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Crossed Swords II Review

Crosswed Swords II ReviewCrossed Swords II (Available on Neo Geo MVS, AES, and CD)
ESRB Rating: N/A
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Action
Publisher: SNK
Developer: ADK
Release Date: May 2nd, 1995 (Original CD version), August 28th, 2015 (AES and MVS versions)

Parent Talk: This is an independent release of a Neo Geo game from 1995 that has been converted from the Neo Geo CD to the Neo Geo MVS and AES. It features a wire-frame character facing off against countless mystical enemies. While there are depictions of violence and blood, it really isn’t damaging for children to play the game. In fact this is exactly the sort of game I would have played in the arcades when I was younger, and I turned out just fine…ok that’s debatable, but honestly it’s perfectly suitable for E10+, even though the ESRB didn’t rate the game.

Plays Like: If you’ve played the original Crossed Swords you know what to expect, and if not, why haven’t you? Players take on the role of a knight, a warrior, or a ninja and make their way through multiple levels of non-stop combat. Combat is special in that you have to defend and attack whenever your enemy has an opening. It’s a very defensive style game, which makes it highly addicting. There are multiple paths to take, and a progression system wrapped around an in-game shop where you can level up, purchase upgrades, and more.

Review Basis: Completed the game multiple times, and tried every possible route.

Crossed Swords II highlights just how amazing the Neo Geo community really is. The game was originally released exclusively on the Neo Geo CD, however has since been converted to the AES and MVS formats. The conversion was handled by the main man behind the infamous Neo Geo UniBIOS, Razoola. Together with Jeff Kurtz from NeoBitz, they converted the CD exclusive over to the MVS and AES in style. Let’s find out how it all turned out.

CS1The Great:

Not only is the conversion spot on, but thanks to NeoBitz’s involvement, the two released a full MVS kit including artwork, dip switch settings, and a mini marquee, as well as a full AES release including a Shockbox. This is exactly why the community is so incredible, because fine folks are willing to go the extra mile. The quality is absolutely top notch, and you would have no idea wasn’t an original cart from back in the day because of the sheer quality of the product. They both need to be commended for a job well done.

Instead of just converting the game over to the MVS/AES, Razoola did something extra, he fixed graphical and audio bugs, game glitches, and even some translational problems. In short, he went all out. While I don’t have access to a full list of improvements, he did specify that 33 Sound FX were added, and 53 Graphical fixes were made. I should mention that the original CD-soundtrack to Crossed Swords II was not transferred over, instead the music was ripped from the original version of Crossed Swords.

CS2The Good:

  • The storyline in Crossed Swords II is minimalistic, but gets the job done. Essentially the main baddie from the original game returns to wreak havoc on the country, and only you can stop him. Ok sure it’s nothing original, but it gives some context as to why you’re fighting all of these enemies.
  • Multiple playable characters! Unlike the original game you now access to the original knight, a female warrior, and a ninja. Each character has different stats, with the knight having the strongest physical attacks, and the highest defense stats, but also low magic and the lowest speed. That means his recovery isn’t great either. The female warrior has low attack and defense, but the highest speed and magic attacks, making her play style quite different. Finally the ninja has balanced speed, attack, and defense, but the lowest magic attack skills.
  • Multiplayer is vastly superior to the original game. This time each player has full access to the entire screen. In the original one player was stuck on the left portion of the screen, and the other player the right portion. Now both players can gang up on enemies, or quickly dash to the other side of the screen.

AES+ Jumping and dashing are fantastic additions. Both are extremely useful techniques to master early on. With the proper weapon a jump attack can be devastating to your enemy. The dash allows you to quickly cover ground, or get out of your enemy’s line of fire. You can also dash in at an enemy, strike, and then dash out.

  • The core gameplay is utterly fantastic. Enemies block repeatedly forcing you to wait for an opening before you attack. You have access to magical attacks and traditional attacks, but when coupled with the new jump and dash moves, you feel just powerful enough for the task at hand. Make no mistake about it, it’s not just the enemies that defend, you have to do the same as well if you want to survive. This defensive style gameplay is addictive and forces you to stay on your toes.
  • Branching paths extend replay value. Much like the original, you can select multiple paths to take, which change which bosses you will fight, and how you will progress through the game. You’ll have to play at least twice in order to get a true sense of what the game has to offer. There are also two different gameplay modes, one is the main story, and the second is a boss battle mode where you can challenge any of the bosses to learn their strategies, which also enhance the replay value.
  • MVS+ You can purchase new items and equipment from shops. That means you can save up and purchase that sword you’ve been eying, replenish your health and magic attacks, or even level up. That’s right, you level up at the shops, which adds an interesting elements of strategy to the game because you need to balance whether to improve your gear, or your vitality.

    • The graphics for the most part look very similar to those in the first game. There are a lot of recycled enemies with simple color palette swaps, but the sprites are massive, and feature great animations and color. The backgrounds also look very detailed and nice. The sound effects are fantastic, and the music, while taken from the original Crossed Swords, fits perfectly within the game.

    CS3The Lowdown:

    Crossed Swords II is an extremely fun game in its own right, and it is absolutely amazing being able to play this in a Neo cab, or on your home TV via the AES. Razoola and NeoBitz did two runs of the MVS version, and one run of the AES version, and sadly they’re completely sold out meaning if you like what you see in the video review, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Maybe one day the game will be reprinted again, otherwise you may have to resort to purchasing it from the second hand market and good luck with that as prices will most likely be astronomically high. I tip my hat off to Razoola and Jeff for a job well done. This is hands down one of the best videogame products released in 2015.

    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

    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

     

    Disney Infinity 3.0 Review

    Disney Infinity 3.0 ReviewDisney Infinity 3.0 (Available on PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: E10+
    Number of Players: 1 to 4
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
    Developer: Avalanche Software
    Release Date: August 28th, 2015

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Disney Infinity 3.0 E10+, or everyone over ten years old. They only site cartoon violence as a potential hazard, and to be honest, that’s absolutely right. Even young kids under 10 shouldn’t have much trouble with the game in terms of content, more so they’ll need an adult’s help in setting up the game and creating some of the content.

    Plays Like: If you’ve played any of the Infinity games you should know the drill by now. You purchase the starter set that includes a few figures and the power base, plus a play set. That activates a certain amount of content on the disc. Typically it unlocks one story mode for the included characters. You also get the toy box which is where you can use every figure from across all three games. It’s where you build levels, customize your house and much, much more. If you want to experience more stories or figures, those are all sold separately. The non-user generated content plays out like any other children’s action game where you have limited moves, and make your way through linear stages.

    Review Basis: Disney Interactive sent us a review copy for the PlayStation 4.

    Disney Infinity has been my go-to series for the toy-to-game genre. Skylanders may have started the trend, and Nintendo is sure making a mint off those Amiibos, but it’s Disney Infinity that seems to have struck the perfect balance between a limited amount of figures, and a very entertaining videogame. This is by far the best version yet, and considering how many figures have been released across all three games, you sure have a lot of options for your toy box.

    DI3_2The Great:

    Disney characters, check, Marvel characters, double check, and now Star Wars characters, triple check! That is an incredible wealth of content, and for the very first time all three universes have come together in one package. There is something here for children of all ages. Whether you want to spend countless hours in the intimidating, but ultimately enjoyable toy box mode where you can use any figure you’ve collected over the years in a mix mash of games, genres, or anything else your brain can think of; or work your way through one of the many play sets, Disney Infinity 3.0 is a sheer delight. It’s the incredible wealth of content that is by far the single best feature of this game.

    DI3_4The Good:

    • This year’s starter set features Ahsoka and Anakin figures, and the play set Twilight of the Republic, which is hands down the absolute best play set included in any of the previous starter sets. While you may note that’s one figure less than the previous starter sets, keep in mind that the price has been lowered. It’s also possible to use the power base from Disney Infinity 2.0 and simply download the game for an even greater cost reduction. That way you can simply pick-up the figures individually.
    • As always the build quality of the figures is top notch. That classic cartoony look the toys have fits the Star Wars universe perfectly. I will admit that excited children might snap off those thin lightsabers though, so parents be warned.
    • Combat is tighter and more refined than ever before. Experienced players will be able to time their button presses to string together a wide assortment of awesome looking combos, but for the kids, button mashing also leads to some rather awesome results. This is a perfect balance for seasoned and newbie players alike.

    DI3_1+ The Star Wars property is respected and put to good use. You can explore four planets, take part in space dog fights, and much more. I was surprised by just how fantastic the overall gameplay was.

    • The toy box mode is now easier than ever before. It’s incredible what you can do in this mode, make a Star Wars-inspired Mario Kart, or anything else you can dream of. Previously actually making these mini-games was daunting, but now, thanks to the new tools, I found it much easier to whip up something enjoyable. That said, it is still quite overwhelming at first glance. If building your own levels and games isn’t your thing, that’s ok, you can easily play through the hundreds of user created levels.
    • The audio visual presentation is absolutely top notch. This feels, looks, and sounds like a Star Wars game. The developers didn’t skip a beat, and it shows.

    DI3_3The So-So:

    +/- Every year it’s the same thing, but ultimately your enjoyment of Disney Infinity 3.0 will greatly depend on how much money you throw at it. If you purchase the additional characters and play sets, naturally you’ll have a much deeper experience than someone who only purchases the starter set. I would strongly recommend if you’re going to buy this for children, pick up at least one or two additional figures and another play set.

    DI3_5The Lowdown:

    Disney Infinity 3.0 is a fantastic game. While it may appear to be a more expensive affair this time around because of the reduced figure count, you’re actually getting more bang for your buck. While I absolutely loved last year’s iteration, this year’s blows it out of the water. The Star Wars property is handled with respect and admiration and it shows. This is an absolute gem for kids, so if you have some, I strongly recommend you put this bad boy under the Christmas tree.

    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

    LittleBigPlanet 3 Review

    LBP3LittleBigPlanet 3 (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1 to 4
    Genre: Platformer
    Publisher: SCEA
    Developer: Sumo Entertainment
    Release Date: November 18th, 2014

    Parent Talk: LittleBigPlanet 3 has been rated E for everyone, meaning absolutely anyone can play this charming game. There’s really not much here anyone could find offensive, although there are a few cutscene that the really young might be frightened to see. Characters are all made out of cloth, or other real-world materials, but the action is so charming and harmless that I think this makes a perfect game for both children, and the young at heart.

    Plays Like: Much like the rest of the series, the game is a platformer at heart. You move between three distinct plains, running and jumping all over the place. To make things even more interesting, you also have access to a wide assortment of powerful editing tools where you can create your own levels.

    Review Basis: Finished the game, and tried my hand at creating a masterpiece of a level. That last part didn’t turn out so well.

    When LittleBigPlanet first hit the PlayStation 3 it ushered in Sony’s unique marketing strategy of Play, Create, and Share. This simple concept applied to quite a few games over the years, but it all started with LittleBigPlanet. You could make your own levels, share them with others, and play through a wonderfully crafted campaign. The same holds true with LBP3, except everything has been enhanced and tweaked to a near pitch perfect level. If only a few nasty bugs would have been squashed prior to release, and some of the gameplay choices been a little different, this likely would have been one of the best games on the PS4, but as it is now, it’s just a damn fun one.

    LBP3_4The Great:

    The three new characters introduced in LittleBigPlanet 3 are a sheer delight to use. Oddsock is quick, and can be used to wall-jump, which makes him particularly useful. Toggle can switch between large and tiny versions of himself, which make him perfect for getting to hard to reach places, and finally Swoop can fly and carry objects. You have full access to all three new characters in the creation mode, however a major omission is that they’re not all playable in the main campaign for some reason. Instead you’re limited to where and how you can use the characters, but outside that limitation I love all of their new abilities and how they allow you to get truly creative when creating or trying to create your own masterpiece.

    LBP3_1The Good:

    • I really enjoyed the cheerful story in LBP3. Sure it’s the similar to what we’ve seen before, but it’s still charming. You can on the role of Sackboy, who has been whisked away to Bunkum by a lightbulb named Newton. Newton tells the story of ancient Titans who sucked all the creativity out of Bunkum, but were thwarted by three unlikely heroes, Oddsock, Toggle, and Swoop. Sure enough, the Titans returns, and Sackboy has to locate these three heroes and save the kingdom. It’s simple, cute, and charming, which is perfect for this kind of game.
    • The campaign is divided into four main areas, one for the prologue, and then one for each of the three hero characters. Each new area has a series of levels, and then a boss fight in the last. There are countless hours of platforming goodness is each level, and once special items are introduced you’re rewarded for revisiting previously completed levels. There are secret challenges which require two or more players to attain, and you’ll almost always have a reason to come back and play because of missed stickers or other goodies you skipped on your first play through.
    • Speaking of creativity, as with all the other LittleBigPlanet games, this one features an incredibly robust level editor. I say level editor, but it’s so much more than that. You can build your own levels, an entire map, mini-games, and just about everything else you can possibly imagine, and then share those creations with the rest of the community.
    • Popit Puzzles are featured on their own planet, and act as a giant tutorial. Each level introduces one new tool, and forces you to understand how said tool works within the context of creation. So while technically you’re being challenged to overcome puzzles, in the back of your mind you’re also learning how and where to place traps, the best way to conceal a certain danger, and more. For lack of a better term, it’s brilliant.
    • There’s so much to do in this game that you feel like you’re truly getting your money’s worth. There are tons of NPCs in every hub world that offer mini-games, stickers for you to collect, and so much more. Then there are all the community aspects, such as playing through levels other players have built, of which there are literally hundreds if not thousands.
    • Coop has always been one of the game’s strengths and that holds true here. While most levels have two-player areas to them, only a fraction were designed for up to four players. That said, every level can be completed with four players, and it’s a blast doing so.
    • Environments are all extremely creative. One minute you’re in a Hollywood-inspired world filled with the frights, and excitement that come with the movies these levels are based upon, and the next you’re underwater in an area that doesn’t look anything like where you just were. That’s the creative genius of this series, and it’s still impressive. Everything is made up of real world materials such as wool, wood, or steel, yet everything is overly cute and cuddly. It’s a beautiful game to look at.

    LBP3_2The Bad:

    • I really was sad to learn that you can’t switch characters at a moment’s notice during the campaign. You’re only allowed to do so at key spots, and even then you’re typically only allowed to switch to one of the characters, whichever one you happened to unlock in that area’s hub world. That’s very disappointing as it could have unlocked a wealth of options, almost making the game have a Metroid-like essence to it. Technically it already does with the in-game items you acquire such as a weapon that allows you to push certain items out of the way, or a teleporter that only works at certain spots.

    The Ugly:

    • As with just about every modern videogame, LittleBigPlanet 3 is littered with bugs. Thankfully most of these have been patched, however while I played through the game I had frequent issues whereby I would fall through the floor of a level, would appear in the background, or would get stuck unable to explode myself or restart at the desired checkpoint.

    LBP3_3The Lowdown:

    LittleBigPlanet 3 is a really fun game, although it would have been so much better had the new characters been utilized a little better. I would have loved to have been able to switch to whichever character I wanted, whenever I wanted within the stages. This would have increased the replay factor by about a hundred percent, and really would have helped make this feel like the ultimate LittleBigPlanet. I loved all the new creation tools, the Popit Puzzles, but the bugs were annoying. Overall this is a fun game and fans of the series should most certainly check it out. It’s also a good jump on point for those curious to see what the series is all about.

    Final Score: 7/10

    The Order: 1886 Review

    The Order 1886The Order: 1886 (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: SECA
    Developer: Ready at Dawn
    Release Date: February 20th, 2015

    Parent Talk: The Order 1886 is rated M for mature because of blood and gore, intense violence, nudity sexual content, and strong language. There’s lots of very mature content featured in the game, making it a no-brainer that children should not be allowed to play. You visit a brothel and see full frontal male nudity, there are half-breeds that rip people apart, and then there’s the action, which has you cutting down enemies, setting them on fire, or otherwise killing them in very graphic ways.

    Plays Like: The Order 1886 is a game that hand holds you through most of the adventure. It’s filled with quick-time events, cover-based action like you’d find in Gears of War, and third-person shoot outs as in many other games. The game is closed off and very linear, meaning the replay factor is quite limited since there’s also no multiplayer. It’s a graphically rich game, which falls a tad short when it comes to gameplay.

    Review Basis: Sony sent us a review copy, and I polished off the campaign.

    The Order 1886 is without a doubt the nicest looking game currently available on the PlayStation 4. It often feels like a glorified tech demo because of little touches like being able to zoom in on certain objects, and turn them around to look at all sides. It adds to the overall realism, and you’ll be floored by the game’s beauty, but when you’re given control, things don’t shine nearly as bright.

    The Order 1886_1The Great:

    Victorian London never looked so good. Honestly, this is a beautiful game, and it’s kind of a shame Ready at Dawn felt the need to remind players of that every few seconds. It’s gorgeous, and anyone with eyes can easily see that. Personally I loved how everything from the way the characters look to the environments all fit together perfectly. You’ve got zeppelins, beautiful iron bridge, carriages and just about everything else you can imagine. When I saw the old bar in one of the early characters I just couldn’t believe how much attention to detail went into the creation of the environments. They’re absolutely spectacular. If there’s one element Ready at Dawn can be proud of it’s that their game engine is amazing, and will hopefully be put to use in a more interactive game later on.

    The Order 1886_2The Good:

    • The music, sound effects and voice acting are all superb. The actors do a phenomenal job with their dialogue, and the sweeping soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, and acts as a perfect balance to the incredible setting and graphics.
    • When action segments do break out, they’re fun to experience and play. Most of these areas play out similar to Gears of War, whereby you use cover to protect yourself, take out enemies, and then move on to the next cover. Weapons are creative, although you don’t get to use them nearly as often as I would have liked.

    The Order 1886_3The So-So:

    +/- The story somehow mixes steampunk, King Arthur, and 1886 London into a cohesive and highly interesting setting. Players take on the role of Grayson, A.K.A. Galahad, one of the Knights of the Round Table. You’re trying to figure out why rebels have sided with half-breeds or Lycans (werewolves), and what the Order has to do with everything that’s going on. Are the rebels truly sided with the half-breeds or is there more going on here than you know of. I was hooked from the very beginning, however like most of the game, you never really get to explore much of the backstory of the game. Where do the Lycans come from, what’s the focus of the supernatural elements? You’ve never told, and it’s a shame. Instead the majority of the story focuses on the Round Table Knights and everything that’s going on within the political side of the story, which admittingly isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the world in which these Knights exist.

    The Order 1886_4The Bad:

    • While some might enjoy the overall experience, I found the pacing to be extremely tedious at times. The game is essentially broken down into four segments, cutscenes, quick-time events, extremely slow walk and talk sequences, and action set-pieces. Entire chapters may be nothing more than lengthy cutscenes, and yet others will feature a handful of action segments, and lots and lots of walking. More often than not, I simply wanted to break free of the constraints and explore the world, but was never given the chance to do so. Instead I was handheld over the course of the entire game.
    • An incredible amount of filler is featured that easily could have been cut. While I enjoyed being able to pick up and look at certain objects in the environment, I really started to dislike being forced to do so. What ends up happening is you spend a good 20 minutes or so just walking around an area doing nothing but picking up and looking at three of four objects, and flipping them around, only to have to press the triangle afterwards to trigger a brief dialogue scene. These could have all been cut out, or left up to the player to discover on their own.

    The Ugly:

    I can’t recall being teased as often in a videogame as I felt with this one. From being given an excellent weapon, only to have it get ripped away moments later, to the thought of facing off against menacing half-breeds, just to polish them off with a few rolls and some QTEs, this game promised so much excitement and adventure and ultimately falls short because it simply does not deliver on those promises.

    The Order 1886_5The Lowdown:

    The Order 1886 is a game I think all PS4 owners should play. You might not believe it from what I’ve said in this review, but it’s the truth. I feel this is an exclusive that people who own a PS4 would do well in experiencing. It’s beautiful and I think with some major changes the sequel could actually be great. I’d suggest two or three friends purchase one copy, play through the seven hour game, share it amongst the group and then do what you want with the game after that. I have a feeling this is going to be a game that people will fall in love with for its cinematic qualities, and others will feel as I did, as if the game promises me the world, and simply didn’t deliver.

    Final Score: 6/10

    Halo: The Master Chief Collection Review

    Halo MCCHalo: The Master Chief Collection (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 16
    Genre: FPS
    Publisher: Microsoft
    Developer: 343 Industries
    Release Date: November 11th, 2014

    Parent Talk: The Master Chief Collection has been rated M for mature by the ESRB because of blood and gore, language, and violence. Unlike something like Call of Duty, the blood isn’t over-the-top realistic. Yes this is definitely not a game for the really young because of scary enemies like the Flood, but honestly it’s not the worst FPS out there, not even by a longshot. Halo is Halo, it has its own distinct style and flare, and by now you should know exactly what you’re getting into if you’re considering purchasing this game.

    Plays Like: The Halo series has evolved from a fun single player experience to a worldwide online phenomenon. The original Halo set the bar for single player first-person shooters on home consoles, and the Live-enabled sequel raised it exponentially higher. Today players all over the world know what they’re getting with Halo, a top tier campaign, and addictive multiplayer. Since this is a compilation game, naturally the games progressed with each iteration, but at its heart and core it was always this balance of an awesome campaign and killer online multiplayer that put Halo where it is today, as one of the world’s leading FPS franchises.

    Review Basis: I tried my hand at all four Halo games to see how they compared to the originals, and tried my hardest to play a wide assortment of online multiplayer matches, but I’ll touch on that later on in the review.

    Note: Microsoft has promised and delivered updates almost non-stop since the game’s release to fix the broken multiplayer, and the company will even be giving ODST’s campaign away for free as an apology to fans.

    I was extremely excited to get my hands on The Master Chief Collection. I’m a big fan of the Halo series after all, and the thought of having beautiful 1080p 60 fps versions of all four games in the core series was incredibly exciting. Sure I was a little disappointed that Halo: Reach wasn’t included, as that’s actually my second favorite Halo game ever, after the original, but I figured I could live without it as I would be so busy checking out all the other games. What I didn’t expect was for this compilation to be a really great campaign compilation, and a complete disaster when it comes to the multiplayer. To understand how huge of a deal this is, it would be like making it to world 8-4 in Super Mario Bros. only to have a black screen pop up saying ‘sorry…err..hay_98*’ Yup, that makes no sense whatsoever, and to be quite honest, neither does the incredibly broken multiplayer.

    Halo MCC1The Great:

    The campaigns are absolutely incredible. If there’s one aspect that really floored me it’s with the four core campaigns. The original Halo is based on the Anniversary Edition, but has been upscaled and looks extremely sexy. Halo 2 has been completely reworked and looks amazing, and Halo 3 and 4 have also been upscaled. The four games run so silky smooth that you’ll be immediately impressed. What I especially appreciated was that you can select any chapter you want right from the get-go. This allows you to enjoy these games any way you want, from beginning to end, or that one level you remember so fondly from way back when. It’s all incredibly fun, so long as you always enjoyed these campaigns, if not well then this most likely isn’t the compilation for you.

    It’s also really fun to be able to turn on and off the alterations of the original two Halo games, because you can appreciate just how much work went into these remasters. For Halo 2, it’s especially amazing to see the drastic improvements Blur Studios made to the cutscenes. The whole world feels so much more fleshed out now. The new lighting system also makes Halo 2 on the Xbox One look so much better than it did on the original Xbox. There’s even new musical arrangements and sound effects, although some of the sound effects sounded better in the original in my opinion.

    Halo 3 and 4 are not Anniversary editions, and it’s obvious, however both have been updated to run at 1080p 60fps, so they’re the best versions to play. The gameplay in both games is also top notch, and help round out this superb package of excellent campaigns. Playing through Halo 4 after playing the others shows this is a clear new beginning for Master Chief. The gameplay is radically altered from giving Master Chief the ability to run, to new enemies and a story which paints Master Chief in a totally different light. No longer is he the warrior god that everyone looks up to, and it’s quite jarring to play all four games back to back and see this. It’s a sign that the series is changing, and it’s clear that when Halo 5 hits next year the evolution of the series that started in 4 will continue.

    Halo MCC2The Good:

    • One aspect that I was really worried about that turned out quite well is the user interface. It’s quite easy going through each game, selecting the chapter, mode, or gameplay alterations you want. It takes a little getting used to, but after a very short time you’ll be playing through whatever chapter you want in any way you want.

    Halo MCC3The So-So:

    +/- I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for saying this, but while it’s really awesome that you can select a playlist that’s made up of multiplayer maps from all four Halo games, your memory of each game will heavily determine your enjoyment for the first few hours with the game. Here’s why. If you don’t remember that you can’t run or dual wield in the original Halo and you try to, odds are you’re going to get killed by those that do remember, and the same is true for all the other games. You really need to relearn your Halo history because gameplay changes with each new map you play. This can be highly frustrating at first, but you will overcome it in time.

    Halo MCC4The Ugly:

    By far the worst aspect, and one that completely ruins the package, is the matchmaking. To say it’s broken would be an understatement. When I played Halo 2 on the original Xbox I could get into a match within seconds. Here, you can wait for minutes, hours, or forever and never get into a match. Even worse once you finally do manage to get into a match, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to during the next session. Considering so many people buy this franchise for the multiplayer, I consider this a huge disservice to the fans. 343 Industries promises fixes will be coming, but as of launch the online component is severely lacking and that’s inexcusable for a game of this caliber.

    Halo MCC5The Lowdown:

    Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a brilliant collection of four excellent games, however it feels only half complete as of launch. Will patches get released to fix the problems, I have no doubt, and the odds are that by the time you watch or read this review those changes may already be here, but I can only review what I had access to and during that time it’s clear this game needed far more time in the oven. It was rushed to market for the holiday shopping season, and that’s a real unacceptable. If you’re in this for the online component, you’re better off waiting until the game has been patched to perfection. If you want to experience the four campaigns again, then go ahead and give this one a purchase as it’s an easy recommend for the campaigns alone. As a complete package though, I can’t help but feel highly let down. I can’t believe this game was allowed to go out the door in the state it did.

    Final Score: 6.5/10

     

    Sunset Overdrive Review

    Sunset OverdriveSunset Overdrive (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 8
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
    Developer: Insomniac Games
    Release Date: October 28th, 2014

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Sunset Overdrive M for mature because of blood and gore, sexual themes, strong language, and drug and alcohol use. I know what you’re thinking, this is another one of those Grand Theft Auto clones that is super realistic, but it’s actually not at all. Sure it’s a bit vulgar, but the blood is cartoonish, and the whole game doesn’t take itself seriously whatsoever. In fact this is a game that looks like it would have come from SEGA back when they were still in the hardware race. It’s a mix of GTA meets Jet Grind Radio. It’s silly, insane, and damn fun, but it also features enough mature content that I can easily recommend you don’t allow children near the game, no matter how colorful its exterior might be.

    Plays Like: Imagine an open world that’s bright and colorful like a Mario or Sonic game, features the maturity of a Ratchet and Clank game, and is just about as fun as you can imagine, and you have yourself Sunset Overdrive. The game is broken up like GTA, so you can expect a wide assortment of missions, however the world in which the game takes place is completely silly and ridiculous. You can grind on rails all over the city, scale buildings with ease, and perform all kinds of insane acrobatic maneuvers which almost always propel you into the air, or keep you moving. That’s what makes Sunset Overdrive so unique, it wants you to always stay moving, and will do everything in its power to ensure you do just that. It’s a hell of a good time.

    Review Basis: Finished the single player campaign, and tried my hand at the cooperative online multiplayer mode.

    When Insomniac Games first announced Sunset Overdrive I didn’t really know what to expect. These are the guys behind the now legendary Ratchet and Clank series, but haven’t worked on a brand new IP in a long time. Would this be another game people would flock to, or would it end up being like Resistance, a good game that just never really took off for whatever reason. Looking back I can firmly say this is going to be one of those Xbox One titles that people are going to talk about ten years from now because of just how much fun it is to play. The humor the studio is known for remains razor sharp, and the incredible weapons Insomniac developed for the Ratchet and Clank series are actually improved upon in some fashion here. I never expected to enjoy Sunset Overdrive as much as I did, and because of that it has ended up becoming one of my absolute best games of 2014, and a very good reason why you should own an Xbox One.

    Sunset Overdrive1The Great:

    Sunset City rules! One of the biggest problems I have with most open world videogames is that they’re far too realistic. The colors are almost always muted, or shades of browns and greys, but here everything is brimming with color. The graphics are also exceptional, making Sunset Overdrive one of the absolute best looking games currently available on the Xbox One. The fact that the city is so interactive is also a blessing because you can use the city as a massive jungle gym, taking out hundreds of thousands of monsters, all while grinding, flipping, and jumping to and from buildings, cars, electrical wires, and everything else you can imagine. All of this while rocking a constant framerate. The city is so inviting that you’ll be coming back to play another hour whenever you have a chance.

    Sunset Overdrive2The Good:

    • The upgrade system is also enjoyable to mess around with. There are these special Amps which allow you to grant special powers to not only your body, but weapons as well. The more stylish you zip around the city, the quicker you’ll increase your special meter. This is what allows you to use those powerful Amp attacks. If you want to find new ones, you’ll have to head out into the open city and locate a wide assortment of goodies which can then be used to create new Amps. This is made much easier if you purchase in-game maps which show you where all the items are hidden.
    • Speaking of weapons, they’re awesome. Think Ratchet and Clank awesome! These things are completely ridiculous. You have access to a wide assortment of makeshift weapons like the bowling ball cannon, or the explosive teddy bear launcher, and so much more. This is insomniac so you know you’re in for a real treat in the weapons department.
    • The boss fights are great, and offer up some of the best moments in the entire game, but you’ll have to discover those for yourself.
    • Chaos Squad is an 8-player cooperative horde-like mode that offers up hours of fun because you all have the freedom offered in the single player version. The one downside, and it’s quite a big one, is that this mode doesn’t scale with the number of players in your group. So if you’re only four, you’ll find the challenges almost impossible.
    • What holds this wild and crazy universe together, is an equally ridiculous story, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Fizzco, an energy drink maker, has accidently poisoned all the citizens of Sunset City with their latest beverage. One minute you’re taking out the trash, being totally disrespected, the next you’re a one-man war-machine destroying everything in your path.
    • One of the best features that I didn’t even think I would like is having the ability to recreate your character whenever you want. Normally the character you create when the game begins is the one you finish the game with, but here you can customize your sex, size, and features whenever you feel like a change. It works perfectly with the theme that anything goes in this open world.
    • Cast of characters are fantastic. While you make your escape from the city, you stumble onto a wide assortment of support characters who are all part of factions. Each faction has a specific theme, like the preps, the nerds, etc. Sure these groups are stereotypical, however key characters will often call out these stereotypes during cutscenes, which I found absolutely hilarious. The voice actors who voice all these support characters clearly had a fun time with the dialogue as they’re all immediately likeable.

    Sunset Overdrive3The So-So:

    +/- While Sunset City beckons you to scale its largest buildings, and to jump on every single car and object you can see, when you do stand still you’re punished for it. You see enemies are all over the place and so long as you keep moving you’ll easily be able to pick them off one at a time, or a dozen at a time. The thing is, sometimes you’re ‘regular game’ instincts kick in, where you’re surrounded by enemies and you feel you should stand your ground and fight. Doing so will cut your life short, as the whole game was built around the concept of action in motion. Some might not enjoy being forced to keep moving, although to be fair I’d be really surprised to hear that because of how much fun it is to use the city as a mean’s of transportation.

    +/- When you first start the game out, don’t be put off by the limited mission variety. As you progress the missions start to get diverse, but it does take time. Be warned!

    Sunset Overdrive4The Bad:

    • One of the only gripes I have with Sunset Overdrive is that there isn’t a standard co-op mode. I know at least one friend that would have had an absolute blast playing through this game with me, but sadly only Chaos Squad is open for cooperative play.

    Sunset Overdrive5The Lowdown:

    Sunset Overdrive is a fantastic game, one of the best of 2014, and probably the best on the Xbox One right now. It’s an exclusive to be proud of, it’s a brand new IP, features great single player action, has an addictive cooperative horde mode, and isn’t afraid to be over the top. If you enjoy ridiculous games, great weapons, and clever stage design, I would highly recommend you give this one a go.

    Final Score: 9/10

    Far Cry 4 Review

    Far Cry 4 ReviewFar Cry 4 (Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 10
    Genre: FPS
    Publisher: Ubisoft
    Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
    Release Date: November 18th, 2014

    Parent Talk: This is a viscous game, both in its narrative and in the acts of violence depicted. From slicing someone’s throat, to seeing people get tortured at every turn, this isn’t a game for the faint of heart. It features drug use, alcohol, and strong language and is most certainly the type of game that deserves its M rating. Keep the kids away from this one at all costs.

    Plays Like: If you were a fan of Far Cry 3, there’s a good chance you’re going to love this one. You take on the role of Ajay Ghale, and are put to the task of essentially taking on open-world missions for the two co-leaders of the Golden Path, a separatist group that is trying to overthrow the current dictator, Pagan Min. The story takes itself very seriously, but once the more traditional open-world side missions open up, things become far sillier. Most open world games these days follow a specific path, you can tackle a wide assortment of crazy and wild side quests, or focus on the main storyline. The same is true in this first-person action romp.

    Review Basis: Finished the main storyline, and tried my hand at all the various side quests and activities offered.

    Far Cry 4 is wild, it’s crazy, it takes itself too seriously at times, but above all else, it is a really enjoyable game to play, so long as you enjoy open-world games. There’s nothing quite like barging into an enemy camp, on top of an elephant, and throwing grenades all over the place. It’s sheer chaos, and yes it’s often hard to take anything the game throws at you too seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the fictitious Himalayan province of Kyrat.

    FC1The Great:

    If I had to say what I enjoyed the most with Far Cry 4, it would have to be the co-op mode. This game is crazy enough playing by yourself, but grab a friend, or a complete stranger and prepare to go all out bat shit crazy. You can have one player fly the gyrocopter, while the other swings off it with a grabbling hook picking off enemies. You can purposely rush enemies while both players are riding elephants, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. To say you feel like a total bad ass would be an understatement. It’s completely ridiculous, and that’s most likely why it’s just so much fun to play.

    FC2The Good:

    • While the narrative takes itself too serious, I did find the tale to be a solid one. You play as Ajay Ghale, on a quest to scatter your mother’s ashes in some unknown area of Kyrat, a fictitious Himalayan province. Once you arrive things go downhill quickly as you’re forced to watch a madman named Pagan Min do unspeakable things.   As the story progresses Ajay finds himself choosing between two co-leaders of The Golden Path, a separatist group trying to bring balance to Kyrat. Do you go the more technical route and support Amita, or do you always put out fires by supporting Sabal? While these elements were great, sadly the antagonist was severely underused and that’s a crying shame because he had so much potential.
    • Great activities and mission variety. One moment you’re trying to get to the top of a giant radio tower, which acts almost like a platforming puzzle game, and the next you’re taking down wave after wave of enemies trying to liberate an outpost. There are racing activities, you can attempt to escort munitions to The Golden Path, and then there are the actual story missions which vary just as much as the side missions do.
    • Everything about Far Cry 4 is about causing chaos to ensue, and this couldn’t be more evident by the animal luring and elephant riding. If you’re sneaking up on a group of enemies, you can lob what amounts to animal guts at your enemies, which will lure in a vicious bear, tiger, or some other predator to make short work of Pagan’s forces. If that’s not really your style, why not hop on an elephant and ram the outpost to hell, all while spraying enemies with bullets.
    • The player progression system in place is deep and rewarding. As you complete more and more missions and activities you earn experience which will eventually grant you skill points which can be used to upgrade your core abilities. Things like having an extra life bar, being able to reload while running, and standard FPS-fair are all featured here, and act as an excuse to tackle just one more mission before bed.
    • 5v5 competitive multiplayer is a blast to play because it features so many aspects of what makes the open world gameplay in the main campaign so much fun to play. The two opposing factions are quite different, one featuring supernatural elements such as invisibility, and the other using the more traditional guns, explosives, etc. Combining these two groups with the open world elements from the main campaign was surprisingly fresh and exciting, no matter which objective the game throws at you.
    • The audio visual presentation is certainly worthy of the next-gen moniker. The environments are beautiful, and well-populated, and the character animations are great. At times there are a few scenes that are a little rough around the edges, but for the most part this is a great looking first-year title for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Naturally if you have a powerful PC you can really make this game look stunningly beautiful. The audio fits the bill perfectly, although I absolutely detested the radio announcer. I didn’t find he added anything to the narrative, and wasn’t funny at all. The soundtrack matched the setting perfectly, feeling majestic and mysterious at times, and pulse pounding and energetic at others.

    FC3The So-So:

    +/- Is there such a thing as too many things to do in a game? Picture thing, a giant map with about two dozen radio towers on it. You know that if you liberate those towers you’ll unlock new activities, and new areas to explore. So you start to do that, you manage to liberate one of the towers and purchase several maps which show the locations of treasure troves, posters, and much, much more. Suddenly your map has about 100 different icons on it, and that’s all from just one tower. Now imagine what happens when you start unlocking more towers. Before too long I found myself a little overwhelmed by how much stuff there is to do in the game. This is all on top of the interesting story missions, the hunting missions that you’ll set yourself on in order to craft items of great use such as a much larger bag for holding skins, loot, and ammo. It’s very easy to get distracted, and it feels like Ubisoft was purposely going out of their way to jam as much as they possibly could in the limited real-estate available. Whether or not that’s a good thing will depend on you.

    FC4The Bad:

    • Far Cry 4 feels an awful lot like many of Ubisoft’s other big games such as the Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs franchises. It’s all starting to blend together into one big giant ‘been there, done that’ mess. This is still a fun game, but Ubisoft is going to have to be careful not to overdo it. I can very easily see all of their big franchises collapse under the mighty weight of each other if each of these series receives yearly iterations.

    FC5The Lowdown:

    Far Cry 4 borrows a lot from Far Cry 3, and like I mentioned just above, Ubisoft will have to be careful how to proceed from here. It’s one thing to have three great franchises, but something else entirely when all three start becoming a bit too alike. Right now Far Cry 4 is a ridiculous game that is so much fun to play, however it can also be a bit daunting when you realize just how much stuff there is to do in this massive open world. If you’re looking for a videogame that you can invest dozens of hours into, this will most certainly scratch that particular itch. If you’re hoping for next innovative franchise that breaks the mold, this isn’t going to shock or amaze you. What it does it does well, it just doesn’t do anything particularly new.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Freedom Wars Review

    Freedom WarsFreedom Wars (Available exclusively for the PlayStation Vita)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 8
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
    Developer: SCE Japan Studio, Shift, and Dimps
    Release Date: October 28th, 2014

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Freedom Wars T for teen because of blood, mild suggestive themes, and violence. It’s not overly gory, but you’re challenged with taking down giant robot-like enemies with all manner of weapons.   The story also touches on some mature themes so the teen rating is just about spot on.

    Plays Like: Freedom Wars is an interesting game, it plays similarly to Monster Hunter in that you have a wide array of weapons at your disposal, there are tons of resource gathering, and how you complete each mission is entirely up to you. You can charge in using nothing but projectile weapons, or you can get up close and personal and deliver striking melee attacks. The freedom offered is extremely impressive, and over time you will develop your own play style. Missions take typical shooter fair and mix things up just enough to give the game its own distinct flare. You typically have to rescue captives from giant Abductors (mech-like robots), but sometimes you’re pitted against another team which plays out more like a team deathmatch. There’s a ton of mission variety, but we’ll discuss that in further below.

    Review Basis: Finished the campaign using both the AI and real-life cooperative teammates.

    Freedom Wars is one of the best PlayStation Vita games to come along in a while. The fact it’s an original game makes it even more impressive. It’s a perfect pick-up and play game, but also has the chops to keep you glued to your Vita for hours on end. If you’re a fan of Monster Hunter or Soul Sacrifice, you’ll love this game. From the incredible game world that pulls you in with each and every aspect of the game, to the great weapon and combat system, Freedom Wars absolutely shocked me with how much fun it is to play. If you haven’t played a Vita game in a while, this is one to look into.

    The Great:

    I’ve played a lot of games over the years, but very few have pulled me into their game world like Freedom Wars did. Everything about the game makes you want to know more about this unique world. First off, you play as a Sinner, basically someone that has been imprisoned for being a worthless drain on society. Because you’re so useless, you’re sentence is a small one, a million years of forced voluntary military service. I love the way the game continuously reminds you of just how useless you really are, and how you’re ‘volunteering’ for everything, even though you have absolutely no choice. Completing missions will slowly decrease your sentence, but until you’ve earned enough money the restrictions placed upon you are hilarious. You’re not allowed to pace more than five steps in your cell or else you’ll be charged with another decade of imprisonment. Want to go to sleep, no problem, but you can’t lie down. These seemingly ridiculous restrictions play into this insane world perfectly, and help flesh out the Entitlement system which eventually allows you to fast-travel, change your characters clothes, and more. You will eventually your stay more habitual, but it’ll take a while before you’re truly free.

    The core gameplay also plays into this unique theme perfectly. Each Panopticon, which is essentially a city, is represented by a group of Sinners. I selected Los Angeles because Montreal wasn’t an option. For shame! The more missions you complete, you not only reduce your imprisonment, but you gain notoriety for your Panopticon. There are 50 in the game, and these act almost like leaderboards. The higher your placement, the better rewards you get for in-game events. It gives a true sense of belonging to this messed up world. One important way to improve your Panopticon is to steal citizens and resources from rival cities. There are giant mech-like machines all over the place called Abductors, and you’re constantly charged with bringing these giants down in order to snatch the civilian inside. Once you have the person, you make a break for the closest transport tube. Securing these people will raise your Panopticon’s rating, lower your rivals, and again, lower your sentence.

    The Good:

    • Weapons are a joy to use and you’re gameplay style will directly alter the way you play the game. Let’s say you want to focus on melee combat, well that’s an option, select all the weapons that fit your fighting style and you’re all set. The same is true for projectile attacks. Each weapon feels genuinely unique, and no two players will play the game exactly the same.
    • The Thorn, is a grabbling beam of sorts, which you can use to propel yourself to high up platforms, but can also be used as a weapon. You can latch on to the Abductors to slash away at their armor, you can pull them to the group for a team attack, and more. What’s interesting with the Thorn is that there are three distinct types, one for healing, one for traps and barricades, and one for grabbles. Yet again your play style will determine which variation you use most often. The Thorn also gives the game an incredibly fast-paced feel because at any moment you can zip along the side of a building, you can pull enemies off platforms, propel yourself to a specific target, and so much more.
    • There’s also a great variety of missions. While the bulk are about you rescuing captured civilians, you will also experience unique takes on capture the flag, king of the hill, and more, but all wrapped around the citizen rescue theme. For example there might be a mission where you and an Abductor are racing towards a runaway civilian. Your goal is to grab the person, and race towards the rescue tube before the Abductor can stop you, therein lies your capture the flag game. I adored the way the game played on this classic gaming conventions.
    • Team-based gameplay rocks whether or not you have real friends in your party. Every mission you go on is a group affair. Your teammates will typically follow your lead, so if you bring down an Abductor, they’ll do all in their power to finish it off. You’ll have a great time if you decide to bring some friends into the mix because only by working together can you effectively take down three or four Abductors at once. Doing so is a huge reward too.
    • Full PlayStation TV support. Being the very first Vita game I’ve played from beginning to end on my new PS TV was a delight. Using a DualShock 4 proved a perfect way to play the game. It controlled flawlessly, and looked beautiful upscaled to 720p.
    • While on the subject of graphics, the game looks extremely detailed. It’s amazing how much juice the Vita actually has under the hood. There’s great use of color, the environments look wonderful, and the action is always rock-solid, with the frame-rate being constant throughout.
    • The soundtrack is fast-paced to match the action, and die-hards will be happy to hear that the original Japanese voice acting remains in-tact. Some serious production values went into the development of this game.

    The So-So:

    +/- The story is alright. It’s a shame too because the game world is so perfectly tied to the gameplay and overall theme that you would think the story would fit just as well, but it doesn’t. It ends up slowing things down, forcing you to walk around and listen to dialogue. There’s a ton of lore here too, but I found myself constantly skipping the dialogue sequences just to get on to the next mission because the gameplay is so much more entertaining.

    +/- The camera lock-on mechanic takes a little getting used to. You can tap it on or off, but that’s not the issue, the issue comes in when you’re locked on a target and move too close to said enemy. Suddenly the camera is turning and spinning out of control all over the place.

    +/- There’s an overly complex crafting system here that yields random results. Over the course of the game you’ll acquire massive amounts of supplies, however you’re only ever going to use a handful of weapons so there’s very little need for all the resources at your disposal. I think a reworked crafting system would have added even more to an already impressive package.

    The Lowdown:

    Being Japan’s number one selling new IP on the Vita, and a Monster Hunter clone Vita owners can be proud to call their own, it’s a sure bet Freedom Wars will get a sequel sometime next year. With any luck the developers can fix some of the minor complaints I raised here and deliver the Vita’s true killer app. I also hope that game reaches Western shores as well because this is a game that truly surprised me by how deep and genuinely enjoyable it is. If you own a PlayStation Vita, do yourself a huge favor and check out Freedom Wars.

    Final Score: 8.8/10

    Super Smash Bros. for Wii U Review

    SSBSuper Smash Bros. for Wii U (Available exclusively on Wii U)
    ESRB Rating: E10+
    Number of Players: 1 to 8
    Genre: Fighting
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Developer: Sora Ltd, Bandai Namco Games
    Release Date: November 21st, 2014

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Super Smash Bros. for Wii U E10+ for everyone ten and up. The game features cartoon violence, and that’s about it. It’s a bright, colorful, and fun fighter. There are no realistic depictions violence in the traditional sense. Here you can bash your opponents with a giant mallet, you can throw them off a massive arena, or you can blast them with a wide assortment of wacky power-ups. Imagine if Super Mario Bros., Zelda, and all the other classic Nintendo franchises got together and asked one simple question, which one of us is the best fighter out there? That’s what you can expect from this wonderful game.

    Plays Like: Normally I would say it plays like all the other Smash Bros. games, but the truth is that I have virtually no experience with the series outside the 3DS version. So what I will say is that the game features a wide assortment of side modes, a robust single player offering, great Amiibo integration, and a kick ass online mode. The core gameplay requires you to throw your opponent off the screen, by any means necessary.

    Review Basis: I played all the various modes available, spent far too much time training Amiibo characters, and got my butt handed to me in more online matches than I would care to admit. I am by no means a master player, but I will proudly say that I’ve come to appreciate the series in a whole new way thanks to this excellent fighter.

    Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a fantastic game that features a wealth of side modes, Amiibo integration, and great single and multiplayer modes. If you have to purchase one Wii U game this holiday season, this is the one you want to pick up. There are so many different modes available that it often feels like you’re purchasing more than one game. Couple that with the great Amiibo figures and you could very well spend the next year with no other game than this one. The fighting system in place is great, and over time you can master each characters’ move set, and attain pitch perfect timing.

    SSB4The Great:

    Value. That’s the one word that comes to mind when I look back at all the different gameplay modes available. From the classic mode, to the online ranked mode, and everything in-between there is something here for literally everyone. There are now 8-player battles, there’s a cool spin on Mario Party, and then there’s the Smash mode where most of you will be spending the bulk of your time. That’s where you and your friends can learn to master each of the dozens of characters available. When you combine all of these elements together, it’s incredible just how much value there is in this one game.

    SSB2The Good:

    • The Perfect example of easy to pick-up and play, but tough to master. Each character has the exact same button commands. Don’t expect circular fireball moves here, no instead the moves are incredibly simplistic. Press a direction and a button, and that’s it. You have two primary attacks, a block and a grapple. That’s all she wrote. What changes with each character are their unique abilities. While up and A might be an uppercut for one character, it might be something completely different for another, perhaps an up-strike for Link, or a cape sweep for Mario. Then there are projectile-based characters which use the same basic commands, but control completely different than everyone else. The timing is also slightly different for each character. What ends up happening is, you’ll find a character you enjoy using, and spend the next few weeks mastering all their finer details, and that’s what makes this game so bloody special.
    • Respecting your heritage. One of the absolute best aspects of Smash for Wii U is how the game pays homage to all the franchises that came before it. From Duck Hunt to Sonic the Hedgehog every stage, theme song, bonus item, and character move set is inspired by some legendary game, series, or franchise. I absolutely loved that. It was amazing to hear so many classic songs with modern twists to them. If you’ve been playing on Nintendo-made consoles since you were little, this is going to tickle your nostalgia bone.

    • Options galore. First off, you can play the game any way you want. From using the GameCube controller with the newly released adapter, the GamePad or the Wii U Classic Controller, the choice is yours. Then there’s the fights themselves. Do you go one-on-one with items off to test your skill, or do you go item on and 8-players for complete chaos? I adored how every aspect of the game has tons of choices available for you to tweak.

    • Event, classic, special orders, All-Star, and the board-game like Smash Tour all offer up their unique takes on the classic action. Some give you specific challenges, whereas others drop random elements into the fights and have you duke it out. Whatever you decide to play, each gameplay mode offers fun in short bursts. If you want to play for hours on end, odds are you’ll find yourself going between the different gameplay modes, while spending the bulk of your time refining your skills online.

    • Speaking of online, there are a nice set of online modes. From ranked modes that keep tally on your wins and losses, to the free-for-all, you can select between one-on-one matches, team matches, and more. The awesome eight-player matches are local only though, which is a bit unfortunate because those matches are completely insane.

    • Beautiful at 60 fps. This is a technical showpiece for the Wii U. During all of the different gameplay modes and matches I played, I never noticed any dip in the framerate. Keep in mind it’s entirely possible that I haven’t experienced every single aspect of the game, and I actually believe I haven’t as there’s just so much. That said, the attention to detail in the environments, and the stunning framerate make this a silky smooth experience you’ll want to come back to time and time again.

    • The audio is also fantastic. While some of these music scores might be recycled from previous games, they all sound amazing. I absolutely loved going to each new stage to hear familiar tunes from the Zelda franchise. That’s my favorite after all, so it holds a special place in my heart. The others were equally as impressive though.

    • I didn’t expect to enjoy the Amiibo integration as much as I did. From spending time to level my figures to 50, to using them against my opponents, I’d say the Amiibo figures are going to sell quite well. I love that I can bring them over to a friend’s house and tackle his team with mine. It’s excellent. There are several ways you can train and customize your Amiibo fighters too, which adds some much needed depth to an otherwise simple concept.

    SSB3The So-So:

    +/- The arena builder isn’t as intuitive as it should be for being on a system with a touch screen controller. Simple omissions like not being able to create a platform and then move it without having to erase and start over are major oversights. I also found the whole system to be overly cumbersome. It’s a shame too because that really could have been a huge time sink for some, but now I see it being more of a novelty.

    +/- I played quite a few matches online and if I knew who I was playing the matches were always spot-on with no lag, however if I played random matches they were a hit and miss. Most, I’d say around 85% were fantastic, however every now and then I would disconnect. Since there is no way to see the connection strength of your opponents, I can foresee this being a problem moving forward. The fact most of the game runs smoothly is a great sign, but hopefully some tweaks will be made to inch that number closer to 100%.

    SSB1The Bad:

    • I find it a little silly that in 2014 I still have to text a friend to tell him I want to play a game with him online, since there’s no notification system. Once we’re both online everything else is a breeze, and works perfectly, but the fact I can’t just send an invite and he gets it in whatever game he happens to be playing is kind of sad.

    The Lowdown:

    Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a fantastic game, probably the best currently available on the Wii U considering all the value you get in this one package. Couple that with the prospect of potential downloadable content later on, Amiibo integration, and the robust gameplay modes already available and you can see why the Wii U should have a very successful holiday season. If you own a Wii U, this is one game you should have in your system as of right now, and if you don’t own a Wii U, what the heck are you waiting for? With Wind Waker HD, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World, Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, and now this, plus the awesome Virtual Console offerings, there is something here for gamers of all ages.

    Final Score: 9.6/10