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    Neighbours back From Hell Review


    Title: Neighbours back From Hell Released On: October 8, 2020  Genre: Arcade, Puzzle Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch Also Available On: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 Developer: Farbworks, THQ Nordic Publisher: HandyGames MSRP: $14.99 USD / $17.49 CAD

    Who hasn’t had that neighbour who constantly gets under their skin? Playing music too loud at all hours of the night? Letting their dog do their business in your yard? Or just being a general irritant with an overly-crotchety attitude? Neighbours From Hell was a classic TV show from the early 2000s that sought to exact pranking vengeance upon the worst neighbours, with the help of a camera crew. And now they’re back.

    Neighbours back From Hell is a remaster of the classic game Neighbours From Hell, which originally released in 2003 for Windows PC, followed up by a console port two years later. The remaster includes both the original game as well as the sequel, which takes your pranking international. Not much has changed in this remaster, the arcade-y puzzle gameplay and simple controls make for an enjoyable, laid-back experience.

    Neighbours back From Hell

    After some more-than-unpleasant experiences with his neighbour Mr. Rottweiler, our protagonist Woody decides to take it upon himself to exact some colourful revenge, with the help of a camera crew to catch all of the mischief. And on that day, the hit tv show Neighbours from Hell was born.

    Neighbours back From Hell is an arcade puzzle game, that tasks the player with executing successive pranks against their dastardly neighbour. You can discover opportunities for traps to set all throughout their house by interacting with the various objects to discover new items. You then combine these items with specific locations to concoct the most devious of domestic traps that your neighbour will unknowingly walk right into. Sometimes with a little coaxing.

    Neighbours back From Hell Bull

    Though the concept and controls are extremely simple, the execution typically is not. Your neighbour is on the prowl through his house and if you are caught in the same room, you’ll lose one of the three lives you get per level. He thankfully likes to keep to a strictly regimented routine, which additionally helps with setting up your pranks, but you have to be aware of his movements at all times if you want to successfully disrupt them.

    As you progress through levels, additional floors and obstacles require the player to adopt a more thoughtful approach to their pranking. The neighbour’s routines become harder to track, and the addition of a watchful parrot or a sleeping dog makes creeping through the house more difficult. You can switch your camera perspective at any point between Woody and your neighbour, which both makes it easier to keep a watchful eye, and provides an up-close perspective so you can witness your traps execute.

    Neighbours back From Hell Statue

    Since this remaster includes the second game, we’re also treated to some vacation time in India, Mexico and China, where Mr. Rottweiler has tried unsuccessfully to escape his Woody woes, alongside his mother and another less-than-cordial member of the neighbourhood. After spending a lot of time pranking around your neighbour’s flat, there was a renewed sense of invigoration to prank abroad. In addition to Mr. Rottweiler, you’ll have to track his mother and other neighbour’s movements, as each of them can end up costing Woody a life.

    The gameplay does get a little repetitive – especially in the first dozen or so levels – as you make your way through each, checking all of the usual spots and laying some of the same traps. The addition of the second game provides not only a handful of new locations to visit, but some much-needed additional challenge, as some of the later areas require more thought and pre-planning to execute the best pranks. You don’t have to execute every single prank though; most levels require about 75-80% of the pranks before you can leave, unless you want to get a perfect score.

    Neighbours back From Hell Bluestar

    Not much has changed with this remaster of Neighbours From Hell almost two decades later, apart from improved framerates and higher quality graphics, but there is a relaxing sense of nostalgia that hits you from the moment you load into your first level. It successfully hearkens back to a different era of gaming, focused on a simple gameplay loop and level-by-level completion, with the challenge being based on your ability to deduce each puzzle.

    Even if you never played the original Neighbours From Hell, the remaster is certainly worth your time; arguably more-so. Having never experienced the games during their initial life, I was delighted at the chance to take control of my own prank TV show, and playing on the Nintendo Switch felt like the perfect way to kick back and cause some mischief.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Neighbours back From Hell doesn’t change the formula of the original games, but hits home with a perfect blend of challenge and nostalgia.

    The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.

    Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning Review


    Title: Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning Released On: September 8, 2020  Genre: Action RPG Reviewed On: Xbox One Also Available On: PC, PlayStation 4 Developer: Kaiko Publisher: THQ Nordic MSRP: $39.99 USD / $39.99 CAD

    It has been eight years since we last stepped foot into Amalur, the world conceived by the minds of R.A. Salvatore, Todd Macfarlane, and two designers best known for their work on the Elder Scrolls series; Ken Rolston and Mark Nelson. Even though the game received positive critical and fan reviews across the board, a lack of sales and being labelled as a “failure” prevented gamers from seeing a sequel and instead forced the closure of original publisher 38 Studios just months after its initial release.

    To fans’ delight, THQ Nordic purchased the rights to Kingdoms of Amalur back in 2018, and put developer Kaiko in the lead on remastering the game for the current generation. Eight years later with an improved rendering engine and retouched textures, the game has remained relatively unchanged, although Re-Reckoning does come packaged with all of the previous DLC and expansions. There’s even new DLC planned for next year. But, just how re-remastered is it?

    Kingdoms of Amalur Combat

    Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning wears its age on its sleeve, not just through the game’s still-relatively dated graphics but through a variety of factors which together make Re-Reckoning feel much more like a 2012 game than a 2020 release. The work done to remaster Kingdoms of Amalur just feels a little lackluster; like Kaiko opted for a fresh coat of paint to refine the graphics but otherwise left everything else the same, which turned out to be a bit of a double-edged sword.

    As iterated by THQ Nordic in their FAQ, developer Kaiko has retouched the textures and improved the rendering engine for the game, with the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro receiving improved render outputs and a higher, stable framerate. While the graphical upgrade is undoubtedly noticeable when you put the 2012 and 2020 versions side-by-side, as you can see below from the foot comparison that was released by THQ earlier this year to show the progress, it still falls quite short of what we typically see on the current generation of consoles and PCs.

    Kingdoms of Amalur Textures

    The fact that the core gameplay and systems of Kingdoms of Amalur have remained completely unchanged isn’t inherently a bad thing, because it means that the combat that made KoA such a fun and engaging action-RPG when it was first released is still a very enjoyable and fluid experience. But this also means that the game very much feels exactly like it did in 2012, in addition to looking almost like it did in the last generation.

    While I’ve been fairly critical of the work done to remaster the game, I have still immensely enjoyed my time as the Fateless One. I haven’t had a chance to play KoA since it was originally released in 2012, and being back in the high-fantasy setting and building my character up through “Destinies” is still one of my favorite leveling/advancement systems. In a world governed by the will of the Fates, you are the only one without a predetermined path, free to choose your own destiny. This overarching narrative hook links in directly with how your character progresses through their Destinies.

    Kingdoms of Amalur Ogre

    Each Destiny is unlocked once you have enough skill points in the prerequisite trees — Sorcery, Finesse, and Might — and they provide passive bonuses to your playstyle. These are then supplemented by Twists of Fate, passive upgrades which are discovered as you progress through the game and provide additional bonuses. It shirks the typical class-based system, and really lets you spec your character in a very open way, even offering a relatively accessible path to completely reworking your character if you decide to wholly switch up your playstyle.

    Which I would recommend doing throughout your journey, as the combat in Kingdoms of Amalur is very malleable. There are a number of different weapon archetypes, and each skill tree offers benefits for each, including unlocking special attacks and providing passive bonuses. You can have two weapons equipped at the same time, so rather than having to switch weapons you can fluidly alternate between different types of attacks. You’ll come across a wealth of new weapons and equipment through your travels, and switching up your playstyle to take advantage of a new weapon is part of the enjoyment.

    Kingdoms of Amalur Harpies

    For gamers like myself who never got around to playing the two major story expansions, Teeth of Naros and The Legend of Dead Kel, both have been included in Re-Reckoning. Each expansion opens up a sizeable new area to explore, with a main storyline and subquests to complete alongside new Twists of Fate and equipment. This is in addition to the wealth of weapon and armour DLC that can be claimed at the Special Delivery Chest once you’ve reached the first town of Gorhart.

    Coming back to the remastering of Reckoning though, the weapons and armour that you can unlock in the Special Delivery Chest also show a lack of foresight in how gamers may want to re-engage with Amalur. Originally, any DLC that was purchased scaled to the character at the time of purchase/unlock, so you would get items that were useful to you at the time. With Re-Reckoning however, everything is accessible at level one, which is great for the first few hours of the game, and then trove of Legendary equipment becomes nigh-useless without the option to upgrade them further.

    Kingdoms of Amalur Dead Kel

    It’s a bit of a shame that the game seems to teeter on this edge. While still an enjoyable game in its own right, people who played through it in 2012 may be hard-pressed to find a reason to purchase it again just for some marginally updated graphics. One of the most glaring and immediate observations was that the intro cutscene actually featured the original title, without the updated “Re”. While not an issue that is at all detrimental to the game itself, it showed from the onset the type of remaster that Kingdoms of Amalur was going to be.

    It’s a fresh coat of paint on a game that, while hasn’t aged terribly, feels dated against the RPGs that have been released in the past decade. The User Interface is the same from the previous generation, to the point that I can notice the Xbox 360 control interface instead of the Xbox One UI. There are a wealth of these facets that permeate through the entire experience; from the moment you boot up Re-Reckoning, everything feels like it’s from an era past.

    Kingdoms of Amalur Council

    Again, this really doesn’t mean that Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is a bad game. It’s just more window-dressing than actual fine tuning of the original. What we’ve been given is still the same great game from 2012 with marginally improved graphics and all of the DLC, just not much more. If you’re already beaten through Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and all of the major expansions, there is not much here to really draw you back in, unless you’re looking for a trip down memory lane.

    If you’ve never played Kingdoms of Amalur or missed out on the expansions like myself, $40 is a great price for this engaging and fun Action RPG, especially given the amount of content. While I’ve been critical on the remastering of the game, Reckoning is a genuinely enjoyable game with a fluid combat system and a world that just begs to be explored. It’s just missing that little-extra-something that would have made it the re-remaster that it truly deserved.

    Final Score: 7/10

    Kingdoms of Amalur Re-Reckoning is still an engaging Action RPG, but the remaster feels lackluster and too similar to the original release.

    The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.

    Fight Crab Review


    Title: Fight Crab Released On: September 15, 2020 Genre: Fighting Game Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch Also Available On: Windows, PlayStation 4 Developer: Calappa Games Publisher: Mastiff MSRP: $19.99 USD / $22.79 CAD

    The first rule of Fight Crab is you do not talk about Fight Crab.

    What if, and bear with me for a second here, there was an underground fighting ring operating right under all of our noses? With secret organizers scheduling no holds-barred grudge matches, street brawls, and kitchen stand-offs, bringing blade, gun, and claw together in the fiercest crustacean vs. crustacean showdowns this side of the sushi bar?

    Welcome to Fight Crab.

    This hilariously outlandish concept for a fighting game has been on my radar for over a year now, so I was thrilled to get my claws on it when it dropped on Nintendo Switch. Fight Crab is a genuinely unique take on fighting games, which surprisingly is not entirely based around the fact that you are duking it out as crabs — and lobsters of course — while wielding a vast array of weaponry. Occasionally on scooters.

    Fight Crab owes its authenticity not just to the fact that you’re fighting as crustaceans wielding everything from daggers and pistols to great hammers and air turbines; there is a hefty physics element to the game, which players will have to master if they want any chance at flipping the competition. And I mean quite literally.

    The goal of every match of Fight Crab is to flip your opponent onto their back for the three-count, while avoiding being toppled yourself. You achieve this by attacking or grappling your opponent with your claws, or any weapons you can manage to scuttle your way to, to increase their damage meter. The higher the damage is, the easier time you’ll have flipping your opponent and securing victory. Sounds simple enough, right?

    Except for the fact that you must control each claw with the left and right joysticks — on the Nintendo Switch — making the combat a little more intricate and nuanced than simply pressing a button. You use the triggers themselves to punch, and the bumpers to block or grab depending on context, but actually damaging or flipping your opponent is all about proper claw placement, which comes from knowing how to manipulate your appendages with the sticks.

    It’s the type of system that takes a lot of playing around to get used to, and likely the first dozen or so matches will be a lot more flailing than actual punching. In fact, if you’re like me you may end up flailing well past your 50th match, but once you get the hang of the physics and start throwing upper-claws and flipping your opponent end-over-end it feels so good.

    You unlock new crabs and weapons as you progress through the game, each of which can be purchased using the currency that you’ll make from completing matches, both in campaign and versus. These “Crab-bucks” are also used for everything from purchasing new mounts — that’s right, your crab can ride a seal — to actually upgrading your crab’s abilities, which becomes necessary to give you the edge in combat.

    Each crab, and subsequently weapon, has its own ability scores that includes the usual damage and agility, but also more nuanced skills like reach and weight which often end up being some of the decisive factors in battle. Being able to out-reach your opponent, or being so heavy that they require additional damage to topple you, ended up being some of the biggest boons in combat. If you need an edge in a certain area, focusing on upgrading your core-crab is always a good option.

    If everything wasn’t already over-the-top enough for you, unlocking and utilizing Hyper Mode amps everything up over 9000. Quite literally, as the first ability that you will unlock is called the Kanihameha and it’s an absolutely devastating beam attack. Much like the rest of the game though, you have to do a sort of “crab dance” to properly execute the move, which definitely felt like I should have been yelling “Fusion HA!”

    There is thankfully both an online and offline versus mode, which allows you to put your crab skills to the test against other players, including a 2 vs. 2 cooperative crab fight if you’ve got a local partner. After clearing most of the campaign I thought I was ready to battle against some real-life crustaceans, but I spent the majority of my time online being flipped on my shell. That’s fine though; it just means I need to spend some more time on-ice, perfecting my tactics.

    I’ve been speaking about this a lot lately in my reviews; what we really need right now in game development are teams that turn established genres on their heads, and that’s exactly what Calappa Games has done with Fight Crab. Implementing a physics-based combat system in this way to a fighting game adds a complexity and nuance that is arguably more complex than memorizing button combinations.

    Fight Crab is the fighting game that we didn’t know we needed. But we definitely did. It’s chaotic, ridiculous, and at times exceedingly frustrating to master the physics-based combat. But that’s all part of the charm of Fight Crab.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Fight Crab is a hilariously fresh take on fighting games, with an easy to learn but difficult to master physics-based combat.

    The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.

    Bounty Battle Review


    Title: Bounty Battle Released On: September 10, 2020  Genre: Fighting Game Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch Also Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One Developer: DarkScreen Games Publisher: Merge Games MSRP: $24.99 USD / $31.49 CAD

    Bringing together characters from some of the most acclaimed indie games of the past generation, Bounty Battle is the new fighting game by DarkScreen Games that pits some of our favorite protagonists against one another in variety of environments pulled straight from other realms. Although it offers a straightforward and entertaining combat system, Bounty Battle’s rather minimal gameplay offering and lack of online multiplayer holds it back from being an ultimately captivating 2D fighting game.

    Bounty Battle Character Selection

    Featuring characters from Dead Cells, Darkest Dungeon, Owlboy, Guacamelee, and many more stellar indie titles — as well as a handful of their own first-party fighters — there is a sizable roster of recognizable characters to pick from. Easily Bounty Battle’s biggest strength in the ability to play as some of these beloved characters in a completely different medium, using their unique attacks to decimate your opponents.

    Bounty Battle is a much more arcade-style fighting game, arguably verging on a brawler, which opts for a relatively simple control scheme in lieu of complex combos and perfectly timed counters. I personally prefer this approach to the gameplay as it made for a more relaxed, yet occasionally challenging, experience. Characters alternate between light and heavy attacks, which can be combined with directions to launch or charge attacks, in addition to unleashing special and unique moves which are easy to chain together and fun to execute. It’s an easy system to pick up, but one that definitely still has its intricacies once you’re actually toe-to-toe with an opponent.

    Bounty Battle Heavy Attack

    Bounty Battle‘s most unique system is its Bounties though, and the ability to call in special minions or unleash devastating attacks once your Bounty is high enough. The Bounty tally at the top of the screen increases throughout the match as you do damage and knock out opponents, and when playing against multiple opponents whoever is performing the highest will have their picture on display, making them a target to steal their points and turn the tide.

    The level design in Bounty Battle is fantastic, and the team at DarkScreen Games have done a superb job transposing the worlds of some beloved indie games into stages to brawl on, as well as including some of their own unique stages. One of my favorite levels is easily the arcade cabinet, where you play on top of the gamepad and are treated to the intro cutscene from Bounty Battle playing on the arcade screen in the backdrop.

    Bounty Battle Level Design

    Bounty Battle is split up between its single and multiplayer offerings, but either way you will be relegated to a single system. In single player you can test your might against a CPU in either Tournament or Challenge mode, the former which offers slightly more involvement. Tournament Mode requires you to complete specific objectives, which are typically as simple as defeat or knocking out an opponent, to be able to advance. In Challenge Mode, you simply fight against CPUs until you die.

    The multiplayer portion of the game is purely local, which means that in the current pandemic situation I was not able to play against any real opponents. It’s a shame there isn’t an online offering, because Bounty Battle would be a decent entry into the competitive fighting game sphere. With the ongoing situation, it’s not easy — or advisable — to have couch gaming parties to battle against your friends, so for now many people will likely have to suffice with playing with their family or roommates. It’s really a shame though, because there is something that just doesn’t feel quite right about having a local-only multiplayer fighting game in 2020.

    Bounty Battle Marquee

    Unfortunately the gameplay gets stale in Bounty Battle rather quickly, and without a diverse group of online opponents to test your mettle against there isn’t much in the way of replayability to keep you going. After you’ve beaten through the single-player portions of fighting games, typically an online mode is what sustains their longevity.

    This is in addition to the fact that all of the fighters are available to you from the beginning of the game, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. When I loaded Bounty Battle up I was initially stoked to be able to immediately play as The Prisoner or Juan, but within a couple hours I began to wish that there was a smaller initial offering, with additional characters being unlockable through challenges or the Tournament Mode, instead of just some colour variations. Without anything substantial to work towards, the replayability for the game takes another hit.

    At the end of the day Bounty Battle is a serviceable fighting game that is bolstered substantially by the offering of characters, but detracted by through the lack of an online multiplayer and any sort of progression or unlock system to entice players to really sink their teeth in. It also suffers from some stuttering in the menus on the Nintendo Switch, which thankfully did not occur in any of the actual matches.

    If you’re looking for something fun to play on the couch with some friends, then Bounty Battle may be just what you’re looking for, but it’s hard to recommend this to anyone looking for a substantial fighting game when there are so many more options out there that offer much more replayability and involvement. While it’s assuredly fun to play a fighting game with characters that I’ve easily spent 100+ hours with in their own games, a lack of some key features holds Bounty Battle back from being the ultimate 2D fighting game.

    Final Score: 6/10

    Without an online multiplayer or any substantial replayability, Bounty Battle doesn’t last long in the ring.

    The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.

    Mortal Shell Review


    Title: Mortal Shell Released On: August 18, 2020  Genre: Hardcore Action RPG Reviewed On: Xbox One Also Available On: PC, PlayStation 4 Developer: Cold Symmetry Publisher: Playstack  MSRP: $29.99 USD / $39.99 CAD

    Awoken in a strange land, a shattered husk of your former self, you have no option other than to press forward into a tainted religious land of fanatic zealots; minds shattered from their consumption of the holy Nektar. Stumbling across the body of a fallen warrior, you grasp onto it, a shred of a former life that has been taken by this cruel and unforgiving world.

    Mortal Shell is the latest entry in the hardcore action-RPG genre, developed by the small team at Cold Symmetry; composed of industry veterans. It combines brutal and rhythmic combat with several new game systems that aim to define Mortal Shell as a strong newcomer to the genre. Using your newfound ability to take over the bodies of fallen warriors and harden them like stone, you must set out to uncover the secrets of this mysterious land of zealots, and forge your own path through the twisted landscape.

    In Mortal Shell you have the ability to take over the bodies of former great warriors who perished in the land of Fallgrim. By utilizing these “Shells”, you can unlock the innate power and abilities of the deceased champions to carve your way through droves of devout zealots aimed at protecting their holy temples. At the request of a mysterious chained prisoner, you must seek out these shrines of the Devout, which are hidden throughout the serpentine Fallgrim Outskirts.

    Mortal Shell doesn’t offer much of its narrative up willingly, which is part of the allure of the game. You’re not entirely sure why you’ve come to this land, what the ominous bird-like prisoner is truly asking of you, and perhaps most importantly, if you can even leave this fanatical nightmare. Similarly to the story, as a player you aren’t given much direction other than the vague words of the Chained Prisoner and the intriguing Sester Genessa, a former Devout. All you have to guide you are glimpses into the instincts of these fallen champions, and a sheer will to overcome the seemingly indomitable task that lies in front of you.

    As you may have guessed, Mortal Shell is an extremely punishing game. Much like other HARPGs, combat is a measured dance, but it is never unfair. Every death in Mortal Shell should be taken as a learning moment, because in every single case there is something that you could have done differently to avoid it. A better timed harden or dodge, smarter use of consumables, or more often than not, simply understanding your opponents’ patterns.

    There are only four main weapons in Mortal Shell, the latter three of which are found in the temples that you must discover. Each of these weapons has a very different combat style, ranging from the exceptional speed and versatility of the Hammer and Chisel, to the measured and powerful combos of the Smoldering Mace. Weapons can work especially well in tandem with specific Shells’ abilities, but finding the combination that works best for your playstyle is an integral part of Mortal Shell. Weapons can be upgraded at the several workbenches that are found in key locations, which can increase their core power and unlock powerful attacks. That is, assuming you can find the required materials.

    The most unique aspect of Mortal Shell is the ability to Harden yourself to avoid damage. While the ability allows you to nullify all damage in a brief window of time, any attack shatters the stone and leaves you vulnerable while it recharges. While a defensive move at its core, the ability to harden yourself has a multitude of uses and through experimentation it becomes the single most useful ability in your toolkit. As you unlock additional weapons, you may discover that proactively hardening at a specific point in a combo provides more benefits than purely using it as a reactionary move.

    Each Shell has its own ability tree as well, and the Tar and Glimpses that you obtain from felled enemies can be used to increase the power of the worn Shell and unlock their true potential. Wearing a Shell additionally grants the player a “last chance”, which gives one opportunity to reclaim your Shell when an enemy has knocked you from it instead of instantly perishing. It’s no easy feat, as you can be killed with a single hit when Shell-less, but it’s an essential system that will mean the difference between success and defeat against the most fearsome adversaries.

    You can’t use any of the aforementioned weapons, or Shells for that matter, until you’ve discovered and unlocked them, which by itself is no easy feat. The only guidance given to you are in the form of “Instincts”, which can be found for each Shell and weapon. These memory flashbacks give the player a brief snapshot of the location in which they can be found, but you’ll still need a solid understanding of the layout of Fallgrim to actually find them. Or, you can just stumble around for hours like I did and happen across the necessary temples.

    Learning how every enemy archetype works in Mortal Shell is your ultimate key to success against the Devout masses, as well as the far more difficult enemy archetypes you’ll stumble across. Enemies all have very specific telegraphing for each of their moves, and learning the proper time to harden, dodge, or parry is essential to combating each unique foe, especially when they attack en masse. While it’s undoubtedly an exceptionally punishing game, it is also extremely fair. There wasn’t a single time in which I died that I cried foul at the game, but rather used it as an opportunity to review my own missteps.

    Even items are a mystery until you’ve actually used one. While this means subjecting yourself to unknown effects, increasing your familiarity with certain items can unlock additional benefits. Every aspect of Mortal Shell is shrouded in fog — sometimes quite literally — and just when you think you’ve fully grasped how the game functions, it will throw a complete shift at you to make you entirely reconsider how you approach it. It’s delightfully frustrating and constantly kept me on my toes, unsure of what to expect around any corner.

    My largest issue with Mortal Shell stems from the fact that for a game that requires you to master enemy movements and patterns, as well as spawn locations, often enemies would take time to load or simply pop-in when you were already within their striking distance. This only seemed to happen when the game-world reloaded itself after you died or sipped the Tar with Sester Genessa, but it got me killed several times before I memorized spawn locations and was cognizant to let an area load before charging in.

    Mortal Shell isn’t an particularly lengthy game, assuming that you know where you’re going and what you need to accomplish. Since that’s a pretty tall assumption to make in a game that has a labyrinthine map and gives the player almost no direction as to where they need to go, you may end up spending quite a bit of time navigating the game world and making a mental map. This can prove especially important if you’ve died and have to traverse your way back through the dense maze to find and restore the Tar from your body.

    While I don’t typically like to include the price of a game into my review, it’s worth noting that for half the price of the majority of similar titles, Mortal Shell is certainly worth the price of admission. You’re likely to get at least 15-20 hours of enjoyment (read: struggle) from your first playthrough, and Cold Symmetry have not only included a New Game + mode that allows you to replay with all of your current upgrades, but have implemented some exceptionally punishing achievements/trophies for the hardest of hardcore players to aspire towards.

    Where Mortal Shell truly succeeds is in showing that the hardcore action-RPG genre still has a lot of room to grow. It’s a disservice to the game to simply refer to it as a “Souls-like”, because there is so much offered in Mortal Shell that is non-existent in other titles in the HARPG genre. Figuring out how to use your Shells and weapons in combination with Hardening gives combat a depth and nuance that’s as refreshing for the genre as it is invigorating to experience.

    There is a point where everything just clicks. When the complexity of determining how to best utilize your four Shells, four Weapons, and the seemingly infinite possibilities with Harden all converge. A point where you stop struggling through every battle and begin to just feel the ebb and flow of combat. That feeling of accomplishment from success in Mortal Shell is such a hard fought for and deserved emotion. As someone who typically gets demolished by hardcore action-RPGs, beating Mortal Shell without any assistance left me feeling like I had ascended Mount Everest and come out victorious.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    Mortal Shell breathes life into the hardcore action-RPG genre, combining a refreshing and nuanced battle system with an intentionally vague and enticing story.

    The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.

    Iron Man VR Review

    Title: Iron Man VR Released On: July 3, 2020  Genre: Virtual Reality Shooter Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 (Pro) Developer: Camouflaj Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment  MSRP: $39.99 USD / $49.99 CAD / £29.99 GBP

    Who doesn’t want to be Iron Man? Mutli-billionaire arms-dealer-turned-superhero and philanthropist, Tony Stark has long been one of Marvel’s most iconic figures. A far divide from your typical origin story, Tony Stark built his suit after dismantling the warmongering side of Stark Industries, deciding to use his vast wealth and technical expertise to protect humanity, instead of supplying arms for its destruction.

    The latest VR shooter from Camouflaj puts you in Iron Man’s repulsor boots, and gives the player access to Tony Stark’s near-unlimited arsenal of firepower and the ability to customize your suit with a variety of combat options. The story takes place as our protagonist is decommissioning the vast industry that he’s worked to create, when he is confronted with a new threat that forces him to revisit a life he thought he had left behind. While suiting up as Iron Man can be an exhilarating adventure at points, some technical issues and the repetitiveness of combat detract from the overall experience.

    Most importantly to the experience, the team at Camouflaj have done a stellar job making you feel like you are Iron Man when you don the VR headset. There are a wealth of User Interface features projected onto your Heads-Up Display which makes it feel like you are actually in the famous suit. The first time I stepped into it I was immediately reminded of the Iron Man movies watching the blue holographic icons flicker across my vision.

    Virtual reality titles put a wealth of stock into immersion, and while there are some peripheral issues with tracking and gameplay in Iron Man VR, the realism you feel is spectacular. Combat flows freely, and once you’ve mastered the very-unique art of flying with your hand-repulsors, you’ll be zipping around the map using one hand to propel you with bursts of speed and the other to decimate waves of the pervasive drone enemies that you’ll spend the game dismantling.

    The narrative of the game takes you to some iconic Iron Man locations, from Stark Tower in Shanghai to Tony’s ostentatious Florida mansion where you’ll be spending a fair bit of time as your Base of Operations. You can explore Tony’s home, which contains a wealth of collectibles and nods to both the Iron Man and Avengers series, and interact with some essential characters like Pepper and Friday. Here, you can also upgrade your suit between missions with a wealth of new weapons, upgrades, and even skins which are unlocked through spending research points that you get from completing missions and challenges. The more stars you receive on a mission, the more research points that you unlock for upgrading your suit.

    The majority of your experience will be spent traveling the world in search of a masked individual who is using acts of terror to show Tony the destruction that his weapons have caused mankind, but my absolute favorite mission was funnily enough one of the very first. I will never understand why developers decide to start their games with a “jump out a plane and then go back to try and save the plane” level. If your game is going to have a level where you are careening around a plane repairing it while simultaneously flying at break-neck speeds and fighting drones, it should be your climax. In this case the scene was integral to set up Iron Man VR‘s narrative, which is completely understandable, but almost everything afterwards felt far less exhilarating after saving Pepper from a crashing airliner.

    When Iron Man impresses, it genuinely feels like one of those games that virtual reality was meant for. It takes a little bit of time to get the hang of the controls, as flying forward by pointing your arms down and hands backwards definitely takes some getting used to. Once it clicked, however, navigating the wide open expanses of each map feels exhilarating. You can rocket through the air with bursts of speed from your repulsor boots, while flinging blasts from your palms and an array of weaponry from your wrist-mounted secondary weapons.

    You have a wealth of combat options at your disposal, and in addition to being able to change up your weapons at Tony’s base, you are free to pummel your way through the leagues of drones with your fists and a super-useful Ground Pound for taking out land-based units. And if you’re thinking “Hey wait, didn’t Iron Man have a super-powerful wave-clearing chest laser?” then you would be correct, and not long into the game your old-friend Gunsmith unlocks the ability in your suit. Unlike the other abilities, you have to charge up the Unibeam by defeating drones, but once you unleash it you can reign absolute destruction upon swaths of Stark drones; if only it was a bit easier to control.

    One of my chief issues with the game is the assortment, or lack of, enemies that you are pitted against through the game’s 6-8 hour campaign. As the story follows new antagonist Ghost and her goal of using Stark’s military hardware against him, you’ll almost exclusively be fighting against Stark drones as your main enemy. It fits into the storyline for sure, but I was admittedly hoping to see some of the more quintessential Iron Man or Marvel villains make an appearance. That being said, you’re in for some high-octane boss fights that I won’t spoil here, which pit you against some massive enemies as well as the digital antagonist herself.

    Iron Man VR suffers from some of the same issues that we see repeatedly affecting virtual reality games; namely peripheral tracking issues. In Iron Man‘s case, you’ll be happy to hear that as far as combat and flight goes, the tracking holds up superbly. Aiming my repulsors or wrist-rockets felt fluid and accurate, and as awkward as it initially feels, flying with my hands down and pointed backwards, it became second-nature. It tended to be the random out-of-suit moments where Tony had to pick up his glasses, or open a box, that had frustrating tracking issues. And I mean to the point where it took me over five minutes to get the tracking to register that I was leaning to pick up the glasses, after resetting it several times and attempting the same movement sitting down.

    It was really awkward, and I couldn’t quite figure out what was causing the tracking to go haywire specifically in these spots. There clearly wasn’t an issue with the PS Camera tracking t he PS Move controllers, because it had no problem registering when my arms were pointed down and backwards for flight, and even slight adjustments in my wrists tracked exceptionally well for both combat and flight. For some reason, out-of-suit moments tended to be the ones that really broke my immersion into the game.

    While the entire campaign runs around eight or so hours, there are additional challenge modes that test your flight and combat capabilities, which can net you some additional research points to fully unlock all of the upgrades for the suit. You’re also able to revisit past missions (I could play the airplane mission on repeat for hours) to hit perfect 5-star ratings, and max out your scores.

    Though I certainly had a fun and immersive time being Iron Man, at the end of the day I couldn’t help but feeling like the experience was ultimately held back by out-of-suit tracking issues and a general monotony in combat. Fans of the Iron Man and Avengers movies will likely have a solid time with the experience, as being Iron Man truly does feel great. Once you master the controls and are able to fly with one hand and shoot with the other, there is a freedom of movement and control that we don’t see in many VR games.

    Final Score: 7/10

    An immersive and entertaining experience that’s ultimately held back by tracking issues and repetitive combat, Iron Man VR‘s repulsors don’t quite hit the mark.

    The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by Sony interactive Entertainment.

    Destroy All Humans! Review

    Title: Destroy All Humans! Released On: July 28, 2020 Genre: Third-Person Shooter Reviewed On: Xbox One X Also Available On: PlayStation 4, PC Developer: Black Forest Games Publisher: THQ Nordic MSRP: $29.99 USD / $39.99 CAD / £34.99 GBP

    Welcome back Cryptosporidium-137.

    It’s been fourteen years since we last took control of Crypto-137, and used his alien arsenal to reign down terror upon the unsuspecting masses. The 1960s were such a magical time: nuclear families with white picket fences, the Red Scare, McCarthyism, and the ever-looming threat of nuclear disaster. Who ever thought it would be a little green…er…grey alien that would end up causing the most damage?

    I’m just going to come out and say it: Destroy All Humans! is a ridiculous amount of fun. Almost more than it should be. Almost. The game hearkens back to the over-the-top arcade-style of gaming that was much more common in the early 2000s, without getting into overly-complicated systems and concepts that are the norm in today’s open world games. With a wealth of interstellar weapons, a tricked-out flying saucer, and a desire to reap vengeance across the continental United States, does one really need anything else?

    For the uninitiated, in Destroy All Humans! you take control of a member of the Furon race, Cryptosporidium-137 (Crypto for short) in order to retrieve the body of your fallen comrade which is being held in Area 42. And, of course, to enslave humanity while you’re at it. With the guidance of your benevolent leader Orthopox, you’ll travel to six different miniature open worlds to wreak havoc with some of the most entertaining sci-fi weapons in gaming, all to the backdrop of a spectacularly voiced and exceptionally funny narrative.

    Fans of the original 2005 release will be overjoyed to see how well the 2020 remake holds up the their first invasion. In every single way, Destroy All Humans! perfectly recaptures the essence of the original game. You’ll hear the same jokes delivered by the same voice actors, run through the same over-the-top missions, and use the same arsenal of high-power space weaponry. It’s magical. I was fully expecting there to have been some liberties taken with the world construction, Crypto’s weaponry, or even with the narrative, but everything has just been upgraded and polished for the current generation of gaming.

    It’s a quasi open-world format that sees Crypto traveling from rural farming communities, to the sunny shores of California, and top-secret government facilities to try and usurp the locale authorities secure Crypto-136, your fallen precursor. Each locale has several relatively straight-forward goals to accomplish, alongside some optional goals which will net Crypto additional human DNA to be used on purchasing upgrades. To uncover the location of 136 and further the Furon goals of planetary domination, Crypto will have his hands full.

    You’ll be investigating the appearance of mysterious dark brown-suited men, taking over the airwaves to broadcast your message of “peace”, controlling the feeble minds of the populace, and of course causing death and destruction at any and every given opportunity. You won’t have to enslave the human race alone though; Pox has a wealth of weapons at his disposal that he gifts to Crypto throughout your adventures, each of which has a devastatingly fun effect on the local populace. The DNA that you secure through your main missions, as well as finding long-lost alien probes, will allow you to upgrade your weapons and saucer in between missions.

    From your humble beginnings armed with your Zap-O-Matic, you’ll unlock access to a number of new weapons with hilarious and destructive results. A Disintegrator Ray to set humanity ablaze, an explosive Ion Detonator to vaporize entire platoons, and an Anal Probe to…well…you know. In addition to his ever-expanding arsenal, Crypto is armed with special Furon technology that allows him to affect the weak-willed minds of humans, and even steal them for a tasty on-the-go snack.

    In order to effectively enslave the human race however, it’s important to assimilate oneself with the locals to better learn their customs, and weaknesses. For this reason, Crypto can create a holographic copy of a target to assist in any stealthy incursions called a HoloBob; or perhaps just if you’re feeling fancy. This body-swap not only allows Crypto to explore without having to worry about anyone recognizing him, but can grant access to restricted areas if you’ve snatched the right disguise.

    You can also take to the sky in your Saucer, and systematically level entire blocks of urban development using equally devastating weapons like the Death Ray or Quantum Deconstructor. The entire environment is destructible, which is something we don’t see near enough of nowadays. Once you’ve unlocked Explore for a location, you can freely traverse the area without any objective-constraints, taking on Challenges or just probing people — or perhaps bovines — at your whim.

    As fun and campy as the actual main missions are, where Destroy All Humans! feels the best is as an open-world alien playground, where you’re free to go about abducting, incinerating, body-snatching, and just plain wreaking havoc in a colourful assortment of ways. It’s the same reason that kept me going back to the originals after all these years, and the opportunity to experience a wholly revitalized gameplay just feels stellar.

    The team at Black Forest Games have done their absolute due diligence to honour Destroy All Humans!, including fine-tuning the original dialogue so that they wouldn’t have to re-record voice lines. It wouldn’t have felt the same without the faux-Jack Nicholson sarcasm delivered by J. Grant Albrecht, and of course the hilarious insults flung by Pox, voiced by Richard Steven Horvitz who voiced Zim from Invader Zim.

    Even though every thing is essentially the same, it feels so much better. And this is exactly what developers should be aiming for when they are trying to remake a classic game while staying completely true to the original. We’ve seen a wealth of missteps throughout the years, where developers failed to live up to their original game, or conversely added in new features that no one asked for which upset the original game balance. Destroy All Humans manages to both perfectly capture the humour and gameplay of the original 2005 release, while having the game genuinely feel like it was released in 2020.

    I shouldn’t say there haven’t been any additions however, because the new game features a previously unreleased mission set in Area 42, where you have to stop the humans from creating their own flying saucer. There are additionally a number of new challenges that Crypto can take on when re-visiting locations in Explore, from inflicting the maximum number of casualties with Rampage, bringing specimens back to the Mothership with Abduction, or causing unparalleled property damage with Armageddon. These are the type of additions that only serve to enhance the core gameplay of Destroy All Humans! because they give us more opportunities to interact with the world in a less constrained fashion. Exploring the six locations not only gives access to the four challenge modes, but allows players to destroy all humans at their leisure.

    This isn’t to say that the remake is without its issues. I encountered a handful of floating NPCs in my travels — typically when they should have been sitting on a bench, or in a car — and remaining faithful to the original release means that we haven’t seen any major quality of life improvements to the more rudimentary missions structures or AI behavior outside of a new target lock, which is helpful but ultimately unnecessary because of how combat typically flows. I didn’t find that the lack of more updated systems detracted from my overall enjoyment of the game, but they would likely be more noticeable to gamers who hadn’t experienced the 2005 invasion. Personally, I enjoyed the return to form.

    If you’re the type of gamer who likes a good value-dollar argument as well, for half the price of what most games cost nowadays, Destroy All Humans is a planetary steal. Staying true to the original game, it’s not the longest title in the galaxy, (I probably clocked in about 13-15 hours before writing this review) but Black Forest Games have added a number of reasons to go back and explore the six open-world areas. There are additionally some new skins that you can unlock for Crypto by completing all of the optional objectives on specific stages. Mootivational, isn’t it?

    Destroy All Humans! is an absolutely faithful remake of the 2005 release, that manages to simultaneously stay true to the original while advancing the graphics and game systems to make it feel like a current-gen title. While aspects such as the mission structures and AI behaviour definitely still feel dated, this return to a more classic game design presents the player with simple yet delightful entertainment.

    I had a blast playing through Destroy All Humans!, and I genuinely feel that both fans of the original and newcomers to the series will find a wealth here to enjoy. What other game allows you to take control of the other side of an alien invasion and trounce through a playground of destruction with a variety of over-the-top weaponry alongside a hilarious cast of voice actors? It’s an experience you won’t find elsewhere, and after completing it I am hopeful that we will see the same caring service applied to Destroy All Humans! 2 in the coming years.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    Destroy All Humans! should be part of the textbook for developers who are looking to recapture the magic of their classic games.

    The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by THQ Nordic

    Ghost of Tsushima Review

    Title: Ghost of Tsushima Released On: July 17, 2020  Genre: Action-Adventure Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 (Pro) Developer: Sucker Punch Productions Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment  MSRP: $59.99 USD / $79.99 CAD / £49.99 GBP

    Samurai stories are all about honour. First and foremost, it is a samurai’s duty to show utmost devotion to one’s lord, to respect clan and family, and to adhere to a strict ethical and practical code that governs all aspects of one’s life. Ghost of Tsushima is not a game about living by the samurai code. It’s a story concerning what happens when an ideal that we have held dear for our entire lives becomes shattered by a need to survive.

    An epic adventure that follows samurai Jin Sakai across the island of Tsushima in search of allies to defend against foreign invaders, Ghost of Tsushima is a violent tale of retribution and rebirth. An open world action-adventure game at its core, Sucker Punch Productions have crafted a deep and engaging narrative with a brutal and intricate combat system, taking place in one of the most beautiful and enthralling landscapes.

    Ghost of Tsushima Jin Sakai

    The setting for Ghost of Tsushima takes place against the backdrop of the Mongol Invasion of Japan, during the first attempted conquest of 1274. The invasion was led by one of the grandsons of Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, who planned to use the island of Tsushima as a staging ground for their attack on mainland Japan. After an initially overwhelming victory, the Khan was not expecting a lone surviving samurai to rally the discordant voices of Tsushima in an effort to push the invaders back into the sea.

    You don the mantle of Jin Sakai, the last samurai of Clan Sakai and one of the only survivors of the Mongol’s attack at Komoda. After being saved by an unlikely ally, Jin must come to the realization that the answers to saving the people of Tsushima do not lie solely in the samurai code, but in learning new and more deceptive forms of combat. A single samurai is no match for the Mongol army, so Jin must call upon old allies and forge new and unlikely friendships if there is to be any hope of taking Tsushima back from the invaders, and stopping their advance on Japan.

    Ghost of Tsushima Mongols

    While the story that follows Jin Sakai itself is a fictional narrative, the backdrop it is set against is a historically accurate and thoroughly researched setting. The historian in me absolutely drank in the attention to detail that has been given to precisely reflect 13th century Japan. There as been an extreme amount of care taken to ensure that Ghost of Tsushima reflects not just the history of the events, but the era of Japanese culture and political structure.

    The 13th century in Japan was a period of tumultuous change, which was not brought on by but exacerbated through the Mongol invasion. The clans which had been in power for hundreds of years found themselves at conflict with each other as well as other sections of society, which can be seen permeating the world you play in.

    Ghost of Tsushima Venngeance

    To some gamers this type of attention to historical detail may seem peripheral, but it is this care that results in thorough world-craft and the creation of a truly living, breathing digital world. For a game of this size it would be easy for it to have felt empty, but through careful care and implementation, Sucker Punch has ensured that every corner of the map presents new surprises, new stories, and new reasons to dig even deeper into the rich landscape of Tsushima. It’s an absolutely beautiful environment too, with rolling fields and lush forests accentuated by blooming flowers of all colours.

    Ghost of Tsushima does exploration right, through creating an organically engaging world instead of one that pushes you in a direction. The game is consistently urging the player to explore the unknown, without actually directing them to do so. There is no mini-map to guide the player to undiscovered locations or hidden collectibles; of which there are many to be found. Instead, it is up to you and Jin Sakai to explore the world organically, following the Guiding Wind and traversing vast landscapes and speaking with the local villagers to uncover new locations and secrets. It is easy to lose yourself traversing the island of Tsushima and completely forget your quest in lieu of chasing down Mythic Tales of legendary weapons, or assisting a downtrodden peasant.

    Ghost of Tsushima Open World

    Unearthing the mysteries of the island of Tsushima is an exceptionally captivating experience, as well as an extremely rewarding one. In addition to encountering other survivors who will direct you towards undiscovered locations and new side quests, some of the best sword kits, cosmetics, and upgrades in the game can be found simply through exploration. The use of the Guiding Wind to direct the player instead of a more traditional compass or mini-map adds to the feeling that you are organically uncovering locations. Whether you are tracking a quest objective, a location, or a collectible, the wind guides the player without an overbearing hand.

    Exploring the island of Tsushima is made even more inviting because of the absolutely wonderful traversal system. It’s not that Sucker Punch’s parkour mechanics have anything exceptionally unique to them; it’s that they have been so refined that when you get the hang of it controlling Jin feels like flowing wind. The way he jumps from rooftops and smoothly rolls into an expedient crouched walk; before slipping under the seam of a tent unseen. While I would have preferred a more open climbing mechanic instead of the more classical footholds you have to find to climb or descend terrain, their implementation like everything else was smooth.

    Ghost of Tsushima Parkour

    While I have focused on the marvelous exploration up to this point, you can assure yourself that combat takes center stage in Ghost of Tsushima; the protagonist is a samurai after all. Much like the open-ended approach to exploration, you are free to engage in combat however you see fit. From his beginnings as a samurai warrior adhering strictly to his clan’s mantra, Jin must come to face the fact that the samurai code does not hold all of the answers for taking Tsushima back from the Mongol invaders. Much as Jin’s understanding of his place in the war changes as encounters with allies and enemies alike shape his perspective, his shallow grasp of combat — seen strictly through the eyes of a noble samurai — shifts dramatically throughout your adventure.

    You increase Jin’s Legend, the Legend of the Ghost, through your exploits across Tsushima. Everything from saving a peasant on the side of the road, to taking back villages or completing major quest objectives, rewards Jin with increased reputation which translates into new skill points that you can allocate across a number of trees. You can uncover new abilities, augment your combat style, and improve your special Ghost weapons which are unlocked through increased Legend.

    Ghost of Tsushima‘s combat is extremely satisfying. Armed with a katana and a tanto, open melee against opponents is a very measured dance. You have to wait for your openings and learn the precise timing to block or parry opponents strikes, as well as when to dodge unblockable attacks. Jin has four stances, each of which are useful against a specific type of enemy, and which are unlocked as you progress through the game and defeat Mongol leaders. The ability to fluidly alter your combat stance, and simultaneously the style of your light and heavy attacks, creates a depth to the combat that is as intricate as it is engaging.

    Switching between these stances on the fly is paramount to breaking the various enemy defenses, and each stance can be upgraded to increase its effectiveness against the intended opponent, unlocking new attacks. I had initially found the absence of a lock-on mechanic to be a little disorienting in combat, but the longer I played the more I understood its exclusion. You parry and attack in the direction that your left stick is facing, which allows Jin to quickly move from enemy to enemy, whereas changing locked-on targets would have likely taken away from the free-form flow of combat.

    It’s one of the few games where after 30+ hours I was still going out of my way to engage groups of enemies I passed on the road, because the combat never felt repetitive.

    Ghost of Tsushima Kills

    You have the option of starting any combat with a “Standoff,” which easily constitutes the most tense-excitement that you will experience in the game. Each Standoff begins with Jin facing off against an opponent, waiting for them to attack. You have to closely watch their movements to ignore any feinted actions, and then strike only when they lunge to attack. If timed properly, you can fell your opponent with a single swing, and if there are multiple opponents you have the ability to continue the chain, timing your attacks to their swings for deadly results.

    Jin can also remain stealthy if you choose, and you have the ability to cut swaths through the enemy ranks without being noticed, using your tanto and careful use of the environment. Stealth executions are brutal and satisfying, and you can upgrade Jin’s abilities to allow him to assassinate enemies more effectively. Utilizing a combination of subversive and traditional samurai forms of combat is where the game shines, and understanding how to engage with each situation is the mark of a true Ghost.

    Combat evolves exponentially as you progress through the story and increase your Legend, unlocking access to a wealth of new weapons and gear. From being armed solely with the katana and tanto of Clan Sakai, gifts passed down through generations of samurai, Jin will expand his arsenal to include bows, as well as a wide variety of Ghost weapons from smoke bombs to kunai (throwing daggers). Rather than simply supplementing the core combat, each new tool provides the player with a new way to approach combat.

    A perfect example of this is the wind chime; a seemingly innocuous item that when thrown distracts an enemy to the target location. Until you unlock this item through increasing your Legend, Jin has no way to distract enemies away from their posts, which can make taking back a village or destroying a fort exceptionally difficult if you want to adopt a stealthy approach. On the other side of the coin, adding smoke bombs or kunai into your combat repertoire allows for Jin to do quick damage or buy himself some time if the melee becomes too frantic, which it often does.

    You will advance from strict adherence to the samurai code, to moving stealthily through the shadows and striking when opportunity presents itself. The way that you play the game at its onset will be wholly different from how you find yourself approaching combat after ten or thirty hours. Much as Jin Sakai’s understanding of how he must face the Mongol invasion evolves throughout the narrative as he blends non-samurai combat into his style, so too will yours.

    Ghost of Tsushima Samurai

    One of my biggest takeaways from Ghost of Tsushima is how much more understanding and respect I now have for Japanese history and culture. I’ve always considered myself a bit of an otaku, but even as a historian my knowledge of Feudal Japan was relatively minor other than a few notable events. Sucker Punch has paid an exceptional amount of attention not just to the game’s historical accuracy concerning the Mongol invasion itself, but to the changes in politics, culture, and social structure which were caused by the Kamakura Shogunate that instituted military rule in Japan following the imperial Heian period, which ushered in the era of Feudal Japan.

    It’s this depth of historicity that shows the developer’s own respect for Japanese history, and you can see the care and attention permeating through all aspects of your adventure. It’s hard not to get lost in the folklore of the region, the plights of the peasants held back by powerful noble clans, and the struggle of Jin Sakai as he tries to reconcile the life he once led with the realization that clan rule and the class-struggle has led to the difficult situations many find themselves in.

    Ghost of Tsushima Cherry Blossoms

    You don’t have to be a historian to appreciate the Feudal Era of Ghost of Tsushima though; there are a number of nods to Japanese culture and folklore throughout the game, often tied into collectibles and locations that Jin will explore. Crickets sing in cemeteries to comfort the dead, Mongol artifacts detail facets about Mongolian history and culture, and many discoverable locations themselves are locations that were seen as integral to Japanese society. You will even learn about Japanese folklore through your quests to uncover the secrets of Mythic Tales, which lead Jin to legendary weapons, armor, and combat techniques that have been buried, awaiting a worthy warrior.

    The Guiding Wind can lead you to any undiscovered location, and upgrading it will unlock the ability to unearth some of these hidden locations, each of which provides Jin with a specific bonus or upgrade to assist in his journey. You can meditate at peaceful locations and write Haiku, or take a relaxing bath in the region’s Hot Springs to invigorate your soul. There are Shrines and Pillars which pay respect to the Kami and the jitō, and fox dens to lead you to a shrine of the god Inari if you follow the playful little creature. The world is full of these locations to discover and be rewarded by, and I digressed countless times from Jin’s journey to see what was over a hillside or across a field.

    Ghost of Tsushima Exploration

    My grievances with Ghost of Tsushima are relatively minor in comparison to the overall enthralling time that I had with the game. Certain context-sensitive actions — things like assassinations and opening containers — have small hit boxes which can mean that if you turn ever-so-slightly when you go to assassinate an enemy, you may accidentally quick slash them and alert an entire base. There were a couple instances in which I found I had to adjust the camera multiple times to get a container-opening action to appear.

    There were a few graphical hiccups along the way too, but nothing that every broke my immersion; some clipping on an NPC or a slightly-off assassination animation that saw my opponent several feet from my stab animation. There were also a couple instances where I experienced a slight tear when I turned the camera too fast, but these issues were so minimal that they did nothing to affect the overall experience, and were far less than you’d expect in a title of this size.

    Ghost of Tsushima Environment

    The story of Jin Sakai, a samurai who bent his code to save his homeland and family, is one that will stay with me for a long time. Once the credits rolled, all I could think about was going back to uncover every hidden location and secret that I’d overlooked during my first playthrough, and that’s the mark of a truly great open world game. A world that is so well crafted that it just begs to have every inch of it explored, lest you fail to uncover even a single secret.

    Ghost of Tsushima is Sucker Punch Production’s most ambitious title to date, and it’s paid off immensely. It’s an experience that easily rivals or surpasses even the best of the open world action adventure genre, a truly enthralling experience that leans on organic exploration and a constantly evolving and engaging combat system. Held up by an impressively deep and historically rooted narrative, Ghost of Tsushima is the samurai game that we’ve always needed.

    Final Score: 9.5/10

    Brutal and intricate combat set in a deeply enthralling world, Ghost of Tsushima is the definitive samurai game we’ll be talking about for generations.

    The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by Sony interactive Entertainment.

    Desperados III Review

    Title: Desperados III Released On: June 16, 2020 Genre: Real Time Tactics Reviewed On: Xbox One Also Available On: Windows PC, PlayStation 4 Developer: Mimimi Games Publisher: THQ Nordic MSRP: $49.99 USD/$59.99 CAD

    Every since I was a kid I’ve always had a special place in my heart for isometric games, dating back to my earliest encounters with the tactical RPGs of the 90s. We don’t see near as many of them nowadays, so I was excited when I saw that Mimimi Games was bringing back Desperados, one of the stage-setters to the real-time tactics genre.

    Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, Desperados III is a hardcore real-time tactics games, and the first we’ve seen of the series since 2007. The game is a prequel to the events of the original 2001 Desperados: Wanted Dead Or Alive, but John Cooper and his gang have quite a few more tricks up their sleeves than they did previously.

    I’ve never played the Desperados series before but as a growing fan of the real-time tactics genre — even though it is assuredly not a fan of me — I knew this was a game I had to try. Based in the gritty, shoot-first-ask-later Wild West, Desperados III pulls absolutely no punches with its tough-as-nails narrative and merry band of would-be protagonists. The prequel follows John Cooper as he gathers new friends and old allies to go after the viscous bandit leader Frank; someone each of them have a reason to hunt, but no one as much as John.

    Desperados III is a hardcore real-time tactics strategy game, with some really fun gameplay twists. It’s a far divide from most other turn-based strategy games, focusing on their series’ signature mechanics and a much more detailed level design than is common. In each level, the player must command their character, or group of characters, towards a final goal in any way possible. In lieu of simply killing every enemy in a given map, objectives are typically more pointed, such as stealing a specific item or assassinating key individuals.

    Each of your crew has several special abilities, which can be used creatively to distract, knock-out, or kill the plethora of guards in each level to make your approach much smoother. In many levels you’ll only have access to specific characters, but the levels are designed to ensure that those characters special abilities are useful in the situations you’ll encounter. Levels require careful planning, stealth, and flawless execution. Even in the earliest levels, the smallest mistake can bring an entire camp of bandits down on your head.

    Desperados III is all about team-craft, and knowing which of your squad members to utilize in a specific situation. Not only does every character have their own unique distractions, special abilities, and attacks, but there are passive intricacies to how each character operates. Integral functions, such as hiding a body, changes from character to character. If you want to focus on speed, use Hector because of his strength (and ability to carry two bodies), but if you are more concerned about stealth then Doc is the best option, even if he moves more slowly.

    Knowing how to best utilize your team is key to conquering the Wild West, and to properly do that your secret weapon is Showdown Mode. Using this time-stopping mechanic, you can set up each of your characters to perform a single action or use a skill, and then activate them simultaneously or independent of one another. This allows you to distract one guard while taking out another, or to take out multiple enemies in tandem using each characters’ special abilities. You can chain Showdowns together, and instantly activate another one if you need to stop time and carefully plan your next steps.

    It’s the combination of all of these systems that make Desperados III being such a well-oiled real-time tactics game; and simultaneously one that requires a lot of careful planning and strategy. Especially if you are trying to play stealthily, every single movement has to be carefully executed. Enemies have large, moving vision cones (a mechanic which returns from the original game) and you can view these to plan your movement. It’s possible to try and shoot your way through a number of the levels, but it requires just as much planning, and careful use of Showdown Mode. Characters with guns have limited ammo, so this approach also tends to require restocking.

    It’s an absolutely gorgeous game on the Xbox One, and I imagine it looks even better with PC settings cranked up to max. I absolutely love a well-detailed isometric environment, and Mimimi Games have put a lot of work into crafting each level to make it feel like an actual setting, and not just environmental props for a tactical fight. It’s not without some graphical hiccups though, albeit they are few and far between. There was one level however where an integral NPC character was invisible, which made some of the cutscenes a bit awkward watching a floating gun deliver dialogue. It didn’t affect the gameplay, but the issue persisted across multiple cutscenes where that character was involved.

    There has been an impressive amount of world-craft that’s went into each level, which makes every setting feel a lot more alive than having to simply fight your way through a group of enemies. Instead, Cooper and his gang find themselves in populated levels with unarmed civilians that need to be considered in how you plan your approach. While they don’t pose the same threat that armed guards do, they can still spot a character or a body and cause disruptions.

    More often than not, these non-combatants can actually be the most useful characters in the level. You can often investigate your surroundings and eavesdrop on people to get hints towards your objectives, which often show new and creative ways to kill your targets or reach your objective. It almost has a bit of a Hitman feeling to it, in an isometric kind of way. Searching your environment, discovering new hints, and exploiting them to further your goals. It’s often possible to covertly kill your target without having to cause a bloodbath; if that’s your preference. You can go into almost any situation guns-blazing, but it’s typically not advisable, as you’re often out-numbered and out-gunned. With the right set-up and the right team however, it’s still possible to utilize this approach.

    Desperados III rewards patience though, and waiting for the right opportunity to use that piece of information you found earlier and spring a trap is the most satisfying way to take out a target. Poison a barrel of whiskey, steal a disguise, or drop a church bell on an unsuspecting group of baddies.

    There is a nice depth to the camera controls that allow you to not just survey your characters’ immediate surroundings, but freely move and rotate the camera around the level to get a better idea of the level layout and enemy movement patterns. It’s a great boon to not be stuck with a static camera, and beyond assisting in the gameplay it gives you a better perspective of the aforementioned worldcraft.

    Playing on the Xbox One I found that sometimes the controls could slow down the game pace a bit. It’s not to say that the controls aren’t well-optimized for console play, but just that the game (and genre) itself feels more at home with a mouse and keyboard. Switching between characters, re-centering the camera, toggling enemy view cones, and just overall camera movement controls can feel a little tedious. Rotating the camera always de-centers you, so you’re forced to be constantly toggling camera controls. You get more comfortable with it the longer you play, but it still ended up feeling a little monotonous using a controller.

    There are some really nice Quality of Life features that make perfecting your run in Desperados III a little easier and a whole lot less frustrating. As a player who obsessively reloads save files to execute their plans perfectly, I was overjoyed to see Mimimi’s simple but intuitive quick save/load system. You can quick save with a controller hotkey, and load the most recent three save files from the menu. In addition, the game will remind you after a set amount of time (which you can set) if you haven’t saved, so you’re less likely to get sent back to the beginning of a level simply because of your own forgetfulness.

    It wouldn’t be a real-time tactics game without a set of exceptionally difficult challenges to overcome, which are only made apparent to the player after the first time they complete a level. There are additionally some really neat Easter Eggs and achievements to work towards as well, such as finding all of the hidden Mimimi developers scattered throughout the game…and killing them. Sorry Josh.

    For a gamer like myself who often finds real-time tactics games to be punishing gauntlets of exhaustion, Desperados III‘s well fleshed-out systems provided an avenue to a genre that often felt unapproachable. Carefully picking apart levels and utilizing every character and tool at your disposal to flawlessly pull off a job feels extremely satisfying, and learning how to expertly time your Showdown Mode skills became like watching Dominos fall.

    Only held back by some graphical hiccups that surfaced rarely, Desperados III is sure to please both hardcore fans of the real-time tactics genre, and newcomers like myself who have a harder time perfecting their runs. There is a wealth of replayability for players looking to lock in every challenge and achievement, and a depth to each level that I hope to see other developers take note of when designing their isometric tactics games in the future.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    Desperados III has brought the series’ tight real-time tactics Showdowns to new heights, with an impressive depth of gameplay and intricately designed environments.

    The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by THQ Nordic.

    Moonlighter: Between Dimensions Review

    Title: Moonlighter: Between Dimensions  Released On: May 29, 2020  Genre: Action-Adventure Business Sim Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch Also Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC  Developer: Digital Sun Publisher: 11 bit studios  MSRP (DLC): $6.99 USD / $8.81 CAD

    I have a confession to make. I’ve never played Moonlighter before. Or at least, I hadn’t until the latest major expansion Between Dimensions launched, and I finally realized what I’d been missing all along. In case you’re like me and have been living under a procedurally generated rock for the past two years, I want to take a minute to enlighten you on exactly what Moonlighter has to offer.

    Moonlighter, the first original game developed by Digital Sun, is a little bit of everything. If I absolutely had to sum it up, I’d call it a roguelike adventure shopkeeper simulation. It’s a game that was released towards the end of the procedurally generated — what some refer to as “roguelike” — era, where we saw a wealth of games showing their own unique takes on randomly generated dungeons. In Moonlighter, you play as a shopkeeper named Will and explore these dungeons to search for loot, but not just to upgrade your gear. No; it’s so that you can sell it at your shop for a tidy profit!

    Where many games in this era struggled to find their footing by attempting to do too many things, Moonlighter pulls a double-backflip and lands squarely on its feet. Each of the gameplay elements work in tandem, and the gameplay loop of scouring dungeons for loot and then determining the optimal value to sell them for in your shop is an addicting one, to be sure. I’m typically not a fan of the genre overall but Moonlighter‘s addictive gameplay loop pulled me right in.

    With all of the money that you make from selling your items in your shop, also named Moonlighter, you can upgrade various aspects of your business to provide a wealth of benefits, from increasing the tips that townsfolk leave to giving you damage resistance on your adventures. You can additionally go about inviting craftspeople and traders to the town of Rynoka, so that you can craft weapons and armor and enchant them with powerful magic. Between Dimensions expands upon this by giving the player a wealth of new equipment to work towards, and a handy new Trader who allows you to haggle for some of the more important crafting materials.

    Moonlighter: Between Dimensions adds a wealth of content and even more replayability to the base game, and manages to both supplement the core game as well as add in new areas, weapons, and storyline only available after you have beaten the core game. For this reviewer, that meant sinking in a solid 25 or so hours before I was able to access the new content.

    The events of the expansion take place several months after Rynoka has become a thriving hub thanks in no small part to your efforts clearing the five Ruins. I won’t spoil anything regarding the base game’s narrative for those who have not played it yet, but the opening of an inter-dimensional portal presents Will with an opportunity to bring Rynoka into an inter-dimensional trading conglomerate known as the ICT. The only catch though; Will must close the portal before the Watchers will allow Rynoka to join.

    Since I had never played the original game, some of the new additions just felt organically implemented across the gameplay loop. The actual bulk of the Between Dimensions expansion is not accessible until you’ve cleared the first five Ruins, but there are some additions that the eagle-eyed dungeon crawler will pick up on. This is in addition to some more hidden surprises to the core Ruin-diving that have been added with Between Dimensions, but discovering them is part of the fun.

    The big change that I will note is the appearance of pulsating green spots in dungeon rooms, which mark the locations of inter-dimensional gates throughout each of the original five dungeons. These gates appear randomly on any floor and allow the player to enter the alternate dimension from any of the ruins; assuming they find a gate.

    These gates offer a short gauntlet of enemies, with the ability to defeat a mid-boss and retrieve one of the new Trick Weapons. These powerful and unique weapons are a large part of the DLC and allow Will to use special abilities at the expense of his health bar. The problem is that these weapons are cursed to break immediately upon exit from the dungeon, so are only usable for the current dive. If only an intelligent shopkeeper could figure out a way to extricate them…

    I’m of course not going to give away any of the new intricacies that help to define Between Dimensions new quirks. Players will definitely have to think more strategically in these new dungeons, if they want to bring the most valuable loot back to the Moonlighter. Other than these new gates however, longtime fans of Moonlighter won’t see much in terms of new content until they beat the game and reach the Wanderer Dungeon.

    I played through most of the game using the same several weapons, mostly since it helped me to focus on upgrading them to increase my overall survivability. Once I started to retrieve the new arsenal that Between Dimensions had to offer though, it felt like a disservice to the game to keep using the trusted Master Sword and Hylian Shield combo. Not because I had lost faith in their abilities to get me through the new dungeons, but rather that the Trick Weapons offered up an opportunity to tackle dungeons in completely new ways.

    In addition to the ten new Trick Weapons, there are also new base weapon sets for the sword & shield, big sword, bow, gloves, and spear, as well as a new set of armor to work towards. This means that even players who have done everything they can with the base game, will find a wealth of new equipment to grind towards, and of course, new ways to upgrade your shop to show off all of the new wares you’ll pick up in the Wanderer Dungeon. The new armor and weapons start off much more powerful than the base game’s gear as well, and are integral to clearing the final floors of the Wanderer Dungeon. I started to have substantial difficulty by the second floor using my fully upgraded and enchanted equipment.

    The Wanderer Dungeon itself is no easy feat to accomplish, and most players will likely need to tackle it in several attempts using their Merchant Emblem for many-a-quick exit. Unlike the usual three-floor dungeons, the latest addition is a whopping nine floors and concludes with a battle against the Enraged Wanderer; easily the hardest boss fight of the game. I’m not ashamed to admit that after taking several nights to make my way to the final floor on my first attempt, I was unceremoniously flattened. Luckily, a new merchant will allow you to buy your way back to the start of a floor, assuming you have the hundreds of thousands of coins required.

    Before you even make it to the Enraged Wanderer, you’ll have countless enemies to fight through, which are a combination of enemies you’ve seen in the previous five Ruins, and a large number of new baddies with some new attacks you’ll have to learn how to mitigate. Thankfully, this also means a whole new plethora of items to craft and upgrade your equipment as well as to market at Moonlighter and determine their highest possible value.

    Between Dimensions is a wonderful addition to Moonlighter, because it simultaneously improves upon the base game while presenting a wealth of new content to be explored once you’ve finished. While it doesn’t add any substantial changes to the systems, the increased difficulty and wealth of new weapons, enemies, and upgrades will keep players hooked in the loop for some time.

    As someone who could typically take-or-leave most rogue-like dungeon-crawlers, Moonlighter: Between Dimensions struck a chord with me. The weight of choosing if one more floor is worth the risk of perishing or bringing home riches every night, and the joy of managing to sell the rarest and most valuable items for a tidy profit, all while making infrastructural improvements to Rynoka and your shop, is just simply a delightful gameplay loop. Whether you’re a long-time fan of the genre or a skeptic like myself, Moonlighter has a little something for everyone to enjoy.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    Moonlighter: Between Dimensions is a wonderful expansion to an already addictive game, adding a wealth of content and new ways to augment your adventures.

    The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by Digital Sun and 11 bit studios.