minor spoilers about mission structure and overall story direction. There are no spoilers for major narrative moments.

Around 10 hours into Days Gone, you're thrown into a hunting tutorial apropos of nothing. The over-the-top libertarian character takes you out with a rifle and shows you how to track a deer, although you've already had a tracking tutorial. You're then tasked with getting more meat for you and your buddy because your supply is running low, something you never have to do again. You also don't cook or eat; you can only donate meat to camps around the map to earn a negligible amount of trust and money with them. After a little while, even stopping to get meat off wolves that attacked you doesn't seem worth it.

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Like many things in Days Gone, hunting exists just to be there, an idea that is picked up and then abandoned at random. Unlike hunting, some of those ideas are even good in the moment. But most aspects of Days Gone lack purpose. Its many narrative threads flirt with being meaningful and interesting but never quite commit, with characters whose actions and motivations don't make sense. Riding a souped-up motorcycle through the world and taking out zombie nests and hordes is satisfying in the way that completing open-world checklists often is, but by the end, you're left to wonder what the point of it all was.

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NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition Review -- Air Ball

Fri, 05/14/2021 - 22:52

Mobile versions of console or PC titles used to carry the stigma of being poor cousins, but as games like Fortnite and Genshin Impact have shown, it's possible for mobile games to be just as good as their console counterparts. At first glance, NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition seems like it will follow suit; the game looks very impressive, the action runs smoothly, and every NBA team (with full rosters) is available from the start. I thought I'd have all I need to enjoy some great NBA action wherever I went, but the more I played the more I realized what I thought would be a deep experience was instead very shallow.

NBA 2K21 Arcade is the annual basketball franchise's first appearance in Apple Arcade, and it features three main modes: Play Now, MyCareer, and Black Top. The game does a great job of bringing the impressive visuals of the NBA 2K games to iOS, with player models here looking pretty close to their real-life counterparts.

The Play Now feature is straightforward: pick two teams and play a game. The short amount of time it takes from booting the game up to playing a game is impressive, only lasting as long as it takes you to pick teams. But actually playing a game is where things get tricky, with the game's on-screen touch controls being too sensitive at best and non-functional at worst.

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Hood: Outlaws & Legends Review - Petty Theft

Wed, 05/12/2021 - 14:27

On paper, Hood: Outlaws and Legends has a lot going for it. It's a competitive riff on the co-op multiplayer heist game where two teams of four merry men and women simultaneously attempt to unlock a vault and extract a giant chest of gold. Its stealthy race to elude computer-controlled knights and rival players rarely plays out with the grace implied by the concept. More often, the competition for keys, chests, and respawn points devolve into protracted brawls that showcase Hood's clumsy combat, rather than dynamic stealth. Throw in some confusing UI, easily exploitable stealth-kill mechanics, and myriad small design flaws, and Hood's execution fails to deliver the goods it's promised.

Each match in Hood has four phases. First, someone needs to steal the vault key from the invincible (but generally unaware) Sheriff. Second, you find and open the vault. Third, someone carries the chest to one of a few extraction points on the map. Once the chest is locked in, one or two players use a winch to lift the chest while the others defend them. The “other team,” meanwhile, has opportunities to disrupt the mission to try and acquire the key or chest for themselves. With both teams naturally meeting at a few key locations, you have plenty of opportunities to surprise and overtake the objective.

In this idealized version of the game, the match is a coordinated stealth run, where each character uses their unique skills to advance the mission or help their teammates. Each of the four characters theoretically has a role to play: Marianne, the stealthiest fighter, moves quickly and has abilities that let her steal the key or assassinate enemies discreetly. Robin's bow allows him to take out enemies from afar. Little John can lift gates and move the chest quickly. Tooke is a solid backup fighter with a wide-reaching melee attack and a healing ability. Though some of these skills make certain characters well-suited to different tasks, there's no moment where you need a specific character and their skills. This opens the door for players to choose characters based on their playstyles, but also minimizes the importance of class-based play around the heist itself.

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Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Wrath Of The Druids DLC Review

Wed, 05/12/2021 - 10:00

The Assassin's Creed franchise has typically relied on its story-based DLC to enhance the narrative of its games. This is usually done in one of two ways: As a means of filling in obvious holes within a game's plot (like Assassin's Creed II's Bonfire of the Vanities), or as a method of continuing a protagonist's story to further explain how they connect to other games in the series (like Odyssey's Legacy of the First Blade). The first of Assassin's Creed Valhalla's two post-launch story-driven DLCs, Wrath of the Druids, doesn't fit into either camp. Without much tying it back to the main story of Valhalla or the franchise as a whole, the DLC doesn't quite serve a distinct purpose and it's worse off for it.

In Wrath of the Druids, Eivor receives a letter from her cousin Barid saying that he wishes to see her again--as it happens, he's become king of Dublin, a major port town in Ireland. Upon arrival in Ireland, Eivor learns that Barid seeks to protect his crown by securing the trust of soon-to-be High-King of Ireland Flann Sinna, a man who desires to unite all of the country--whether they be Catholic or druid--under his rule. Eivor agrees to aid her cousin, also teaming up with shrewd economic chief Azar to increase Dublin's financial standing and by working with the mysterious bard and poetess Ciara to stop the Children of Danu, a cult hellbent on preserving the druid people by destroying the increasingly Catholic leaders of Ireland.

Tonally, this story feels odd. Though Wrath of the Druids releases months after Valhalla, its story is clearly meant to fit somewhere within the main game's campaign, not take place afterwards. The ideal power level for the DLC is 55, making it a great story to play mid-way through Valhalla in order to strengthen Eivor if you ever need to. But Valhalla doesn't have any obvious holes in its campaign, so Wrath of the Druids' story is structured to fit into it anywhere. Thus, there's very little momentum or character growth in this particular story arc. As I played the DLC after having completed Valhalla's campaign, it actually felt like Eivor had regressed in her development, saying and agreeing to things that didn't track with the Eivor I had come to create over the course of the main campaign--she didn't feel like my Eivor.

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Taiko No Tatsujin Pop Tap Beat Review -- Drum Solo

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 15:01

Some video game franchises seem destined for the mobile gaming scene, their format ideally suited for touchscreen controls or quick on-the-go gaming sessions. Bandai Namco's drum-pounding rhythm game Taiko no Tatsujin is the latest established franchise to make the jump to mobile, and it's a match made in heaven. Bright, colorful, and full of charm, Taiko no Tatsujin Pop Tap Beat will have you smiling from ear to ear as you tap tap tap away to its catchy soundtrack. It's just a shame that fun has such a short shelf life.

Pop Tap Beat follows the standard rhythm genre format: notes travel from one side of the screen to the other (in this case right to left), and you tap the screen when each one reaches a circle to score points. The closer to the circle the note is when you tap, the more in rhythm with the song you are and the more points you score. It's a simple system that's easy to understand and pick up even if this is your first time playing a rhythm game, making for a short learning curve and a longer focus on fun.

The gameplay loop offers incremental increases in challenge with each subsequent difficulty level, offering an experience that's challenging without ever feeling impossible. Notes come in two colors: red, which signals tapping the drum, and blue, which signals tapping around the edge of it. Higher difficulties will split the drum in half, meaning you not only have to pay attention to the color of each note but also keep in mind which side of the screen needs to be tapped. Pop Tap Beat mixes things up further with special notes, alleviating any monotony. These special notes include drum rolls with continuous tapping, golden drums for furious tapping, and balloon notes for a different kind of furious tapping.

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Resident Evil Village Review -- Shapeshifter

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 15:00

Over its 25-year history, the Resident Evil series has continually changed and evolved, like a mad scientist who injects himself with a questionable bio-weapon, mutating into something new every time he shows up. For the most part, those evolutions have been fascinating recombinations of elements as Resident Evil tries different mixes of survival-horror and action gameplay. With Resident Evil 7, Capcom swung for the fences with a first-person perspective, a narrower scope, and more horror-focused gameplay. Resident Evil Village evolves that idea to make something that feels very different from its predecessor, but which is just as engaging.

Though the perspective and mechanical underpinnings are the same, Village branches off in its own direction from RE7, capturing some of the things that were great about that game while resisting the impulse to retread the same ground. While it's still frightening at points, it takes a less horror-driven tack on the same underlying first-person formula. Village continues to evolve Resident Evil while maintaining a keen grasp on some of its core tenets, finding new ways (or reviving old ones) of getting under your skin and ratcheting up the tension.

As has been pretty clear for a while now, Resident Evil Village is Resident Evil 7 through the lens of Resident Evil 4. When the latter was released way back in 2005, it significantly revamped what the franchise had been up to that point, swapping the earlier games' slower, survival-horror focus for a more fast-paced action approach. RE4 was scary because you were being overwhelmed by enemies, backed into corners, and chased by madmen wielding chainsaws. It traded darkened corridors and jump scares for adrenaline-fueled panic.

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Total War: Rome Remastered Review -- Et Tu, Total War?

Tue, 05/04/2021 - 17:56

The enemy outnumbers us two-to-one and reinforcements are still days away. The raucous Gaul army is at our gates, baying for blood; each enemy soldier is coated in white and blue war paint and a select few operate battering rams that'll plough through our modest wooden defenses in a matter of minutes. The scent of death is in the air and we've got no choice but to stand our ground and fight. "One of you is worth any number of them," bellows our general, shattering the tense silence with an impassioned war cry. "We face adversity, a band of brothers, dedicated to the warrior's code of strength and victory," he continues, rallying the troops. "But we will never know defeat while we stand together! This day we add another triumph to the history of our people! We will be honored as men!"

Whether you go on to achieve victory or succumb to overwhelming odds, moments like this are part of what made Rome: Total War such a beloved strategy game when it launched in 2004--and why its popularity still persists today. It put Total War on the map and laid the groundwork for what has since become a blockbuster series in the strategy genre. With Total War: Rome Remastered, developer Feral Interactive has updated Creative Assembly's seminal title by overhauling the visuals and adding a number of quality of life improvements that make it slightly more appealing for modern sensibilities. Under the hood, however, this is still very much the same game as it was back in 2004, for better or worse.

Total War: Rome Remastered hasn't messed with this engaging setup, although you can now play as the other 15 factions without having to unlock them first--unless you'd prefer to do it the old-fashioned way by defeating each faction during the campaign as one of the Romans. When it comes to upgrades, the most obvious ones are visual, with improved lighting and more detailed terrain making both the battlefields and world map pop with added vibrancy. Environments are still overly sparse, which does make battles fairly lackluster to watch unless elephants are hurling soldiers 30 feet in the air, and the updated units aren't nearly as impressive either, falling some way short of the graphical fidelity we're used to seeing in modern Total War games. As a trade-off, however, Total War: Rome Remastered does feature an experimental "Extreme" setting for unit sizes, allowing you to partake in chaotic battles with an overwhelming number of forces, provided your hardware can handle it. Though loading times are still lengthy no matter which unit size you choose--even if you're running the game off an SSD--which can make the campaign fairly laborious at times.

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Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion Review - A Leek to the Past

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 17:21

You might be relieved to learn Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion isn’t really about avoiding your financial responsibility to society. There’s no book-keeping, no audits, no lurking threat of a visit from the IRS. Instead, the act of tax evasion is a mere prelude, an unlikely catalyst for a rollicking and increasingly silly pastiche of the action/adventure genre.

Less concerned with ripping off fellow citizens and more with pilfering tropes from the Legend of Zelda, Turnip Boy is shameless about the source of its obvious inspiration. Within minutes from the start of the game, the village elder has dispatched you on a quest and you’ve retrieved a mystical sword from a sun-dappled forest grove. But it borrows and parodies familiar elements with an affection and exuberance that sweeps you along in a giddy rush for the entirety of its short but sweet duration.

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With Turnip Boy’s fiscal failure exposed in the opening scene, the town mayor channels Tom Nook by setting a quest that will allow you to pay off your debt and eventually inherit the family home. His demands are ludicrous from the get-go and seemingly untethered from your ultimate goal. But rather than leaving you annoyed at having to run some pointless errands, each new task only compounds the absurdity in amusing new ways. Really? That’s why you needed a laser pointer? You’ve got to be kidding me.

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