Tag Archives: Project COE

Horizon: Zero Dawn Review

Horizon: Zero Dawn (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Guerilla Games
Release Date: February 28, 2017

Parent Talk: Horizon: Zero Dawn has been rated T for teen from the ESRB because of alcohol and tobacco references, blood, mild language, mild sexual themes, and violence.  Horizon is a breathtaking action RPG where players take on the role of Aloy, a young outcast that hunts majestic mechanical beasts to stay alive outside the safety of the populous cities.  The mechanical animals she hunts do not bleed, however enemy tribes you go up against are made up of humans, and while attacking human enemies you can expect a certain level of violence.  The game is never tremendously gory, even though the violence is realistic.

Plays Like: Have you had the chance to play through 2013’s Tomb Raider or Rise of the Tomb Raider yet?  If so, those two games give the best impression of what you can expect from Horizon in terms of general gameplay.  Horizon is a gargantuan open world that is fully realized in a way very few open world games achieve.  There is a wealth of open world tropes such as unlocking towers, except here the towers are giant moving dinosaur-like creatures.  Side quests, vehicular combat, and more are all featured.  It’s the way that everything comes together that is truly impressive.

Review Basis: Sony Interactive Entertainment was kind enough to send us an advanced review code.  I put in well over 35 hours with the game and completed the main storyline.  I played through the game on a regular PlayStation 4.

Horizon: Zero Dawn has been in development since 2011.  Guerilla Games wanted to work on something different after the release of Killzone 3 on the PlayStation 3.  While it’s true the company would go on to release another Killzone on both the PS4 and the Vita, internally the team was secretly plugging away on what would become Horizon.  At E3 2015 the game was shown off to the public for the first time and I knew then that this was going to be a special game, and now having completed the game, I can proudly say it is indeed one special game that all PlayStation 4 owners should experience.

The Great:

There are have countless open world games released since Grand Theft Auto III hit the scene way back in 2001.  Some goofy, some serious, some kid-friendly, others not so much, and some come together in such a way that leave you speechless.  This one falls in the latter category.  It comes together in such a way that will truly take your breath away.  There have only been a few games where I stop and move the camera around because I am so in awe of what I’m looking at.  I’ve done that at least a dozen times while playing this game.  Aloy’s world is incredibly unique, and without spoiling anything, you will see mountain ranges that are so vividly detailed you won’t believe you’re not watching a cinematic.  The dynamic weather system will have it snow one minute, and pour rain another, but in a realistic manner where it doesn’t just rain for no reason.  You’ll see the clouds start to move in, the sky gets dark and then it starts to rain.  It’s amazing to see in action.  When it rains and you’re running through the dense forest areas, you can’t help but stand there in shock at the sheer beauty of it all.

Each area of the environment has been meticulously put together so that there’s a logical sequence to the placement of villages, mountains, desert areas, etc.  You don’t just see a mountain pop out of nowhere, you’ll slowly see the land incline and then as the elevation increases that’s when the weather starts to change and it gets cold.  It may seem trivial, but it’s this attention to detail that runs through every aspect of the game.

The storyline is one area I can’t speak much about, but it’s far more interesting than the trailers have led you to believe.  Aloy is an outcast, she doesn’t belong to a tribe.  Her guardian, Rost, used to belong to the Nora tribe many years back but something happened as he was cast out.  Typically, criminals are shunned this way, but in the case of Rost there’s much more to his backstory than meets the eye, much like everything in Horizon.  Eventually Aloy sets her eyes on an event that will allow her to become one with the tribe and learn more about where she comes from, who she is, and what her place is in this unique world.  What happens next changes the scope of the game and over the next thirty hours or so players will try and piece together exactly where these machines come from, why they were built, and just who are these ancients everyone keeps talking about.  It’s all fascinating stuff, and classic elements such as finding detailed information hidden away in the game’s world can be exposed if you’re willing to explore every nook and cranny.  Believe me, it’s worth it as the back story the game doesn’t tell you is just as, if not, more compelling than the one you’re taking part in.

The gameplay is excellent.  The game that most closely matches what Horizon does is the reboot of Tomb Raider, where you explore a massive open world, take on main storyline quests, side quests, and harvest resources to expand your arsenal and increase the number of items you can hold.  Fear not though, you don’t actively have to look for resources, they’re scattered everywhere.  You’ll see trees, plants, and animals all over the place that you can run up to, press triangle and harvest the resource.  Animals must be hunted, but you can see them with your Focus, which works something like Detective Mode in the Arkham games.  That means you don’t really have to put much effort into hunting or harvesting, which is good because it could have easily detracted from the rest of the game.

There will be certain animal resources you will need to find to upgrade your quiver for example.  When you hunt boars, turkeys, foxes, racoons, and fish they have a random number generator which dictates which resources the animal will drop.  Often you will need either the green uncommon or blue rare drops.  Because there are so many animals everywhere though, it never becomes a hindrance or burden and very early in the game you will be able to upgrade most of your gear at least once so long as you invest a good twenty to thirty minutes hunting.

The combat system and to a larger extension the weapons are incredibly fun and engaging.  For the most part you’ll be using your bow and arrows to hunt down the bulk of your adversaries.  From hunting wild animals, which require one arrow to take down, to taking on human and mechanical beasts alike, the combat is incredibly fun to partake in.  There are several elements to the combat depending on the situation at hand.  So, let’s break down each one.  Wild animals we already discussed, use your Focus to see where they are, highlight them with a quick press of the R2 button and take them out.

Human enemies are smarter and require some finesse to take down.  Once again you can use the Focus to see through walls, and plan your attack as you can mark enemies, but you can also see their walking pattern which is incredibly important for when you’re hunting the machines.  I typically stay far back, mark all the enemies and then take them out with precision arrows, one of many different types of arrows available to you.  Like everything else in the game, ammunition needs to be made from resources you find.  Absolutely everything in the game requires resources, but fear not, you can also buy goods from traders you meet along the way.  The form of currency is metal shards which everyone carries so when you defeat a human enemy and loot their corpse you’ll likely find some shards as well as potions and other items of use.  The one wrinkle to watch out for with human enemies is that they can bring in reinforcements if one of them reaches the strategically placed alarm signals.  A good tactic is to snipe all the enemies surrounding the alarm, then use stealth to deactivate the alarm and wipe out everywhere else however else you want.

Stealth is important because Aloy has a wild array of weapons as her disposal so she doesn’t just need to use the bow and arrows.  You can also use her trusty spear.  If she sneaks up on a person you can press the R1 button to activate a stealth kill, which is not only satisfying, but incredibly useful as no one hears the sounds, but they may see the body so be careful where you perform the takedown.  The world is covered in beautiful long flowing grass, which is just perfect for Aloy to use as cover, and this is important when taking on the mechanical beasts.  This is where the combat changes dramatically.

The wonderful creatures you’ve seen in all the trailers may look majestic, but when you must take one of them down, things get nasty.  Each type of machine needs to be handled differently, and this is an element I absolutely loved with the game.  The simple Watcher enemies can be defeated with a nice clear shot to their front lens, but before long you’ll be facing much stronger enemies that require multiple strategies to take down.  One enemy I fought was something like a giant worm that burrowed into the ground and popped up rather unexpectedly.  He ripped me to shreds the first time I faced him, but then I looked through my inventory to see what options I had available.  The first thing I did was I used the Focus to highlight any potential areas of weakness on the creature.  These areas become highlighted in yellow.  The thing is you can’t just shoot them and be done with it.  Sometimes these spots are protected and the creature needs to be immobilized first so you can target that specific area.  Some enemies are weak against one of the three elemental attacks in the game, fire, ice, and electricity.  Some are weak against a specific weapon you have, so you really must plan your attack before just jumping in and going crazy or you’ll be destroyed.

In the case of the worm fight, I decided to use my Ropecaster, which shoots a rope into an enemy and ties them to the ground, but wouldn’t you know it, he just burrowed underground so that didn’t work. I then tried to use the Sling to shoot frozen grenades at the creature to see if I could freeze him, which typically causes extra damage, and while it was working, I found it was taking too long, so I finally used my Tripcaster, which shoots out a trip-line with a small explosive attached to it, and boy did that work.  Every time the creature would lunge at me, I would have it setup up so he would trip the line and cause an explosion.  Shortly after, the creature who once destroyed me, was now dead.  Talk about a feeling of satisfaction.  Every time you stumble onto a new machine, you will do the exact same thing, try and find a good strategy to use against it.  The best news of all, your strategy could very well be completely different than mine, and that’s where the game shows its biggest strength.

As you complete more and more missions you’re awarded with experience, which slowly levels Aloy up over time.  Every time she gains a level she unlocks a skill point which can be allocated to a wide array of unique and helpful abilities.  You might be able to harvest more resources from a single source, reload your weapons faster, run while staying in stealth and much more.  Speaking of upgrades, your weapons and gear can be retrofitted with enhancements that cause extra damage, or give some other perk in battle.  The best thing to do is mess around and have fun with these unique elements as you never know what the results will be.

As you progress far enough in the game Aloy will eventually learn to hack creatures so they fight for her, she can learn to ride some as mounts, and so much more.  One of the more incredible aspects of these features is that they come together in a game with virtually no loading at all.  It’s an impressive sight to behold.  When you die there’s a short load time, and the same when you first boot the game but outside that there’s virtually no loading whatsoever.  The only exception to the rule is when you fast travel somewhere.  Even saving your progress can be done in about two seconds at campfires, either manually or automatically.  It’s impressive considering how incredible everything looks.

And oh, those looks.  I already mentioned I stopped to look around a dozen or so times, but really, I can’t stress this enough, this game looks incredible in motion.  It’s breathtaking how amazing everything came together.  If you thought last year’s Uncharted 4 looked amazing, wait until you see this.  Keep in mind I played the game on a regular PlayStation 4, so I can only imagine how much better it looks in 4K with HDR on the PlayStation 4 Pro.  I won’t get into the finer details, but Horizon is one of the nicest looking videogames I’ve ever played, period.

The sound design is also superb.  From excellent voice acting to a beautiful soundtrack, the audio came together in such a way as to compliment the visuals.  The audio is also dynamic meaning it will change based on the environmental situation, so not only battles, but whether the weather is really coming down hard, or if there’s something critical Aloy happened to figure out while she was on-mission.

The So-So:

There are a few elements that didn’t come together quite as well as Guerilla Games may have hoped for.  The first of these is the dialogue tree.  While it’s great being able to ask questions, and get more information out of NPCs, the choices you make feel as though they don’t really have any consequences.  The system works great from the perspective of information gathering, but there’s little to no weight behind some of the choices you make.

Another element that is ok, but nothing overly special is the mission variety, particularly if you take part in the side quests.  Too often Aloy must race off to a location, Focus on the area to find tracks and then follow those tracks to eventually fight either a mechanical beast or a bunch of humans.  This was offset by what I mentioned earlier though, that each new enemy encounter is unique in and of itself, and I suppose that was Guerilla’s argument for perhaps not having more mission diversity.

One area that cracked me up on more than one occasion was the acrobatics system.  Much like in the Uncharted series, Aloy can perform some rather impressive acrobatic feats, however these are always scripted.  She can only jump up to a specific spot if it happens to have a yellow border, if not she can’t.  It’s bizarre when there are areas she can’t reach that are shorter than the ones she can, all thanks to this mysterious yellow border.

Finally, the last elements of the game design that you must watch out for are with very specific resources not always available everywhere.  Under most circumstances, you will easily be able to craft whatever you want; however, ammunition is the one exception and that can force you to fast travel back to another area to harvest a few specific resources you’re missing so that you can continue with a mission that requires you to hunt down certain creatures.  This rarely happens, but when it does it can be slightly annoying.  Thankfully you can always buy what you’re missing from traders, however I like to save my shards for big upgrades and often the prices can be a bit steep for ammunition.

The Ugly:

Much like most open world games, I experienced a game breaking bug while playing the game, that Sony had to send me instructions on how to revert to a previous save point and avoid the bug.  If not for cloud saves I wouldn’t have been able to review this game for you as I was already 14 hours in and wouldn’t have had the time to restart from the very beginning.  The good news is this bug has been squished in the day 1 patch, but be warned that there will likely be other bugs present.

The Lowdown:

Horizon: Zero Dawn is an outstanding accomplishment from Guerilla Games.  While I had a few nitpicks with the game, overall it came together in such a way that few new IPs do.  It is also a technical achievement that will leave countless PlayStation 4 fans floored when they see it for the first time.  It comes with my absolute highest recommendation.  If you dislike open world games, give this one a chance as it may surprise you.  If you’re a longtime fan of the genre, this is a no-brainer.  Horizon: Zero Dawn is already a contender for Game of the Year.  Job well done Guerilla Games.

Final Score: 9.5/10      

Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright Review

FEFire Emblem Fates: Birthright (Available Exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Strategy RPG
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Release Date: February 19th, 2016

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright T for teen because of animated blood, fantasy violence, and suggestive themes. I’ve personally been playing this series since the early 90’s, and it’s truly not a damaging game for young audiences. There is violence to be sure, but there’s no gore, and the violence is completely fantasy-based. Even the suggestive themes are mild at best.

Plays Like: The Fire Emblem series hasn’t changed very much in the twenty plus years its been around, it remains a strategy RPG at its very core, regardless of how many new gameplay mechanics are thrown into the mix. This means you move your characters around a grid-based map taking out enemy units. Each character class has pros and cons and by properly taking advantage of your units you can destroy your opponents.

Review Basis: I purchased the Special Edition at launch, and played through Birthright. To give myself an extra challenge I played on Normal, and on Classic. This means if a character dies, they’re dead for good, which has been a staple of the series since day one.

I’m a longtime fan of the Fire Emblem series, having started with the series back in 1990 when the original game hit the Famicom and all the way through to this very day. I always enjoyed the chess-like gameplay a strategy or tactical RPG has to offer. Fire Emblem Fates is especially special in that there are actually three different versions of the game out there, Conquest, Revelation, and Birthright. Today we’re going to be talking about Birthright, which is actually the easiest of the three games. So let’s jump in and see what makes this game tick.

FE2The Great:

I’m sure I will say the same thing for the other parts, but Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is an incredible game to play. The gameplay is absolutely spot-on. You move your units across a grid-battlefield in order to successfully complete objectives. Each chapter has a specific objective, but unfortunately Birthright stumbles in this category, which I’ll discuss later on. The gameplay is where it’s at though. The legendary weapon triangle has returned although it’s slightly changed now. Swords and Magic have an advantage over Axes and Bows. Axes and Bows have an advantage over Lances and Hidden Weapons. Lances and Hidden Weapons have an advantage over Swords and Magic. To make things ultra-simple the triangle is also color-based, red has the advantage over green, green over blue, and blue over red.

As you level your units up, not only do they become more powerful, but they also learn skills such as counter attack. Each unit can hold a maximum of six skills. It’s also possible to change classes, of which there are many, if you happen to locate a specific class-changing item. Classes can also be advanced to a stronger class, for example a ninja can become a master ninja, and so on. The support system, first introduced in Fire Emblem: Binding Blade, which was unfortunately never released outside Japan, and is on the Game Boy Advance. Character build bonds based on whether they fight side-by-side with one another. Characters that form strong support for one another can use special items in order to change classes that reflect this bond. That’s nothing to mention the stronger characters support one another, the better they fight alongside each other. Then there’s the weapon system, which can change a very weak character into a powerhouse if they increase their weapon rank from E to S. There’s so much depth here it’s just incredible.

FE1The Good:

  • I really enjoyed the storyline in Birthright, and I can’t wait to jump back into the other two game and see all the differences. You play as Corrin, either a male or female, who lives in Nohr with her loving family. Her father, an absolute monster of a man, is hell-bent on the destruction of Hoshido, the neighboring kingdom. I really don’t want to spoil any of the storyline, but needless to say things are not as they appear, and after the sixth chapter the player has to make a very important choice, and this is ultimately what separates the three different versions of Fire Emblem Fates. Players have to decide if they stay with their family in Nohr, defend Hoshido, or decide to veer off on their own. If you purchase Birthright on its own, your choice is made for you, you will defend Hoshido, if you purchase Conquest, you’ll side with Nohr, and if you purchased the Special Edition and play Revelation, you will decide to stand on your own. Revelation is available as a downloadable game from the Nintendo eShop for those who weren’t lucky enough to snag the Special Edition. Whichever game you decide to pick, the story unfolds based on the choice you made during this pivotal moment.
  • The 3DS, much like the DS before it, is perfectly well suited for this genre. The bottom screen displays your projected battle outcomes and percentages of achieving a critical strike, as well as displaying the map and the location of all the units.

  • Units selection is fantastic allowing you to select between archer, cavalier, knight, paladin, ninja, monk, and countless others. Selecting which units to bring with you into battle is the key element in Fire Emblem because you have to balance all of the different gameplay elements I mentioned above. Do you bring in your most powerful units all the time, and let the others stay at a low level? Doing so could put you at a serious disadvantage later on when specific classes have advantages over your mighty few. Thankfully Birthright eases players into things by allowing them to scout for challenges, which essentially allows you to grind levels. It’s entirely possible to max out each unit to level 20, then use a Master Seal to promote said unit to their advanced class, think cavalier to knight, and then level that class to 20 and get another seal to boost it to 25. If you take the time to do this for each of your units you will be virtually unstoppable.

  • Outside combat you’ll spend a lot of your time customizing your castle. Not only will you decide where to play your armory, jail, and all manner of other buildings, but this is where you’ll develop bonds with the different characters. Eventually you can even marry and have children, which causes new events to take place throughout the game. While in your castle hub you can purchase accessories for all of your troops which gives them stat buffs, and you can even fortify your castle with powerful armaments. You can even purchase permanent stat boosts by making statues of each specific unit. All around there’s a wealth of things you can do while not in combat.

  • A great start for newcomers. There are three core difficulty settings you can choose from, Normal, Hard, and Lunatic, and these control the strength of the enemies you face. Then there’s the whole permadeath subject, which is what most people dislike about Fire Emblem as a whole. On classic, it’s enabled, meaning if a unit dies, they’re gone for the duration of the game. Casual brings fallen units back once the chapter is complete, and finally Phoenix mode brings them back after their next turn. This is by far the most forgiving mode to play the game on, but if you’re seriously stuck, by all means go ahead and give it a try in Phoenix mode.

  • DLC isn’t mandatory for any of the Fire Emblem Fates games, but it’s certainly worth it. Not only do you get to play through some great maps, have a chance to level some of your characters, but you also get access to some extremely rare weapons, which can make certain units almost god-like in power. There’s a mixture of free and paid DLC for those interested and it’s accessible through the standard ‘next battle’ menu upon leaving the castle.

The So-So:

+/- I didn’t find the intimate moments all that special, and to be honest they come across as cheesy more often than not. You’re supposed to use the microphone to blow away steam from another character’s face, or caress your lover’s face so they wake up, things like that. It just comes across as bizarre to me. Most of these scenes were censored compared to what you were able to do in the Japanese version.

+/- The dialogue can also be a bit cheesy. While the story itself is great, and there are moments where you will truly feel sorry for what happens, often times the dialogue gets in the way of some of the more romantic moments.

+/- While I love the story, I can’t help but notice there are plot holes absolutely everywhere, which I can’t go into detail about for fear of spoiling the game.

The Bad:

  • While I understand Birthright was designed for people just getting into the Fire Emblem series, I find it can leave a bad taste in your mouth because the mission variety just isn’t there. This entire game is essentially broken up into two segments, destroy all the enemies, and defeat the boss. There might be one or two extra objective types but in the 27 missions, virtually every single one was one of these two types and that ultimately gets repetitive.   I’m sure new players would have appreciated more diverse objectives.

FE3The Lowdown:

Fire Emblem was one of the pioneers of the strategy RPG genre, and it’s incredible that after 26 years the series is better than ever before. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is a great entry point for anyone looking to see what all the fuss is about, and for longtime veterans, it’s a great story to experience before you jump into the harder games. Having three games to play in this wonderful installment is a delight, and I can’t recommend the game enough. It’s worth buying a 3DS for it’s that good.

Final Score: 9.3/10

Final Fantasy Explorers Review

FFE Final Fantasy Explorers (Available exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Racjin & Square-Enix

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Final Fantasy Explorers E10+, for everyone over 10 years of age. The content warning includes alcohol references, fantasy violence, and mild suggestive themes. Honestly I wouldn’t worry about the content whatsoever. If someone can understand the class system, and how quests work, they should be able to enjoy everything this game has to offer. There is a lot of information this game throws at you, and children younger than ten may find it hard to come to terms with everything.

Plays Like: Imagine if you took the gameplay from the Monster Hunter series and infused it with Final Fantasy fan-service, and that’s what Final Fantasy Explorers is. You take on quests from a central hub, head out into the wild and hunt down a wide variety of classic Final Fantasy enemies, summons, and more. You can even purchase skins so that your avatar looks like key characters from the series such as Cloud, Squall, and others.

Review Basis: I played up to twenty hours before I had experienced everything this game has to offer. While the core game remains unfinished, I’m at the point where I feel comfortable awarding the game a score.

If you’re a huge fan of the Monster Hunter series, but absolutely love Final Fantasy, this may very well be your dream come true. While it would be unfair to say this is just a simple Monster Hunter clone, it’s close enough. What separates the two is that this game is clearly aimed at the hardcore Final Fantasy fan, the one who wears FF PJs, has played through all 13 of the core games and can tell you exactly how to acquire a Golden Chocobo in Final Fantasy VII. We’re talking about the rabid fans. I’ve only played a few games in my life that have had this much fan-service, so if you love this universe, this may very well be the game for you.

FFE1The Great:

Hands-down the best aspect of Final Fantasy Explorers is the fan service. You can purchase armor that will make you look like Cloud, Squall, Lightning, and countless other characters from the Final Fantasy universe. You can trap classic summoning creatures and use their abilities in combat, and all of the enemies and monsters you fight are based on existing creatures from the popular series. There are surprises everywhere here from items and weapons you can acquire, to surprise characters you will meet on your journey. If you have ever enjoyed a Final Fantasy game before, and you like the gameplay from the Monster Hunter series, you’re going to love this game.

FFE2The Good:

  • The core gameplay is quite solid. The concept is extremely simple, you accept quests from a central hub area, head out into the wild and complete the quest. Simple enough, no? Quests include taking down powerful summoning creatures like Shiva, Ifrit, Odin, and more, all the way to locating key items, or taking out a group of enemies.
  • Job classes are deep, varied, and rich. New classes unlock as you progress through the main storyline, but can only be switched out in the main hub. This isn’t a bad thing per say, but you’ll have to keep it in mind as you progress. Every class has access to different weapons armor sets, but it’s their unique abilities that really separate them from one another. Some classes will level up to the point where they can perform incredible magical attacks, whereas others focus on physical strength. Weapons are also highly dependent on specific classes. Several classes may be able to use swords, for example, but depending on the class your abilities with this weapon vary greatly.

  • The breakdown in classes works something like an MMO, where you have a tank or defensive character, damage dealers, and support classes like mages. You can switch to new classes without penalty, which encourages you to try new ones until you find a set of skills you really like playing with. Thankfully you can save presets so you can switch back and forth with ease. The best news of all is that you don’t start back at level 1 once you switch to a new class, meaning there’s very little reason not to try out multiple classes.

  • While there are a wide variety of abilities, you can only use eight of them at any given time, with four of them being mapped to the face button while holding down the L button and the other four mapped to the same face buttons while holding down the R button. Each ability eats up Action Points, which are represented by a yellow meter. These points are also used for running, which is important as you’ll be running a lot while in battle with larger creatures. In order to replenish Action Points you either have to manually attack an enemy, or wait for the meter to refill. There are also special abilities that you can use periodically which directly impact your future abilities as these abilities are mutations of your core abilities. That’s a mouthful to say that if you use a generic ice attack, eventually you may unlock a special ability where your ice spell adds an additional factor such as potentially a decrease in magic defense. These abilities can then be purchased for Crystal Points, which are one of the two currencies in the game.

  • The party system can be extremely overpowering, but it remains fun. You can have up to three partner monster characters join your party if you happen to locate their amalith, which is to say their spirit. These somewhat rare drops only occur once and a while, and you can use these amaliths to revive fallen monsters and have them join your party. The thing is that they can become insanely powerful after you level them up high enough. In the later portions of the game it’s not uncommon to have your monster partners be significantly stronger than you.

  • The absolute best way to experience Final Fantasy Explorers is with a friend, or three friends to be precise. There is something to be said about screaming at your buddies to help protect you. That’s something else that’s important to mention, each player should take on a specific class, so one or two can be damage dealers, one a tank, and one a healer. When you play online it’s often very difficult to set roles or get people to actually follow each other. The other little caveat is that you can only participate in quests completed by the weakest member. In other words if your party has four players, but one player hasn’t progressed very far, you have to start on those extremely low quests.

The So-So:

+/- The narrative is alright, but nowhere near as deep as something you would find in say a core Final Fantasy RPG. The focus here is on the Grand Crystal and how it powers civilization. Your mission is to establish new pathways to this crystal and ensure civilization can carry on. Like I said, the focus here isn’t on storytelling, but more on getting you out in the wild and hunting down new creatures.

FFE3The Bad:

  • Within a few hours of playing you will have experienced everything the game has to offer in terms of quests. While the difficulty increases over time from one star to ten star ranking, the core quests are always the same. Go hunt down creature X, or collect a certain number of item Y. It all gets extremely repetitive very, very quickly.
  • Forging new equipment often requires you to farm key items that only drop from specific enemies, or are quest rewards meaning you could have to repeat the exact same quest ten times in a row in order to make that fancy new piece of gear you’ve been eyeing.

  • All quests and sub-quests you pick up are tied to the currencies, both Crystal Points and Gil. If you don’t have enough of one type, you can’t take on the quest. This can become quite annoying in the early portions of the game since Gil can be a bit hard to come by at first.

  • The Lowdown:

    Final Fantasy Explorers is an extremely fun game to play for die-hard fans of the Monster Hunter series, or those that eat up everything Final Fantasy related. The problem is that the game is extremely repetitive, and if you’re not into grind-based game, chances are you’ll tire of this one very quickly. The absolute best way to enjoy the game is with a group of friends with each taking on a key role and just having a blast together. These days though it may prove difficult to find four people with the game, which is where online play should have saved the game, but given the somewhat basic feature-set, that’s not really what happens.

    Final Score: 7/10

    Street Fighter V Review

    SF5Street Fighter V (Available on PC and PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Fighting
    Publisher: Capcom
    Developer: Dimps & Capcom
    Release Date: February 16th, 2016

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Street Fighter V T for teens because of suggestive themes, violence, and mild language. The series has its own unique art style, and isn’t overly realistic in its depictions of violence and everything is over the top. The suggestive themes are mainly because of the scantily clad female fighters, but that too isn’t as far reaching as some other fighters out there. Honestly if you’re old enough to understand how to play fighting games, you’re old enough for Street Fighter V.

    Plays Like: I’d hate to say that if you’ve played one Street Fighter you’ve played them all because that would be a flat out lie, but the core gameplay mechanics and structure have remained largely the same since the original Street Fighter II. Yes the series has greatly evolved since then to introduce advanced combos, parrying, and so many other concepts, but those original gameplay mechanics like best of three rounds, unique joystick motions to pull off special moves, and more are still featured here. Street Fighter V is a wonderfully compelling game that will take hours upon hours of your time to get competent at, and will takes years to master.

    Review Basis: Sony sent us a review copy to play in advance of the official release date. I played through the entire story mode, I played a bunch of versus matches locally, and got destroyed online.

    It has been since the Super Nintendo that a Street Fighter was exclusive to a home console. That sure didn’t last long back then before the series hit the Genesis, and every other platform known to man shortly afterwards, but for a short period of time Street Fighter II was only available on the SNES, and that changed the landscape of the console wars forever considering how big of a success Street Fighter II was in the arcades.

    Today Capcom and Sony have partnered up to bring Street Fighter V exclusively to the PlayStation 4. Yes it’s also getting released on PC at the same time, but having console exclusivity is a really big deal. Whether or not it helps further the divide between the PS4 and Xbox One is up for debate, but the fact that the PS4 will now become the de facto fighting game system of choice for fighting game fans the world over speaks volumes.

    Having sat out Street Fighter IV for most of its existence means I’m reviewing this game having stepped away from the series after the Street Fighter II, III, and the Alpha series. Those series were incredibly influential in my understanding and enjoyment of fighting games. So does V have enough special to make me want to devote time, effort, and energy into the latest Capcom fighter? Let’s find out together!

    SF5_5The Great:

    The complete package. That’s the first thing I think of when I think of Street Fighter V. There were four different versions of Street Fighter IV, the original release also known as vanilla Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, and Ultra Street Fighter IV. Each of these games added new characters, costumes, backgrounds, and gameplay tweaks. The problem was, and one of the key reasons why I stayed away from that game for so long, is that if you missed out on the original release, you always felt like you were playing catch up. If you wanted the complete experience, it always felt like it was just out of reach.

    With Street Fighter V, it’s clear that Capcom designed the game from the ground up to be upgradable. Capcom has built a game that will allow players to constantly add new characters, new costumes, new gameplay tweaks, and even new gameplay modes, without forcing the player to purchase an entirely new game. New gameplay features will be free to everyone via downloadable patches. Characters, costumes, and stages will be purchasable DLC, however you can use the in-game currency, Fight Money, to purchase these goods. Yes you can purchase the goods via the Season Pass, or real-world money (Zenny), but the fact the option is there to use an in-game currency makes all the difference in the world.

    At launch Street Fighter V has 16 playable characters, with a nice roster of new characters and returning favorites from previous games in the series dating back all the way to the original Street Fighter. The line-up includes Ryu, Chun-Li, Nash, M. Bison, Cammy, Birdie, Ken, Necalli, Vega, R. Mika, Rashid, Karin, Zangief, Laura, Dhalsim, and F.A.N.G. First year DLC characters have been confirmed to include Alex, Guile, Balrog, Ibuki, Juri, and Urien. That’s quite a nice roster if I do say so myself, and who knows how this will play out in the years ahead.

    The current gameplay modes include a Story Mode, Versus, Survival, Challenges, Training, Ranked Match, and Casual Match, but as I said before, there’s room for additional gameplay modes in the future. Capcom has already confirmed a Cinematic Story expansion will hit in June for free to all players. It’s what’s available right now, plus the promise of future support that ultimately makes this an exceptional fighter. The future looks exceptionally bright for this one.

    SF5_4The Good:

    • Interesting story mode. Unlike traditional story modes where you fight through a lengthy roster of characters, here you battle your way through three or four opponents and that’s it. Each character has a very detailed, almost comic-book style infused cutscene-based storyline that details some part of their past leading up to the current events of the game. The overall storyline will be fleshed out in an update coming out this June, but it does act as a nice starter. The artwork is also fantastic, and will tickle the nostalgia bone of long-time fans of the series.
    • Online play is very responsive and the net code is great. Playing this prior to launch I had very little problems connecting to online matches, and there wasn’t any noticeable lag. I played through a bunch of matches and they all went off without a hitch.
    • The Capcom Fighters Network is awesome! It highlights where battles are happening all over the world, you can view player profiles, match statistics, designate rivals which allows you to keep an eye on their performance, register your friends and follow your favorite players. You can even find out about the latest tournament news, watch replays, and best of all, send battle invites out. Overall, this is a phenomenal way to keep everyone connected and up-to-date, which is crucial considering this is supposed to be the only version of Street Fighter V ever released. With this system, Capcom has created a key way of allowing them to update everyone in a nice, clean, and elegant manner. Hardcore fighting game fans are going to absolutely love this.
    • Combat is smooth, with good weight to the various characters, and the fighting feels tight and responsive. Classic Street Fighter moves are present throughout, however the new aspect to this iteration is the Variable or V-system. Each character has a V-Trigger, a V-Skill, and a V-Reversal. The V-Skill is completely different based on the character, some perform an offensive, defensive, or mobility enhancing move. V-Reversals are very similar to Alpha Counters in the Street Fighter Alpha series and allow a player to counter an incoming attack. They take some time to master, but can allow you a chance to start up a wicked combo. The V-Trigger works like Ultras from Street Fighter IV in that they’re designed to allow one player to turn the tide on the other. Once triggered they unlock a character’s true potential. They can make standard moves more powerful, and they can turn a super special move into an ultra-move. Take Ryu for example, if you have full V-stock and EX stock, you can trigger a Denjin Hadouken, by far his most powerful singular move. You may have noticed I said EX stock, and that’s right, you can keep stock of EX as well, which allow for more powerful version of standard special moves. Overall the system is fairly easy to get into, and robust enough that when coupled with the deep combo system, players should be able to spend countless hours seeing what’s possible.
    • The audio visual presentation is excellent. You can really tell they put the Unreal Engine 4.0 to good use here, and yes it’s true there’s a distinct style to the game that doesn’t go for realistic fighters, this is still the prettiest Street Fighter ever made. The backgrounds in particular look great, and the comic book-style cutscenes in the story mode are just great. The most important part, the entire game is running at 60 frames-per-second in wonderful 1080p resolution. The soundtrack is fantastic, and the new renditions of some of the classic tunes sound wonderful. Even the voice acting is pretty good, which really surprised me. Overall, it’s Street Fighter you know and love, but in glorious next-gen HD.
    • PS3 arcade sticks work! That may not be a big deal to some, but considering professional sticks are often around $150 and up, I can tell you many people will be extremely pleased with this aspect of the game.

    SF5_3The So-So:

    +/- The training mode is your basic training mode, where you can set some features like move displays, frame boxes, command inputs, etc. What it lacks is what made the training mode in Killer Instinct so exceptional on the Xbox One, it fails to teach you how to string combos together, or how to understand the fundamentals of the game. This won’t even be a blip on the radar of series veterans, but it is an important element missing for brand new players to the genre. Understanding the basics before getting online is crucial.

    SF5_2The Bad:

    • While the game does offer a lot of options for fighting game fans, it feels a bit barebones at launch. The roster is nice, the backgrounds are great, however the story mode is over in a flash, and there’s not much else here except for online combat, the survival mode, or local versus multiplayer. Sure the future promises to increase the content dramatically, but for now, there’s nothing to unlock, and thus very little else to chew into outside online play. Mortal Kombat X felt much richer in terms of sheer content at launch.

    SF5_1The Lowdown:

    I have to admit that it was really nice being able to sit down, whip out the old arcade stick, and just lose myself to a fantastic Street Fighter. It feels like I haven’t done that in far too long, and that’s the truth. This is one I want to devote more time, effort, and energy on because it feels like it deserves it. This is an absolutely excellent game that is well worth the price of admission, and with the promise of no new Street Fighter V releases, and loads future content delivered directly through this one game, fans of the series may have just found the ultimate Street Fighter experience. If you like fighting games, honestly, this one’s a no-brainer and is likely already on your pre-order list.

    Final Score: 9/10

    Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

    Rise of the Tomb Raider ReviewRise of the Tomb Raider (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Square-Enix
    Developer: Crystal Dynamics & Eidos Montreal
    Release Date: November 10th, 2015

    Parent Talk: the ESRB rates Rise of the Tomb Raider M for mature because of blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. You shoot, stab, and kill in every way imaginable in order to survive this harsh world. You hunt animals for their pelts, throw grenades to take out small hordes of enemies, and much more. Even though you take part in all of these overly violent acts, this isn’t Gears of War so don’t expect pools of blood everywhere. That said, this is certainly not a game you would want your children to play.

    Plays Like: Rise of the Tomb Raider plays almost exactly like 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, except the controls are tighter, the action is more refined, and the exploration feels more natural. This is an action game with puzzle elements, some light platforming sections, and an emphasis on action during the latter half of the game.

    Review Basis: Microsoft sent us a review code, and I played through the entire game on Normal difficulty.

    2013’s Tomb Raider was a fantastic game. I absolutely loved it, as it was the Tomb Raider experience I had always envisioned, ever since playing through the original Saturn version of the first game way back in October of 1996. Back then the controls were finicky, the graphics were clunky, and the game, while fun, required one to use their imagination for some of the finer details. When we got the reboot though, everything changed. The developers took what I loved about the Uncharted series and applied it to the Tomb Raider franchise. The end result was something truly special, and now two years later we have a sequel that lives up to my lofty expectations. Imagine everything Tomb Raider did right, and refine it even further, and you have Rise of the Tomb Raider. It’s hands-down one of the best games of 2015, and if you own an Xbox One you owe it to yourself to purchase this game.

    TR1The Great:

    The setting and story are absolutely the highlight. As per usual you play as Lara Croft as she makes her way around the world in search of an artifact grants immortality. The interesting elements this time around are why she’s on this particular quest. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it deals with a treasure her father was looking for, a new mysterious group called Trinity, and a bitter betrayal. The villains are grounded and have purpose, and this only makes things that much more interesting. The key difference this time around is that Lara isn’t a scared survivor, here she knows exactly what she’s doing, and is actively jumping into danger because she considers the cause righteous.

    As for the setting, the bulk of the game takes place in an old soviet country. You can expect to find derelict soviet equipment, bases, and vehicles, on top of ancient ruins, and even a tribe of people that appear untouched by the modern world. All of these elements come together to create a truly unique game world. There is nothing more impressive than seeing a wide expanse open up when Lara unlocks new abilities, and you realize that wow you can actually reach that mountainside you’ve been looking at for the past two hours. It’s incredible.

    TR2The Good:

    • Exploration is key. I’ve always described this new Tomb Raider series as a cross between Uncharted and Metroid. You may wonder why Metroid, and that has to do with the semi-open world nature of the game. As the story progresses you’ll move from one massive area to the next, however as you learn new abilities, or earn new items, you can backtrack (via camp fires for quick travel) to previously explored areas to unlock vast new ones to explore. Tombs also make a return, and force you to think of logical ways to solve some rather challenging puzzles. These were a highlight in the previous game, and they shine brightly here too.
    • The action is tighter and more refined than ever. Lara has to make use of cover and be quick about dispatching her foes as the AI is smart, and enemies will constantly throw grenades at you, or try and circle around you to flank you. It makes every enemy encounter feel threatening, but you’re always equipped to take out even the most challenging foe. Lara has access to a wide assortment of weapons from her trusty bow and arrow, to hand guns, shot guns, and more.

    • Perfect learning curve, and experimenting is rewarded. In the beginning of the game you can take out enemies with a simple headshot, however as you progress enemies start wearing heavy armor, and that’s when you realize there are so many different ways to take out enemies. You can hide in bushes, in branches on trees, and take them out stealthily, or you can use explosives and heavy weapons to go balls to the wall and take the threat on head-first. The choice is left up to you, but whatever you do, it’s a blast and you’re constantly rewarded for trying new things.

    TR4+ The same upgrade system from the first game returns, where you can harvest collected goods from nature in order to upgrade your equipment. You can take out a bear, take its pelt and then combine it with some tree branches you find in order to make a new quiver capable of holding more arrows. Lara can also have her core abilities upgraded. These skills are broken up into three categories, hunting, brawling, and survival. Each category strengthens Lara in one way or another, making her a better hunter, a better killer, and a better survivor.

    • There are quite a few extra features thrown in for good measure to keep you coming back. There are time trials where you can try and finish key areas as quickly as possible and challenge your friends to beat your times. There are also cards you can purchase with both real-world money, and in-game currency which allows you to customize how levels are played. There are a wealth of customization options already available for use in your own unique adventure, and then there’s the promise of future DLC to expand the storyline which sounds very exciting.
  • One of the most beautiful games ever made. No joke, this game is absolutely stunning. The environments you interact with look so detailed I often just stood in one spot and moved the camera around just to take it all in. The special effects are also superb, seeing fire, smoke, and water in such high detail is outstanding and really impressed me from the onset to the very end of the adventure. The character models are also made up of countless polygons and look very impressive.

  • The soundtrack is sweeping and powerful. You feel as though you’re really on a mysterious adventure. Once the action set pieces begin, the music really cranks up and will raise your adrenaline.

  • TR5The So-So:

    +/- Resource gathering can become a bit tedious if you’re trying to maximize everything.

    TR3The Lowdown:

    Rise of the Tomb Raider is a sensational game, one of my personal favorites of 2015. This has been a pretty awesome year for videogame fans what with Batman: Arkham Knight, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, Forza 6, Halo 5: Guardians, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and now Rise of the Tomb Raider. I can’t stress this enough, if you enjoy action adventure games, this is one you can’t miss. It comes very highly recommended.

    Final Score: 9.4/10

    Ghost Blade Review

    Ghost Blade ReviewGhost Blade (Available exclusively on the SEGA Dreamcast)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
    Publisher: Hucast Games
    Developer: Hucast Games
    Release Date: September 27th, 2015

    Parent Talk: The ESRB doesn’t rate independent releases, but I can tell you right now this would get an E for everyone rating as it’s a 2D sprite-based shoot ‘em up, that doesn’t feature any harmful violence except the explosion of thousands of tiny ships.

    Plays Like: Ghost Blade is a vertical shooter that pits you against a massive onslaught of enemy ships. Dodge all the bullets you can, and destroy everything that moves. Simple as that. Ghost Blade shares a lot in common with other shooters such as DoDonPachi and Mushihimesama, although is nowhere near as difficult. As a matter of fact, this game is directly aimed to introducing new players to the genre.

    Review Basis: Completed the game on Novice and Normal modes.

    In 2001 SEGA officially discontinued the Dreamcast in North America, it’s now 2015 and the platform continues to see new releases thanks to the efforts of independent game developers all over the world. Ghost Blade is another in a long line of indie releases that shows the dedication and love the community has for the Dreamcast. Many of the Dreamcast games that get released today are shoot ‘em ups that aim at pleasing fans of the early 90’s, and this release is no different. That being said, it’s not without its controversy too.

    Ghost Blade was announced back in April 2013, with pre-orders opening for a limited to 300 (eventually raised to 500) copies of a Collector’s Edition. After that, the game saw one delay after another, and eventually its Caravan mode was completely scrapped before the game was eventually released in September 2015. Sadly those that did pre-order the Collector’s Edition still haven’t had their version of the game released, as only the regular and limited editions (contains the game’s musical soundtrack) are currently in stock. What we’re left with is a five-stage two-player shmup that was delayed by over two years. So as I said, lots of controversy. Controversy aside, let’s see how the game holds up.

    Ghost Blade 1The Great:

    If you enjoy shooters, you’re going to really enjoy this one. You begin by selecting one of three female pilots, each who controls a different ship. Your mission is to destroy a rogue AI that is out wreaking havoc on everything. Each ship has a different firing system in-place, as well as movement speed. There’s the classic spread shot, a wide shot with a missile-combo, and finally the all-powerful straight laser shot. You also have access to a screen-clearing bomb. The weapon system is rather unique. If you press the A button to shoot, you end up earning stage stars which boost your score, however if you use a focus attack, the X button, all of your firepower is streamed into a forward attack, which also slows your ship down, and that nets you tech orbs. These orbs fill a meter that, once full, grants you another stage-clearing bomb. So it’s nice how you juggle between the two modes of fire, which becomes even more important once you factor in the point system, which I’ll tackle in just a few.

    Ghost Blade 2The Good:

    • Novice mode is a complete cake-walk, especially if you use the focus fire and continuously get new bombs. As an added bonus in this mode, if you happen to be touched by an enemy, you automatically deploy a screen-clearing bomb instead of blowing up. If you run out of bombs, that’s when you lose a life. I really thought this was a great way of introducing new players to the genre. Even those who have never played a shooter before should have little trouble clearing the game on Novice mode.
    • Normal mode doesn’t automatically release a bomb, but I still found it fairly simple to navigate the game within a few hours of practice. This isn’t a hard shmup, and that’s ok, because it plays very well. If you’re here for difficulty, this won’t be the shooter for you.

    • The point system is based a combo chain system. The more enemy kills you string together, the higher your combo. If you die, it reverts back to zero, so you really don’t want to do that. This isn’t a game where your main goal is to finish it, as honestly you can do that in under half-an-hour. Instead this is a game that requires you to play it over and over again to chase that ever illusive high score.

    Ghost Blade 4+ I hope you enjoy kick-ass music, because you’re going to get it. Rafael Dyll who composed the music for other recently released Dreamcast games such as Last Hope, Gunlord, amongst others, is back to give this game a rip-roaring soundtrack that will stay with you long after you finish the game. I would highly recommend you check out the Limited Edition, because it comes with the game’s soundtrack on a separate disc. There were only 1,000 of these printed, so be sure to act fast before they’re all gone.

    • Graphically the game shines in VGA-mode, although there is a lot of slowdown when too much is going on. There are also times where you really have to pay attention to differentiate between enemy bullets and orbs and stars flying towards your ship. It isn’t too bad after a short period of time, but all of these sprites make the Dreamcast come to a grinding halt, especially if you shoot out a bomb while all of this is happening on-screen. Backgrounds are varied, and detailed, and overall the game looks quite sharp, and runs well for the most part. I should also mention Ghost Blade supports a TATE mode, where you can play on a vertical monitor for the optimal experience.
  • As you’d expect the game supports the VMU, where little icons are displayed, as well as the arcade stick. This is extremely important for those of us that like to relive the glory days of the arcades in our homes.

  • The packaging is classic retro goodness. If you’ve purchased any other games from Hucast you know what to expect. You get a DVD case, which fits nicely with Hucast’s other offerings like DUX and Redux: Dark Matters. You also get a full color instruction manual, and in the case of the Limited Edition, you get a fantastic pressed audio CD featuring the game’s soundtrack. Speaking of pressed discs, the game disc itself is also professionally pressed.

  • Ghost Blade 3The So-So:

    +/- A training mode, two-player co-op mode, and the five-stage campaign is all she wrote for Ghost Blade. While it’s fun chasing high scores, I can see people wanting a little more after a few days with the game. Unless people want to partake in a high score tournament, I just don’t see this being in one’s Dreamcast for months to come.

    Ghost Blade 5The Lowdown:

    Ghost Blade is a brand new Dreamcast game released in 2015, you have automatically get brownie points just for that. Sure there was some controversy surrounding the release of the game, and yes some might say the game can be a little light on content, but it remains a truly enjoyable shooter to play, and that’s key here. New fans to the genre would do well in checking this one out as it makes for a great introduction. I can’t wait to see what Hucast has in-store for Redux 2.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Halo 5: Guardians Review

    Halo 5 ReviewHalo 5: Guardians (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 24
    Publisher: Microsoft
    Developer: 343 Industries
    Release Date: October 27th, 2015

    Parent Talk: Halo 5: Guardians has been rated T for teenagers 13 and up. The only disclaimer mentioned is for blood, mild language, and violence. The Halo franchise isn’t overly realistic, and while violent, there aren’t ample amount of blood. Typically you’re fighting aliens, robotic enemies, and creatures that sort of fit in-between those descriptions.

    Plays Like: It seems obvious to say the game plays like the rest of the Halo games before, but I should really say that it plays very closely to Halo 4, which was a more modern take on the series. The same evolution made to the gunplay and mechanics returns here. You have access to a wide assortment of weapons, vehicles, and some fun extra abilities such as a running dash.

    Review Basis: Microsoft sent us a review code, and I played through the entire campaign on Normal difficulty, as well as tried out the various multiplayer modes and maps on scheduled multiplayer days. I’ll edit the review once the game is live so that I can experience the multiplayer under normal conditions.

    It has been almost three years since Halo 4 hit the scene, and a lot has changed since that time. First-person shooters have continued to gain popularly, and the Halo franchise is larger than ever. 343 industries proved they were willing to take risks with the series after Bungie left with Halo Reach, although they did stumble a big with the Master Chief Collection. Is Halo 5: Guardians their way of making up for the lackluster collection, or is this another game that just don’t quite hit the mark?

    Halo 5_1The Great:

    Multiplayer has reached new heights of awesome. From the incredible four-player coop campaign, which I touch on a bit later on, to the extensive competitive multiplayer modes, Halo 5 has got what it takes to stay in your Xbox One until Halo 6 is released, and no I’m truly not joking. From the absolutely fantastic 24-player Warzone mode, to all the customization options make this one a keeper. Warzone offers the largest maps ever seen in a Halo game. Matches often last upwards of 30 minutes, and you score points not only from achieving your primary objective, but also from capturing key locations, taking down difficult NPCs, and much more.

    As you play you earn REQ points, which can be used to purchase powerful weapons and items. You have to be very careful how you spend these points though, do you save them for a Scorpion tank, or does your team improve their initial loadout with more powerful weapons? I love how strategy is built into everything now. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s a dominate strategy as players get used to this mechanic.

    Customization options are intense, allowing you to select from 15 multiplayer maps, 8 gameplay modes including Slayer, Capture-the-Flag, Stronghold, Breakout, SWAT, Free-for-All Slayer, Shotty Snipers, and Neutral Flag. Then there are all the options for loadouts, etc.

    Halo 5_2The Good:

    • The storyline is interesting, and the new villain is far deeper than all other enemies previously introduced in the Halo universe. The story is far less black and white, and by the end you may find yourself actually siding with the protagonist saying their motives are actually quite sound.
    • The banter between Locke and his squad is quite interesting. Because Cortana is no longer a central character, it’s refreshing to hear new voices, and get some backstory to some of these new characters. Sadly Master Chief’s squad is far less developed, and I never found myself caring about any of his teammates. It’s true that Blue Team’s backstory is part of the expanded universe, so there is a way to catch up on this group for those interested. I still think a few missions should have been dedicated to this group just so I would have felt their comradery more.
    • Four-player co-op multiplayer is a blast. It’s online-only this time around, which I’ll get to later on in this review. The missions don’t feature the largest maps ever seen in the series, but they do feel much more open and less linear. There are multiple ways to tackle each objective, which makes these missions perfect for replay. I loved that each player could tackle a different aspect, one could be snipping, another could be working with a partner in order to take down a Hunter, etc. Variety is the name of the game this time around, and it’s great!
    • Speaking of your teammates, even while the AI controls your squad mates, I loved having rudimentary command options at my disposal. Being able to tell the squad to focus their attacks on a single enemy or turret is fantastic, as is telling them to press on ahead.
    • Weapons are absolutely top notch. Typically I stick to the tried and true when it comes to this series, but not this time around. There were a good five or six weapons I always wanted to have on me, which is fantastic.
    • The core gameplay is great fun. Missions are primarily made up of the go to this location and kill everything that moves type, but given the wealth of options available for you to take out your enemies, I never found the missions to get repetitive or dull, even though I was tasked with doing the exact same thing over and over again.
    • Jumping has never been so fluid. There’s a fantastic climbing mechanic that is great in both multiplayer and single player. Trust me when I say you’ll never miss another jump ever again, because so long as you’re close to a ledge you can grab on and pull yourself up.
    • The audio visual presentation is absolutely top notch, not that you weren’t already expecting that. You can clearly tell this game was built from the ground up for the Xbox One. The environments are chalk-full of details everywhere from little critters running around some of the alien planets, to gorgeous particle effects. There’s always something to keep you impressed. The audio is also a show-stopper. The soundtrack is phenomenal, and the sound effects are exactly where they should be in terms of pulse-pounding explosions, and great use of surround sound.

    Halo 5_3The So-So:

    +/- Some will love this, and some will hate it, but this isn’t a Master Chief game. This is the first time in a numbered entry in the Halo series where you don’t really play as Master Chief, instead you play as Spartan Locke for over 80% of the adventure. I didn’t mind this, but I know some will. Be warned of this in advance if you’re a die-hard Master Chief fan.

    +/- The artificial intelligence can be quite good, especially if you highlight an enemy target for your squad to take down, however if you yourself get downed, don’t expect your squad to always come to your rescue. I purposely put myself in harm’s way, died, and tried to get resuscitated, and instead of taking out the enemy standing over my corpse, they simply stood there trying to say me and thereby getting killed themselves. Also, don’t ask the AI-controlled squad to drive, they like to ram into walls and other stationary objects, because why not.

    +/- There’s an odd breakdown in the missions. Three of the 15 missions can be completed in 45 seconds or so. These act as somewhat interactive story missions where you’re challenged with finding someone, talking to them, and then talking to someone else. Boom, mission complete. It feels a little jarring, and doesn’t add anything that a minute cinematic couldn’t do.

    +/- While the overall storyline is good, you absolutely have to know the Halo lore if you’re going to get the most out of this game. It’s expected from a sequel, but a nice overview of the entire franchise would be nice as we’re now five games in and there’s a ton of story to digest here.

    +/- Spartan Locke isn’t Master Chief. His motives are far less interesting than the Chief’s, making him out to be nothing more than a typical soldier.

    Halo 5_4The Bad:

    • The lack of local multiplayer hurts. 343 Industries says this was done to ensure the game didn’t run at 30 frames-per-second (fps), but rather a steady smooth 60 fps. The problem with this is that the Halo series was founded on its strong support of local multiplayer including LAN. This is the first game in the series to completely do-away with local multiplayer including LAN, split-screen, etc. If you want to play with another human being, they’re going to have to own an Xbox One, and a copy of Halo 5.
    • There’s pretty much one boss in the entire game, and you go up against him over and over again during the campaign. This enforces the game was made for multiplayer, as his only weak point is on his back. With or without live players I found the battles to get repetitive by the forth encounter.

    Halo 5_5The Lowdown:

    Halo 5: Guardians does a lot right. The campaign is enjoyable, the multiplayer is outstanding, and the storyline can be thought-provoking, however it’s what the game does wrong that ultimately bring down the package. This isn’t a bad game, not by a longshot, but it’s not great either. The lack of local multiplayer is what truly hurts the most. Sure it’s 2015 and everything is online, however LAN matches are still a very big part of Halo, and not being able to have those, or even have a friend come over and play through the campaign really is disappointing. Halo fans will love the game, no question about it, however the most diehard fans will likely walk away wanting more.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    Rare Replay Review

    Rare Replay ReviewRare Replay (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 4
    Genre: Compilation
    Publisher: Microsoft
    Developer: Rare
    Release Date: August 4, 2015

    Parent Talk: Rare Replay is a compilation featuring thirty classic Rare games, with a few notable omissions due to licenses being owned by Nintendo. This compilation contains thirty games, some of which are mature themed, thus the M rating. Most are perfectly fine for children of all ages with the exception of a few, so just be mindful of which ones your children want to play.

    Plays Like: As a compilation game, each game plays differently, however there’s a genre here for everyone from shmups, to beat ‘em ups to fighting games and action platformers.

    Review Basis: Microsoft sent us a review code and I played around with a wide assortment of the thirty included games.

    Rare Replay is a love letter to videogame fans. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of Rare, there’s no denying the incredible wealth of influential games included in this compilation. It’s an amazing bargain too at only $30. The overall package is incredibly well developed. You can tell the people who worked on this game really loved the source material, because the incentives to try some of the older games is just amazing. This very well could be the best compilation this side of Super Mario All-Stars.

    Rare1The Great:

    30 games for $30. What’s not to like about that? Here’s exactly what’s included in the package.

    Jetpac, Lunar Jetman, Atic Atac, Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde, Knight Lore, Gunfright, Slalom, R.C. Pro-Am, Cobra Triangle, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, Solar Jetman, Digger T. Rock, Battletoads, R.C. Pro-Am II, Battletoads Arcade, Killer Instinct Gold, Blast Corps, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Tooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Kameo, Perfect Dark Zero, Viva Piñata, Jetpac Refuelled, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, and finally Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.

    Some of the included games are certainly better than others, but the overall package is extremely impressive. Being able to play Battletoads Arcade in the comfort of my own home is fantastic, as is reliving great Perfect Dark and Killer Instinct Gold moments from my younger years.

    Something else that has to receive our highest compliments is the game’s presentation. It’s likely the games included in this package had never looked as good as they do here, but that’s only a fraction of the story. The real shocker is the way the games themselves are presented together as a whole. The whole game takes place in a gallery, with each title representing one painting or section of the gallery. For games that were designed for 4:3, a cool looking border is applied around your play session window. There’s also a CRT filter, which warps the image and adds a bit of contrast to the edges, which nails the look of an old-school tube TV. You can also save anywhere, and you have a rewind function which completely kills the challenge of some of these old-school gems, but that’s part of the compilation’s charm. It removes the barrier, and allows you to just sit back and enjoy some classic videogames.

    Rare3The Good:

    • If there’s one feature that really surprised me, it was the way this game almost forced me to play games I wasn’t even curious about. Snapshot challenges highlight key areas of a game, and allow you to sample what you might otherwise have ignored. The video features are also superb as they unlock a lot of the mysteries behind one of gaming most famous developers. The only downside is you have to earn them, but then again, it goes back to what I was just saying, it’s a means to get you to play games you might have no interest in.

    Rare4The So-So:

    +/- Some of the games have extremely sloppy and sluggish controls.

    +/- Several games, including Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power, both Viva Piñata games, Jetpac Refuelled, and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts are not featured on the game disc, instead requiring additional downloads. While that isn’t too troubling, it’s a bit annoying that if you select those games from within the compilation, you’re kicked out of the game, booted into 360 backwards compatibility mode and then have access to the games. It’s a bit jarring, and questionable why they weren’t added to the disc.

    Rare2The Bad:

    • Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts features some severe framerate issues.
    • No online multiplayer support for legacy games, which I think would have been awesome, particularly for the Battletoads games.

    Rare5The Lowdown:

    Regardless of your thoughts on Rare as a modern day developer, there’s no denying they were at one point one of the world’s best developers, responsible for a wide assortment of excellent classics. This compilation is a testament to those games. While I would have loved to have played GoldenEye 007, Donkey Kong Country, amongst others, what’s offered here is plenty. This game will keep you busy for weeks, if not months to come.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    Gears of War: Ultimate Edition Review

    Gears ReviewGears of War: Ultimate Edition (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 8
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
    Developer: The Coalition
    Release Date: August 25th, 2015

    Parent Talk: Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is rated M for mature because of strong language, intense violence, and blood and gore. This is a game that features an assault rifle with a chainsaw attached to it. That chainsaw isn’t for looks, it’s used to literally cut your enemies in half. So naturally this isn’t the type of game you should let your kids play.

    Plays Like: The original Gears of War was responsible for really bringing the cover and shoot gameplay the series is now known for to the forefront of gaming. It works much like it sounds, you run from one cover to the next, taking out enemies as quickly as possible so you don’t get flanked. The game features an excellent two-player co-op mode that is an absolute blast to play.

    Review Basis: Having finished the original game multiple times, I played enough of this one to see what improvements had been made.

    Gears of War is one of my favorite Xbox 360 titles. It was the first game on the 360 that really made me go wow this is next-gen. It was a stunning look at a dystopian future and I had some of the best moments of my gaming life in this game with Steven, that other wacky COEr. We still talk about a few classic moments from our hours-long play sessions via Xbox Live. So returning to this classic almost a decade later was both entertaining and nostalgic.

    Gears1The Great:

    I have to admit I was shocked at just how well Gears of War has aged. The cover gameplay still feels fresh and exciting. The co-op mode is just as excellent as you remember, and the overall experience is just as powerful today as it was when the game first was released back in 2006. There’s something special about revisiting the game that started it all. Breaking Fenix out of his prison cell, seeing the world all tattered and decayed again for the first time, is just an amazing experience and depending on your level of enjoyment with the original title, you may very well find yourself smitten with Gears of War all over again.

    Gears2The Good:

    • Respect and devotion went into this remaster. The graphics have all been given fresh coat of paint, to a blistering 1080p resolution and 60 frames-per-second gameplay. The Coalition didn’t go crazy though, and there are plenty of rough edges here and there to harken back to the Xbox 360, and therefore preserve your nostalgia. I really appreciated that. Overall textures, models, and even the cutscenes have all been redone, but with care, and it shows. The game has never looked this good.
    • Remembering the past, but embracing the future. One of the best aspects of Ultimate Edition is that modern day features have made their way into the game. Take the co-op mode for example, it now supports drop-in and out gameplay. Your friends can join you mid-chapter, and both players can play on separate difficulty levels.
    • The five additional segments from the PC version have been added, which chronicle Dom and Marcus’ journey to a train station through an assortment of abandoned factories. It’s a fantastic addition that many, myself included, didn’t even know existed beforehand.
    • Horror roots. I completely forgot how much the original game was based on the horror genre. When the second game in the series hit, it was all out war, but here you’re just a small group, making your way through dimly lit hallways with scary monsters around every corner. This really makes me wish Gears of War 4 will return to this style because it’s much more personal and in your face.
    • Multiplayer feels much fresher and faster than ever before, likely thanks to that 60 fps boost. There are a few new modes, and a new map, but classics like Gridlock, Tyro Station, and Depot all hit that nostalgia sweet spot.

    Gears3The So-So:

    +/- It’s understandable that there wouldn’t be a lot of gameplay variety in the first entry in the series, but because you’re playing this today, I found myself wanting to do a bit more than just kill every enemy in one section before moving on to the next to repeat the exact same situation all over again.

    Gears4The Bad:

    • As amazing of a job the developer did, there is one area that truly hasn’t aged well whatsoever, and that’s the AI. I can’t tell you how many times my partner character would purposely veer off to an area where just moments before he said not to go, thereby instantly killing himself. There were also a few instances where the AI character wouldn’t trigger a scene, such as pressing a button or opening a door, which led to me having to restart a checkpoint.

    Gears5The Lowdown:

    Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a great remaster. The fact that the initial release of the game also included digital downloads of the four Xbox 360 Gears games was a special treat. I can’t tell you how many times I smiled or laughed at key scenes because of all the nostalgia I have for this game. If you even remotely enjoyed the original, I highly recommend you give this one a go.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection Review

    Uncharted ReviewUncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: SCEA
    Developer: Bluepoint Games
    Release Date: October 7th, 2015

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates the Uncharted Collection T for teen because of blood, language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, and violence. While there are certainly mature themes throughout the series, it’s not ultra-violent. Think of it like going to see a PG-13 action movie and you know more or less what to expect.

    Plays Like: Let’s see here, there’s stealth, cover mechanics, gunplay, platforming, and puzzle solving to be had. The action takes place in third person, and personally I’ve called the Uncharted series the franchise that Tomb Raider should have been since the beginning. It’s kind of ironic that now the Tomb Raider series is a derivative of the Uncharted series, but that’s a topic for another day. This is as close as you will likely ever get to playing an Indiana Jones movie.

    Review Basis: The Uncharted franchise is my favorite franchise established during the PlayStation 3 generation, so I know these games well. I played enough of each game in this collection to compare the remasters to their original counterparts and report back.

    Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is a remarkable collection of games. People tend to forget but the original Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune shipped back in 2007 from a developer mostly known for their mascot characters such as Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. To see them branch out into a more realistic action adventure was shocking. Nathan Drake had to prove himself, and prove himself he did. Today the Uncharted series is the jewel in Sony’s first party developed crown. With the forth entry in the series gearing up for release early next year, having a set like this hit now is fitting. Not only does it remind us of how far the series has come, but also where things are going.

    Uncharted2The Great:

    The fact this collection exists gives me an excuse to go back and play through all three of these games back-to-back-to-back one more time before the next installment is released. I consider that the very best feature of the game, giving me one more chance to experience these absolutely incredible games.

    Uncharted3The Good:

    • Evolving gameplay. The cover mechanics of the first game get better and better as the series evolved, and that’s highlighted in this collection. The gunplay also got tighter the further the series went. Regardless of the improvements made, the series was fun from the very beginning. The mix of action and puzzle solving, and phenomenal storytelling make this a series you will want to play through again and the gameplay evolves at a natural pace, meaning you don’t ever feel completely restricted.
    • The incredible action set pieces are just as memorable today as they were when you first played through these games. If you never experienced these games from the previous generation, then you’re in for a real treat. From the dilapidated train wreck in Uncharted 2 to the incredible desert in Uncharted 3, it’s just amazing to behold in 1080p.
    • The amazing story flows from one game to the next in such a way that you really have to play the games one after another in order to tie the themes together and get the most out of the trilogy. This marks the first time I’ve ever played the games one after another, and I enjoyed the story more now than I did when the games were new. The first game is by far the weakest of the bunch in terms of the narrative, but it sets the stage for things to come.
    • The advances in motion capture technology came a long way from Drake’s Fortune to Drake’s Deception, and so too did the Naughty Dog’s cinematography skills. I find it interesting how a game based so much on the past, has itself a little history lesson in technological advancements. Naughty Dog became more and more comfortable in their newfound skills as the games progressed, and that’s evident as you play through them.
    • The 1080p resolution and smooth 60 fps gameplay are the way these games were meant to be played. I actually had to connect my PS3 because I never remembered these games looking this good, but to my surprise they were quite impressive even on the PlayStation 3.

    +The soundtrack is also just as incredible as I remembered. The game also supports 7.1 surround sound, and it sounds superb. These games have never sounded better than they do here. The voice acting is also a highlight.

    • New features and modes make these games better than ever. For beginners there’s a new super easy mode called Explorer Mode, and then there’s the Brutal difficulty which makes Crushing look like child’s play. There’s also a Speed Run mode which keeps track of your progression versus your friend’s times, which is nice. There’s even a photo mode, and all new trophies. Finally there’s a render mode, which unlocks new skins allowing you to play as some of your favorite characters from the series.

    Uncharted5The So-So:

    +/- One element this series has always struggled with is the disconnect between the protagonists that are so rich and lively, and the mass murdering they perform throughout the three adventures. These games are filled with deep storylines and complex characters that are emotionally charged, yet none of them have any problems killing thousands of people.

    Uncharted4The Bad:

    • Sadly all multiplayer modes have not been carried over from the original games, which will surely disappoint some fans of the series.

    Uncharted1The Lowdown:

    Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection proves Drake’s motto is true, Sic Parvus Magna or, Greatness from small Beginnings. This set is an absolute must buy.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

     

    Tearaway Unfolded Review

    Tearaway Unfolded ReviewTearaway Unfolded (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action Platformer
    Publisher: SCEA
    Developer: Tarsier Studios and Media Molecule

    Parent Talk: Tearaway Unfolded is the perfect game for children of all ages. It has been rated E for everyone by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and the only disclaimer is mild cartoon violence and that sums it up. You take on the role of Iota, or Atoi, a little paper crafted messenger trying to deliver your special message to the real world.

    Plays Like: Tearaway makes full use of the DualShock 4 controller, which is no surprise considering the original version on the Vita made use of that system’s unique capabilities. There’s also a companion app you can use in order to have even more control over the game’s environments and creative tools. The PlayStation Vita itself can also act as an input device, which is fantastic for those of us who experienced the original. Your objective is to make it to the real world by traversing countless action platforming stages until you reach your destination. Combined with intelligent puzzles, terrific action and platforming, Tearaway is a fantastic game that everyone in the house can enjoy.

    Review Basis: Sony sent us a review copy two weeks before release. I went back and played through the Vita version to compare and contrast Tearaway Unfolded with the original version and to get a better feel for how the new controls work.

    When Sony announced Tearaway would be coming to the PlayStation 4, I would a little disheartened. It meant that the Vita version likely didn’t sell as well as Sony had hoped, which is really a shame. I was also perplexed because how could they take a game that was created from the ground up for the Vita and port it over to a console where you’re using a controller instead of a system with a touch screen, track pad, built in camera, microphone, etc. The answer is the developers got creative, and that’s what the true spirit of Tearaway was always about, being creative. I’m happy to the report the end result is a game that remains just as charming and fun to play on the PlayStation 4 as it was on the Vita.

    TU_4The Great:

    This is the Tearaway you remember, but with a twist. Sony didn’t just take the Vita version of Tearaway and quickly port it to the PS4. It’s clear that love and devotion went into the development of Tearaway Unfolded. For one thing huge sections of the game have been added in order to flesh out the storyline, which is now more focused on the journey of Iota or Atoi reaching the You, as in the real you, the one reading this review. In the Vita version, which I thought was excellent (http://www.projectcoe.com/2013/12/28/tearaway-review/), the game did a fantastic job of bridging the gap between the game world and the real world, and that translates well to the PS4. It’s better if you own the PlayStation Camera because you can take pictures of yourself or even short clips. Even without it though you can make use of the companion app which works on tablets and smartphones, and serves the same purpose. If you own a Vita you can also use that to help further enhance the game’s features.

    The focus has been changed somewhat this time around because the level of interaction isn’t as native to the PS4 hardware as it was with the Vita. For example all the touch screen elements have largely been replaced with either light-focused elements, which are done by holding down the R2 button on the controller and the light from the controller magically appears on-screen to assist your little paper messenger. With the Vita version you would likely have had to touch the screen to move a platform out of your way. I will give the developers credit though, they did a good job of making use of the DualShock 4’s track pad. You can click it in to cause large drums to bounce, or sweep your finger along the trackpad in order to change the direction of the wind. While not quite as natural as the Vita’s gesture features, it does work fairly well thanks to the motion controls and built-in features of the DualShock 4.

    TU_2The Good:

    • Solid gameplay. I love the interactive concept Tearaway plays with, but it really wouldn’t mean much if the core gameplay was lacking, but it certainly isn’t. Behind the unique exterior lies a very fun and addicting action platformer. As you progress in the game you unlock more and more abilities, and you can return to previously visited areas in order to unlock a wide assortment of goodies from real world paper crafts, in-game confetti which is used to purchase additional customizable items for your avatar, to trophies and more.
    • The fantastic customization options from the original game are back. You can change every aspect of Iota and Atoi. There are sections of the game where you have to create wonderful pieces of art, and admittingly it can be a bit difficult with the small surface area of the DualShock 4’s trackpad, but thankfully the companion app works very well if you’re using it on a tablet. You can even get a second person to help you out with the app, which I found to be quite useful.
    • Creative world never looked so good. Featuring lush 1080p visuals at a smooth 60 frames-per-second. It was a true sight to behold on the Vita, the way the levels peeled back, the way every object was made of paper and reacted realistically to wind and your interactions, and now on the PS4 the details are sharper than ever. While I wouldn’t say this game is pushing the PS4 to its limits, it looks and runs perfectly. The world feels more alive on the big screen, and the audio is just incredible. The soundtrack is fantastic, with melodies that help bring this special world to life. There’s also some great voice acting and perfectly matched sound effects.

    TU_3The Bad:

    • No matter how much effort was put into this version of Tearaway, it could never fully match the original if only because the game was conceptualized for a system with specific features. While this version works great, and is indeed fun, it doesn’t come across quite as revolutionary as the original. It also puts the final nail in the Vita’s coffin as its single best reason for owning is no longer exclusive.

    TU_1The Ugly:

    While not frequent, I did run into a few areas where some bizarre graphical glitches occurred whereby a small piece of paper from the environment wouldn’t float away as scripted, it would instead stay floating in front of a characters face or other really minor anomalies like that.

    TU_5The Lowdown:

    Tearaway Unfolded is a really fun game to play, it’s creative, original, and makes perfect use of the DualShock 4’s features. It’s even better if you own the PlayStation Camera or download the companion app for your smartphone or tablet. The problem is that it also destroys the best exclusive Sony had for the Vita as now you can pick the game up on the PS4. I don’t blame Sony as it makes perfect financial sense, so do yourself a favor and since the odds are you skipped out on the Vita, pick this one up instead. You won’t regret it.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven Review

    510932_frontLord of Magna: Maiden Heaven (Available exclusively on 3DS)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Role Playing
    Publisher: XSeed
    Developer: Marvelous
    Release Date: June 2nd, 2015

    Hey everyone! My name is Cranberry; here with a guest review! Well, let’s get right to it!

    Lord of Magna ReviewParent Talk: The Entertainment Software Rating Board has rated this game T for Teen, citing the following: Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, & Suggestive Themes. While it’s not excessive, there is some blatant “fan-service” in this game that involves some up-skirt pictures and some unnecessarily skimpy outfits. They aren’t kidding about the suggestive dialogue either; it definitely gets pretty suggestive at times. Of particular note, there is an animated bathing scene that you probably would not want to get caught watching at work.

    The battles are not bloody or gory and are pretty tame, although some cut scenes imply some pretty harsh violence at times.

    The teen rating seems to be appropriate for this one; I wouldn’t recommend this one for young children.

    Plays Like:  This game plays like a cross between a turn based RPG, a strategy game, and a visual novel. The main emphasis of the game is definitely the plot and the interactions between the characters. It features a lot of cut scenes and dialogue reading, much of it voice acted.

    Combat plays a part as well, and is played out in a strategic turn-based system. You field a party of up to four characters, each with different attributes and attack ranges. Combat takes place on a large field where you can see all of the enemy units. Both you and the enemies take turns moving and attacking, however the field is not a grid. Each character has a circle that appears around them, showing their move range for that turn. You can move freely anywhere within this circle provided there isn’t anything to block your path. When you’re ready to attack, you’ll see a red space that designates the area you can hit.

    Lord of Magna1Lord of Magna also features an experience point leveling system as well as a crafting system, which adds some RPG elements into its strategy styled combat system.

    The Good:

    • The presentation  is quite beautiful. The graphics have a cartoonish feel to them, which is pretty normal for a 3DS game, but they get the job done wonderfully. The 3D effects are not mind blowing, but they supplement the setting well without feeling too “busy” or disorienting. The characters are likable and full of personality. The story is also pretty well written and engaging. You take the role of an inn keeper, whom you can choose a name for. He runs an inn on the outskirts of town, and is patiently awaiting the day when his inn at long last receives a guest. The guests soon arrive in the form of characters that will join your party; seven in all over the course of the game. There is a reason this game is called “Maiden Heaven”, every playable character except for the main character is female. But each girl has a distinct personality and it is quite enjoyable to watch their stories unfold and see their character development over the course of the tale. These cut scenes are sometimes supplemented by some lovely artwork too.

    Lord of Magna2+ There are also “heart events” you can access, which are essentially quests that dwell deeper into an individual girl and reveal more about her. There are 21 such heart events, and it will take several play-throughs to see them all; which fleshes out the story further and gives the game some replay value too.

    • The music is top-notch. The songs fit the context well and are pleasant to listen to. I received the original soundtrack with my purchase, and I frequently pop the CD in and listen to it. I really enjoy the music.
    • I also enjoy the combat system in this game. Each character has different roles they can contribute in a battle, and you need to think about how they can complement one another on the battle field. Some characters hit for a wide area in front of them, others hit an area at a distance, some hit an enemy multiple times, and others specialize in support skills. There are a lot of possibilities even before the battle begins. Once in combat, the strategy-game like field system allows for a lot of tactics that just wouldn’t work in a traditional turn-based RPG. You gain an action point each turn, and you spend this action point to perform your chosen action. There’s also an interesting “bowling” mechanic in battle, where enemies you hit can knock down and take out other enemies. If you manage to take down ten or more enemies with one attack, you get a free turn. It’s quite an interesting and creative mechanic.
    • If you choose not to take an action, you’ll keep your action point and when your next turn comes, you’ll have two action points. This allows you to save up points for special skills. This makes combat more complex and engaging than simple “hurt and heal”. You need to carefully consider how best to place your characters, and what action is best for the situation at hand. Do you send one character ahead as a decoy to try and form an opening for the rest of your party to slip through? Do you try and surround the enemy to limit their attack options? Do you fall back and regroup? All of these and more are decisions you’ll be making in battle, which makes for a very engaging battle system.
    • There’s also an elemental “Rock, Paper, Scissors” style vulnerabilities system that is similar to the typing system used in Pokémon. This further adds to the strategic combat decisions you make in battle.
    • An enjoyable story and an engaging well-designed battle system make for quite a good presentation.

    The So-So:

    +/- The story is both it’s strength and it’s weakness. While the story is engaging, it’s also very drawn out and you’re frequently watching long scenes in which you do nothing but hit the A button to advance through pages upon pages of text. This can be pretty frustrating if you are itching to get to the action, or if you don’t particularly care about the conversation the characters are having at the time. This is especially noticeable at the very start of the game where you read a huge amount of dialogue before you even gain access to your character. While there is a fast-forward feature, it doesn’t actually skip the cut scenes, but rather speeds through them much more quickly. Doing this does help speed things up, but there’s no “rewind” feature so if you accidentally skip ahead too far, you can’t go back to read what you missed.

    The massive amounts of dialogue and the frequent lengthy cut-scenes often make this feel more like reading a book than playing a game; which can be a big put-off for a lot of people. Simply put, playing this game is going to involve reading a LOT of text.

    Lord of Magna3+/- There is a crafting system, and while it adds some interesting customization options by allowing you to create skills for the characters, there’s little else you can make other than skills. There is also very little in-game clues as to what you can craft. You can at least see what the item your chosen ingredients will create before you make it, but there are no recipe books or listings of what can be made. No clues or hints from other characters as to what you should make. Unless you look up a guide online, it’s entirely trial and error based. The game really needs a recipe list.

    +/- Sadly there’s no equipment to put on your characters. No new weapons, no new armor, no special accessories. Just skills, although some of the skills are passive skills that give you stat bonuses or special attributes, which is similar to what accessory-like items do in many other RPGs. But it still feels like a real missed opportunity to not include equip-able items in the game.

    +/- There are a number of free missions, which allow you to field a team into battle in a variety of settings that you’ll unlock as you go through the story. These missions have some interesting flavor text, but that’s all it ends up being. It’s nothing but a battle against enemies that serves as a grinding or item farming opportunity. The good thing is that these free battles allow you to immediately enter a battle without having to wade through a mountain of text, but it’s disappointing for the missions to be given such interesting descriptions only to have nothing special happen in any of them.

    The Bad:

    As was already mentioned, the lengthy cut scenes can be pretty jarring, which depending on your tastes can be a real negative. But perhaps the biggest negative is the complete lack of exploration this game allows.

    • Except for a camp-site that you get to very briefly walk around in, the Inn is the only area you get to explore. Every other area, the only interaction you get with the environment is through battle. No exploring the territory, no searching for treasure, no searching for hidden secrets, no chatting with NPCs in town. There is a town in this game, and your visits to it are entirely scripted. For an RPG title, this is a glaring flaw. Nothing is more frustrating than setting foot on these beautiful maps, and not being able to explore them.
    • 99% of the battles mandate that you have the main character in them, even in free battles. This unnecessarily restricts your party selection, and can be frustrating when you start getting more characters available and want to experiment with a variety of character combinations. In a game that is already quite linear with no exploration, the last thing you want is even more limitations.

    The Lowdown:

    This is almost a love it or hate it game. The story is an engaging tale full of mystery, drama, and suspense.

    Lord of Magna4There’s a fair amount of customization you can do with the character’s skills, and the combat system is magnificent but, the frequent extremely lengthy cut scenes, the lack of exploration, and the lack of equip-able items are pretty significant flaws that are quite noticeable and glaring during play.

    If you’re looking for an engaging tale full of lovable characters, I recommend this game wholeheartedly. But if you’re looking for action and adventure, or your traditional RPG experience, this game won’t satisfy you.

    That’s why my final rating for this game is a 7/10.

    Until Dawn Review

    Until Dawn Box ArtUntil Dawn (Available exclusively on the PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action Adventure
    Developer: Supermassive Games
    Publisher: SCEA
    Release Date: August 25th, 2015

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Until Dawn M for mature players aged 17 and up because of blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, and strong language. Ever watch a movie franchise like Saw, well if so you know what to expect here. If you haven’t, this is a horror videogame where you see people get ripped apart, decapitated, and much more. Under no circumstances should children be anywhere near this game.

    Plays Like: The best way I can describe Until Dawn is if someone were to take the episodic nature of Alan Wake and apply that to a horror-themed version of Heavy Rain. The game plays almost exactly like that mash up. For those that don’t know either or those games, you are largely interacting with a seven to nine hour movie. You can move one of eight characters around a limited environment, correctly hit the right buttons during quick-time events, and study various objects in the environment. This isn’t your typical third-person shooter, no here it’s all about immersing the player in a highly disturbing world. The big twist is that your choices literally affect everything in the game from the storyline to segments of the game you’ll actually play through.

    Review Basis: Sony Computer Entertainment Canada sent us a review copy a week in advance, and I played non-stop until I had not only completed the game, but went through it several times to see how I could affect the storyline.

    I really enjoyed the heavy narrative of Heavy Rain. It was a tremendously unique experience. It didn’t play like your typical third-person action game, instead making you interact with the environment in bold ways uncommon for the genre. Until Dawn is very similar in-style to Heavy Rain, but instead of trying to solve the riddle of the origami killer, here you’re wrapped up in a terrifying tale of murder, suspense and dread, where your every action changes not only the storyline, but the entire game. Until Dawn is the butterfly effect realized in videogame form, and it will absolutely blow you away.

    Until Dawn1The Great:

    The one element that really makes Until Dawn standout from its peers is its incredible use of the butterfly effect. In reality the butterfly effect amounts to the smallest choices we make could have dire consequences in the future. Step on a blade of grass and that could bring about the apocalypse sometime down the road. Until Dawn excels at this because during any given moment there are literally dozens of choices you will have to make. Do you get angry at one character for something they did or said? Do you take the left path instead of the right path? Do you ignore the quick-time event and see what happens, or do you try your hardest to keep up with the ever increasing prompts? Some of these choices may seem trivial, but their consequences can be felt as you progress through the game.

    There’s an extremely helpful butterfly effect menu system where you can see how each choice you made affected the outcome of the game. On one wing you’ll see the initial choice you made, and then you can swipe to the right using the DualShock 4’s trackpad to see the next outcome. This is extremely useful to keep track of where branches were made, especially if you want to experience the game again by going down a different path.

    I should also mention the choices you make are permanent. There are no checkpoints here, no do-overs. Once you’re make a decision you have to stick with it throughout the entire game. If that choice leads to a character dying, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. This means there’s no Game Over screen, and that allows you to get extremely experimental during your future play-throughs.

    Until Dawn2The Good:

    • You will be afraid, count on it. The first six chapters of the game are genuinely scary. You have no idea what’s going on, you know there’s a presence out there, something that’s hunting your friends down, but you don’t know exactly what. There are countless jump scares where I almost dropped my controller out of fright, and then there’s the genuine dread that starts to creep in as you’re all alone making your way to some foreboding area. I can tell you I actually had my hands start to shake at one part because I really didn’t know what was going to happen next. The tension slowly eases off towards the end of the game as more and more is revealed about what’s actually going on, but let me tell you, the first half is absolutely petrifying. That’s not to say the latter half isn’t scary, it’s just that you start to acclimatize to the jump scares, and the game really wants to flesh out the story so you get the complete package.
    • Speaking of the story, it’s great. A very traumatic event occurred a year ago in a cabin in the woods on a mountain side. Now everyone who was present is back to pay their respects, but all is not what it seems and now each of the eight friends are systematically being taken out. What is going on? Who is doing this? Will anyone make it until dawn? There are quite a few horror tropes featured and many clichés, but what separates the game from your run-of-the-mill teen horror story are the deep and fleshed out characters. By the end of the game you will absolutely hate some of them, and feel true pain when you let others die because of your poor decisions that led to them being massacred.
    • Core gameplay works perfectly. This is the one area that won’t be for everyone. Gameplay is broken down into several sections, each specifically designed to draw you further into the narrative. There are areas where you play in third-person, usually at times where you have to explore dark and scary places, then there are decision bubbles where you have to move the right analog stick to select one of two decisions, which will completely change the course of the game. There are also quick-time events that play out during key cinematic scenes, and finally there are targeting sections where you have to aim a reticle at a target very quickly or something awful usually happens.

    Until Dawn3+ A surprising amount of replay is featured. There are quite a few collectable goodies you should be on the lookout for as these flesh out the storyline, and some can only be found in sections of the game that are unlocked by making certain choices. You can also go back and create new branches in the storyline that affect relationships between characters by changing the choices you make in each chapter. So while the game consists of only 10 chapters which last for at most around seven to nine hours, you could be playing for much longer if you decide you want to experiment with all the different story branches.

    • Fantastic cast of characters. Like Beyond Two Souls, Until Dawn features Hollywood actors such as Hayden Panettiere), Peter Stormare, Brett Dalton, Rami Malek, Meaghan Martin, Nichole Bloom, Galadriel Stineman, Noah Fleiss and Larry Fessenden. Each actor does a superb job of capturing the essence of the characters they play.
    • The audio visual presentation as a whole is absolutely incredible. From the dynamic camera angles that heighten the tension and suspense, to the sublime particle effects used to highlight snow and fog, it’s just a stunning game to look at and admire. Because of the limited interactivity, Supermassive Games were able to push the PS4 to its limits by creating breathtaking environments and one wonderful setting after another. This very well could be the nicest looking game of this current generation thus far.

    Until Dawn4The Bad:

    • For someone like me, not having the option to use inverted aiming controls really hurts, and there’s one scene in particular where the only way to save a character is to very quickly aim at a specific spot, and because I’m so used to inverted controls my brain told my thumb to move the stick down, instead of up, thereby causing the character to die. That was very annoying to me as I was so close to saving him. I can only hope this gets patched into the game ASAP if it isn’t a day-one update.

    Until Dawn5The Ugly:

    I have to mention this because it occurred once, yet never again. During my very first gameplay session with the game I went through eight of the game’s 10 chapters, and since there’s no exit to main menu option I quit the game from the dashboard using the ‘Close Application’ command. When I tried to resume my game I got the following message: “Recovering partially installed data. This may take up to twenty minutes.” It took about seven minutes for the file to get recovered and then I was back where I left off, but it was odd just the same.

    The Lowdown:      

    Until Dawn truly surprised me as I had no expectations for it. I remember it being announced for the PlayStation 3 as a Move game (thankfully that decision was scrapped and the game now features either motion controls or traditional controls), but it really flew under my radar. So imagine my surprise when the game arrives and it absolutely blows me away. If you enjoy a good scare, close the lights, raise the volume on the TV and prepare yourself for one hell of a good time. Until Dawn might just be the very best PlayStation 4 exclusive of 2015. Don’t miss it!

    Final Score: 9.2/10

     

    Batman: Arkham Knight Review

    Arkham KnightBatman: Arkham Knight (Available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
    Developer: Rocksteady Studios
    Release Date: June 23, 2015

    Parent Talk: Arkham Knight is rated M for mature because of blood, suggestive themes, strong language, and violence. Like the previous games in the series, Batman doesn’t use lethal force, however his enemies do. This isn’t an overlay graphic videogame, however it does indeed deal with mature subject matter and young kids would be advised against playing this.

    Plays Like: If you have played Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, or Arkham Origins you have a very good idea of what to expect with Arkham Knight. You take on the role of Batman, and have all of Gotham City to explore. Your mission is to stop Scarecrow and figure out who the Arkham Knight is. You’ll use stealth, some fantastic gadgets, and Batman’s brute force to bring justice back to Gotham City.

    Review Basis: I finished the PS4 version of the game with 96% overall completion rating, and if I have the time I plan to go back and collect all of the Riddler trophies so that I can see the game’s true ending.

    Batman: Arkham Knight is the final chapter in Rocksteady’s incredible Arkham Trilogy. While I have very little doubt Warner Bros. will continue the series moving forward, this was an incredible way for Rocksteady to say good-bye to the series they popularized. After having completed the game, I sat back for a few moments to take it all in. This really is the end, and what an incredible journey it has been. Comic book videogames aren’t supposed to be this good.

    This is MY city!
    This is MY city!

    The Great:

    This is the end. With those words begins one of the most dramatic and best ending sequences I have ever seen in a videogame. What started with Arkham Asylum is now truly over. Arkham Knight takes everything I loved about that game, its incredible combo system, great detective mode, and deep story, and expands upon it in such a way that makes you feel as though Batman couldn’t possibly get any more powerful, and that his tale has finally reached its climax. The open world city from Arkham City is here, but it has been greatly fleshed out, and Batman’s rogue gallery has never been more interesting. Add in a wide assortment of new moves, expanded gadgets, and the Batmobile, and you have yourself the best comic book videogame I have ever had the honor of playing. It all comes together perfectly.

    Just look at all the special effects.
    Just look at all the special effects.

    The Good:

    • The story manages to recognize what came before in both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and expands on the mythos by introducing a new element, the Arkham Knight. A mysterious figure that seems to know an awful lot about Batman. Throw in a masterplan of the Scarecrow, and the return of an old enemy, and you have a tale woven so perfectly that it will be hard for another action game to top this for a long time to come. I wish I could go on and on about the story, but I truly want you all to experience it for yourself.
    • Gadgets galore. While most of the gadgets return from the previous games, you can put them to great use here in new and interesting ways. All gadgets can be upgraded as well making something that was once an ok solution to taking out certain enemies or elements in the battlefield like the Disruptor to a gadget that you will whip out every chance you get because of how powerful and diverse it can become.
    • Detective Mode. Scan bodies for clues, look through walls to see how best to take out certain enemies, everything that makes Batman the world’s greatest detective is at your fingertips. There is one series of missions in particular that really nails the detective in Batman. During story missions Batman will frequently have to put clues together by looking at recorded footage, or and locating key items. I felt Rocksteady did a wonderful job of really making the player feel as though Batman isn’t just all muscle.
    Races are challenging, but a blast.
    Races are challenging, but a blast.
    • Speaking of muscle, Batman has a wide assortment of new moves, and all of them can be upgraded via the level system. As you complete each side mission or story mission Batman acquires skill points which can be allocated to several key areas, combat being one of them. With enough practice you’ll get good at the counter and attack system and with upgrades, you’ll become an unstoppable Dark Knight. The combo system is just as fresh and fluid as it has ever been.
    • The Batmobile! I was a little afraid it may be overused when I first started learning how to use it, as it appeared every new mission type revealed would make use of the Batmobile, but very soon afterwards the game starts spicing things up and breaks the game down into two sections, Batmobile and combat. The Batmobile has two modes, a standard card mode which allows you to zip around Gotham’s streets with ease, and then the tank mode which you’ll be using a lot during combat sections. Here you face off against unmanned drones and you take them out with your 6MM cannon and machine guns. The Batmobile takes only a few minutes to get the hang of, and after that you’ll be blasting away even the most challenging foes. It too can be upgraded much like the gadgets and your combat skills.

    ­+ The City. I’ve got to hand it to Rocksteady, they really nailed the city this time. There are three islands you get to explore, but you never feel overwhelmed. Traversing from one area to the next is quick and easy either through the air, via grappling or on-ground with the Batmobile. Each area is distinct with color and flavor, such as Wayne Tower, ACE Chemicals, and more. I also enjoyed that you didn’t have to go to the Batcave in this game, considering we spent so much time there in the previous games.

    • Riddler’s trophies and challenges return, but thanks to the inclusion of the Batmobile, you really have to think outside the box. There are over 240 items to collect in the game, which will take a very long time to complete, and will put your brain to the test as some of these challenges are extremely complicated to figure out.
    • The voice cast is back. One of the biggest disappointments from Origins was some of the key missing voice actors like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, but they’re here. The entire voice cast is phenomenal and brings these characters to life, but I’ve got to single out John Noble as Scarecrow, wow what a fantastic job he did. This is by far the creepiest Scarecrow we’ve ever received, and I can’t ever go back to someone else voicing him again. The soundtrack is equally as powerful and rich.
    • Graphically Arkham Knight is a gorgeous game and Gotham City has never looked so detailed. The framerate remains constant for the vast majority of the game, only slowing down a bit when too much action is going on, typically during tank battle portions of the game. I was extremely impressed by the sheer size of the city, the amount of enemies on the streets, and the fact that there is always some sort of particle effect going on either rain or something else. It all comes together to make one impressive package.
    The combat is just as excellent as in all the other games.
    The combat is just as excellent as in all the other games.

    The Ugly:

    Since I can’t be sure everyone reading this will have the chance to play through the PlayStation 4 version of the game, I need to mention that the PC version was wrought with problems and Warner Bros. did the unthinkable, they pulled it from retail until the game can be fixed. It was riddled with bugs, glitches, and was barely unplayable. I experienced no such problems with the PS4 version.

    The excellent detective mode makes you truly feel like the world's best detective.
    The excellent detective mode makes you truly feel like the world’s best detective.

    The Lowdown:

    Sometimes a game will come along that strikes a chord with me, and this is one such game. I absolutely loved it from the first cinematic to the last mission. It may have been a little obvious who the Arkham Knight was, and yes it might seem a little odd that a man who doesn’t kill anyone would even own a tank capable to demolishing an entire city block, but at the end of the day I felt like Batman playing this game. I felt like I was the world’s greatest detective that I had the best and most colorful enemies in comic book history, and that at the end of it all, this is a very special chapter in the life of Batman that has come to a close. This is one you need to experience.

    Final Score: 9.8/10

    Batman: Arkham Knight Initial Impressions

    I haven’t updated the site in quite some time because we’ve been focusing on videos on YouTube, however I think I’m going to post a story or two here from time to time just to keep things interesting.

    Last night I got Batman: Arkham Knight and have been enjoying the heck out of it.  It’s one of those games where I put in three hours without even realizing it.  I meant to play for around an hour or so, but before you knew it, bam, three hours had passed.

    Thus far I’m rally enjoying the Batmobile and the huge city.  I like how the missions aren’t overwhelming.  You can easily select a mission, get to the objective point and have fun.  I’m not sure why some people said they were overwhelmed or that the Batmobile wasn’t fun to use.  Thus far I’m extremely impressed!

    Have you purchased Arkham Knight, and if so, what do you think of it?