When certain blockbuster popcorn flicksâlike those in the Transformers franchiseâcome around, theyâre launched as part of an expensive, cash-generating, publicity-building machine. Along with the film, there are accompanying T-shirt and underwear deals, Happy Meal trinkets, perhaps a few straight-to-DVD spinoffs, mascot-adorned bedspreads, and last, and usually least, a video game. As a result of being spread so thin, the quality of these supplements usually takes a hit. And unfortunately for the Wiiâs Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon â Stealth Force Edition, it has all the blatantly phoned-in characteristics we usually find in many movie-inspired games: uninspired gameplay, repetitive levels, rocky controls, blasĂ© visuals, and paltry challenge.
This game simply exists to hype up the third installment in Michael Bayâs noisy reinterpretation of the beloved â80s cartoon. In the game, you drive the Transformers as cars, which enter âstealth modeâ upon your command, but all âstealth modeâ means here is that guns appear on the sides of your vehicle, allowing you to aimlessly navigate the brown landscape to shoot at enemy cars.
First impressions: The graphics are rough. When we get close-ups of car grills, it looks like something out of Cruisinâ USA for the Nintendo 64. As you see cars and semis peel out into the desert (with wheels that donât appear to move, in some sequences), youâll soon realize that the animation also leaves much to be desired. The voice acting is repetitive and annoying, as youâre harped to âfind more Energon,â the floating energy cubes scattered about the course that replenish your health meter. Everything has a nondescript flavor to it, from the environment to the cut scenes.
The challenges usually involve roaming around the small-ish levels and defeating enemies in a time limit. Itâs nothing particularly difficult or engaging, and the controls are nothing if not wonky. In stealth mode, youâll use the remoteâs D-pad to change direction, then the control stick to move. Itâs not very intuitive, and feels like a tacked-on addition to the stealth mode; you have to meander around the battlefield to gather stealth ammo to lob missiles at foes. (Itâs an insipid, rough-around-the-edges take on vehicular combat games, sort of like Twisted Metalâs boring, monotone cousin.) Perhaps if stealth mode actually saw the Transformers, God forbid, transform, things would have been more exciting. But otherwise, itâs a rather uneventful brawl of plain olâ computer-controlled enemy cars that, occasionally, run into walls. Repeatedly. Switching between regular mode and stealth mode also feels arbitrary, with regular mode sometimes feeling completely unneeded.
Thereâs really nothing redeeming one can say about this entry in the library of Transformers games, which was already pretty lacking to begin with. Stealth Force Edition will definitely struggle to appeal to gamers, and might even fail to attract Transformers fans. The Decepticons, it seems, have finally won.
Developer: Behaviour Interactive Publisher: Activision Platform: Wii Release Date: June 14, 2011 ESRB: E10+ ESRB Descriptions: Fantasy Violence Buy: Game
Review: Sea of Solitude Offers a Dreamscape Awash in Banal Abstraction
Its repetitive tasks are like the usual arbitrary gates to reach a cutscene in a mediocre video game.2
An endless ocean submerges an orange-bricked German city, its rooftops drenched in sunlight or doused in rain as they poke through the watery barrier. The soft, cartoonish look of this place seems to deserve a word like âbeautiful.â On the other hand, leading Sea of Solitudeâs black-feathered, red-eyed protagonist, Kay, into collectible memories, which queue up wistful dialogue snippets from a life outside her metaphorical turmoil in the waterlogged city, might warrant something like âheartfelt.â The vocabulary for evaluating a game like Sea of Solitude, which is designed completely around emotions and various manifestations of mental health, may sound positive, but itâs also undeniably familiar.
Puttering across the sea on her tiny motorboat or hopping around sun-kissed platforms, Kay encounters literalized inner demons. Many of them are dark things to be avoided. Others can be led into the light that will destroy them. A monster in its shell blocks Kayâs path, and whispering, anonymous shadows follow her if she gets too close to them. Clouds of gloomy thought become actual baggage once Kay walks up to a glowing orange circle and the player presses the button that sucks those clouds into her ballooning backpack. The themes of loneliness and empathy are quite explicit here, and if familiarity and explicitness arenât inherent problems, in Sea of Solitude theyâre nonetheless the symptoms of the gameâs difficulty envisioning a unified wrapper for feelings it wants to evoke.
The mechanical trappings of Sea of Solitude are basic to the point of feeling perfunctory, like mindless tasks to perform while each new floating orange circle spoons out dialogue for thematic context. Itâs all mostly polished, of course; Kay flops around a little as she walks, and she visibly shivers at the whip-crack of thunder and lightning. Youâll jump, sail, melt ice, and illuminate shadowy figures, but the connection between these actions and the intended emotions always feels tenuous at best because they rarely have a discernible effect on or specific ties to the world in front of you. The dialogue colors in some world thatâs conspicuously beyond Kayâs metaphorical dreamscape; though she claims to recognize certain places in the city, most seem indistinguishable from the last. All of these repetitive tasks seem more like the usual arbitrary gates to reach a cutscene in a mediocre video game.
There are fleeting moments of empathetic power over Sea of Solitudeâs brief runtime, where the imagery and the action coalesce into some recognizable slice of Kayâs life. But so much of the game feels only slightly more cohesive than someone scribbling the word âdepressionâ over, say, a picture of a person being eaten by a shark. Games like Psychonauts or The Gardens Between work a characterâs personal details into the level design, while the horror game Devotion uses specific objects and actions to supplement the rising tide of memory. Sea of Solitude, however, is so blandly abstract that it loses any sense of specificity.
The game was reviewed using a download code provided by fortyseven communications.
Developer: Jo-Mei Games Publisher: Electronic Arts Platform: PlayStation 4 ESRB: T ESRB Descriptions: Fantasy Violence, Language Buy: Game
Review: Super Mario Maker 2 Joyously Puts Creation in the Playerâs Hands
From the second you power on the game, its entire toy chest is open to you, no strings attached.4.5
Like its predecessor, Nintendoâs Super Mario Maker 2 is predominantly what it announces itself to be: an extremely versatile creation engine allowing players to make their own side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. levels, using the mechanics, assets, and aesthetics of the seriesâs best games. The 2015 original for the Wii U had some strangely arbitrary limits and omitted elements, things that the creator community delighted in finding patchwork ways of recreating. Those creators will find that Mario Maker 2 has matched their ambitions. For one, you can now make slopes that Mario can slide down. And that terrifying evil sun from Super Mario Bros. 3 is now in the mix. Also, auto-scroll levels can be finetuned to change direction and speed at will. Whatever barriers to the playerâs imagination existed in the first iteration of this game, Nintendo has torn many of them down.
That goes hand in hand with Mario Maker 2 opening up creative pathways left unexplored by the first game. Youâre allowed to create levels that take place in a wide assortment of weather environments, with new chiptunes accompanying the creation of levels from the seriesâs 8-bit titles. Super Mario 3D World has been added as a visual/mechanical option, which allows for multi-level backgrounds and hazards, along with all the unique and delightfully adorable cat-costume shenanigans from that game. The conditions for clearing a stage can be changed to where just making it to the flag is far from enough. More ambitious is the option to switch any stage to a nighttime mode, which changes its physics. Ice stages are more slippery, and ghost houses have less visibility. Airship levels, in particular, are particularly awe-inspiring for their unique mood and texture, with rain, thunder, and lightningâconditions that allow for sea-based elements to float through the airânow standing in your way throughout.
The most blessed thing about the experience, though, is that aside from a couple of buried secrets, all these tools are all available to the player upfront. From the second you power on the game, its entire toy chest is open to you, no strings attached. Now, the only real barrier to immediate entry is that Course Modeâs user interface is still so heavily designed for a touchscreen. Using the analog sticks or a Pro controller isnât impossible, but itâs drastically less intuitive than using the Switchâs touchscreen, while undocked, to build levels.
For those less inclined to just jump right in and start creating levels, not only is there an in-depth and endlessly amusing tutorial, where youâre taught by a woman and her talking pigeon companion, but a full-fledged Story Mode. Surprisingly, there isnât even a Bowser-kidnaps-Princess conceit this time around: As a result of a complete accident, the hilarious particulars of which wonât be spoiled here, Princess Toadstoolâs castle gets completely erased, and a small crew of Toads and Toadettes is tasked with rebuilding. The project costs money, though, and itâs up to Mario to go freelance, running through over 100 custom levelsâexplained here as âodd jobsââto collect all the coins he can in order to fund the construction project. Somewhere in there is a sharp commentary on the dangers of gig economy, but more than anything else, Story Mode is a brilliantly tactile and immersive extension of the tutorial on how the myriad assets given to you in Course Mode can be utilized. Youâll leave more than a few courses with devious ideas, and that certainly seems intentional.
The possibilities are endless, and even a cursory glance at the gameâs online community shows that those possibilities are being explored to their fullest, and that the limits of what this toolbox is capable of are being pushed. Indeed, some of the best stages currently out there shift Super Mario Bros. as a series of platformers into the far reaches of other genres, form spins on Pong to 2D versions of Mario Kart to elaborate facsimiles of Metroid.
Mario Maker 2âs sole problem is that itâs a fundamentally lonely game. You can share course codes, and follow your friends through their Maker IDs, and, of course, you can experience the worlds and challenges that others have created. However, the only substantive way to collaborate, compete, or build with other players is if theyâre next to you on the couch. Designer and developer Shigeru Miyamoto may be a genius, but if thereâs any one thing heâs been generous enough to hammer home over the years, itâs that given the option, he wouldnât work alone. Right now, more often than not, players donât have that option at all.
Itâs still heartening to see Nintendo show the ultimate in respect to the poor, neglected Wii U by giving its best games new life on the vastly more successful Switch. Seeing Super Mario Maker enhanced to the point of becoming a straight-up sequel is magnificent, even as a few stray three-steps-forward-one-step-back decisions keep the game from true perfection.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Golin.
Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo Platform: Switch Release Date: June 28, 2019 ESRB: E ESRB Descriptions: Mild Cartoon Violence Buy: Game
Review: SolSeraph Makes You an Angel but Traps You in Gaming Hell
The similarities between SolSeraph and ActRaiser are unmistakable, but itâs a joyless facsimile that lacks a single spark of innovation.1
Some time ago in the shallow world of ACE Teamâs SolSeraph, Sky Father and Earth Mother drove back Chaos and created the Earth, before then vanishing from the planet, no longer directly meddling in the ways of mankind. But the void they left behind was soon filled by the Younger Gods of flooding, famine, and the like, who took it upon themselves to torment our nascent humanity. Itâs finally left to the winged half-god, half-man Helios to defend mankind. Right out of the gate, the similarities between SolSeraph and the decades-old classic ActRaiser are unmistakable, right down to the hybrid action/strategy gameplay, but itâs an empty emulation, a joyless facsimile that lacks a single spark of innovation.
SolSeraph boasts five essentially identical biomes. Entering a region requires players to clear a menial combat section and to perhaps platform their way over a few bottomless chasms. After doing so, theyâll take an angelâs-eye view of a village and issue orders to the helpless human inhabitants who know how to forage and fight but would never think to do so without godly assistance. Periodically, as a town survives enemy waves and builds temples, monster lairs are unlocked: short combat arenas that Helios fights his way through. Finally, after clearing all of these, players can face off against the regionâs animal-themed boss.
The game offers an insultingly reductive mix of resource management and tower defense. There are two types of food-producing buildings, one that increases population, and one for harvesting wood. They can be instantly demolished for a full refund of workers and wood and almost as quickly rebuilt, so there are never any shortages, and no long-term consequences for poor planning. Likewise, there are but four defensive structures: melee barracks, ranged archery towers, a laser-shooting magical hut, and a crowd-controlling bomb-shack.
Helios is known as the Father of Forethought, so perhaps the dearth of strategic options available throughout SolSeraph is an inside joke, albeit a poor one, on ACE Teamâs part. After all, the demons are so monomaniacally fixated on snuffing out your central bonfire that they march right past all your other vulnerable structures. This allows players to forget their measly four tactical options, or the range-, damage-, and speed-amplifying dwellings. You can win simply by lining the road with archery towers. For even less of a challenge, players can divinely intervene, using Helios to summon thunderbolts and sun spirits.
That you only ever need to use about half of the buildings or skills exposes the gameâs emptiness. Some structures are introduced with a one-note mechanic, like wells, which you can build in every level but are only required for the Sekh Desert, where they turn inhospitable sands into arable farmland. These tools also sometimes fly in the face of narrative sense: You canât build farms in the Vale of Yeg, as itâs too cold there, but you can depend on livestock for sustenance, which may lead you to wonder what exactly your animals eat. After a while, it feels as if the gameâs environmental challenges exist only to mask the tedious repetition of each level, and given how the problems you run across are so easily addressed (bridges and boats are automatically built for you) or beside the point (the Arunan Isles occasionally and briefly flood without affecting gameplay), they ultimately feel entirely cosmetic.
This same redundancy spills over into the combat sections of SolSeraph. You climb the trees of the Plains of Widhu as you do the cliffs of Mount Agnir, and every area has some kind of spider, flying bat, and club-wielding monster. Two of the bossesâa snowy owl and fiery dragonâfly about, but you can otherwise just stand next to all of them, hacking away. (Outside of a healing spell, Heliosâs magic is superfluous.)
Even the gameâs plot is redundant. Each village is led by a different elder, but they all offer similar platitudes about the various forms of faith and mankindâs resilience, things that the gameâs active sequences consistently rebuke. Thereâs no insight to be gleaned here, and no meaningful interaction beyond clicking on the campfire to hear more dialogue. Helios may protect mankindâs free will and creativity, but he appears to have none of his own.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by Sega.
Developer: ACE Team Publisher: Sega Platform: PlayStation 4 ESRB: E ESRB Descriptions: Mild Fantasy Violence Buy: Game
Review: Judgment, Though Too Reticent, Is a Worthy Yakuza Spin-Off
Where the game goes in-depth, and where it clearly feels most comfortable, is in its omnipresent brawls.3.5
With Judgment, the developers at Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio turn their gaze elsewhere in Kamurocho, the fictional red-light district that serves as the stomping ground for their Yakuza series. Protagonist Takayuki Yagami (Takuya Kimura) isnât one of the many manly gangsters who anchor the studioâs past narratives, but the current proprietor of the barely afloat Yagami Detective Agency and a disgraced former lawyer, having traded his businesswear for a punk jacket and a truly elaborate haircut that one guy alternately calls the look of a boy-band castoff or âa mop of pubes.â But if Yagami sounds like a big change for the series, fear not, as he has deep ties to the Matsugane Family, a knuckleheaded ex-yakuza of a partner in an exceptionally loud shirt, and an inexplicable mastery of martial arts that leaves him radiating red or blue energy just like any other Kamurocho tough guy.
Thereâs actual detective work in the game, to some degree. In his hunt for an eye-gouging serial killer, Yagami tails or chases suspects, questions witnesses, and even searches crime scenes for clues in a first-person spot-the-object sort of game mechanic. But Judgment never totally commits to these investigative wrinkles the way it does to the Yakuza seriesâs familiar combat mechanics, where each story thread tends to leave Yagami encircled by henchmen and where random punks roam open-world Kamurocho spoiling for a street fight.
Glancing around a crime scene is ultimately a simple matter of finding whatever youâre told to look for, and dialogue selections feel more like multiple-choice pop quizzes, the sort of thing a teacher might spring on students just to make sure theyâre paying attention. Throughout the game, chase scenes are just auto-runners where you do things like press the triangle button to hop over a fallen bicycle, and the sluggish tailing segments prominently highlight whatever objects the player is supposed to hide behind. There are occasional glimpses of what might have been, when the game provides an objective that doesnât outright tell the player where to go, or when it asks you to draw a logical conclusion instead of parrot information. It seems perfectly capable of taking these mechanics a step further, which makes it all the more frustrating to see Judgment so rigidly affixed to its investigative rails.
Where the game goes in-depth, and where it clearly feels most comfortable, is in its omnipresent brawls. Yagamiâs non-yakuza profession hardly reduces the number of besuited bad guys out for his blood, though heâs a more acrobatic fighter compared to Yakuzaâs beefy Kiryu, leapfrogging over opponents with ease. If the detective kicks off a wall, he can catch some unfortunate soul between his thighs and propel them with a devastating throw, perhaps into a store window or a nearby koi pond. Itâs familiar stuff, even with Yagamiâs multiple fighting styles (âcraneâ for groups and âtigerâ for one-on-one), though itâs easily the most polished mechanic in the game, still satisfying even after so much use.
Judgmentâs central mystery, too, features some of the most engaging storytelling in a Yakuza game to date, and itâs freed from any bounds of continuity. The entirely new cast hereâdisheveled dirty cop Ayabe, the team at Genda Law Office where Yagami once worked, and any number of silly citizens, such as a potion-brewing hermit and a doctor whose office is in the sewersâretains the seriesâs gift for endearing characters. Their sincerity and determination drive a plot with twists that feel purposeful rather than perfunctory; Yagamiâs investigation uncovers unexpected layers to an initially straightforward problem, leading him to medical research facilities, real estate schemes, and organized crime.
There are faint noir undertones here and there to complement the gameâs private-eye POV, as in Yagamiâs haunted backstory or the layers of corruption that seem to close in around him. But Judgment is simply far too fond of its gooey-hearted crime boys to ever dwell on the depths of despair and moral compromise inherent to noir storytelling. The twisting mystery posits the denizens of Kamurocho as lost souls who have no more than the city and, if theyâre lucky, each other, yet the story does little to ever muddy their path; its characters are as warm as they are secure in their righteousness. Foregrounding detective work over the power struggles of crime families (which do still figure into the plot) does, however, lead the series to rely less on a xenophobic fear of thinly characterized outsiders, even if stepping beyond its favored patriarchal organizations has done little to change the largely peripheral inclusion of women in the story beyond punching bags or objects to be ogled.
If the detective angle is little more than a mild seasoning sprinkled over the usual Yakuza beats, the two at least naturally complement one another in a thematic sense. Through its various side stories, the series has long emphasized the plight of everyday people as well as the empathy of stopping to help one another, and in Judgment, taking on such problems is outright Yagamiâs job as a detective. The game even dots the main story with some of these side stories, which send Yagami after a lab coat-clad underwear thief called the Panty Professor or have Yagamiâs partner, Kaito, babysit a kid whoâs convinced that the burly ex-yakuza is secretly his favorite superhero, Captain Cop. Another mechanic encourages players to befriend various characters around town by performing small favors or just visiting them, and you get a little boost when greeting a friend on the street.
But Judgment is also a longer game than either of its immediate predecessors, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life and remake Yakuza Kiwami 2, which also have second open-world locations. In Judgment, almost all the action is confined to Kamurocho, where youâre often dropped on one end of the map only to learn youâre needed on the other. It all grows a little stale after a while, not just from repetition but from the knowledge that you can now interact (or are supposed to be able to interact) with the game in ways beyond simply throwing punches at a gaggle of yakuza goons. For as basic as the detective mechanics can feel, they actually harm the seriesâs reliance on various gauntlets of bad guys, because those fighting setups now signify the game avoiding other avenues of interaction in favor of whatâs safe and familiar. Judgment suggests plenty of compelling new directions for the series to go, as well as an ultimate reticence to totally follow any of them. Yagamiâs primary investigative tool is his fists.
This game was reviewed using a retail PlayStation 4 copy purchased by the reviewer.
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio Publisher: Sega Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: June 25, 2019 ESRB: M ESRB Descriptions: Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol Buy: Game
Review: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Is a Sign of the Metroidvaniaâs Bright Future
As varied and intriguing as the game can get on a conceptual level, it outdoes itself in the minutiae of traversal and combat.4.5
After four years in development, Tokyo-based ArtPlayâs Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night arrives on the scene bearing more of a resemblance to Sonic Mania or Mega Man 11 than to Mighty No. 9. Itâs an immense joy to have a true current-generation side-scrolling Castlevania out there in the world, and more than a little embarrassing for Konami that this game, which can stand proudly alongside Symphony of the Night in terms of quality and creativity, couldâve been theirs had they not been, well, Konami for the past decade.
And make no mistake: This is a Koji Igarashi Castlevania title through and through. This could have been a 20-hour game full of creative cheap shotsâand, indeed, it isnât above thumbing its nose at its spiritual predecessor with reckless abandon, with one particular NPC and his voice actor essentially walking right up to the line of blatant copyright infringement, which would be egregious if Igarashi hadnât essentially created that character. But Bloodstained still has its own envelope-pushing identity. This is a game that feels like the sum total of lessons learned across Igarashiâs storied history as a series director and producer, while also a promising look toward a potential future for the whole Metroidvania genre.
Bloodstained distances itself from Castlevania most in its characters and narrative. The story involves alchemists rebelling against forced obsolescence due to the Industrial Revolution by unleashing arcane horrors upon the world using demonic crystal shards. Gebel, an orphan, was supposed to be a ritual sacrifice to Hell itself, but he survives and, in his rage, leads the charge from an eldritch castle. The worldâs only hope is Miriam, another orphan whose mysterious childhood coma prevented her from being sacrificed but whoâs still able to wield the demonic shards on behalf of a thinly veiled take on the Vatican until the day the crystals consume her. Itâs such a fertile little story that itâs almost a shame the game doesnât do more with it. Fortunately, what largely takes its place is enthralling in its own right.
There are a few moments of pure old-school gothic horror in Bloodstainedâone particular boss is essentially Elizabeth Bathory taken to the utter extremeâand Michiru Yamaneâs score spectacularly sets the stage for it all, but itâs by and large operating on a very different wavelength than grim moonlit vampirism. Perhaps informed by cel shading, the game displays a command for strange colors, aesthetic mash-ups, and lighting schemes that consistently unsettle the player at tense moments, making it seem less like Bram Stokerâs Dracula than Dario Argentoâs Suspiria. And it does that without every losing its sense of play. Itâs incredible how often one is legitimately surprised by whatâs waiting in the next room. This is the type of game that will stun you by throwing indescribable behemoths at you in one room, then have you chuckling at the flying pigs puttering their way around the next.
As varied and intriguing as the game can get on a conceptual level, it outdoes itself in the minutiae of traversal and combat. The gameâs opening hours feel instantly familiar. The castle is wide open for players to explore until they come across dead ends requiring as-yet-discovered abilities. The only new aspect early on is that Miriam is able to wield guns. Before long, it becomes clear that the player has never had more freedom to choose how to play this type of game. The initial Kickstarter campaign had Igarashi asking his audience via a website whether players preferred to use a sword or a whip in their Castlevania games, cleverly concealing the enormous number of options available to them in the final game. There are physical weapons above and beyond whatâs ever been available in one of Igarashiâs Castlevania titlesâeverything from machetes, to shotguns, to lightsabers are options hereâbut itâs the shards that open up the playerâs imagination, a mechanic that gives Miriam additional powers to equip and swap at will after defeating certain enemies, and the options seem just endless.
At one point, while fighting a two-headed dragon, each head wrapped around the outside of a clocktower, I ended up pausing the game just to marvel at the sheer lunacy that had just been playing out on screen. Miriam was calling up columns of hellfire against the dragon with one hand, slicing at it with a steam-powered greatsword with the other, while occasionally turning into a bunny woman devastating the beast with lightning fast kung-fu kicks. All these things are slotted to shortcuts in a shoulder-trigger menu, accessible at the push of a button.
Thereâs a freedom to how Bloodstained allows you to tackle any obstacle that many MMOs would kill to be able to replicate. But that freedom comes at a price. Thereâs quite a bit of random chance involved with collecting many of those crazy powers and weapons, with progression still working off of RPG-lite principles, this time with a bit of item crafting involved. But the system is forgiving and highly versatile, and it encourages experimentation, both through the ease of accessibility and a tough-but-fair difficulty curve that has no intention of letting players simply traipse through as unscathed as quite a few Igavania titles have in the past. There will be walls of difficulty here, and theyâre quite welcome.
Less welcome is a certain lack of technical finesse that riddles the game with performance stutters, stops, occasional tanking framerates and unexpected load times. Itâs nothing that breaks the gameâthough a treasure issue caused by the most recent patch at the time of this review came frighteningly closeâbut often enough to make itself noticeable, even on a PS4 Pro. Sadly, the poor Switch is even less capable of plowing through the problems, and coupled with the drastic visual downgrade, itâs a much less enjoyable experience than on PC or the other consoles. (Editorâs Note: 505 Games has since issued a statement that says these issues will be addressed in upcoming patches.) Still, those hitches feel like the cost of freedom for Igarashi and his ArtPlay team. Itâs not hard to imagine a Bloodstainedâor, more accurately, a Castlevaniaâmade by Konami that ran flawlessly but was released in compromised form in the way so many of their titles have been. That is, compromised in the way that weak-sauce multiplayer experiment Harmony of Despair felt compromised. The occasional two-second load screen is a paltry price for experiencing a near-masterwork.
This game was reviewed using a retail PlayStation 4 copy purchased by the reviewer.
Developer: ArtPlay Publisher: 505 Games Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: June 18, 2019 ESRB: T ESRB Descriptions: Blood, Partial Nudity, Violence
Review: The Sinking City Doesnât Earn Its Lovecraftian Credentials
Worse than the sheer tedium of shooting is the effect it has on the gameâs atmosphere.2.5
The life of a 1920s private investigator is hardly a convenient or particularly romantic one, at least to hear The Sinking City tell it. The gameâs fedora-wearing protagonist, Charles Reed, owns a shotgun but has no access to a GPS, a minimap, or a little earpiece to talk to some computer-whiz partner who does all his research. Reed is on his own, tramping through the dilapidated streets of Oakmont, Massachusetts to the university library, the hospital, or some such place, combing through newspaper archives or police records based on scant clues. With the right information, he digs up addresses that must be manually marked on the map after consulting the labeled city streets. Reed becomes such a familiar sight to the librarian, whose mouth is sewn shut as a punishment according to âlocal custom,â that she later sends him a note asking for help. A private eyeâs work is never done.
Such decidedly analog activities are one of the most engaging elements of The Sinking City; in an open-world game like this, theyâre a slightly more involved alternative to the usual process of mindlessly following arrows to the next cutscene and accompanying action sequence. Here, you need to make deductions in order to figure out where youâre going, to decide which archive has the information you need and which combination of search criteria will get it. Itâs a fitting accompaniment to the gameâs myriad crime scene investigation sequences, where youâll comb an area for evidence and then fit together clues to form new, sometimes differing, conclusions in the âmind palaceâ section of the game menu.
Developer Frogwares is best known for a long-running series of Sherlock Holmes games, and that influence is clear in their latest adaptation, which is based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft and his overarching Cthulhu mythos. Reed has arrived in Oakmont due to disturbing visions only to find the place devastated by a flood all but biblical in its proportions. And that disaster is decidedly ongoing; some ships have run so far aground that they block off parts of the city, and so many of the streets are underwater that citizens often travel by boat or on crude, makeshift wooden walkways. Thick crusts of barnacles seem to cake every surface, while hasty barricades wall off areas where the monsters are. Oakmont is a truly fascinating backdrop, where Lovecraftian horror has essentially become the new normal. Citizens simply step around the rotting carcasses of sea creatures that litter the streets of poor areas, and theyâve gotten used to weird new fauna like crustaceans that seem to wear dead cats like shells.
In a rather tenuous attempt to address Lovecraftâs virulent racism, fish-faced refugees from nearby Innsmouth are a common sight, minding their own business as they try to feed their own families like anyone else. The game specifies that theyâre not all wrapped up in a Dagon-worshipping cult devoted to getting human women to birth fish-people, but so many of them are and the game is otherwise so disinterested in the average Joe Innsmouther (or even people of color) compared to the exploits of the white Mr. Reed that its journeying into race relations feels more like a perfunctory disclaimer. When it comes to Lovecraftâs metaphorical expression of his own abject horror at the Mixing of the Races, the game is largely uncritical.
You will, perhaps, take some of the in-game prejudice into account when you make your deductions. Is their cult, for example, really up to no good, or is the man opposing them just a racist? (Answer: Itâs the former.) Based on such context, as well as other factors like your knowledge of the city itself or the personalities of involved characters derived from evidence, you piece together your own conclusions and make story decisions as a result. And although these investigations can feel a bit guided and simplified since there are only ever two real conclusions, they always leave a nagging sense that perhaps you were wrong.
Most of The Sinking City, though, is spent putting boots to ruined pavement in what feels like little more than busywork. Despite the presence of fast travel points, the process of running between crime scenes, archives, and the various characters grows tedious; for as interesting as the city can be beneath the surface, its grim, gray ruination makes for a rather homogeneous sight. Other activities, like putting crime scene events in order, similarly feel like time-wasters, though nothing quite approaches the drudgery of the gameâs frequent combat.
Seemingly every crime scene, story area, and empty, side mission-hosting house with a similar layout is infested with fleshy gray abominations of inscrutable anatomy that Reed must shoot with a gun until theyâre dead. Despite so much investigation, the game seems reticent to leave players alone with their thoughts for too long, opting to fill the spaces in between investigations with menial combat just in case you were getting bored finding clues. Loading screen tips advise that you flee when the opportunity presents itself, but the cramped environments and rudimentary stealth all but force you to make a stand over and over again.
Worse than the sheer tedium of shooting, however, is the effect it has on The Sinking Cityâs atmosphere; with the same four monster types lurking around every corner and conspicuous ammo crates strewn all over the place, thereâs little dread to the experience of playing the game because you simply know whatâs coming. The encounters are expected, and so is your triumph over them, which feels decidedly antithetical to Lovecraftâs favored themes of humanityâs insignificance and fragility in the face of forces it cannot understand. For what seems meant to be a horror game about piecing together clues and cobbling together whatâs left of your sanity, long stretches of The Sinking City are inordinately concerned with killing the shit out of some monsters as a sort of Chosen One. With pistol in one hand, eldritch relic in the other, and fedora comfortably shading his white, stubbled face, Charles Reed looks and feels more like a mentally tormented Indiana Jones.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by HomeRun PR.
Developer: Frogwares Publisher: Bigben Interactive Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: June 27, 2019 ESRB: M ESRB Descriptions: Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Violence Buy: Game
Review: My Friend Pedro Vividly Casts You as a Bollywood-Style Action Hero
Every shootout is an opportunity to execute a thoroughly balletic performance of sorts.4
Bollywoodâs charm lies in the sheer melodrama and absurdity of its films, which typically feature heroes taking arms against foes in lurid fashion. The industryâs influence on My Friend Pedro, a shoot âem up from Swedish developer Victor Agrenâs DeadToast Entertainment, is certainly unmistakable. Indeed, youâll feel like a Bollywood strongman as you mow down mobs of henchmen in spectacular ways as the gameâs unnamed protagonist, with Pedro, your chatty banana companion, cracking wise by your side.
Each level of the game is presented as a 2D platformer, and there are unbounded thrills to be had in making it through each area, from ramming through a plate-glass wall into a room to gliding down from an overhead cable to the story below. As you caper across abandoned buildings and deserted rooftops with an array of firearms at your disposal, youâll pump your enemiesâ guts full of lead as the dizzying electronic soundtrackâredolent of a neo-noir filmâslickly complements the carnage. And because you have to plan your moves in advance, itâs almost as if youâre choreographing that carnage. Every shootout is an opportunity to execute a thoroughly balletic performance of sorts. And with more points awarded for intricate stunts, thereâs a huge incentive to bring as much pizazz to your violence as possible.
How you carry out all these stunts is dependent on your creativity and skill, with players equipped with an arsenal of Bollywood-esque combat techniques. Among these is a nifty trick called split aiming, which lets you wield a pair of guns and shoot two targets at the same time. You can also perform an elaborate somersault in midair, all while raining bullets down on the targets below you. Even conveniently placed objects, like a frying pan laying on the ground, can be used to pull off even more outrageous stunts. The pan, for instance, is an especially useful weapon against hard-to-reach mobsters: Kick it into the air and fire at it and your bullets will ricochet off its surface and right into nearby enemies.
In later chapters, My Friend Pedro points to a more profound narrative beneath its silly veneer, weaving in clues to the protagonistâs depression as well as a twisted backstory. Thereâs an entire chapter devoted to his crumbling mental state, with the player traversing through a hallucinatory dreamscape painted in pastel hues, all as quirky, floating figureheads and soft doughy clouds dance about. The shift in tonality is jarring, but thereâs a pleasant self-awareness to My Friend Pedro as it shovels cartoonish levels of elegant violence at the player. Later chapters even see the game breaking the fourth wall to poke fun at you. In one instance, youâll be laying siege upon a crew of white brutes known as hardcore gamers, whose soundbites consist of familiar gaming lingo like âGit guud noobâ and âGG.â
Throughout, you can dramatically slow down the pace of combat, and youâll feel like Neo from The Matrix as you leap off an impossibly tall skyscraper, fending off hordes of enemies falling alongside you. If the slow-motion gunplay makes such feats easier to pull off, thereâs more challenge in mastering the controls that allow you to split aim, wall jump, and somersault. That gameplay may be limited in the end, but the violence in My Friend Pedro is so hyperbolic and variedâat one point, youâll find yourself doing backflips on a motorcycle in order to avoid a barrage of bombsâthat youâll be gunning to repeat levels in order to best your high score. Itâs mayhem that speaks so strongly in the language of the Bollywood action film that the only thing you may be left wanting for is the wisecracking Pedro to do a song-and-dance routine once the curtain comes down on your adventure.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by Tinsley PR.
Developer: DeadToast Entertainment Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform: Switch Release Date: June 20, 2019 Buy: Game
E3 2019: The Best and Worst Surprises
The 2019 Electronic Entertainment Expo presented an industry in transition.
The 2019 Electronic Entertainment Expo presented an industry in transition. As the current console generation winds down and new hardware is still in development, the subject of how games will be played going forward has come into question, as the technology to stream games via the cloud supplants the need for consoles or PCs.
In a 15-minute presentation prior to E3âs launch, Google unveiled their cloud gaming service Stadia, a subscription-based serviceâfor use on desktop computers, laptops, and mobile devicesâthat allows high-end gaming without the need for expensive hardware. Supposedly offering computing power significantly stronger than that of the PlayStation Pro and Xbox One X combined, Stadia relies on Googleâs own data centers, with the only real bottleneck being consumer internet speeds and bandwidth caps as the gameplay is streamed to the end user. Hands-on experience with Stadia has shown it to be incredibly impressiveâprovided oneâs internet connection is stable and fast enough to handle the required download speed.
Even before the expo officially kicked off at the Los Angeles Convention Center, notions of âtraditionalâ video gaming were being challenged. There was no greater sign of the shake up than the absence of one of the three major console makers: Sony. The company eschewed not only their usual press conference, but any showing at all. While many have suggested that Sony, who had informally announced their upcoming PlayStation 5 console earlier in 2019, wanted to benefit from Microsoft announcing what the target specs would be for the Project Scarlett, the simple truth is that Sony doesnât have much to currently show to the public.
Only two of Sonyâs upcoming first-party exclusive titles particularly stand out: Naughty Dogâs The Last of Us 2, a known quantity which has already seen multiple previews, and Hideo Kojimaâs Death Stranding, whose trailer premiered shortly before the expo kicked off. In the end, releasing the trailer ahead of E3 was a smart move on the companyâs part, as the ongoing enigma that is Kojimaâs next title dominated discussion for days instead of getting lost in the sea of announcements after E3 was officially under way, and a solid release date is something that Sony can boast about in a year where their exclusives are scant.
EA also elected not to host their customary press conference, instead opting for a streamed video presentation similar to the Nintendo Direct broadcast. The companyâs decision not to discuss anything about this yearâs disappointing Anthem is damning, not only for the remaining fans of the game hoping to see the game properly supported moving forward, but for EA itself, whose frustrating trend of misusing developers they acquire has left BioWare on thin ice. As one live service game in an ocean, and created by a company with little experience making such games, Anthem was always destined to face an uphill battle; at this point, some four months after its release, turning the game around would require faith in the product and an evolving cycle of new content, both of which EA could have presented to the world here. And thereâs precedent for this, demonstrated by the success of Destiny after its first tumultuous year. Alas, not even a mention across the entire show.
The main event of EAâs Play presentation was their upcoming Star Wars title Jedi: Fallen Order. Though the somnolent 14-minute video that capped the presentation seems to promise a cross between Uncharted and The Force Unleashed, hands-on time with the game reveals that its closest analogue is Dark Souls, given that it takes place across large open areas with bonfire equivalents the protagonist can meditate at, which inexplicably revives all enemies. The combat feels like that of Dark Souls, with the fast-paced lightsaber duels of something like Jedi Academy replaced by slower, more precise one-on-one battles where you must manoeuver around enemies to fight them individually, and in a manner that recalls other From Software games. Whether Jedi: Fallen Order will be as difficult as the Soulsborne titles remains to be seen, though one would assume EA would want the title to be accessible as possible, especially considering their recent and lousy track record with the franchise.
The first official E3 press conference was presented by Microsoft, which had a stellar showing of new games and announcements. New titles demonstrated include Outer Worlds, a Fallout-esque sci-fi action adventure game, a new Battletoads game featuring bright and colourful cartoonish graphics, the latest iteration of Microsoft Flight Simulator, the next chapter in the Gears of War series simply titled Gears 5, and survival horror outing Blair Witch. Microsoftâs next console, Project Scarlett, was broadly discussed as a technical powerhouse without mentioning any specifics, including price, as if to ensure Sony has no edge on the competition when their PS5 announcement finally comes. More interestingly, Microsoft presented their version of the cloud streaming gaming, the Microsoft xCloud service, which Phil Spencer was able to elaborate on during Giant Bombâs Nite Two live show.
Spencer notes that while cloud streaming services are convenient, allowing gamers to play games anywhere, theyâre to the detriment of consumers in terms of actually letting them own the games they buy. The Stadia pricing model includes not only subscription fees, but also additional prices on top for some games, which is troubling as purchasers will only âownâ any game they buy as long as the service is active, or if they have an active internet connection. If Google, or any streaming service, pulls the plug, purchased products simply go away.
Which is why Microsoft is working toward a hybrid of cloud streaming services with traditional ownership models, where gamers will own their console and their games, but can also stream them to other devices to play games on the go using the cloud. Googleâs Stadia offers something more akin to Netflix, and looks to suffer from some of the same issues as Netflix when it comes to content disappearing as licenses expire. Whether Microsoftâs model works also remains to be seen, but their excellent and inexpensive Game Pass service, which saw extension to the PC during E3, has demonstrated both the excellent value and the focus on services benefitting the end user that Spencer advocated for.
Bethesda was in full-apology mode for their first press conference since the disastrous launch of Fallout 76, bookending their presentation with saccharine, insipid videos about how they understand and like gamers, how theyâre gamers themselves, and other such rigmarole. Bringing out Todd Howard to discuss said elephant in the room would have been a misstep had it not been for the announcement of the gameâs Nuclear Winter DLCâa fresh take (currently available in beta) on the battle-royale genreâas well as a Fallout 76 freeplay period where anyone can play the game with the new content. Nuclear Winter is a surprising amount of fun, a squad-based battle royale allowing players to choose where they spawn on the map and then take advantage of classic Fallout devices while fighting to become the only survivor. For example, becoming invisible with a Stealth Boy offers a fleeting chance to get the drop on enemies or flee an area teeming with overpowered opponents, or jumping into a set of Power Armor gives more health but impedes player speed and is loud enough to give away player location. At time of writing, Bethesda have made Nuclear Winter an indefinite add-on for Fallout 76, which gives the populace at large a reason to try Fallout 76.
Standing high above Bethesdaâs other announcements and demos, Doom Eternal looks to be a spectacular follow-up to the successful 2016 reboot, escalating on the core gameplay with new abilities including a combat grappling hook and a flamethrower, and an expanded narrative involving angels as well as the demons of Hell. Elsewhere, Square Enixâs press conference largely focused on the Final Fantasy VII Remake and concluded with a baffling look at Marvel Avengers, a game that probably should have been revealed back when Avengers: Endgame was still a part of the popular conversation but probably wasnât given its ugly and bizarre character models. More notable, though buried within the conference, was the announcement of Dying Light 2, which looks to be an ambitious and sprawling follow-up to the original game. It boasts expanded parkour gameplay in a new environment that changes with player choice, promising to give fans a unique experience with each playthrough.
Nintendo Direct closed out the conferences, announcing two new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC characters: the much-loved dynamic duo of Banjo and Kazooie and the not-so-loved hero from Dragon Quest. The Linkâs Awakening remaster, which boasts frustratingly cutesy graphics that go against the original gameâs theme and tone, was also exhibited; itâs as if the developers thought that the cartoonish look of the original 8-Bit Game Boy title was an intentional stylistic choice, rather than how Zelda games looked at that time, and that it was something that needed to be made cuter. It feels like a significant misstep, and one thatâs bound to cheapen the surprisingly mature and thoughtful narrative. Nonetheless, itâs pleasing that this underplayed classic will find a new audience, and Nintendoâs diorama displays of areas from the game on the show floor were exceptional and gorgeous.
Finally, a new Animal Crossing was revealed, with a fresh island setting, new crafting gameplay, and the inclusion of fruit stacking. After sideline missteps like Pocket Camp, Amiibo Festival, and Happy Home Designer, a new Switch entry seems to be exactly the shot in the arm that this beloved series needs to get back on track.
Although E3 2019 demonstrated that there are major changes coming for the gaming industry, some things remain the same, even if itâs just Devolver Digital taking the piss out of, well, the big-budget press conference. Indeed, latest conference was as fresh, joyous, and deranged as its predecessors. The future of video gaming might be uncertain, but thereâs still plenty to look forward to and celebrate, and this is something the folks at Devolver Digital are committed to proving year after year, and with a humor that could stand to rub off on the industry at large.
E3 ran from June 11â13.
Review: Outer Wilds Is a Wondrous Maze of Infinite, Breathtaking Possibilities
This is a rare adventure game in which the journey is actually more of a reward than the destination.5
Mobius Digitalâs Outer Wilds begins and ends with a quietly spectacular explosion. As a result of this open-world space exploration gameâs time-looping mechanic, one of those explosions is the first thing youâll see every time you reawaken, but itâs so far off in the distanceâjust a brief flash of rippling orange in outer space thatâs overshadowed by the surface of a massive green planetoidâthat it might take a few cycles before you actually notice it. And even then, its significance wonât become apparent until youâve blasted off from your home planet and flown yourself out there to get a better look at the blast.
The understated appeal of the smartly designed Outer Wilds stems from its abundance of deliberate details scattered across its worlds, ever-nudging you toward understanding how various scientific phenomenon operate. This is a game so beautiful that you might spend hours taking in the sights before you start focusing on its loose, nonlinear plot. Despite taking place in a comparatively small six-planet solar system, the gameâs open-galaxy design feels full of infinite possibilities, each excursion as fresh and exciting as the last, even hours in.
Should you survive for a consecutive 22 minutes, youâll come across that second explosion. Youâll hear a sonic boom and, if youâre facing the right way, see a universe-engulfing tide of crackling blue energy coming your way, resetting the time loop and providing a fairly substantial (though never obtrusive) endgame, one in which you must find a way to prevent your sun from going supernova. But think of the solar systemâs terminal diagnosis as less of an ending than a chance at a fresh beginning: carte blanche to try just about anything.
Even if thereâs only one real way to âbeatâ it, thereâs no wrong way to play Outer Wilds, and no barriers in your way. You donât have to fight any enemies or level upâa tacit acknowledgement on the gameâs part that the galaxyâs destruction canât be prevented through brute force, only through the fearless act of discovery. For one, youâll fly through a tangle of tornadoes on Giantâs Deep that are periodically thrusting the planetâs islands into orbit, and on Brittle Hollow, youâll follow a precarious trail of gravity crystals along the underside of the planetâs exposed equator. You also donât need to collect any items. Everything you need is given to you at the gameâs start: a radio-frequency scanner, a launchable probe that takes pictures and measures surface stability, an auto-translator for alien languages, and a spacesuit capable of rocket propulsion. How you choose to use these items to do your first-person exploration is entirely up to you, and that freedom is a large part of the gameâs charm.
Early on, youâll visit a museum that outlines the history of the Outer Wilds space program, with exhibits that call out some of the unexplained quantum phenomena and gravitational distortions that your fellow explorers have found. Youâll later encounter many of these same exhibits in the wild, on a much larger and dangerous scale, but as the museum suggests, the gameâs overarching theme isnât just about encountering these things or exploring the many eye-catching, heart-stopping wonders of Outer Wilds, but appreciating how they work. Youâre going to be eaten by a giant anglerfish, smashed by a rotating column of ash, engulfed by the sun, buffeted by heavy gravity, thrown through a black hole, electrocuted by a jellyfish. But youâll also study the skeletal remains of that fish or the frozen corpse of a jellyfish and realize how to utilize them. Youâll marvel at what first seems like magic, and then youâll pull up Clarkeâs third law and exploit the technology or quantum physics behind it.
The gameâs time loop allows players to harmlessly test lethal hypotheses, such as what might happen if you use a geyser to propel yourself to new heights, or mix two forms of warp cores in the High Energy Lab located on Ember Twin. Throughout, your shipâs log tracks the overarching goals via a digital corkboard web of rumorsâconcerning gravity cannons, missing escape pods, your fellow explorers, and the mysterious Quantum Moonâbut it doesnât explicitly ask you to pursue any of those leads. In fact, Outer Wilds never even warns you that your sun is about to go supernova or suggests that you find a way to stop it.
Repetition is often the bane of time-looping games, and this is where Outer Wilds benefits from its open galaxy setting. You can travel to anything you see, even if itâs not always apparent how to, say, land on a stray comet, or approach the tiny space station that orbits the sun without being pulled into a massive star. Moreover, each planet feels distinct: Your home world of Timber Hearth is a small region of geysers and massive oxygen-producing trees, which is a far cry from Giantâs Deep, a gas-giant-like planet made of fluid layers, and the dangerous Dark Bramble, what with its misty voids and treacherous anglerfish.
And these planets continue to change as time passes, which makes familiar locations feel new again, if visited later on in the game. Take, for instance, the two binary planets known collectively as the Hourglass Twins. As sand is gravitationally pulled from Ash Twin and deposited on Ember Twin, youâll find that the latter planetâs caves fill, becoming inaccessible. By contrast, as Ash Twin is denuded of its sandy shell, entire towers are unearthed.
Elsewhere, as planets orbit closer to the sun, iced-over paths might melt open, revealing shortcuts through, say, deadly, invisible ghost matter. You might start out trying to access the Southern Observatory on Brittle Hollow, but along the way, you may discover the massive bridges leading to the Hanging City, get sidetracked by signage pointing to the Gravity Cannon, experiment with leaping between tractor beams that lead to a Quantum Tower, or simply stumble into the hollow planetâs black-hole core and end up teleported elsewhere. Or you might get struck by debris and die, resetting back to the gameâs start.
Think, then, of Outer Wilds as a maze without dead ends, or like the Nomai language itself, which is depicted as a series of geometric spirals branching out from a fixed point. Each branch, no matter how small, offers up some sort of discovery, whether itâs just a breathtaking vista, a scientific model, a fossil, or a text log. The rare adventure game in which the journey is actually more of a reward than the destination, Outer Wilds delights in inviting you to spend a few minutes marveling at the sight of the galaxy as planets orbit balletically in and out of view. Youâre not exploring a series of discrete worlds so much as you are engaging with one interconnected star system, constantly learning right up to your final expedition. Thatâs the brilliant hook thatâll keep you returning, loop after loop, not just for the chance to watch the dizzyingly beautiful (and angrily reddening) sun crest into view, but to better know why it does so. The real world is overwhelming and unmooring, but here, in 22-minute chunks, you can wrest back a sense of control and understanding of a momentous model galaxy.
The game was reviewed using a download code provided by fortyseven communications.
Developer: Mobius Digital Publisher: Annapurna Interactive Platform: PC Release Date: March 30, 2019 ESRB: E Buy: Game
Review: Warhammer: Chaosbane Is a Hack-and-Slash Adventure Without Purpose
Even the few inventive stretches of the game are ultimately driven into the ground by a punishing sense of repetition.1
The opening cinematic for Warhammer: Chaosbane sets the tone for the game that follows. The series of crudely animated storyboard sketches describe a rather generic massive-scale war thatâs just been concluded against the forces of Chaos and how your chosen protagonist bravely helped Commander Magnus to victory. What follows isnât a hack-and-slash dungeon-crawler so much as a hack-and-slack time-killer, one that pales in comparison to the game that Chaosbane fruitlessly emulates: Diablo.
Chaosbaneâs squandered potential is most evident in how the game mishandles its four selectable characters. Elessa, a wood-elf archer, is meant to use poisons and traps to keep enemies at bay, but those skills are never needed, as the gameâs witless AI hordes are only too happy to serve as stationary targets for her arrows. The dwarven Bragi Axebiter uses a chain axe to grapple into foes, since his rage-based mechanic relies upon constantly hitting things, so itâs odd that many dungeons are filled with long, empty corridors that drain his rage meter. Konrad Vollen, a shield-bearing soldier gains extra strength when taunting or being swarmed by enemies, and yet outside of the co-op campaign, he seems rather listless, his status-boosting AOE banners largely going to waste. And then thereâs the high-elf mage Elontir, whoâs impossibly complicated to handle in the solo campaign. Indeed, the joy of finely controlling his spells is lost in the hectic rush of constantly teleporting away from foes.
The first few dungeons showcase Bigben Interactiveâs latest at its best, as they at least offer the illusion of depth and variety. Youâll move from the green-hued sewers beneath Nuln to the ramparts above, and then through the grim, gray-hewn streets of the ravaged fortress city, all the while learning exciting new moves. (Never mind that the characters seem to have inexplicably forgotten all their heroic skills from that introductory cutscene.) But should you decide you donât like Bragiâs fast-paced dual-wielding axes and want to shift to Konradâs slower, more methodical sword-and-shield bashing, youâll have to begin a whole new campaign, and itâs here that the gameâs non-randomized levels come dully into view.
Even if you never restart and choose to stick with a single character, the rewards are quickly diminishing. Youâll revisit slightly different areas of Nulnâs sewers and streets throughout the first chapter, fighting, for the most part, the same types of monsters: some sort of swarmer, some sort of tank, a ranged unit, and perhaps a mounted creature. Your hero, limited to a single weapon type, only ever minimally upgrades his or her loot, and of those 14 active abilities and countless passives to equip, only a few builds seem viable or interesting.
The gameâs main campaign is relentlessly repetitious. Dungeons are straightforward affairs, mostly linear corridors that are occasionally pockmarked with a treasure-filled cul de sac, though they offer no optional objectives or lore. There are no side quests, no interactions with townsfolk, not even a shop. There are only five or six NPCs, all of whom give the same fetch-quest variations, only with slightly different accents, and ultimately, whether they send you to the frosty trees of the Forest of Knives or the floating stone bridges of the Chaos Realm, the result is always exactly the same. While Chaosbane abounds in colorful background detailsâtoothy red maws pressing out of the earth, tentacles flailing far beneath youâthe game would have been better served by bringing more hazards to the actual forefront, so as to break up the monotony of just how easy it is to vanquish your enemies.
Even the few inventive stretches of the game are ultimately driven into the ground by that sense of repetition. Chaosbaneâs four bosses are its strongest feature, given that they possess unique mechanics that you must learn to strategically overcome, from dodging a bullet-hell attack to baiting a laser away from the pillars that youâll later need as cover. But replaying these encounters in Boss Rush mode quickly blunts the excitement of learning boss patterns, making these encounters as rote as any other enemy in the game. Increasing the difficulty simply allows enemies to hit harder and absorb more damage, which makes the game longer, not harder, and the post-game Relic Hunt modeâs random enemy modifiers do little to change this. To put it lightly, itâs a case in which nothing is adventured, and nothing is gained.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by HomeRun PR.
Developer: Bigben Interactive Publisher: Eko Software Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: June 4, 2019 ESRB: M ESRB Descriptions: Blood and Gore, Violence Buy: Game
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