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The Outer Worlds Review – The Right Stuff

The Outer Worlds plays just like a Fallout game. That’s a pretty tepid description and an obvious comparison. It’s easy to take one look at the game, which strongly echoes the mechanical form of the Bethesda RPGs, and think you know what to expect. The developer, Obsidian Entertainment, was responsible the cult-favourite Fallout: New Vegas after all. But The Outer Worlds doesn’t just play like a Fallout game. It is, surprisingly, the best possible version of a Fallout game–a potent distillation of what made that series so beloved in the first place.

The Outer Worlds adopts the most compelling innovations of modern Fallout games, emphasising immersive exploration and impactful, action-oriented combat in a game engine (Unreal Engine) that actually makes those things feel good by contemporary standards. It shares Fallout’s satirical but incredibly bleak look at the future, but is free of its tired tropes. Critically, The Outer Worlds exhibits the same depth of soul as the early Interplay and Black Isle Fallout games (as well as other games in the ’90s PC RPG genre) with a genuinely complex, interconnected narrative web of relationships and events that feel like they can change in a seemingly infinite number of ways based on the character you want to be, the variety of choices you can make, and the actions you take.

Given the studio and the key people responsible (original Fallout creators Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky), that last trait isn’t surprising. But it’s not the only element that makes The Outer Worlds an excellent space Western adventure–that’s just the incredibly sound foundation that elevates the game’s great world-building, wonderful characters, and multi-layered quest design, on top of punchy combat and consistently sharp writing.

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In The Outer Worlds, you are just one of the thousands of people left in hibernation on an abandoned colony ship, when a scientist of possibly ill repute frees you and enlists your help in saving the rest of your frozen peers. After a rigorous character creation process–involving a slew of variable attributes, perks, and aesthetic customization–you crash-land on a planet, alone, and from there, how you make your mark on the Halcyon system is up to you.

The crux of this sci-fi setup is that, among other things, the Halcyon system is owned and run entirely by a board of corporations, and their presence is a big deal. Whole planets are owned by corps looking to use their ecosystems as part of a larger supply chain, and numerous vending machines from different companies populate towns, trying to attract you with their bright logos and jingles. In fact, The Outer Worlds is saturated with strikingly colourful locales; the planets you’ll visit are impressively varied and sometimes beautiful, flaunting an H.G. Wells-like retro-futuristic aesthetic, the antithesis of grimdark cyberpunk.

On the first impression, corporations appear as a mostly aesthetic layer folded into the world. A number of the companies mentioned seem to mostly just exist as manufacturers of weapons and consumables–a piece of flair to keep the tone light in the same way that the Circus of Values exists in BioShock, but it’s far more ingrained than that. Corporate capitalism so deeply affects everything in The Outer Worlds, and explorations into how it can affect society on a variety of levels is a surprisingly well-considered constant, despite the semblance of parody. You’ll meet sympathetic workers whose livelihoods are only made possible by offering themselves to exploitation and indentured servitude, white-collared outlaws who are more bureaucrats than pirates, and well-meaning middle-managers who are trying to change the corporate machine from the inside. You’ll find moderates, idealists, extremists, and most things in between and around the fringes, all of which have their own feasible ideas about how to best serve the colony or themselves. By the time the climax hits, it’s clear that The Outer Worlds has its own stance on this bleak future, but that doesn’t stop the world it creates, the sojourns you take, and characters you meet along the way from being any less fascinating.

There are plenty of characters in The Outer Worlds who I didn’t like. Reed Tobson, for example, is a snivelling factory chief in the early hours of the game who I didn’t have to think twice about undermining, and Felix, one of your potential companion characters, had such an annoyingly naive personality I avoided talking to him as much as possible. The Outer Worlds allows you to kill any character in the game (bar one), and the world will reshape and move on without them, but there’s something to be said for game’s depiction of its unappealing people, whose portrayal I admired despite my distaste. You’ll talk to a lot of people in The Outer Worlds. How much you do is up to you–you’re allowed to cut straight to get to the point or dive deeper–but chatting to the game’s entire supporting cast of non-player characters is something that never gets tiring, even if you don’t care for them, purely because of how strong the game’s writing and vocal performances are.

I never felt like I had to endure stretches of pointless or overly dramatic exchanges, both because of how focussed and subtle the script seemed to be, as well as the variety of response options for my player character which kept conversations flowing in largely natural ways. Numerous considerations for the world state let conversations take into account things you may or may not already have done throughout your campaign; brief and subtle injections of worldbuilding and lore stop conversation from being too matter of fact without losing the game’s identity, and some exceptional low-key wit works very well in sparking a periodic laugh without humour feeling like a sticking point. Solid, consistent voice direction helps keep the tone firmly measured, meaning the hours you spend absorbing the world through its people are always engaging.

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Nowhere does the strength of the game’s characters shine more strongly than in your companions, however (except for Felix; that guy is a weenie). You have the option to recruit six predetermined characters to accompany and assist you in your adventures, though the game does have tools to bolster a lone wolf character too. But having companions along for the ride is a delight, and that’s, again, because of the strength of the character writing. Companions instantly feel like fleshed-out characters of their own accord, not like they simply exist to revolve around you. They’ll converse privately with each other and chime in on conversations you have with other characters in the world, acting as sounding boards during key moments. They can, in extreme situations, leave you of their own accord if they strongly disagree with a course of action. It’s all mechanically conditional, of course, but the illusion the game builds is so endearing–spending time with these folks feels just as valuable as your pursuing the overarching goal.

Companions have their own customisable skill trees, equipment loadouts, combat tactics, and special abilities you can command them to use, which, with their cinematic camera angles, inspired battle cries, and useful status effects, never become unsatisfying to initiate. The other major tool at your disposal in combat, provided your character’s weapon skills are high enough to use it, is Tactical Time Dilation (TTD)–a time-bending mechanic that slows the action to a crawl, allowing you to give yourself some breathing room in order to analyse enemies and take the time to execute precision attacks. Hitting certain locations on enemies will let you do things like cripple or maim them, or inflict weapon-specific effects like bleed damage or knocking them unconscious. Using TTD tactically to take out key targets and attempt to control the flow of battle makes it an entertaining and useful tool, but its availability is limited and not something you can rely on entirely until you get to meaningfully upgrade it much later in the game.

Despite having strong RPG foundations, the combat in The Outer Worlds is very much focussed on first-person action, incorporating things like parries, blocks, and dodges on top of an array of melee weapons and firearms. There’s a hectic and fast-paced fluidity to combat that feels very good, however. That’s aided by some enthusiastic sound design, which does most of the heavy lifting in giving all weapons some satisfying feedback. A range of “Science weapons” bring some creative diversity in your arsenal, and features guns that have unique, entertaining properties like shrinking enemies or turning them against each other.

The only problem with combat is that on the game’s recommended Regular difficulty, it eventually turns into a cakewalk. This is satisfying in a way, of course–all the points I pumped into maxing out my handgun skills, thus becoming best gunslinger in the galaxy, did actually make me feel utterly invincible. But, it also meant I didn’t feel pushed to explore the game’s slew of combat-adjacent mechanics nearly as deeply as I would have hoped. Things like elemental damage, equipment modding, companion synergies, and the special effects allowed by consumables (which, by the way, are incredibly difficult to parse in the game’s icon-heavy menu), could all be safely ignored. The Outer Worlds has a “flaws” system that lets you purposefully shoulder restrictive debuffs in certain situations in exchange for an extra perk point, but it’s completely optional and rarely worth the tradeoff. Jumping into the “Supernova” difficulty level in a subsequent playthrough changes all that, however–combat danger increases, your ability to save your game becomes restricted, and survival mechanics like hunger and thirst are introduced, making all of the game’s mechanical considerations feel far more vital. The game is more challenging and interesting because of it, but its demanding nature definitely makes it more of a second-run option.

Toe-to-toe combat is not the only solution to your problems. The Outer Worlds allows for a variety of avenues for alternative and passive solutions–stealth, hacking, and speech-related options are available throughout the game, provided you pass the skill checks. It’s nigh impossible to complete the game without getting into at least some combat, unfortunately, but to the game’s credit, virtually every quest in the game, big or small, features branching options in terms of their paths to success and how you deal with the big, final choices you have to make to resolve disputes, which are often deliciously grey. It’s at the level where you’ll always be considering the additional ways you could have achieved something, whether that be taking a different route, finding more information out in the world, or killing the quest giver and everyone else in the town.

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When you hit the end, the game runs through a whole slew of epilogues that describe how you resolved the game’s numerous major variables and what became of them, and being shown all your exploits after some 30 hours makes the whole journey and your unique path through it really feel quite meaningful. It’s difficult to know the full extent of just how many directions something can go, and the end result of many quests can likely only ever differ in a small handful of ways, but this perception of freedom and possibilities on your first run is inspiring.

I finished The Outer Worlds wanting more, eager to jump back into the world to see extra things. It’s not a short game, but it’s one packed with such a steady stream of wonderful characters to meet, interesting places to explore, and meaningful, multi-layered quests to solve, that it didn’t feel like there was any room to get tired of it. I wanted to rewind the clock and do everything in a completely different way. The Outer Worlds is consistently compelling throughout, and it’s a superb example of how to promote traditional RPG sensibilities in a sharp, modern experience.

Source: GameSpot.com

Felix The Reaper Review – Grim Adventures

For an agent of the death, Felix is an oddly loveable goofball. He doesn’t wear a pitch-black cloak or brandish an ominous scythe, but his job is pretty much what you think it is. He inserts himself into everyday life, manipulating events from the shadows to execute a well-orchestrated plan of death. It’s grim work, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have fun while doing it. Felix cannot contain his love of music, treating each level as a dance floor as he shuffles, twirls and wobbles through them. Felix is charming, but that energy doesn’t translate over to the puzzles you have to solve.

As an employee of the Ministry of Death, your job as Felix is to set up the deaths of mortals on earth. These are multi-staged tasks, taking place over numerous levels contained in themed chapters that span various time periods. The first, taking place in a long-forgotten ice age, has you setting up the comedic death of a nomadic hunter by dropping a moose head on him and attracting the attention of his companion nearby, who doesn’t hesitate to use a spear on his mistaken prey. Each death in Felix the Reaper hits an entertaining punchline, letting you witness all of your previous efforts unfold in a satisfying way. Just like the board game Mouse Trap, it’s fun to see each individual piece of each puzzle link up, but it’s an absolute chore getting to that point.

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Felix can only move around in shadows, so you primarily reposition objects to cast their shadows along paths you plan to take. You can shift the direction of the sun by 90 degrees at a time, too, bathing new areas in dangerous sunlight and opening up new paths for you to safely walk through. Most puzzles work this way, with you moving a specific object from one side of the level to the other and using an assortment of other objects to construct your path. It rarely deviates from this. Felix the Reaper shows its entire hand within the first handful of levels and never evolves further.

The formula grows tedious rather quickly. Getting to the end of a level isn’t rewarding but a relief as you look back at all the steps you had to take to get there. Felix the Reaper makes it clear that all of its puzzles can be solved in just a handful of moves (which you’ll need to do on subsequent replays if you want to unlock some bonus stages), but it dangles this fact in front of you like a cheeky taunt when you’ve spent the better half of an hour undoing mistakes move by move before you finally find the right combination of steps to succeed.

The culprit here is the inflexibility of the puzzles, which require extremely specific movements to solve. Sometimes this boils down to shifting an object one block at a time to carry a shadow with you as you go, which is bogged down by the same animations to pick up and place items. When you make a mistake it’s not immediately clear that you have, and when you eventually succumb to asking for a hint you’ll likely have to backtrack through your last few moves to reset your position and work towards the solution. Even with hints of where to place an item, there’s no help in getting you there. And since there are specific steps you have to take, it can take a frustrating number of attempts to just set down one piece of a larger puzzle.

Control issues don’t make this any easier. Playing on a Nintendo Switch, I struggled to get comfortable with the camera controls, which would sometimes result in me losing my tiny mouse-like cursor from view entirely. There’s a button to re-center the cursor in the middle of the screen, thankfully, but it occurred far too frequently for me to ever feel confident in making quick moves, another requirement if you want to complete levels fast enough.

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It’s a pity that actually solving Felix the Reaper’s puzzles is so unrewarding when it has so much character lovingly imbued into its presentation. Felix is never idle in a stage, always breaking out a dance move to the pulsating beats reverberating through his headphones. His ultimate goal is to eventually bump into the love of his life while out doing his job–she’s a lingerie-clad agent of the Ministry of Life seeking to undo the very actions Felix is undertaking. It’s a strange but comical narrative layer that doesn’t serve much else beyond giving you a reason to hop from one chapter to the next, but it’s a setup that’s so absurd that you can’t help but find it somewhat endearing.

Visually, Felix the Reaper is unique, too. The humans you eventually lead to their deaths are made up of strange shapes and sizes, with ghoulish scribbles for faces that emote in uncomfortable ways. It’s not beautiful, per se, but it does establish a look and feel for the game that really makes it stand out. Felix’s marshmallow-like form complements his energetic dance moves well, animating with a kinetic motion that doesn’t wear over time. He reminds me a lot of Baymax from Big Hero 6 in this regard–he’s fun to just watch in motion, and I desperately wanted to give him a hug when he was sad.

But there’s no amount of visual charm or dark humor in its violent deaths that make the effort of sticking with Felix the Reaper worth it. It’s a thoroughly enticing setting and premise that is misguided by puzzle mechanics that aren’t that aren’t fun to play around with, and then fail to meaningfully build on their foundations in any way after that. Felix the Reaper might be able to drown out his surroundings with music, but that doesn’t make his job any less mundane to perform.

Source: GameSpot.com

Little Town Hero Review – Small Deck Energy

Little Town Hero, developed by Pokemon studio Game Freak, tries to do a lot with a little. Fast-traveling from the mines near its titular town to its main street, the two furthest points on the map, only saves you about a minute or so of travel time. But the game wants its small village to matter, as it spends several hours familiarizing you with the small area and its residents. Its gameplay works the same way, doing for card-battlers what Pokemon did for party-focused, turn-based RPGs: distilling it into something the average person can wrap their head around.

And it works, sometimes. When you face down an imposing monster and cobble together a hard-earned win with all the tools at your disposal, it can make the equipment upgrading, crafting systems, and myriad currencies of other games feel like bloat. But more often, Little Town Hero doesn’t leave the strict confines it creates for itself; instead, it plays things safe by constraining your options so things don’t get too out of hand. While that occasionally produces some challenging moments, battles quickly begin to repeat themselves, making you wish you could see what its combat might be capable of if it weren’t afraid to take more risks.

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The star of Little Town Hero’s tiny village is Axe, a young troublemaker quickly thrust into defending his home from monsters after he acquires a red stone that gives him an edge against them in battle. Because the village is protected by a castle and surrounded by steep cliffs, no one knows where the monsters are coming from, so Axe and his friends begin tracking down their origins.

The crux of Little Town Hero is its turn-based gameplay, which borrows elements from card games but throws in a couple of twists. Fights revolve around a small deck of cards, called Ideas. Cards can be red (which have high attack values and can damage the opponent directly), yellow (which can fight multiple times a turn as long as they have the health for it, but can’t damage your opponent), or blue (which don’t have attack or defense values but activate powerful effects). The goal in most fights is to break all three of your opponent’s hearts by destroying all of their cards in a single turn by having them trade hits with yours, then attacking them directly.

Unfortunately, this setup lacks key aspects of other card games. The most glaring omission is that you can’t actually build a deck of your own; for most of the game, you’re stuck with a deck that caps out at just 13 cards. You can’t alter or customize which cards you bring to battle, so standard battles play out predictably; you look at the defense of your opponent’s cards, match them with the cards that can break them, and see if your hand can break theirs. Some cards have special effects, but you won’t see any outlandish gameplay mechanics; most effects either buff your current cards, deal damage, or add another card to your hand. Fights get boring quickly, especially after you upgrade your cards by working your way through the skill tree using the Eureka points earned from fights.

You can also mitigate much of the luck that factors into most other card games, which makes it easier to get the cards you need but also drives home how simple the strategy behind each fight is. In order to survive longer fights, you need to recycle cards by either losing a heart or spending BP (a resource you build whenever you destroy all of your opponent’s cards but don’t have a card to break through and damage them directly). You can even swap out cards in your hand for those in your deck at the cost of BP.

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While this curbs the element of chance that can sometimes be aggravating in card games, it also emphasizes just how often you end up using the same strategies each fight. Already used the card you needed to pierce through a boss’ defense to win the last round? No problem; with 3 BP, you can revive your entire deck and add that car right back into your hand. You end up sticking to one or two strategies and running them time and again because, again, your deck is made up of just 13 cards.

Because of how small your deck is and how well you can mitigate the element of chance, decision-making is crucial, and I did have a few of the a-ha moments where I was backed into a corner but, through a series of smart decisions, came out on top. But those moments quickly give way to going on autopilot. There might be a few deviations based on whatever tricks your opponent pulls or which cards you draw in the first turn, but at some point, I was able to run my plan of making several of my defensive cards invincible, steamrolling whatever offense the boss had, and hitting them for obscene amounts of damage in a single turn.

Boss fights are a little more exciting, since they introduce a couple of strategic layers. Instead of fighting in place, you take on monsters across a large swath of the village, mapped out like a small board, moving a random number of spaces each turn (though you can control where you move with certain cards). Most spaces on the board have a special effect when you land on them, granting access to an ally who can deal direct damage, allowing you to combine two cards into one, or letting you use certain cards to activate explosive barrels or cannons. Some villagers might even have suggestions, like punching a monster in the nose, that add new, one-use cards to your deck specific to that fight. Planning out where I’d travel across multiple turns depending on which cards I had that turn made from some well-timed plays that won me some fights.

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To counter these powerful bonuses, bosses offer up the kind of challenge the rest of the game lacks. Each boss has its own gimmick that nudges you toward different strategies; one boss might counterattack when you hurt it (encouraging you to find more indirect ways of wearing it down), or introduce cards that add a short timer to all of your moves until they’re destroyed, forcing you to be quick and possibly screw up. For the first half of the game, I had a tough time against monsters, since it seemed like they always had the upper hand. As I upgraded my deck, that tide slowly shifted.

This doesn’t make later boss fights breezy–some of them are tough. But even here, because you don’t have that many options to choose from, your path to victory doesn’t feel personal or creative. It also doesn’t help that during boss fights, both sides gain a protective shield that has to be whittled down before hearts will take damage, which makes boss fights take longer than regular fights–certain battles took the better part of an hour to get through. The combination of the gradually lowered difficulty and increased length of battles meant I knew I’d emerge victorious, but I dreaded the 15 to 20 turns it’d take to get there.

Outside of battles, you can trek back and forth across the village to run errands for shopkeepers and complete side quests that earn you Eureka points. But the village itself isn’t big enough to hold your attention for long; there are no other meaningful ways to engage with anyone outside of the couple of times they might ask you to get something for them, if at all. The only resource you have are Eureka points, so there are no minigames, equipment to buy, or anything else that might give combat more depth or provide an alternative from all the card-battling. The town only comes alive when monsters attack it.

Little Town Hero finds some success in avoiding some of the complex systems and tedious menus that can bog down other card games and RPGs, but it ends up suffering for it.

The story you unravel along the way and strings all the fights together is somewhat involved, but predictable and boring. Discovering the origin of all the monster attacks has a couple of twists, but mostly leads to a predictable story that moves at a crawl. Characters are largely forgettable, quickly fall into archetypes, and play out their roles without much room for nuance. A couple of later moments get some emotional weight thanks to a strong score from Undertale creator Toby Fox and longtime Pokemon composer Hitomi Sato, but characters are too shallow to hold up their end of the bargain, and the town doesn’t have enough going on to make it worth exploring beyond where quests tell you to go.

Little Town Hero finds some success in avoiding some of the complex systems and tedious menus that can bog down other card games and RPGs, but it ends up suffering for it. Keeping your card options limited allows you to approach encounters with clever instead of relying on luck of the draw, but the deck size is too limited to break the mounting doldrum of subsequent fights. And while I did get to know this town pretty well, that’s because of how small and suffocating it feels as it refuses to push outside its own boundaries.

Source: GameSpot.com

The Witcher 3 Nintendo Switch Review – Summon The Switches

The dichotomy of beauty and violence has always been a driving theme in The Witcher series. The Northern Realms’ gorgeous vistas are dotted with war-torn battlefields, kindness–no matter how fleeting it may be–is often juxtaposed with savagery, and even the warmest characters have a cold and calculated side to them. That neverending tug-of-war is ever-present in The Witcher 3, even when its stripped-down visuals may obscure some of that beauty.

Everything is here in the Nintendo Switch version–The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, its two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, and all of its DLC. The main game alone offers dozens of superb quests filled with interesting characters, fantastic twists, and rewarding combat encounters. As Kevin VanOrd said in GameSpot’s original review, “Excellence abounds at every turn in this open-world role-playing game.” The same is mostly true for the Nintendo Switch version.

As you’d expect, the visuals have been pared down significantly. The textures are muddied, the draw-distances are reined in, and the resolution has taken a hit. These issues are exacerbated during docked play. While it technically runs at a higher frame rate and resolution docked, these visual issues are all the more noticeable when projected onto a larger screen.

The standard Nintendo Switch’s 6.2-inch screen does a great job of hiding the blemishes. Even though it’s running at a lower resolution, the smaller screen gives it a much crisper look, so the poor textures and pop-in are less apparent. If you do plan on playing it in handheld mode, you can, thankfully, adjust the size of the HUD to make things easier to read.

C'mon, this is what you're really here for
C’mon, this is what you’re really here for
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For returning players, the visual downgrade may require some getting used to. However, focusing solely on The Witcher 3’s visuals does this port a disservice. Four years later, the game is still massive in scope, and seeing the battle-scarred swamps of Velen, jagged peaks of Skellige, and sprawling countryside of Toussaint on a technically inferior platform is still a sight to behold.

More importantly, the grittier look of the Switch port doesn’t affect The Witcher 3’s core gameplay. The combat and exploration may be smoother on a PC, Xbox One X, or PS4 Pro, but I found performance to be consistent throughout a wide variety of combat encounters and locales. After nearly 30 hours, I haven’t experienced any significant frame rate dips. Even the swamps in Velen–an area notorious for causing frame rate issues on PS4 and Xbox One–are comparable to the rest of the experience on Switch. According to developer CD Projekt Red, the frame rate should range between 24 and 30 frames per second. In populated areas like Novigrad, the frame rate dipped to the lower end of that range. Given the slower pace of The Witcher 3, I never found these dips to be an issue, even in the heat of combat.

The Witcher 3’s visual prowess may have been a selling point for some in 2015, but the Nintendo Switch version is a reminder that there is far more to this adventure than a pretty picture. Even today, there are few games that can rival the storytelling and worldbuilding on display here. Nothing is as simple as it seems, and every thread you pull on reveals enticing new details about this world and its characters.

The Nintendo Switch version is a reminder that there is far more to this adventure than a pretty picture

The vast web of decisions and consequences is just as impressive as it was in 2015. While it may not be apparent on your first playthrough, your actions–both big and small–can have serious repercussions, even if you were trying to do the right thing. What’s more impressive is how well fleshed-out each of these paths are and how they ebb and flow through main quests and side quests. While many outcomes are bittersweet by design, none feel underdeveloped.

Where The Witcher 3 continues to shine is in its many deeply human stories. While the political aspects of the main story give context to the world and the characters that inhabit it, it’s the interactions Geralt has with its denizens that gives weight to the experience. There are no good guys or bad guys. There are just people fighting to find hope in an oppressive world. Many of the quests provoke questions like: Would you hurt others for those you love? Can even the most vile of men be forgiven? How far can fear drive someone?

The superb storytelling continues in the game’s two expansions. Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. While not necessary to the main narrative, these two expansions are thoughtful addendums to Geralt’s story. Blood and Wine in particular is a heartfelt send-off for the storied series. If you’re jumping back into the game and just want to experience these, you can skip to them right when you load it up for the first time.

Although the Nintendo Switch might not be the best platform to play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it’s still a fantastic experience that shouldn’t be missed. If you are looking to replay The Witcher 3 and bask in its detail and beauty, the Switch port may not quite scratch that itch. However, what makes this game excellent isn’t its graphics, but the powerful stories it tells, and those are as vivid as ever on Switch.

Source: GameSpot.com

The Witcher 3 Nintendo Switch Review – The Wind’s Howling

The dichotomy of beauty and violence has always been a driving theme in The Witcher series. The Northern Realms’ gorgeous vistas are dotted with war-torn battlefields, kindness–no matter how fleeting it may be–is often juxtaposed with savagery, and even the warmest characters have a cold and calculated side to them. That neverending tug-of-war is ever-present in The Witcher 3, even when its stripped-down visuals may obscure some of that beauty.

Everything is here in the Nintendo Switch version–The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, its two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, and all of its DLC. The main game alone offers dozens of superb quests filled with interesting characters, fantastic twists, and rewarding combat encounters. As Kevin VanOrd said in GameSpot’s original review, “Excellence abounds at every turn in this open-world role-playing game.” The same is mostly true for the Nintendo Switch version.

As you’d expect, the visuals have been pared down significantly. The textures are muddied, the draw-distances are reined in, and the resolution has taken a hit. These issues are exacerbated during docked play. While it technically runs at a higher frame rate and resolution docked, these visual issues are all the more noticeable when projected onto a larger screen.

The standard Nintendo Switch’s 6.2-inch screen does a great job of hiding the blemishes. Even though it’s running at a lower resolution, the smaller screen gives it a much crisper look, so the poor textures and pop-in are less apparent. If you do plan on playing it in handheld mode, you can, thankfully, adjust the size of the HUD to make things easier to read.

C'mon, this is what you're really here for
C’mon, this is what you’re really here for
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10Gallery image 11Gallery image 12Gallery image 13Gallery image 14Gallery image 15Gallery image 16Gallery image 17Gallery image 18Gallery image 19Gallery image 20

For returning players, the visual downgrade may require some getting used to. However, focusing solely on The Witcher 3’s visuals does this port a disservice. Four years later, the game is still massive in scope, and seeing the battle-scarred swamps of Velen, jagged peaks of Skellige, and sprawling countryside of Toussaint on a technically inferior platform is still a sight to behold.

More importantly, the grittier look of the Switch port doesn’t affect The Witcher 3’s core gameplay. The combat and exploration may be smoother on a PC, Xbox One X, or PS4 Pro, but I found performance to be consistent throughout a wide variety of combat encounters and locales. After nearly 30 hours, I haven’t experienced any significant frame rate dips. Even the swamps in Velen–an area notorious for causing frame rate issues on PS4 and Xbox One–are comparable to the rest of the experience on Switch. According to developer CD Projekt Red, the frame rate should range between 24 and 30 frames per second. In populated areas like Novigrad, the frame rate dipped to the lower end of that range. Given the slower pace of The Witcher 3, I never found these dips to be an issue, even in the heat of combat.

The Witcher 3’s visual prowess may have been a selling point for some in 2015, but the Nintendo Switch version is a reminder that there is far more to this adventure than a pretty picture. Even today, there are few games that can rival the storytelling and worldbuilding on display here. Nothing is as simple as it seems, and every thread you pull on reveals enticing new details about this world and its characters.

The Nintendo Switch version is a reminder that there is far more to this adventure than a pretty picture

The vast web of decisions and consequences is just as impressive as it was in 2015. While it may not be apparent on your first playthrough, your actions–both big and small–can have serious repercussions, even if you were trying to do the right thing. What’s more impressive is how well fleshed-out each of these paths are and how they ebb and flow through main quests and side quests. While many outcomes are bittersweet by design, none feel underdeveloped.

Where The Witcher 3 continues to shine is in its many deeply human stories. While the political aspects of the main story give context to the world and the characters that inhabit it, it’s the interactions Geralt has with its denizens that gives weight to the experience. There are no good guys or bad guys. There are just people fighting to find hope in an oppressive world. Many of the quests provoke questions like: Would you hurt others for those you love? Can even the most vile of men be forgiven? How far can fear drive someone?

The superb storytelling continues in the game’s two expansions. Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. While not necessary to the main narrative, these two expansions are thoughtful addendums to Geralt’s story. Blood and Wine in particular is a heartfelt send-off for the storied series. If you’re jumping back into the game and just want to experience these, you can skip to them right when you load it up for the first time.

Although the Nintendo Switch might not be the best platform to play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it’s still a fantastic experience that shouldn’t be missed. If you are looking to replay The Witcher 3 and bask in its detail and beauty, the Switch port may not quite scratch that itch. However, what makes this game excellent isn’t its graphics, but the powerful stories it tells, and those are as vivid as ever on Switch.

Source: GameSpot.com

The Witcher 3 Nintendo Switch Review – Wind’s Howling

The dichotomy of beauty and violence has always been a driving theme in The Witcher series. The Northern Realms’ gorgeous vistas are dotted with war-torn battlefields, kindness–no matter how fleeting it may be–is often juxtaposed with savagery, and even the warmest characters have a cold and calculated side to them. That neverending tug-of-war is ever-present in The Witcher 3, even when its stripped-down visuals may obscure some of that beauty.

Everything is here in the Nintendo Switch version–The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, its two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, and all of its DLC. The main game alone offers dozens of superb quests filled with interesting characters, fantastic twists, and rewarding combat encounters. As Kevin VanOrd said in GameSpot’s original review, “Excellence abounds at every turn in this open-world role-playing game.” The same is mostly true for the Nintendo Switch version.

As you’d expect, the visuals have been pared down significantly. The textures are muddied, the draw-distances are reined in, and the resolution has taken a hit. These issues are exacerbated during docked play. While it technically runs at a higher frame rate and resolution docked, these visual issues are all the more noticeable when projected onto a larger screen.

The standard Nintendo Switch’s 6.2-inch screen does a great job of hiding the blemishes. Even though it’s running at a lower resolution, the smaller screen gives it a much crisper look, so the poor textures and pop-in are less apparent. If you do plan on playing it in handheld mode, you can, thankfully, adjust the size of the HUD to make things easier to read.

C'mon, this is what you're really here for
C’mon, this is what you’re really here for
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For returning players, the visual downgrade may require some getting used to. However, focusing solely on The Witcher 3’s visuals does this port a disservice. Four years later, the game is still massive in scope, and seeing the battle-scarred swamps of Velen, jagged peaks of Skellige, and sprawling countryside of Toussaint on a technically inferior platform is still a sight to behold.

More importantly, the grittier look of the Switch port doesn’t affect The Witcher 3’s core gameplay. The combat and exploration may be smoother on a PC, Xbox One X, or PS4 Pro, but I found performance to be consistent throughout a wide variety of combat encounters and locales. After nearly 30 hours, I haven’t experienced any significant frame rate dips. Even the swamps in Velen–an area notorious for causing frame rate issues on PS4 and Xbox One–are comparable to the rest of the experience on Switch. According to developer CD Projekt Red, the frame rate should range between 24 and 30 frames per second. In populated areas like Novigrad, the frame rate dipped to the lower end of that range. Given the slower pace of The Witcher 3, I never found these dips to be an issue, even in the heat of combat.

The Witcher 3’s visual prowess may have been a selling point for some in 2015, but the Nintendo Switch version is a reminder that there is far more to this adventure than a pretty picture. Even today, there are few games that can rival the storytelling and worldbuilding on display here. Nothing is as simple as it seems, and every thread you pull on reveals enticing new details about this world and its characters.

The Nintendo Switch version is a reminder that there is far more to this adventure than a pretty picture

The vast web of decisions and consequences is just as impressive as it was in 2015. While it may not be apparent on your first playthrough, your actions–both big and small–can have serious repercussions, even if you were trying to do the right thing. What’s more impressive is how well fleshed-out each of these paths are and how they ebb and flow through main quests and side quests. While many outcomes are bittersweet by design, none feel underdeveloped.

Where The Witcher 3 continues to shine is in its many deeply human stories. While the political aspects of the main story give context to the world and the characters that inhabit it, it’s the interactions Geralt has with its denizens that gives weight to the experience. There are no good guys or bad guys. There are just people fighting to find hope in an oppressive world. Many of the quests provoke questions like: Would you hurt others for those you love? Can even the most vile of men be forgiven? How far can fear drive someone?

The superb storytelling continues in the game’s two expansions. Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. While not necessary to the main narrative, these two expansions are thoughtful addendums to Geralt’s story. Blood and Wine in particular is a heartfelt send-off for the storied series. If you’re jumping back into the game and just want to experience these, you can skip to them right when you load it up for the first time.

Although the Nintendo Switch might not be the best platform to play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it’s still a fantastic experience that shouldn’t be missed. If you are looking to replay The Witcher 3 and bask in its detail and beauty, the Switch port may not quite scratch that itch. However, what makes this game excellent isn’t its graphics, but the powerful stories it tells, and those are as vivid as ever on Switch.

Source: GameSpot.com

Killer Queen Black Review – ‘Cause I’m Having a Good Time

If you’re fortunate enough to have a barcade in your neck of the woods, you have probably seen it: a huge, imposing pair of arcade cabinets with “Killer Queen” emblazoned on the marquee in blue and gold. Maybe you’ve even seen or played a versus session, with five players gathered around each screen attempting to work together and clutch sweet, sweet victory. Killer Queen is ideal for arcades, it’s a unique game built around the camaraderie of being together in a public space–a vibe that’s difficult to translate to the often solitary online experience PCs and consoles offer.

Enter Killer Queen Black, the first appearance of Killer Queen beyond the dimly-lit neon lights of modern social arcades. While it isn’t a 1:1 port of the arcade original, Killer Queen Black nonetheless delivers a tremendously fun and engaging multiplayer experience, whether you’re playing with a bunch of friends at home or joining in random battles online.

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It’s important to realize that Killer Queen in any form is, fundamentally, a multiplayer experience. That means that if you don’t plan to play with local friends or take the game online, there is little that it will offer you beyond a brief tutorial mode and the ability to play with CPU-controlled teammates and enemies. But when you do get a party started, Killer Queen Black realizes its full fun and frenetic potential.

Killer Queen Black has you playing in two teams of four players (down from five in the arcade original), with one player assuming the role of the insectoid Queen and three being worker drones who aid her. Each player has an important role; while the Queen is the team’s anchor and has access to powerful attack skills, the infinitely-respawning drones can pick up berries, ride snails, and upgrade in special pods to gain super-speed or become weapon- and shield-bearing warriors. Victory is achieved in one of three ways: by killing the other team’s Queen three times, collecting and storing enough berries to fill your team’s base, or riding a sluggish snail to your team’s goalposts.

The game’s varied roles and three means of victory offer up a lot of interesting strategies. Do the drones all opt to forfeit the ability to carry berries and ride the snail to gain weapons to go on an all-out offense? Or maybe only a couple should grab gear while one tries to bait the opposing Queen by riding the snail? Maybe your team’s Queen can dodge and counterattack enemies, distracting the opposing team and claiming their power-stations while your drone friends hoard berries or inch the snail to the goal. You can even put yourself in the snail’s jaws to stymie a riding opponent, allowing your weapon-wielding teammates an opportunity to kill off threats. There are many possibilities, and while a lot is always going on at any one time in Killer Queen Black, learning its basic rules and controls is easy enough that most anyone can jump in and quickly enjoy the strategic depth the gameplay has to offer.

Graphically, Killer Queen Black has received a significant overhaul from the arcade original. The arcade game employed a detailed retro-pixel art style, and that carries over to Black. However, the detail on the characters, animations, and background elements is significantly improved, adding a lot to the atmosphere of Killer Queen’s strange humanoid-insect world. As a result it’s not too tough to follow the action, even on the Switch’s comparatively smaller handheld screen, Along with the graphical overhaul comes some all-new maps, many of which emphasize the clever use of screen-wrapping to enhance strategic play by letting you quickly move from end of the screen to the other.

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There are many ways to enjoy the game’s multiplayer modes. You can link a pair of Switches together via a local network for eight-player action, you can hop online in a custom room with friends or an assemblage of random players–you can even take a local team of up to four players online to battle against another group online.

In our testing, online play was generally smooth sailing, though it was pretty easy to tell when players’ connections weren’t ideal; you could see their character jumping abruptly around the map as the game struggled to catch up with their location. (To its credit, the game tries its best to match you with others based on region.) There’s online voice chat for each team to coordinate strategy–though, if you don’t have access to voice chat (a likelihood for the Switch version), you can also communicate through a simple emote and emphasis system that draws attention to places on the map. If there’s one major gripe about online, it’s a lack of options; you can turn certain maps on and off, but that’s about it. With only six maps in the base game (that often repeat multiple times during a five-round set), the scenery starts to feel a stale pretty quickly.

Minor gripes aside, Killer Queen Black is the very definition of a great multiplayer game: easy to learn, fun to jump into, and packed with the sort of clutch moments that make you jump up and cheer. The satisfaction of spur-of-the-moment decisions, like sniping a Queen from the other side of the map with a carefully-timed laser gun blast, knocking an attacker pursuing your Queen off-kilter with a thrown berry, or eagerly shoving yourself in a snail’s mouth pixels from the enemy goal in order to buy your teammates time to complete your berry hoard is consistently engaging. If you’re looking for a unique, competitive multiplayer experience for online or local group play, Killer Queen Black is the bee’s knees.

Source: GameSpot.com

What The Golf Review – Swing And A Hit

What the Golf prides itself in being a golf game for people who don’t like golf. Its absolute irreverence means that, for long periods, it only resembles golf in that the controls are similar to other touch-screen golf games, especially Desert Golfing–you aim in a direction, pull your finger back to gauge your distance, and then let go for the swing (although here you’re just trying to hit the pin, not land in the hole). But as often as not, you’re not actually shooting a golf ball here. Sometimes you’re firing off a soccer ball, or hurling a golf club, or an object that’s not even golf-adjacent like a rocket that needs guiding through a mess of trees or a crab that must be protected from rising tides. What you’re doing changes completely, but the controls, and the humorous sense of surprise, remain unchanged for the majority of the game.

Often, the first shot on any course is a punchline. On one early level, you go to shoot the ball, but on release, the on-screen golfer gets flung forward instead, rag-dolling towards the green. In other instances, the punchline comes at the end of the hole: you’ll hit the pin and discover that the whole reason for putting in a level about driving a car was so that they could hit you with the pun ‘driving range’. What the Golf is an inventive, charming and funny game, one that speeds through ideas, jokes and oddities at a steady clip so that none of its ideas ever have a chance to get old. It’s fast, strange and pretty easy–the exact opposite of real golf, and all the better for it.

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What the Golf’s high-concept golf japery isn’t trying to deliver a serious or deep experience. Each level is short–getting the ball (or equivalent) to the pin rarely requires more than a few shots, and while the overworld that you navigate through to access each level contains only the mildest of traversal puzzles. The whole point of the game is to make you laugh at how flexible its internal definition of ‘golf’ is. It’s literally a weird flex, but it’s more than okay.

The game’s irreverence for golf doesn’t tick over into malice, nor are there any real elements of parody–golf simply provides a rough framework and theme for the game to build on. Levels are divided up by rough themes and concepts: some levels are set in space, for instance, or based on other sports, or require you to switch your phone orientation, switching to a first-person control scheme. Some even bring in augmented reality elements, asking you to move your phone around to fully comprehend a 3D level. The level of creativity on display here is what makes the game so charming, and right up until the end it’s still finding new ways to wring joy out of some very simple control mechanics.

It’s literally a weird flex, but it’s more than okay.

Unfortunately, if you’re playing on PC, some of these fun gimmicks have been excised or cut back–this is a game clearly designed with mobile devices in mind. It’s also not as intuitive to control, as moving a mouse is not as immediate or satisfying as using a finger, especially in levels that require you to take numerous shots in quick succession. But the game remains very funny, no matter how you play it. To explain too many of the game’s gags would dilute their power, but it does a very good job of baking the comedy into the mechanics. What the Golf repeats the same basic gags often to great success–a favourite is when you think you’re controlling the ball, but when you take your shot some other object gets propelled, which is somehow funny every single time. Even the soundtrack, which is largely made up of discordant tunes and singers singing “what the hell” and “golf” repeatedly, is funny.

The game is at its most fun the more recognisably connected to golf it is, although that doesn’t mean that all the best levels have you shooting a ball at a pin. The game turns into a spot-on homage to Superhot for a few levels, for instance, where you pick up new clubs to fire balls at enemies who only move–and shoot–when you do. It’s a committed homage, right down to the “SUPER. PUTT.” voiceover after you complete each level. There are other direct game parodies in here (and even one challenge that feels like a direct homage to Untitled Goose Game), and most of them are a delight. At a few other points, though, the game stumbles somewhat–some levels have so little to do with golf that the game’s central joke feels briefly abandoned, and it would be nice to have a few more levels that required some outside-the-box thinking. Even with all the zaniness, a lot of the gameplay boils down to simply pointing at the pin and firing, and some more puzzle-based levels would not have gone amiss.

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Thankfully, the two extra challenges holes attached to each level do a lot to flesh the game out. You can finish What the Golf in about two hours, but it’s worth going back and trying to 100% it (which can still be done in about six hours). These extra levels are a ‘par’ challenge, and then another level that usually provides a significant shake-up, one that’s often unrecognisable from the hole’s first challenge. Often there will be new gags or ideas to enjoy tucked away in these challenges, so it’s worth going back for them.

What the Golf is a comedy game first and foremost, and it succeeds at its primary goal. Perhaps the game’s most telling feature is the ‘Show To A Friend’ option on the main menu, which runs you through a quick playable “best of” reel of some clever challenges the game offers up. What the Golf is an experience that can be shown off, fully understood, and effectively sold to a player in the span of about two minutes–and like all great jokes, you’ll want to share it.

Source: GameSpot.com

John Wick Hex Review – Tick Tock Wick

John Wick is an orchestrator of death. He efficiently uses both the tools and space around him in a fight, delicately flowing between enemies and intelligently picking them off. John Wick Hex effortlessly replicates the slick violence of the films, allowing you to embody the feared assassin in combat scenarios that are both challenging and satisfying to overcome. It also introduces a fast-paced spin on traditional turn-based action, letting you think and act like the elusive Baba Yaga while also looking as refined and controlled as he is.

At the core of John Wick Hex is an overhead timeline, which records actions both you and enemies take. Each action takes a set amount of time, represented plainly in the timeline to give you a clear view of when you’re taking a shot versus when you have to dodge an incoming one, for example. After each turn, the action you’ve made plays out in real-time, only pausing if a new enemy enters your line of sight or if you take damage to let you adjust accordingly. You’re always aware of how the action is going to play out when it starts moving again, which lets you plan ahead and position yourself for your next turn.

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The choices you make in combat are vital, though. Sometimes an enemy might be quicker on the draw than you, forcing you to decide between potentially taking a hit or throwing your gun to stun them in time. This has its own set of consequences. If the enemy is too far, you’ve now disarmed yourself with too much ground to cover for a close-quarters takedown, or left yourself vulnerable to the surprise appearance of another foe. Each turn is a new step in a moving puzzle, rewarding careful consideration of positioning, sight lines, and resource management with a graceful flow of murder.

Aside from health, you have to consider both ammunition and a resource called focus. John Wick is great with a gun, but Hex limits the number of bullets you can carry at a time to force you to experiment with new weapons that you find. Knowing how many bullets you have in the magazine before a fight helps you manage how many enemies you think you can dispatch before needing to find a new one, which in turn helps you move efficiently from one kill to the next, collecting dropped firearms in the process. It’s a satisfying balance; I constantly had to adapt to the firing speeds and effective ranges of new weapons, which in turn changed the way I advanced on or retreated from a fight.

Focus governs most of your actions outside basic movement and shooting. Everything from performing an instant melee takedown to reloading your weapon requires some focus points, making it the backbone to most of your available repertoire. Although it can be replenished easily enough, finding space in a fight to do so without taking too much damage is tough, encouraging you to only bite off as much as you can chew and space your enemies out to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Your successes and failures are governed but how well you’re able to manage both ammunition and your distribution of resources, with Hex focusing less on hit percentages and random rolls and more on the choices you make and your ability to anticipate how things will play out.

Levels are designed to challenge your understanding of movement and its inherent risks, too, stuffing you into long, cramped corridors laden with doors that enemies can spawn through at any point. Sight lines are obscured to keep you guessing about who’s just around the corner; a reckless roll could put you in the firing line of a group of previously hidden enemies. Each step you take towards the exit of each level has to be a calculated one, taking into account acute angles of doorways and the benefits of elevation from overhead balconies.

When you hit a stride with this balancing act, John Wick Hex feels like it’s almost moving in real time. Your decisions will start feeling instinctive, with moves playing out as if you’re beholden to a ticking clock. Hex is tuned to make you feel like you’re always one step ahead. Because you have a beat or two to react to new enemies before they make their moves, you’ll often feel like your reaction times are split seconds ahead of them–so long as you’re thinking carefully. But it’s equally unforgiving if you’re too bold. If you don’t learn how to break sight lines while moving, you’ll quickly find your timeline overwhelmed with enemy actions that you can’t address entirely. Hex is a power fantasy with the odds ever so slightly tilted in your favor, but it’s also a game that wants you to understand the fine margins that John Wick operates within during every fight.

With such dynamic and engrossing combat at its center, it’s disappointing that John Wick Hex’s original story fails to live up to the same standard. It takes place well before the events of the first film–when John was the most dangerous weapon the High Table had in their employ, and before he ever met his wife–with John searching for series stalwarts Winston and Charon, reprised by Ian McShane and Lance Reddick respectively (Keanu Reeves’ likeness is used in the game’s stylized cartoonish aesthetic, but John Wick has no dialogue to speak of). Hex, a new villain to the series, has kidnapped the pair in an attempt to dismantle the High Table in a fit of revenge, inviting the wrath of John Wick as he ruthlessly hunts him down over a variety of locales, like neon-soaked night clubs with harsh electronic music and silent, snow-slicked forests which quickly become drenched in bright pink streaks of blood from fallen foes.

While the narrative gives the game a reason to bounce from one location to the next, it never taps into the intriguing layer of lore that sits on top of the high-octane action from the films. You’ll learn nothing new about the High Table or their seedy, mysterious Continental hotels, and even less about John’s time before giving up his assassin lifestyle in pursuit of something quieter. Hex’s revenge tale also fails to establish any interesting backstory or lasting impression on the franchise, making the story feel meaningless in the grander scheme of things.

It’s a disappointing thread that ties together the exceptional gameplay, which faithfully captures the feeling of being John Wick in a strategic and pulsating formula. John Wick Hex has turn-based gameplay at a pace you’ve likely not experienced before, and it intricately balances its systems to give you a sense of being an expert hitman while also making it feel earned. It’s a slick and well-oiled game that succeeds in giving you a new, engrossing way to experience John Wick and its signature brand of chaotic action.

Source: GameSpot.com

John Wick Hex Review – The One

John Wick is an orchestrator of death. He efficiently uses both the tools and space around him in a fight, delicately flowing between enemies and intelligently picking them off. John Wick Hex effortlessly replicates the slick violence of the films, allowing you to embody the feared assassin in combat scenarios that are both challenging and satisfying to overcome. It also introduces a fast-paced spin on traditional turn-based action, letting you think and act like the elusive Baba Yaga while also looking as refined and controlled as he is.

At the core of John Wick Hex is an overhead timeline, which records actions both you and enemies take. Each action takes a set amount of time, represented plainly in the timeline to give you a clear view of when you’re taking a shot versus when you have to dodge an incoming one, for example. After each turn, the action you’ve made plays out in real-time, only pausing if a new enemy enters your line of sight or if you take damage to let you adjust accordingly. You’re always aware of how the action is going to play out when it starts moving again, which lets you plan ahead and position yourself for your next turn.

No Caption Provided
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The choices you make in combat are vital, though. Sometimes an enemy might be quicker on the draw than you, forcing you to decide between potentially taking a hit or throwing your gun to stun them in time. This has its own set of consequences. If the enemy is too far, you’ve now disarmed yourself with too much ground to cover for a close-quarters takedown, or left yourself vulnerable to the surprise appearance of another foe. Each turn is a new step in a moving puzzle, rewarding careful consideration of positioning, sight lines, and resource management with a graceful flow of murder.

Aside from health, you have to consider both ammunition and a resource called focus. John Wick is great with a gun, but Hex limits the number of bullets you can carry at a time to force you to experiment with new weapons that you find. Knowing how many bullets you have in the magazine before a fight helps you manage how many enemies you think you can dispatch before needing to find a new one, which in turn helps you move efficiently from one kill to the next, collecting dropped firearms in the process. It’s a satisfying balance; I constantly had to adapt to the firing speeds and effective ranges of new weapons, which in turn changed the way I advanced on or retreated from a fight.

Focus governs most of your actions outside basic movement and shooting. Everything from performing an instant melee takedown to reloading your weapon requires some focus points, making it the backbone to most of your available repertoire. Although it can be replenished easily enough, finding space in a fight to do so without taking too much damage is tough, encouraging you to only bite off as much as you can chew and space your enemies out to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Your successes and failures are governed but how well you’re able to manage both ammunition and your distribution of resources, with Hex focusing less on hit percentages and random rolls and more on the choices you make and your ability to anticipate how things will play out.

Levels are designed to challenge your understanding of movement and its inherent risks, too, stuffing you into long, cramped corridors laden with doors that enemies can spawn through at any point. Sight lines are obscured to keep you guessing about who’s just around the corner; a reckless roll could put you in the firing line of a group of previously hidden enemies. Each step you take towards the exit of each level has to be a calculated one, taking into account acute angles of doorways and the benefits of elevation from overhead balconies.

When you hit a stride with this balancing act, John Wick Hex feels like it’s almost moving in real time. Your decisions will start feeling instinctive, with moves playing out as if you’re beholden to a ticking clock. Hex is tuned to make you feel like you’re always one step ahead. Because you have a beat or two to react to new enemies before they make their moves, you’ll often feel like your reaction times are split seconds ahead of them–so long as you’re thinking carefully. But it’s equally unforgiving if you’re too bold. If you don’t learn how to break sight lines while moving, you’ll quickly find your timeline overwhelmed with enemy actions that you can’t address entirely. Hex is a power fantasy with the odds ever so slightly tilted in your favor, but it’s also a game that wants you to understand the fine margins that John Wick operates within during every fight.

With such dynamic and engrossing combat at its center, it’s disappointing that John Wick Hex’s original story fails to live up to the same standard. It takes place well before the events of the first film–when John was the most dangerous weapon the High Table had in their employ, and before he ever met his wife–with John searching for series stalwarts Winston and Charon, reprised by Ian McShane and Lance Reddick respectively (Keanu Reeves’ likeness is used in the game’s stylized cartoonish aesthetic, but John Wick has no dialogue to speak of). Hex, a new villain to the series, has kidnapped the pair in an attempt to dismantle the High Table in a fit of revenge, inviting the wrath of John Wick as he ruthlessly hunts him down over a variety of locales, like neon-soaked night clubs with harsh electronic music and silent, snow-slicked forests which quickly become drenched in bright pink streaks of blood from fallen foes.

While the narrative gives the game a reason to bounce from one location to the next, it never taps into the intriguing layer of lore that sits on top of the high-octane action from the films. You’ll learn nothing new about the High Table or their seedy, mysterious Continental hotels, and even less about John’s time before giving up his assassin lifestyle in pursuit of something quieter. Hex’s revenge tale also fails to establish any interesting backstory or lasting impression on the franchise, making the story feel meaningless in the grander scheme of things.

It’s a disappointing thread that ties together the exceptional gameplay, which faithfully captures the feeling of being John Wick in a strategic and pulsating formula. John Wick Hex has turn-based gameplay at a pace you’ve likely not experienced before, and it intricately balances its systems to give you a sense of being an expert hitman while also making it feel earned. It’s a slick and well-oiled game that succeeds in giving you a new, engrossing way to experience John Wick and its signature brand of chaotic action.

Source: GameSpot.com