Category Archives: Game Reviews

Dicey Dungeons Review

Dicey Dungeons, from Terry Cavanagh of VVVVVV and Super Hexagon fame, is a roguelike deck-building dungeon crawler framed as a game show presented by host Lady Luck. You play as one of the show’s six adorable contestants, all of whom are anthropomorphic dice, because this game really is all-in on loving dice. But while the game’s clever combination of cards and dice make for an entertaining gameplay system, it can’t escape the occasional frustration that is inherent to rolling a die.

In each episode your chosen die heads into a six-level dungeon to defeat enemies, opening chests and visiting stores while building up a deck of cards capable of defeating an end boss. The dungeons are presented as a series of nodes you can move between, with shops, health-restoring apples, and enemies placed on several of them, and to progress you need to fight enemies and reach the node that features the trap door to the next floor.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Each character can equip between three and six cards (you have six slots on your inventory screen, and some cards take up two of them), all of which are powered by dice. Each card requires something different; some are affected by how high the number on the die is, or have maximum or minimum numbers, or will only take odds or evens. Still others might introduce effects or buffs. A card might “shock” your opponent, for instance, meaning that one of their cards will be locked next turn unless they spend a die to unlock it, or induce a “freeze” effect that reduces their highest dice roll down to a 1. A good deck will let you be adaptable depending on what you roll, but there’s not a huge number of cards and enemies in the game, meaning that the same ones will pop up frequently–10 hours in I would still occasionally encounter something new, but not as often as I would have liked.

A charming art style works wonders in glossing over this sense of repetition, however, with each character having a distinctive personality despite the game being light on dialogue. And although their animations are limited, the enemies are charming, too. The character designs and poses are consistently delightful, so you’ll always feel a little bad taking down a direwolf puppy because of the huge grin on their face. The gameshow motif doesn’t stretch that far, but the upbeat soundtrack and the little check-in scenes with Lady Luck before each adventure is an effective way of giving you a sense of purpose.

The six characters each have a unique playstyle, which helps to give the game some sense of variety. The thief copies one of its opponents’ cards in each match, for instance, and the inventor will always sacrifice one of their cards at the end of each fight in favor of a new ability for the next round, which can be activated just by clicking on it without needing to worry about dice. Some get more radical still, like the witch, who attacks using a “spell book”–when you roll a die you can either spend it on one of the four spells you have selected on your screen, or you can throw it at the spell book in lieu of using an ability and get whichever spell is assigned to that dice number. It’s a great system because each character feels completely different, and while the central combat system of laying dice onto cards doesn’t change, the mechanics by which you acquire those dice and cards do.

No Caption Provided

For the first few hours, as you’re moving through the initial dungeons for each character and getting to grips with how they play, Dicey Dungeons is a delight, albeit one that’s light on challenge. But once you’ve played a round as each of the first five characters and unlock each character’s more difficult episodes, there’s a steep difficulty curve to overcome. Each one introduces modifiers that make the game more challenging–you might lose health instead of gaining it every time you level up, duplicate dice might immediately disappear, or you’ll only roll 1s on your first roll of a fight, 2s on the second, and so on.

These episodes are where you’ll really start to learn the different strategies and combos that are essential to mastering Dicey Dungeons. Using your Limit Break ability (a character-and-episode specific ability that is usable only after you’ve taken a certain level of damage) and making sure that you’re making good use of buffs and/or debuffs are vital to success. After a while, you start to figure out which abilities work best against which enemies–freeze is particularly useful against creatures that can only roll a single die, for instance, whereas shock is useful if an opponent has few cards. Some enemies are also weak to particular elements, so if you see an enemy on your level who you know is weak to shock attacks, you can plan accordingly. You’ll need to remember these details yourself, though, as the game will not remind you of an enemies’ abilities and weaknesses until you’re actually in the battle.

Whether or not Dicey Dungeons becomes too difficult after the initial episodes will depend on your patience and your willingness to play through the same scenarios repeatedly. It can feel like butting your head against a wall at times, though, because if a single episode takes you multiple attempts to beat (and many of them will), you’re going to end up rolling through the same enemies several times. You might try out different card combinations, but it’s going to be from the same small pool of potential cards and facing off mostly against the same enemies that got the better of you last time. A loss can sometimes feel out of your hands, too, if an early enemy just rolls too many sixes or the final boss just happens to be immune to the debuff you built your deck around.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

But this also means that figuring out and implementing a winning strategy can be very satisfying. It took me six attempts to beat the second episode for the Warrior (the easiest character), but once I built a deck that was high on freeze cards I was able to deal with the later enemies easily enough, even if the end boss who was immune to freezing almost tripped me up (ultimately I got lucky on dice rolls). In a game so heavily themed around dice there’s always going to be an element of luck, which can be gratifying or exhausting depending on whether it goes your way or not.

The charm of Dicey Dungeons can start to wear thin when you’re stuck, but when you bypass an episode that was giving you grief, it feels great. I found myself frequently quitting out of the game, pacing around my house, and returning to it again 10 minutes later for another go. No matter how annoyed I might get, it’s never difficult to come back to Dicey Dungeons, and the challenges never feel insurmountable–it’s always plausible that your next attempt could be the one where you crack it. Dicey Dungeons is a charming and often rewarding game, as long as you learn to accept that sometimes the dice won’t roll your way.

Source: GameSpot.com

Age Of Wonders: Planetfall Review

The fifth and latest in the long-running Age of Wonders series is the first to trade in the staple high fantasy setting for a sleek and shiny sci-fi theme. Despite the change of scenery, it remains true to its roots, delivering a very good hybrid between turn-based tactics and 4X strategy game that is at its best when it focuses on people–both the people you meet and the people you send to war.

4X strategy games tend to present the lands they ask their players to explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate as uninhabited. It’s common to begin a new game with a settler unit and the implicit promise that this is a world yet to be settled. It’s there for the taking. The colonialist fantasy extends to indigenous populations, if they exist at all, being treated as incidental. At best they are neutral props without any ambition of their own; at worst they are nothing more than vermin to be eradicated.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Age of Wonders: Planetfall offers a different perspective. Instead of conquering a new world, you are returning home ages after a calamity drove your ancestors away. There is still war to be had, there are still peoples to displace–this remains a 4X game in the Sid Meier tradition. But in the light narrative touch of a quest system that gives voice and purpose to everyone you meet, there are moments of reconnection and rediscovery. In a sense it becomes a 5X game, allowing you to exhume and reclaim traces of your civilization’s history.

This emphasis on archaeology is more prevalent in the surprisingly substantial campaign mode than in the randomly-rolled maps of the scenario mode. The 13 campaign missions, which let you play as all six of the game’s half-dozen factions, are peppered with scripted story beats that succeed in fleshing out the history of and relations between the various civilizations. Visit a foreign colony and you might trigger a conversation between your commander and another faction leader in which you’re asked to perform a quest to gain their favor. Later you might encounter a third faction who promises you some vital insight into your own objectives in return for betraying the friendship you recently forged.

Such choices are fraught. Each faction, even the minor indigenous ones, is busy cultivating relationships with the others, and it soon becomes clear that every new decision you make will ripple out and meaningfully affect your standing in the world.

The random scenario mode can’t rely on the scripted story of the campaign, but each procedurally generated map still supports the same dynamic quest system. One faction might task you with helping them complete some important research, while another urges you to hunt down a pack of troublesome enemies pillaging their lands. Such quests not only keep you engaged with interfactional diplomacy but also serve to provide clear motivation for exploring new areas and expanding your borders in specific directions.

Regardless of whether you opt for the campaign or a scenario, you begin with a single settlement and gradually take over adjacent sectors to secure access to their resources. You build military units to go to war or to protect your newly acquired holdings. You colonize unclaimed sectors and upgrade them to specialize in supplying your colony with food, energy, research, or production. You have to get your head around the unintuitive sci-fi names of many technologies, structures, and units, but hover the mouse over Kinetic Force Manipulation to bring up the tooltip and you quickly realize it simply means “Better Guns.”

Indeed, it’s all fairly straightforward for anyone who has played Civilization or dabbled in the strategic layer of a Total War, though sometimes it does feel like expansion decisions are not really choices at all. When faced with the prospect of expanding into one of two possible sectors, you’re always going to pick the one that receives bonus production from its quarry over the one that offers no bonuses of any kind. Occasionally you’ll have to weigh the benefits of one resource over another, but they aren’t genuine either/or choices–they’re more akin to whether you need that food-rich river sector now or whether you want it a little bit later.

Among the structures you can build with a colony, there’s also a disappointing lack of variety. Most of what you can construct are incremental upgrades that boost resource production while unique buildings, like the world wonders in Civilization, or anything that truly changes your style of play (rather than merely accelerating it) are felt only in their absence.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

More interesting decisions arrive in combat. Armies can contain up to six units and are lead by a hero unit commander. When two or more hostile armies meet on the world map, combat is resolved via a remarkably full-feature XCOM-style tactical battle. Every unit can move individually, take partial or full cover, attack in melee or at range, and call upon a number of specialized abilities. The range of options at your disposal here is dizzying.

Each unit can be outfitted with primary and secondary weapons and up to three ability mods earned through quest rewards or unlocked on the tech tree. You can apply a template to all units of the same class, so that newly recruited infantry, for example, will all have increased accuracy and healing. But if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy rolling up your sleeves to customize every single unit in your army. Adding to the complexity, hero units can learn skills that not only enhance their own abilities but confer buffs to the units they lead.

I loved having the authority to develop specialized armies. In my current game, I have one army composed of snipers led by a commander who uses mind control debuffs and a second army focused around a melee tank supported by defensive grunts who can throw down portable cover anywhere on the battlefield. The degree of customization allowed is both flexible and powerful.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

This sort of specialization matters because you can bring multiple armies into the same fight–and indeed, it becomes essential as you encounter tougher armies into the mid- and late-game. Any army on the world map that is situated adjacent to the hex where combat is initiated will be drawn into the conflict. Thus, a huge part of the tactical considerations at work here comes from maneuvering your troops to outnumber the enemy. Combat can be auto-resolved, allowing you to either watch the AI simulate the tactical battle or skip straight to the outcome, but doing so results in unnecessary losses in all but the most lopsided contests.

Overall, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a robust package for 4X players who want to test themselves against a more in-depth combat system than is typically found in the genre. It suffers a little from its sci-fi setting making things just that little bit harder to relate to than, say, actual human history, but it compensates by creating a cast of fictional alien civilizations that are worth getting to know. It might not quite feel like home at first, but you’ll quickly settle in.

Source: GameSpot.com

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot Review – Old Fashioned

With MachineGames at the helm, Wolfenstein has enjoyed a resurgence during the last couple of years. Wolfenstein has managed to captivate with its strong characters and intriguing world-building, giving you a glimpse into an alternate future where the rules are rewritten and whole new terrifying possibilities are waiting to be explored. None of this is present in the series’ first venture into VR, however. Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot isn’t just lacking the elements that make its universe intriguing, but it’s also dated by recent VR standards, with flat, unexciting action and little reason to return after one short playthrough.

Set in 1980s, Cyberpilot puts you in the shoes of a pilot working for the French Resistance at the same time as the events in Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Your piloting skills are alluring to two French hackers who have managed to smuggle away a few Nazi war machines, giving you the chance to aim these monstrosities back at their creators. If you’ve ever cursed at being mauled by a Panzerhund, Cyberpilot initially seems like a great opportunity to flip the script.

No Caption Provided

It doesn’t take long for that feeling to fade, though. Three of Cyberpilot’s four missions give you control of a new machine to pilot. The Panzerhund lets you dash towards enemies before melting them down with a mouth-mounted flamethrower, a small airborne drone makes sneaking around a Nazi bunker simple, and the more straightforward Zitadelle arms you with a high-powered machine gun and rocket launchers. Despite these varied abilities, Cyberpilot doesn’t provide interesting challenges for you to test them against. Each mission is linear and frustratingly one-note. You keep moving forward through cramped and visually bland spaces, mowing down enemies in your way and occasionally taking a breather to heal up before the next encounter. The drone mission at least tries to shake things up by pivoting from all-out action to stealthy engagements, but the unresponsive AI and cramped level design don’t allow you the satisfaction of a well-planned stealth kill.

Since you’re using machines armed with flamethrowers and unlimited rockets, combat should presumably be explosive and adrenaline-pumping. But Cyperpilot gives so little feedback to your actions that it’s difficult to feel their impact at all. Enemies, for example, make no sounds when engulfed in flames or blown back by nearby explosions, and they almost always use the same animations when dying before disappearing from sight. The devastating weapons at your disposal offer no satisfying animations and subsequent sound effects that give them a real kick, which makes action feel limp and uninteresting.

In between each mission, you can explore a multi-floored resistance bunker, using a lift to transition from a spacious loading bay to a dimly lit reception area adorned in abandoned Nazi regalia. These spaces look great and do a good job of reminding you of the imposing grip your enemies still have on European soil. Although this bleeds into the handful of missions you’re sent on, Cyberpilot doesn’t offer anything new or interesting to say about this alternative perspective on the resistance. The only other characters are your resistance handlers, who occasionally engage in some quirky banter between each other, but outside of that you’re nothing but a tool to them, and you disappointingly get no new insights into Wolfenstein’s world as a result.

These brief interludes between missions also introduce you to each new pilotable machine in intimate fashion. Before being able to remotely control them, you need to hack your way past their security, which Cyberpilot makes out to be far more complicated than it really is. While you’re being fed descriptions of intricate wiring and defensive subroutines, all you are doing is using motion controls to remove a chip from the machine in question, plugging it into a nearby monitor, and then replacing it after a brief pause. Getting to see the details of each chillingly monstrous Nazi machine up close, in VR, without fearing death is surprisingly fascinating, but there’s not much else to do during these sequences. That makes each of these forced interludes feel drawn out and unnecessary.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3

Cyberpilot can be played with either the PlayStation Move controllers or a DualShock 4, and neither is great. With a DualShock 4, combat feels more familiar. You use the thumbsticks to freely move around and rotate (either smoothly or in adjustable segments) while using motion control to aim. In this configuration, your two hands move as one, which makes activities outside of combat a chore. The PlayStation camera can only track the front-facing light from the DualShock 4, so reaching for objects on either side of you is borderline impossible in some cases.

Using the Move controllers changes that immediately, and also gives you more freedom in combat. Moving your arms independently from one another lets you bash on your special attack button and heal at the same time, which is impossible to do when you’re tethered together by a seemingly invisible set of handcuffs. As a tradeoff, movement is trickier using the Move controllers. Rotation is mapped to face buttons while lateral movement is controlled using the big, mushy PlayStation button on the face of the controller. It’s far less ideal than the DualShock 4, leaving you with a decision to make between the lesser of two evils.

There’s no reason to jump into Cyberpilot if you’re looking for another avenue to explore more of Wolfenstein’s world.

You won’t have too much time to adjust, either, given that Cyberpilot’s four missions can easily be finished in less than 90 minutes. Beyond reaching its flat ending, there’s nothing else to do to make what time you do have more engaging. There are no collectibles to find, alternative mission routes to explore, or exciting mission set pieces to replay for the thrill of it. It gives Cyberpilot a distinct tech demo feeling; since VR games have become increasingly more adept at using the hardware in unique ways, Cyberpilot feels outdated by comparison.

There’s no reason to jump into Cyberpilot if you’re looking for another avenue to explore more of Wolfenstein’s world. This straightforward shooter lacks the punch to make its action exhilarating and breaks up combat with even more repetitive and slower-paced interludes where you’ll do the bare minimum with motion controls to achieve simple and mundane repair tasks. Beyond looking striking for a VR game in some places, there’s nothing about Cyberpilot that warrants your time.

Source: GameSpot.com

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot Review – Falling Short

With MachineGames at the helm, Wolfenstein has enjoyed a resurgence during the last couple of years. Wolfenstein has managed to captivate with its strong characters and intriguing world-building, giving you a glimpse into an alternate future where the rules are rewritten and whole new terrifying possibilities are waiting to be explored. None of this is present in the series’ first venture into VR, however. Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot isn’t just lacking the elements that make its universe intriguing, but it’s also dated by recent VR standards, with flat, unexciting action and little reason to return after one short playthrough.

Set in 1980s, Cyberpilot puts you in the shoes of a pilot working for the French Resistance at the same time as the events in Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Your piloting skills are alluring to two French hackers who have managed to smuggle away a few Nazi war machines, giving you the chance to aim these monstrosities back at their creators. If you’ve ever cursed at being mauled by a Panzerhund, Cyberpilot initially seems like a great opportunity to flip the script.

No Caption Provided

It doesn’t take long for that feeling to fade, though. Three of Cyberpilot’s four missions give you control of a new machine to pilot. The Panzerhund lets you dash towards enemies before melting them down with a mouth-mounted flamethrower, a small airborne drone makes sneaking around a Nazi bunker simple, and the more straightforward Zitadelle arms you with a high-powered machine gun and rocket launchers. Despite these varied abilities, Cyberpilot doesn’t provide interesting challenges for you to test them against. Each mission is linear and frustratingly one-note. You keep moving forward through cramped and visually bland spaces, mowing down enemies in your way and occasionally taking a breather to heal up before the next encounter. The drone mission at least tries to shake things up by pivoting from all-out action to stealthy engagements, but the unresponsive AI and cramped level design don’t allow you the satisfaction of a well-planned stealth kill.

Since you’re using machines armed with flamethrowers and unlimited rockets, combat should presumably be explosive and adrenaline-pumping. But Cyperpilot gives so little feedback to your actions that it’s difficult to feel their impact at all. Enemies, for example, make no sounds when engulfed in flames or blown back by nearby explosions, and they almost always use the same animations when dying before disappearing from sight. The devastating weapons at your disposal offer no satisfying animations and subsequent sound effects that give them a real kick, which makes action feel limp and uninteresting.

In between each mission, you can explore a multi-floored resistance bunker, using a lift to transition from a spacious loading bay to a dimly lit reception area adorned in abandoned Nazi regalia. These spaces look great and do a good job of reminding you of the imposing grip your enemies still have on European soil. Although this bleeds into the handful of missions you’re sent on, Cyberpilot doesn’t offer anything new or interesting to say about this alternative perspective on the resistance. The only other characters are your resistance handlers, who occasionally engage in some quirky banter between each other, but outside of that you’re nothing but a tool to them, and you disappointingly get no new insights into Wolfenstein’s world as a result.

These brief interludes between missions also introduce you to each new pilotable machine in intimate fashion. Before being able to remotely control them, you need to hack your way past their security, which Cyberpilot makes out to be far more complicated than it really is. While you’re being fed descriptions of intricate wiring and defensive subroutines, all you are doing is using motion controls to remove a chip from the machine in question, plugging it into a nearby monitor, and then replacing it after a brief pause. Getting to see the details of each chillingly monstrous Nazi machine up close, in VR, without fearing death is surprisingly fascinating, but there’s not much else to do during these sequences. That makes each of these forced interludes feel drawn out and unnecessary.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3

Cyberpilot can be played with either the PlayStation Move controllers or a DualShock 4, and neither is great. With a DualShock 4, combat feels more familiar. You use the thumbsticks to freely move around and rotate (either smoothly or in adjustable segments) while using motion control to aim. In this configuration, your two hands move as one, which makes activities outside of combat a chore. The PlayStation camera can only track the front-facing light from the DualShock 4, so reaching for objects on either side of you is borderline impossible in some cases.

Using the Move controllers changes that immediately, and also gives you more freedom in combat. Moving your arms independently from one another lets you bash on your special attack button and heal at the same time, which is impossible to do when you’re tethered together by a seemingly invisible set of handcuffs. As a tradeoff, movement is trickier using the Move controllers. Rotation is mapped to face buttons while lateral movement is controlled using the big, mushy PlayStation button on the face of the controller. It’s far less ideal than the DualShock 4, leaving you with a decision to make between the lesser of two evils.

There’s no reason to jump into Cyberpilot if you’re looking for another avenue to explore more of Wolfenstein’s world.

You won’t have too much time to adjust, either, given that Cyberpilot’s four missions can easily be finished in less than 90 minutes. Beyond reaching its flat ending, there’s nothing else to do to make what time you do have more engaging. There are no collectibles to find, alternative mission routes to explore, or exciting mission set pieces to replay for the thrill of it. It gives Cyberpilot a distinct tech demo feeling; since VR games have become increasingly more adept at using the hardware in unique ways, Cyberpilot feels outdated by comparison.

There’s no reason to jump into Cyberpilot if you’re looking for another avenue to explore more of Wolfenstein’s world. This straightforward shooter lacks the punch to make its action exhilarating and breaks up combat with even more repetitive and slower-paced interludes where you’ll do the bare minimum with motion controls to achieve simple and mundane repair tasks. Beyond looking striking for a VR game in some places, there’s nothing about Cyberpilot that warrants your time.

Source: GameSpot.com

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden Review – Nintendo Switch And Seeds Of Evil Update

Mutant Year Zero took me by surprise. When you tap the space bar to switch from the real-time exploration mode to the turn-based tactical mode, it’s not considered activating combat. You’re not entering into battle. The word “Fight!” doesn’t leap out of the centre of the screen. Instead, the space bar is labeled “Ambush” and, while pressing it does indeed initiate a turn-based XCOM-style encounter, the semantics make all the difference.

Road to Eden is all about using stealth to thoroughly scout dangers ahead, then applying that knowledge to maneuver your squad into position for the perfect ambush. Do your research and plan well, and you can take out your target without them (or their cohorts) even realizing what has happened. Proceed without caution and you’ll soon be bleeding out, your impatience severely punished. Approached properly, Mutant Year Zero isn’t a difficult game; it’s a tight, cohesive tactical masterclass that rewards the diligent player.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Road to Eden depicts a post-apocalyptic Scandinavia where resources are scarce and knowledge of what the world used to be is even harder to come by. Stalkers are sent from the Ark, one of the few remaining hubs of human civilization, into the Zone to scavenge for scrap and fend off the bandits, ghouls, feral dogs and worse that now occupy the ruined towns and suburbs. Everyone, even those safe in the Ark, has been touched by mutation. But Dux and Bormin, the two starting playable stalkers, are different; they’re mutated animals, a duck and a boar, respectively.

At first glance, there’s a lot you can do to customize each stalker and gear them up to specialize in certain fields, letting you mix and match your active squad based on the task at hand. The limited number of weapons and sheer expense of upgrades means you’re forced to make tough choices. Should you spend literally all your weapon parts on the close-quarters effectiveness of Bormin’s scattergun, or are you better served improving the ranged potency of Dux’s crossbow? You can only afford one right now and, since there’s no capacity for grinding, it may be some time before you can afford the other.

Sometimes the decisions are easier. Up against robots? You’ll want at least one stalker, probably two, with an effective EMP attack. Up against dogs? You’ll want at least one stalker, probably two, with crowd control abilities to prevent their melee rush. If you’ve done your scouting properly, you’ll know what’s coming and know which stalkers to swap in and out before you tap that spacebar. But don’t tap that spacebar just yet. You’re not quite ready.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

The Zone is divided into a couple dozen maps networked across southwest Sweden. They’re not especially large–bigger than an XCOM map, but hardly sprawling–and typically centered on an identifiable feature: a scrapyard, a school, a subway station, a fast food restaurant, and so on. When you first enter an area you’re in exploration mode and free to walk around in real time. When you spot an enemy you can enter stealth mode by switching off your flashlight, thus slightly reducing your visibility but also greatly reducing the distance at which the enemy will spot you. You’re still moving around in real time, just slower and more discreetly.

The tension is ratcheted up during this pre-combat exploration phase, as you’re tip-toeing into hostile territory, identifying how many enemies await you, what types they are, what levels they are, whether they’re patrolling, where those patrol routes take them, where their vision cones intersect, and so on. You’ve noticed one enemy’s patrol route takes him away from the others. You hit F to split up your party and guide them individually into position. Bormin has his back to a tree, Dux is on the roof of a nearby building, and Selma is crouched behind a rock at the end of the unsuspecting enemy’s patrol route. He’s there now. Time to hit the spacebar.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

It’s all about the ambush. It’s about analyzing each scenario in the exploration phase and identifying which enemies you can eliminate, one by one, without alerting others. But pulling off a series of clean hits isn’t always possible. Inevitably something will go wrong–you’ll miss that 75% chance shot you were counting on or fail to do quite enough damage before the enemy gets its turn and calls out for reinforcements–and suddenly the whole area is on alert and you’re scrambling to improvise a new plan. In these moments of high chaos, when the rug is pulled out from under you, this is where the game really shines.

The tactical combat engine borrows a lot from Firaxis’ revival of XCOM and offers as much depth alongside a presentation that ensures all critical information is clearly communicated at all times. And you need to be well-informed, because most of the time–outside of the odd simple skirmish that introduces a new element–there’s an awful lot to think about. Enemy variety is key; there are basic brutes who charge you in melee, snipers who hunker down on overwatch, shamen who can call in reinforcements, and medbots who can revive enemies, pyros who flush you out with molotovs, and that’s just the early stages. Later, there are high-HP tanks who can ram your cover, priests who can buff fellow enemies or deliver chain lightning attacks, giant dogs who can knock you over and maul you for multiple turns, while others possess mind control powers and more. Tackling groups of enemies drawn from several of these types can be hugely challenging, even when you’ve culled their numbers with some decisive early stealth takedowns.

The stakes are high, especially on the harder difficulty settings. Your stalkers’ health will be measured in single and low-double digits for much of the game, meaning it only takes a couple of direct hits to put them down. Similarly, your weapons can only fire once, twice, or if you’re lucky, three times before you need to use up valuable action points to reload. These limited resources echo the post-apocalyptic themes of scarcity and survival while also raising moment-to-moment tactical considerations in combat.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Juggling all the demands of combat, from patiently surveying the field beforehand through to learning how to best counter each enemy type and improvising a new strategy when it all goes horribly wrong, make for an immensely satisfying tactical experience. But as enjoyable as the predefined encounters on offer over the course of Road to Eden’s mostly linear story are, it’s still a linear story. On a new playthrough, that same map will still feature the same enemies standing in the same spots or running the same patrol routes. Outside of testing yourself against the hardest difficulty and a permadeath mode (assuming you don’t opt for these first time through), there’s not a lot of replay value to be found.

It’s a shame, because the combat engine is so robust I would love to continue pitting myself against some sort of randomly generated map long after completing the main story. Mutant Year Zero’s clever focus on stealth and pre-combat preparation reward your diligence, its turn-based combat encounters are complex, and they help bolster its all-encompassing post-apocalyptic atmosphere. It is a superb tactical combat campaign that you shouldn’t let sneak past.

[Update, 08/01/2019: Mutant Year Zero: Deluxe Edition is now out on Nintendo Switch, and it includes new expansion, Seeds Of Evil. While this version runs smoothly, it exhibits poor visual fidelity compared to its console and PC counterparts. Whether in handheld or docked mode, a low resolution and blurry overall look reduce the luster of post-apocalyptic Sweden. It also makes scavenging areas for scrap and weapon parts–essential to keeping your Stalkers well-equipped, and already difficult items to spot–a lot harder.

The Seeds Of Evil expansion, also available on other platforms, expands the game’s story past the somewhat abrupt ending of Road To Eden. Additional map areas and new enemy archetypes introduce challenging new scenarios; a new character, additional weapons, and upgraded perks give you more options to consider as you plan your ambushes. Seeds of Evil also adds a system that will occasionally repopulate existing map areas with enemies and items, which effectively adds a continual stream of optional encounters and mitigates the base game’s issues with replayability. These new additions feel like a natural continuation the game’s already robust tactical offering, both in terms of its plot and difficulty scaling, and comes recommended.]

Source: GameSpot.com

Madden NFL 20 Review – Some Stumbles, No Fumbles

Continuing the Madden franchise’s recent tradition of story modes, Madden NFL 20 introduces a new narrative campaign. This new mode generally falls flat, but the pro football sim stands out on the field, with new additions that faithfully capture the essence of the NFL experience while making it fun to play again and again.

The new story mode, QB1: Face of the Franchise, replaces the Longshot story mode that was featured in Madden 18 and 19. Unlike those campaigns, which featured a pre-set character, Madden 20’s QB1 mode lets you create an entirely unique football star and guide him through the final stages of his collegiate career with the hopes of making an NFL starting roster, and, on a longer timeline, complete a journey to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the Super Bowl.

QB1’s story picks up as you decide which college to attend and play for. However, the college football elements within Madden 20 are not anything significant. You select a school from 10 options, including heavyweights like Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, and Clemson. It’s a treat to see fully licensed college football teams, complete with true-to-life jerseys, logos, stadiums, and marching band songs, but the gameplay experience in reality is limited to two games in the College Football Playoffs–and you can’t play the college teams in quickplay later on.

After winning the National Championship against all odds, you’re off to the NFL Combine where your performance in front of scouts and GMs determines how high you go in the draft. There are some genuinely funny moments here with your aloof agent Les Moore, and interactions with him are some of the best character moments in the story mode. After making it to the NFL, the game then disappointingly becomes the standard Franchise mode, except your character has more backstory that acts as fuel to drive you to succeed on the field. That’s the idea, at least; in practice, it leaves much to be desired.

In part, that’s because QB1’s cinematic cutscenes and Telltale-style choices end once you get to the NFL. At that point, the narrative beats play out through text messages you receive from fans and other players from around the league. This delivery method makes conversations awkward and ultimately forgettable. There is one storyline in particular involving a sick child rooting for you that falls flat; it tries too hard to tug on your heartstrings, moody piano pieces and all, without earning any payoff. Without giving too much away, another major storyline in QB1 involves your college teammate and friend, and it ends abruptly, with the strong suggestion that the story will continue in Madden NFL 21. That’s too bad, because this character, in the limited screen time he gets, is far more interesting than the cookie-cutter, run-of-the-mill one you create.

In general, QB1 moves at such a fast pace that it doesn’t allow for thoughtful character development. Not only that, but the story that QB1 does tell is hokey and clumsily unraveled. The story overall feels barebones and incomplete, with the entirety of the QB1 mode feeling like a half-baked idea in the end.

No Caption Provided

Despite the lackluster story and the way it’s delivered, QB1 succeeds in connecting you to your on-field performance and inspiring you to improve or play differently each week once you’ve made it to the NFL. The text message system, while not the best avenue for full conversation, is better utilized in delivering week-to-week objectives and challenges. You can complete these to earn XP, which you can then invest into your character in an RPG-lite-like system where you choose which aspects of your game you want to develop.

As an example, I responded with some trash talk against one of the league’s best cornerbacks, Richard Sherman, and my Game Day Goal, as it’s called, was to achieve 400 yards or more of offense and a 60-yard pass–not an easy task with Sherman in the backfield. The system is dynamic and responsive to what happens on the field week-to-week, and this is a nice touch that provides a further level of connection to your character and their status in the league.

Madden 20’s standard Franchise mode, which is separate from the QB1 mode, gets a welcome update this year. Its implementation of the new Scenario Engine, which lets you interact with players and coaches through the aforementioned text-message system, is the best new feature for Franchise. Like with QB1, having weekly objectives that you decide on is a compelling way to keep you interested and engaged in a 16+ week season that can otherwise get monotonous and repetitive. However, Franchise mode overall doesn’t get any other significant or meaningful updates this year, which might be a bummer for seasoned players wanting more.

No Caption Provided

Perhaps the biggest and most exciting change for Madden 20 are the new X-Factor and Superstar abilities. 50 of the league’s best players have been given these super abilities, and they revamp the fundamentals of Madden playmaking. X-Factor abilities are unlocked when you meet the qualifications to get “in the zone”–for some QBs, it’s throwing for 5 or more yards in the air multiple times without making a mistake–while Superstar abilities are passive traits tied to your player that are always active.

The new X-Factor abilities are truly game-changers, and they further emphasize the distinction between the average NFL player and elite athletes. For example, the Gambler X-Factor ability–which only Aaron Rodgers has–makes it impossible for AI defenders to intercept his passes. Similarly powerful X-Factor abilities are available for defenders as well, and that helps balance things out. Not only that, but X-Factor abilities can be lost quickly; a QB who takes a sack is immediately out of the zone, while dropped passes and fumbles also cancel out these abilities.

These abilities, when combined with an elite player like Madden 20 cover star Patrick Mahomes (who has incredible baseline stats to begin with), become overly powerful in some instances. Mahomes’ unique passive Superstar abilities give him immense speed and dexterity out of the pocket, on top of his already powerful and accurate arm. When teammate Travis Kelce unlocks his own X-Factor ability (which gives him a guaranteed aggressive catch on any single-man coverage), it becomes simply too easy to complete big plays down the field.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Outside of that issue, the new X-Factor and Superstar abilities introduce a level of strategy that the Madden series has never seen. I found myself often weighing up whether I should pursue the X-Factor qualification conditions or choose lower-risk plays that are more likely to be successful. At pivotal stages, like in the fourth quarter or in a third-and-long situation, this level of risk/reward is heightened. Not only that, but with 50 X-Factor abilities spread across players on the 32 NFL teams, it encourages you to try new teams and strategies.

Importantly, X-Factor abilities do not feel gimmicky or too overpowerful for the most part as they’re difficult to unlock and have numerous counters. Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots, for example, has an X-Factor ability called Acrobat that allows him to perform a diving move where he makes an incredible pass breakup. Some pass-rushers, too, including Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, can shred the defense and break the O-Line easily to sack the quarterback for a big loss. The saying “any given Sunday” is truer than ever in Madden 20 thanks to the X-Factor abilities.

Overall, the on-field action in Madden this year is better than ever. The game provides more on-screen info than last year’s iteration, making it easier to see things like decision-making specifics (such as average yards-per-play or yards given up) and which elite offensive and defensive players have X-Factor and Superstar abilities. This makes for an easy way to help you see the odds of having success with a play before the snap. The playbook menus (and menus overall, for that matter) are cleaned up and brighter, which helps you see important information at a glance.

Also new this year are Run-Pass Options added to playbooks. These hybrid plays provide yet another way for play-callers to mix things up and keep defenders guessing. There are also numerous player-specific animations, including Aaron Rodgers’ signature quick release and Patrick Mahomes’ sidearm throw. This all works together to make Madden 20 closer than ever to replicating the look and feel of actual pro football. Nothing in the updated gameplay mechanics for Madden 20 is as substantial as the introduction of Real Player Motion from last year, but the controls in Madden are as good as they’ve ever been thanks to further refinement on last year’s improvements and the introduction of some welcome tweaks and small changes. A subtle gameplay change for 2019 is that you can double press the receiver icon to pump fake; this small change makes it easier than ever to trick a defender into biting on a pass route, providing yet another level of depth and control.

The core fundamentals that underpin Madden 20’s gameplay feel more solid and dependable than ever. Mistakes like poor passes, missed tackles, and bad decision-making are yours and yours alone to own because the controls rarely, if ever, let you down.

Also notable for Madden 20 is what’s (generally) not there: bugs. After many hours with the game, I only experienced a handful of minor glitches, though your mileage may vary, and it’s worth noting that you can continue to expect other oddities like out-of-place commentary and some sideline players executing the same animations all the time. I also experienced what felt like an unusually high number of facemask calls and injuries.

No Caption Provided

Now in its third year using EA’s Frostbite engine, Madden 20 also looks very good with its better-looking player models that have richer detail and more realistic flourishes (except for Greg Olsen; what happened there?). The Madden 20 game engine also provides gorgeous environmental effects like glistening sun rays peeking through the clouds and casting shadows on the field and snow effects that limit your vision and force you to suggest playing more conservatively to accommodate for the wintry conditions.

The commentary team composed of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis also return in Madden 20, and they are consistently a treat to listen to. Despite some lines being repeated from time to time (how many times do we have to hear that Julian Edelman was a quarterback in college or that Tom Brady was initially drafted to play baseball?), the pair deliver the right mixture of lines that keep you informed and engaged in equal measure. Madden 20’s overall broadcast, presentation, and gameplay packages aim to replicate the real-life NFL experience, but it continues to be a shame that the voicelines–at least all the ones I heard in over 20 hours with Madden 20–do not comment on real-world NFL issues. As with previous years, the commentary will be updated regularly throughout the season.

Among Madden 20’s other modes is the fantasy team-building card-based Ultimate Team, and this continues to be the game’s richest when it comes to the sheer multitude of challenges to complete. It remains a thrill to build a fantasy team and compete either against other fantasy AI teams or the world at large through online play.

No Caption Provided

A subtle yet enjoyable change for MUT this year is how you can move from one challenge to the next without returning to the menu screen, which is great considering how many there are to complete. There is also a new “Mission” system that helps you select the right challenges to complete in order to acquire items for your deck. In years past, MUT could feel like a hard-to-parse system that you slogged through waywardly, but the new system gives you more direction, and as such it is more respectful of your time.

Ultimate Team does have issues with microtransactions, however. At the very start, the tutorial instructs you to visit the store where you can make real-money purchases, which feels like an unnecessary nudge toward spending extra. As with past iterations of MUT, it can feel like a grind to get the cards you want, which in turn encourages you to consider spending money on microtransactions when you otherwise might not. That rubbed me the wrong way, but MUT overall is still an enjoyable and engaging mode that I expect to return to again and again.

Madden NFL 20 is an improved version of the annualized professional football series that excels in some areas and leaves something to be desired in others. The new QB1 career mode–which includes a barebones NCAA football experience–overall feels like a half-baked idea that doesn’t deliver anything meaningful or interesting. When it comes to the on-the-field action, however, the new X-Factor and Superstar abilities shake up the familiar gameplay formula to give seasoned players and newcomers alike a fresh way to scheme plays and orchestrate strategy on both sides of the ball.

Source: GameSpot.com

Madden NFL 20 Review – Big Play

Continuing the Madden franchise’s recent tradition of story modes, Madden NFL 20 introduces a new narrative campaign. This new mode generally falls flat, but the pro football sim stands out on the field, with new additions that faithfully capture the essence of the NFL experience while making it fun to play again and again.

The new story mode, QB1: Face of the Franchise, replaces the Longshot story mode that was featured in Madden 18 and 19. Unlike those campaigns, which featured a pre-set character, Madden 20’s QB1 mode lets you create an entirely unique football star and guide him through the final stages of his collegiate career with the hopes of making an NFL starting roster, and, on a longer timeline, complete a journey to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the Super Bowl.

QB1’s story picks up as you decide which college to attend and play for. However, the college football elements within Madden 20 are not anything significant. You select a school from 10 options, including heavyweights like Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, and Clemson. It’s a treat to see fully licensed college football teams, complete with true-to-life jerseys, logos, stadiums, and marching band songs, but the gameplay experience in reality is limited to two games in the College Football Playoffs–and you can’t play the college teams in quickplay later on.

After winning the National Championship against all odds, you’re off to the NFL Combine where your performance in front of scouts and GMs determines how high you go in the draft. There are some genuinely funny moments here with your aloof agent Les Moore, and interactions with him are some of the best character moments in the story mode. After making it to the NFL, the game then disappointingly becomes the standard Franchise mode, except your character has more backstory that acts as fuel to drive you to succeed on the field. That’s the idea, at least; in practice, it leaves much to be desired.

In part, that’s because QB1’s cinematic cutscenes and Telltale-style choices end once you get to the NFL. At that point, the narrative beats play out through text messages you receive from fans and other players from around the league. This delivery method makes conversations awkward and ultimately forgettable. There is one storyline in particular involving a sick child rooting for you that falls flat; it tries too hard to tug on your heartstrings, moody piano pieces and all, without earning any payoff. Without giving too much away, another major storyline in QB1 involves your college teammate and friend, and it ends abruptly, with the strong suggestion that the story will continue in Madden NFL 21. That’s too bad, because this character, in the limited screen time he gets, is far more interesting than the cookie-cutter, run-of-the-mill one you create.

In general, QB1 moves at such a fast pace that it doesn’t allow for thoughtful character development. Not only that, but the story that QB1 does tell is hokey and clumsily unraveled. The story overall feels barebones and incomplete, with the entirety of the QB1 mode feeling like a half-baked idea in the end.

No Caption Provided

Despite the lackluster story and the way it’s delivered, QB1 succeeds in connecting you to your on-field performance and inspiring you to improve or play differently each week once you’ve made it to the NFL. The text message system, while not the best avenue for full conversation, is better utilized in delivering week-to-week objectives and challenges. You can complete these to earn XP, which you can then invest into your character in an RPG-lite-like system where you choose which aspects of your game you want to develop.

As an example, I responded with some trash talk against one of the league’s best cornerbacks, Richard Sherman, and my Game Day Goal, as it’s called, was to achieve 400 yards or more of offense and a 60-yard pass–not an easy task with Sherman in the backfield. The system is dynamic and responsive to what happens on the field week-to-week, and this is a nice touch that provides a further level of connection to your character and their status in the league.

Madden 20’s standard Franchise mode, which is separate from the QB1 mode, gets a welcome update this year. Its implementation of the new Scenario Engine, which lets you interact with players and coaches through the aforementioned text-message system, is the best new feature for Franchise. Like with QB1, having weekly objectives that you decide on is a compelling way to keep you interested and engaged in a 16+ week season that can otherwise get monotonous and repetitive. However, Franchise mode overall doesn’t get any other significant or meaningful updates this year, which might be a bummer for seasoned players wanting more.

No Caption Provided

Perhaps the biggest and most exciting change for Madden 20 are the new X-Factor and Superstar abilities. 50 of the league’s best players have been given these super abilities, and they revamp the fundamentals of Madden playmaking. X-Factor abilities are unlocked when you meet the qualifications to get “in the zone”–for some QBs, it’s throwing for 5 or more yards in the air multiple times without making a mistake–while Superstar abilities are passive traits tied to your player that are always active.

The new X-Factor abilities are truly game-changers, and they further emphasize the distinction between the average NFL player and elite athletes. For example, the Gambler X-Factor ability–which only Aaron Rodgers has–makes it impossible for AI defenders to intercept his passes. Similarly powerful X-Factor abilities are available for defenders as well, and that helps balance things out. Not only that, but X-Factor abilities can be lost quickly; a QB who takes a sack is immediately out of the zone, while dropped passes and fumbles also cancel out these abilities.

These abilities, when combined with an elite player like Madden 20 cover star Patrick Mahomes (who has incredible baseline stats to begin with), become overly powerful in some instances. Mahomes’ unique passive Superstar abilities give him immense speed and dexterity out of the pocket, on top of his already powerful and accurate arm. When teammate Travis Kelce unlocks his own X-Factor ability (which gives him a guaranteed aggressive catch on any single-man coverage), it becomes simply too easy to complete big plays down the field.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Outside of that issue, the new X-Factor and Superstar abilities introduce a level of strategy that the Madden series has never seen. I found myself often weighing up whether I should pursue the X-Factor qualification conditions or choose lower-risk plays that are more likely to be successful. At pivotal stages, like in the fourth quarter or in a third-and-long situation, this level of risk/reward is heightened. Not only that, but with 50 X-Factor abilities spread across players on the 32 NFL teams, it encourages you to try new teams and strategies.

Importantly, X-Factor abilities do not feel gimmicky or too overpowerful for the most part as they’re difficult to unlock and have numerous counters. Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots, for example, has an X-Factor ability called Acrobat that allows him to perform a diving move where he makes an incredible pass breakup. Some pass-rushers, too, including Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, can shred the defense and break the O-Line easily to sack the quarterback for a big loss. The saying “any given Sunday” is truer than ever in Madden 20 thanks to the X-Factor abilities.

Overall, the on-field action in Madden this year is better than ever. The game provides more on-screen info than last year’s iteration, making it easier to see things like decision-making specifics (such as average yards-per-play or yards given up) and which elite offensive and defensive players have X-Factor and Superstar abilities. This makes for an easy way to help you see the odds of having success with a play before the snap. The playbook menus (and menus overall, for that matter) are cleaned up and brighter, which helps you see important information at a glance.

Also new this year are Run-Pass Options added to playbooks. These hybrid plays provide yet another way for play-callers to mix things up and keep defenders guessing. There are also numerous player-specific animations, including Aaron Rodgers’ signature quick release and Patrick Mahomes’ sidearm throw. This all works together to make Madden 20 closer than ever to replicating the look and feel of actual pro football. Nothing in the updated gameplay mechanics for Madden 20 is as substantial as the introduction of Real Player Motion from last year, but the controls in Madden are as good as they’ve ever been thanks to further refinement on last year’s improvements and the introduction of some welcome tweaks and small changes. A subtle gameplay change for 2019 is that you can double press the receiver icon to pump fake; this small change makes it easier than ever to trick a defender into biting on a pass route, providing yet another level of depth and control.

The core fundamentals that underpin Madden 20’s gameplay feel more solid and dependable than ever. Mistakes like poor passes, missed tackles, and bad decision-making are yours and yours alone to own because the controls rarely, if ever, let you down.

Also notable for Madden 20 is what’s (generally) not there: bugs. After many hours with the game, I only experienced a handful of minor glitches, though your mileage may vary, and it’s worth noting that you can continue to expect other oddities like out-of-place commentary and some sideline players executing the same animations all the time. I also experienced what felt like an unusually high number of facemask calls and injuries.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided

Now in its third year using EA’s Frostbite engine, Madden 20 also looks very good with its better-looking player models that have richer detail and more realistic flourishes (except for Greg Olsen; what happened there?). The Madden 20 game engine also provides gorgeous environmental effects like glistening sun rays peeking through the clouds and casting shadows on the field and snow effects that limit your vision and force you to suggest playing more conservatively to accommodate for the wintry conditions.

The commentary team composed of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis also return in Madden 20, and they are consistently a treat to listen to. Despite some lines being repeated from time to time (how many times do we have to hear that Julian Edelman was a quarterback in college or that Tom Brady was initially drafted to play baseball?), the pair deliver the right mixture of lines that keep you informed and engaged in equal measure. Madden 20’s overall broadcast, presentation, and gameplay packages aim to replicate the real-life NFL experience, but it continues to be a shame that the voicelines–at least all the ones I heard in over 20 hours with Madden 20–do not comment on real-world NFL issues. As with previous years, the commentary will be updated regularly throughout the season.

Among Madden 20’s other modes is the fantasy team-building card-based Ultimate Team, and this continues to be the game’s richest when it comes to the sheer multitude of challenges to complete. It remains a thrill to build a fantasy team and compete either against other fantasy AI teams or the world at large through online play.

No Caption ProvidedNo Caption Provided

A subtle yet enjoyable change for MUT this year is how you can move from one challenge to the next without returning to the menu screen, which is great considering how many there are to complete. There is also a new “Mission” system that helps you select the right challenges to complete in order to acquire items for your deck. In years past, MUT could feel like a hard-to-parse system that you slogged through waywardly, but the new system gives you more direction, and as such it is more respectful of your time.

Ultimate Team does have issues with microtransactions, however. At the very start, the tutorial instructs you to visit the store where you can make real-money purchases, which feels like an unnecessary nudge toward spending extra. As with past iterations of MUT, it can feel like a grind to get the cards you want, which in turn encourages you to consider spending money on microtransactions when you otherwise might not. That rubbed me the wrong way, but MUT overall is still an enjoyable and engaging mode that I expect to return to again and again.

Madden NFL 20 is an improved version of the annualized professional football series that excels in some areas and leaves something to be desired in others. The new QB1 career mode–which includes a barebones NCAA football experience–overall feels like a half-baked idea that doesn’t deliver anything meaningful or interesting. When it comes to the on-the-field action, however, the new X-Factor and Superstar abilities shake up the familiar gameplay formula to give seasoned players and newcomers alike a fresh way to scheme plays and orchestrate strategy on both sides of the ball.

Source: GameSpot.com

Sky: Children Of The Light Review – Flying Free

When you start up Sky: Children of the Light, numerous messages shoot across the screen as it loads. Messages informing you of server connections, the reception of in-game currencies, and the like are commonplace for games with an online focus, but there’s one short message that feels uniquely descriptive to thatgamecompany’s fourth title: “Finding new friends.” It’s just a simple notification that you’re being connected to other players in this intimately connected universe, but it’s also a strong message of what Sky is really about. Although it mimics many gameplay elements from Journey, it’s Sky’s evolution of those ideas that makes it a fascinating multiplayer experiment with deeply meditative qualities.

Playing Sky is incredibly similar to Journey. You control a robed figure, recognizable as a small child, and navigate a series of small environments connected only by the constellations in the stars they share above. Sky keeps things simple by tasking you with navigating its environments and holding down a single button to soar into the air and take flight. Flight is central to Sky’s otherwise simple mechanics, letting you execute gorgeous maneuvers through the clouds or delicately glide between the remains of mysterious ruins. Expressive yet subtle animations make each movement in the air feel delightful, even though you’re doing little more than controlling your direction. Swooping down into the clouds only to tilt upwards at the last minute is rewarded with a cute pirouette, for example, letting the wind engulf your robe and accurately shape it in the wind.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Flight isn’t free in Sky. Flying draws light from your robe, which limits how much aerial freedom you have. Light is collected from any light source you come across, and it’s your job to spread it around in turn. You ferry around light with candles, using them to spread fire to unlit lanterns and shrines. You can also use light to burn away corrupted vegetation or scare dangerous wildlife that will attack you in the dark. Glowing, faceless children are scattered around each new area you explore, bestowing you with wings that help you upgrade the amount of light you can store at a time, in turn letting you fly longer. You can lose wings when you’re carrying no light and take damage from enemies or environmental hazards, though you can easily pick them up again. Sky doesn’t feel punishing at any point, but it does use these gentle nudges to remind you of how great it feels to have a bounty of flight at your fingertips and what it might feel like to lose it again.

Collecting light is beneficial to getting around, which in turn lets you discover lost spirits that govern the central progression in Sky. Each area has a star constellation that you slowly complete by saving lost spirits and returning them to the skies above. Most of these are simple exploration puzzles. By diligently poking around, you find blue outlines of long-forgotten beings, each creating a breadcrumb trail to follow that tells a short story of the spirit it’s leading to. These are moments frozen in time, telling vague stories that can come across as anything from humorous to tragic. It’s cheerful to see a skit of two clumsy beings attempting to move objects far bigger than them from one room to another, and equally sober to witness another in anguish, mourning a painful loss. Sky’s story is intentionally vague so that you fill in the blanks, interpreting what purpose light serves in its world and why its sacrifice is meaningful.

Sky is entirely playable alone, and you’re not required to find any fixed number of its spirits to finish it. But it’s also a game with a big emphasis on sharing your experience with strangers. You aren’t a unique figure in its world, and certainly not the only one carrying light to its eventual end. Instead, your journey is consistently filled with other players, each on their own adventure that you can choose to partake in for just a moment or two. You can contribute in small ways. A passing player might hold out their candle for you to light, letting you replenish their light in turn if you choose to. To befriend another player, you need to share a candle with them, permanently linking you two and adding them to your friends list (which is suitably represented by a growing constellation). You never see these players’ names; instead, you name them based on your interactions with them. It feels like meeting someone new for the first time, but not immediately being able to speak to them. You can use taps to let out audio pings that help gather other players around you, but you’re also able to take a seat on a bench, wait for another player to sit next to you, and engage in a more direct, text-based conversation if you choose.

The most interesting way to interact with other players is with emotes, which are unlocked with each new spirit that you free. You can use these emotes to express yourself to other players, with anything from a simple wave or a point in a direction to more intimate displays of friendly affection, like hugs. There are also separate emotes and actions you can unlock by increasing your friendship with other players. By rewarding each other with consumable candles, you’ll unlock unique abilities (which can also only be used between you two) that can change the way you navigate through each area. My personal favorite was the ability to form long chains of players by holding hands, with one player guiding the group to new places while using everyone’s collective light to fuel the flight. This also helps new players see areas they might not yet possess the ability to reach, granting Sky a cooperative nature that’s remarkably easy to engage with.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

This simplicity helps some of Sky’s more demanding puzzles, where cooperation between multiple players–anything between a single pair to a full group of eight–is required. Some doors, for example, require two players to light urns at the same time to open. Other more demanding challenges task up to eight players to gather around an octagon and light old runes in a specific order. Although these challenges are rarely hard to decipher, and finding enough players to participate with was never an issue in my time with the game, simply trying to get everyone to alight in more group-focused tasks was slightly frustrating. Since none of these puzzles are required to continue through Sky, they’re easy to overlook.

Sky weaves its focus on forming friendships into its microtransaction model, too, which changes the rules of what you’ve come to expect from these systems in a big way. Hearts are used to purchase cosmetic items, but you can’t buy them outright. Instead, you can purchase candles (which you can also get in-game) which can then be packaged and sent to a friend as a heart. This is the only way to earn hearts, meaning you’ll need to depend on the gracious gifts of friends you’ve made in Sky to kit yourself out in some fancy new clothing. There are also options to purchase seasonal passes that unlock more straightforward daily quests and a few pieces of exclusive clothing, but for the most part you’ll be focused on forming new bonds with strangers and exchanging gifts with them frequently if you’re invested in standing out from everyone else visually.

Your first flights through a temple in the sky or the hurried dash you need to make between awnings of large mushrooms in a rain-soaked forest are delightful.

This means that you’ll likely be playing Sky well after the credits have rolled on your initial playthrough, which can take anywhere between four to six hours. You can collect any outstanding spirits you likely missed, especially since some aren’t even accessible without having played later areas in the game. You also need to reacquire your wings for flight again, due to story reasons you learn about during the finale. All of this means that you’ll be revisiting many areas you’ve already soared through at least once before, which can remove some of the splendor you experienced the first time around. This is especially true when you’re breaking from their intended flow to poke around the environment in search of small crevices you missed the first time. This feels like it goes against the natural harmony of Sky’s intended path, signposted with simple nudges that point you in the right direction. When you’re solely focusing on completion, Sky just isn’t as compelling.

Yet, there’s a meditative quality to return visits when you’re simply looking for a brief escape. Your first flights through a temple in the sky or the hurried dash you need to make between awnings of large mushrooms in a rain-soaked forest are delightful the first time around. Their mixtures of stunningly detailed environments and suitable stirring music are impactful, and less so when you’re running around in circles trying to see if there was a small crevice you forgot to explore.

Sky is both different to everything thatgamecompany has made before but also a smart evolution of what makes its games special. It’s simple to play while feeling incredible at the same time, making the act of flight exciting every time your feet leave the ground. It also features a fascinating spin on in-game purchases, locking its most alluring rewards behind the action of making friends and making a positive enough impression on them. That means you have to play a lot of Sky to eventually work towards what you want, which saps some life out of the gorgeous vignettes you’re free to explore. But it’s no less memorable for the ideas it presents or calming in the way it gives you the freedom to pursue them, making it another journey worth seeing through.

Source: GameSpot.com

Wolfenstein: Youngblood Nintendo Switch Review

From front to back, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is very much the same game on the Nintendo Switch as it is on other consoles and PC. You’ll get the bombastic combat scenarios where you’ll tear through Nazi trash as the charismatic, dynamic duo of Jess and Soph Blazkowicz, twin daughters of series hero BJ Blazkowicz. And you have the opportunity to play it all alongside a friend. The portable nature of the Nintendo Switch makes this an even more enticing prospect, but the platform’s limited hardware hurts the game’s best parts; low frame rates and muddy visuals make the action harder to enjoy. While these issues are not prohibitive, they do make the Switch version the weakest of the bunch.

Youngblood is a bite-sized spin-off that jumps ahead in Wolfenstein’s timeline by taking you to the 1980s, almost 20 years after the events of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. You see an older Anya and BJ teaching their twin daughters Jess and Soph the means of survival, just before BJ goes missing. With the help of Abby, daughter of Grace Walker from The New Colossus, you’re able to track him down in Nazi-occupied France, particularly Neu-Paris.

Not long after the introductory mission do you see how Youngblood breaks off from the traditional Wolfenstein structure; Neu-Paris acts as a group of separate hub areas where most of the action takes place. Many of the side quests and random events in these areas feel more like filler and will eventually have you running through familiar areas frequently. If anything, it’s at least a means of familiarizing yourself with the intricacies of the Dishonored-influenced districts. Main missions branch off from the hub areas, and in these missions are where you’ll find the relentless, challenging firefights that keep up a satisfying momentum. This is where Youngblood truly shines on the PC version, however, due to the Switch’s technical limitations, it doesn’t quite hit the same highs. [Read our PC review for our full thoughts.]

Overall, technical performance hampers some of the great FPS action as it makes aiming, movement, and reacting a bit more difficult.

Light RPG elements are new to the Wolfenstein franchise, and they don’t shake up the formula too much, but make for some enjoyable twists. You’ll earn XP and level up to drop points into a skill tree that grants new abilities or buffs to make you more effective in combat. You can upgrade weapons to fire with even more impact or change the way they function altogether. There’s also an armor-type element to strong enemies that’ll have you juggling between certain weapons to lay down the most damage. All these small changes serve to bring a slightly more dynamic edge to a solid FPS foundation.

Youngblood is wrapped in the idea of cooperative play, which is a blast. Friends (or randoms) can jump into your session easily and the game-state will remain untouched–the AI simply gets taken over by the player, and vice-versa when they leave. Pep signals are core to the co-op experience; these are cooldowns that grant useful buffs or clutch armor/health recharges. The revive system is another key to teamwork that sort of comes in place of traditional checkpoints. Outside of pep signals though, there feels like a lack of synergetic co-op gameplay features, like tag-team attacks or teamwork-centric capabilities, and it feels like a missed opportunity. It’s worth noting that you will need to have a Nintendo Switch Online account to do any sort of co-op play, however.

When it comes to the Switch version specifically, the question on many minds is: how well does it run? To that, I would say: not great. The frame rate is the most noticeable shortcoming as the game generally runs at sub-30 FPS and chugs when the action gets intense in both docked and undocked modes. There’s also heavy use of motion blur to help smooth over the low frame rate. Overall, technical performance hampers some of the great FPS action as it makes aiming, movement, and reacting a bit more difficult.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

While not as important, the downgrade in visual quality is readily apparent. The game runs at 540p handheld and 720p docked, but uses some sort of dynamic resolution for assets and character models to help keep the frame rate in check. This turns things into blocky messes in certain combat scenarios that take place in large environments. And the low resolution and a gray foggy haze slightly obscures objects and enemies in the distance, making them difficult to identify.

Youngblood suffers as a result of the Switch’s relatively underpowered hardware, but for all its technical shortcomings, the game still delivers intense, momentous, and challenging combat. Everything features-wise remains intact, and you’ll get to enjoy taking a shotgun (or fully charged laser beam) to the heads of Nazi scum. The Blazkowicz sisters, Jess and Soph, bring their own unique swagger to the Wolfenstein franchise, too. So if the Switch version is your only way of playing Youngblood, you can be confident it’s still one hell of a ride.

Source: GameSpot.com

Kill La Kill The Game: IF Review In Progress – Partial Life Fiber Synchronize

Aside from a manga adaptation, Kill la Kill The Game: IF is the first expansion to the story of 2013’s Kill la Kill, the hit anime series that put Studio Trigger on the map. Kill la Kill IF captures the unique fighting styles of the main cast of characters from the anime in arena battles, while also delivering some enjoyable missions to tackle in the single-player campaign. It doesn’t manage to deliver a balanced competitive landscape, but there is a delightful collection of rewards to work towards in Kill la Kill IF–supplying a satisfying incentive for replaying the single-player content.

Kill la Kill follows Ryuko Matoi, who transfers to Japan’s prestigious Honnouji Academy in hopes of finding answers to her father’s murder. Her only clue is half of the giant scissor used to kill him. Honnouji Academy is run by fascist student council president Satsuki Kiryuin and her closest allies: the Elite Four. Students at the school wear Goku Uniforms, each providing enhanced strength and superhuman abilities. Realizing Satsuki recognizes the scissor blade she carries, Ryuko attacks and demands answers, only to be ultimately trounced by the president’s underlings. After escaping, Ryuko stumbles upon a sentient sailor uniform who gifts her with god-like magical girl powers when it feeds on her blood. Now much more powerful, Ryuko swears to defeat the entire student body of Honnouji Academy and gain the answers she seeks.

Kill la Kill IF is a “what if” scenario, asking, “What if Satsuki was the protagonist of Kill la Kill?” The hypothetical is explored in the game’s campaign extraordinarily well, putting forth the theory that Satsuki may have been the brilliant mastermind behind the anime’s entire narrative from the very beginning, tragically refusing the spotlight she wants because she believes her plans for a better world will work out for the better if Ryuko is the main hero. It’s a fascinating addition to Kill la Kill’s lore, and it provides plenty of incentive to see the game’s two-part campaign all the way through.

Combat in Kill la Kill IF is pretty easy to pick up, with your staple combination of close-range, long-range, aerial, guard-break, and special attacks. There’s also a rock-paper-scissors-style clash system that allows you to buff yourself if you’re lucky enough to win. Though every character controls the same, each has a completely different specialty and unique playstyle. Masochistic Ira Gamagoori becomes more powerful by whipping and damaging himself, for instance, while petite Nonon Jakuzure excels at shooting her opponent from a distance and manipulative Nui Harime relies on decoys to overwhelm her opponents from multiple angles. Though the roster does offer a diversity of playstyles, there are only eight options to choose from at launch. That’s a pretty small pool for a fighting game–disappointing given how massive Kill la Kill’s cast is. This is slightly offset by the alternate costumes that change how certain characters attack, but the adjustments aren’t enough to make the variants feel like brand-new fighters.

Exciting though the colorful combat may be, it also feels lopsided with no reliable means of defending yourself. Every fighter can block and dodge, but both moves are pretty slow so it’s fairly easy to just overwhelm opponents with aggressive close-range characters. Once caught in a combo, there’s only one way to recover, and that’s using a counter burst–a move that uses up half of your special attack meter. You have to deal out or endure quite a few hits to fill up the meter, so you can’t regularly rely on having a counter burst at the ready. And if you are caught in a combo and you don’t have that 50% of meter to burn, you just have to wait until your opponent stops attacking you. As a result, juggling can be a pretty big issue against difficult AI opponents or advanced players that know how to pull off the game’s longer, more devastating combos–which can lead to unfair and unfun matches.

Despite the issues with combat, battles in the game are wholeheartedly Kill la Kill, and they’re typically glorious fun as a result. Characters yell out the name of their special attacks–some with barely contained rage and others with malicious glee–in epic battle cries, each one animated in a cel-shaded rendition of Kill la Kill’s over-the-top style. The most powerful blows land with an impact, slowing down the action just long enough for you to understand the recipient is about to be very hurt. The addition of the luck-based clash system feels right at home too, giving you a last-ditch effort to maybe make a comeback–randomly screaming during a battle and luckily finding a deeper well of strength is extremely Kill la Kill. Sure, the lack of a reliable counter system means winning in these battles is less about skill and more about who can press the attack buttons more quickly, but that doesn’t change that most matches are still explosively epic, full of silly puns, and just enjoyable to play. This is especially true for most of the battles in Kill la Kill IF’s campaign.

There are a variety of obstacles to overcome in the campaign as the game offers more than what’s usually expected from arena fighters. Though there are still traditional one-on-one fights, Kill la Kill IF’s story mode is a mixture of various mission types. The most interesting ones take advantage of the constantly shifting alliances in the narrative. One battle has Satsuki, Ryuko, and Nui all fight in a three-way free-for-all, for instance, and another sees Satsuki go up against the brain-washed Elite Four in a one-on-four fight. Wave-based battles against a horde of enemies are thrown into the mix, too. The variety keeps the campaign from getting stale.

Though these types of missions offer a welcome change of pace for an arena fighter, they’re also held back by Kill la Kill IF’s traditional mechanics and features. Most arena fighters don’t need a mechanic to specifically focus on one combatant or a feature to alert you when an off-screen target is about to attack, as fights are pretty much exclusively one-on-one. In Kill la Kill IF’s campaign, where you occasionally fight multiple enemies at once and the only way to remain focused on a character is to stay near them, the absence of any such mechanic or feature is far more noticeable. It’s tricky to stay focused on the fighter you want when you and your opponents are being smacked around the arena, and it’s frustrating when you’re in the midst of a combo and you don’t know whether you need to suddenly dodge or block because you’re about to be attacked from outside your field of view.

Outside the campaign, Kill la Kill IF offers Practice and Versus modes, as well as a horde challenge and figure posing gallery. Given the risque nature of Kill la Kill, it’s a nice surprise that the figures’ available poses aren’t all that leery, though the offering of shots you can produce is a little sparse. The gallery feels tacked on as a poor replacement for a photo mode, which is a shame given how gorgeous many of the characters look while in motion. Offline Versus works without issue; however, as this review in progress is going live the day of Kill la Kill IF’s official international release, we haven’t had adequate time to put the online version through its paces. We’ll update this review once we do.

Both the Japanese and English dub anime voice actors reprise their roles in Kill la Kill IF, so you can enjoy whichever cast you prefer (it’s something a lot more anime games should do, frankly). Unfortunately, the English dub doesn’t perfectly match up in certain animations, so there are quite a few moments where characters are technically done speaking but their mouths keep moving. It’s no deal-breaker, as both sets of voice actors do a great job once again bringing their respective characters to life. The voices aren’t the only sound from the anime to make it into the game either. Songs from Kill la Kill are regularly intermixed into the originally composed soundtrack, including fan-favorites “Before My Body Is Dry” and “Sirius,” augmenting every battle and emotional moment with the same epic sensations as the anime.

The voice actors and soundtrack provide the biggest motivation to keep playing Kill la Kill IF. As you complete the story and win matches, you’ll unlock in-game currency that you can use to buy songs and special recorded messages. The messages that seem to be from the characters’ perspectives are an absolute delight, like Satsuki providing words of encouragement to those living in “this cruel world,” but most are from the voice actors themselves–Todd Haberkorn (Shirou Iori) teasingly relaying congratulations for beating the game, for instance, or Carrie Keranen (Satsuki Kiryuin) revealing just how much it meant to get a chance to do voice work for Kill la Kill again after nearly five years. It’s all phenomenal content–ranging from hilarious to heartfelt–which provides plenty of incentive to keep playing and earn more in-game currency.

Kill la Kill IF is clearly designed for fans of Kill la Kill who are looking for more ways to enjoy the characters, music, and battles of the anime series. Each fighter behaves as they do in the anime, and the excellent voice actor rewards provide a nice incentive to keep playing even after you’ve mastered every character. However, as a fighting game, Kill la Kill IF doesn’t deliver the expected harmony of offense and defense. And though campaign battles that are beyond the one-on-one formula are an awesome addition, the traditional arena fighting game mechanics aren’t designed to adequately handle multiple opponents. The campaign’s startling revelation is a fascinating turn of events for Kill la Kill’s story, though, creating a new and intriguing interpretation of one of 2013’s best anime series.

Source: GameSpot.com