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    Beyond Blue Review

    Title: Beyond Blue  Released On: June 11, 2020  Genre: Adventure / Simulation Reviewed On: Xbox One Also Available On: Playstation 4, PC  Developer: E-Line Media  Publisher: E-Line Media  MSRP: $19.99 USD / $25.99 CAD / £16.74 GBP

    I have always loved the ocean. So much so that I almost joined the Navy when I was a young man, although that may have been influenced by my great-grandfather’s legacy; as he served with the Royal Navy during both world wars. I visited the seaside often as a child, which progressed to snorkelling in several bodies of water ranging from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean over the years. I even took a semester of Marine Biology during my first attempt at college so many years ago.

    Now these are things that I have not thought about in a very long time, but playing Beyond Blue certainly caused these memories to resurface; hence why I bring them up now.

    Have a quick look at the launch trailer before we dive in.

    Beyond Blue: What Type of Game is it?

    When the opportunity to review Beyond Blue was presented to me, I had admittedly never heard of it. But when I saw that it was from the same publisher as the BAFTA award-winning Never Alone, I practically bit my editor’s hand off.

    The official description of Beyond Blue is: a single-player narrative adventure that takes you deep into our planet’s beating blue heart. Whilst a decent summation, it could also be loosely described as a diving simulator due to the vivid recreation of the aquatic environments and wildlife that inhabit them. But Beyond Blue also feels like an interactive documentary, due to the extensive collaboration with scientists and marine biologists. The fact that the makers of Blue Planet II were involved with the game (which is a fantastic series, definitely worth a watch) certainly set my expectations high for an educating experience.

    Beyond Blue

    Set against the near-future backdrop of Earth’s oceans, Beyond Blue features the scientific support of real-world exploration and outreach initiative OceanX, embracing its minimally invasive exploration techniques. Beyond Blue tells the story of a crew of scientists – Mirai, André, and Irina – who set out to test their ‘Ocean Sense Network,’ which has the power to shine a literal light on the unexplored depths of the ocean as they unravel its endless mysteries.

    With all that being said, it is problematic (for me at least) to pigeonhole Beyond Blue into a genre. Fans of adventure games will potentially find the narrative lacking, simulation ethusiasists will be disappointed by the lack of advanced features, and the exploration crowd will probably find that the 8 environments do not offer much in terms of replayability; but I wager that gamers young and old will enjoy the experience nonetheless.

    Beyond Blue

    The Wildlife Looks Fantastic

    Despite not being enhanced for the Xbox One X or Playstation 4 Pro, Beyond Blue still looks fantastic. Behemoths of the deep such as Sperm Whales and Humpbacks truly come to life; but there is no risk of becoming a modern day Jonah, as none of these creatures will harm the player (Beyond Blue is rated PEGI-7 after all). Not only do these beautiful giants of the ocean look the part, they sound the part as well; emitting a combination of clicks and songs that we have all become familiar with from documentaries over the years.

    In addition to whales the player will come across Orcas, Dolpins, Sharks, and even a Giant Squid during their dives. In total there are 45 different species to scan as you progress through the game, which sounds like a decent amount, but is miniscule when you consider the biodiversity of the Western Pacific. But considering the relatively short length of the game and small dive locations, there is just enough wildlife to make the environment feel alive without being too busy.

    Beyond Blue

    As briefly mentioned previously, Beyond Blue consists of 8 separate dives; during which the player is tasked with scannning the sealife within the area. Each dive tends to consist of reaching a buoy, using said buoy to waypoint the objectives, then swim to each and scan what is required. When swimming between these objectives the player is of course free to scan every Crab, Jellyfish, or Ray they happen upon. During these dives there is a fair amount of narrative, delivered via radio conversations with the rest of the team.

    Between each dive the player finds themself within a submersible, which is effectively Mirai’s mobile base of operations. Within the sub the narrative is driven further through a combination of clickable items of interest and conversations with the team as well as Mirai’s sister. Whilst there are not very many characters in the game (the focus is the wildlife after all), E-Line Media secured some talented individuals for their cast:

    The music is also worth mentioning, as it delivers a considerable chilled out vibe whilst in the submersible.

    Beyond Blue

    Beyond Blue is Full of Insight(s)

    Another aspect of the time between dives are the sixteen unique mini-documentaries called Ocean Insights that feature original footage and interviews with science’s leading ocean experts. We watch our fair share of documentaries within our household, so this aspect of the game was honestly one of my favourite parts. Whilst they are only 2 minutes or so in length, they have a fair bit of information in them:

    Personally, I found myself much more invested in the Ocean Insights than the story arc presented by the narrative. Now this is not to say that the story is horrible, in fact it presents some complex issues that will give the player something to think about; and there lies the crux of Beyond Blue. It is not by any means a stellar adventure game, nor is it a faithful diving simulator, the purpose of Beyond Blue is to deliver a message whilst also educating the player along the way.

    In this regard, Beyond Blue certainly accomplishes that in style. OceanX is a mission to explore the ocean and bring it back to the world, their team is committed to building a global community that is deeply engaged with understanding, enjoying, and protecting our oceans.

    Beyond Blue may only be a drop in the ocean for that cause, and only provides a few hours of gameplay (although younger players may enjoy subsequent playthroughs); but I most definitely walked away from it having learned a fair bit.

    Beyond Blue

    Final Score: 7.5/10

    Beyond Blue provides an atmospheric experience exploring the depths of the ocean, players will certainly learn a thing or two; the narrative however, is quite shallow in comparison.

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

    Fly Punch Boom! Review

    Title: Fly Punch Boom! Released On: May 28, 2020 Genre: Fighting, QTE Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch Also Available On: Windows PC Developer: Jollypunch Games Publisher: Jollypunch Games MSRP: $14.99 USD/$19.99 CAD

    I never thought that in 2020 I’d be playing, and enjoying, a fighting game that’s primary focus and game mechanic revolved around a Rock-Paper-Scissors style quick time event (QTE). But it works quite well, making Jollypunch Games’ Fly Punch Boom! one of the more unique fighting games I’ve ever played, which is suited perfectly for the Nintendo Switch.

    The only problem is finding someone to play with.

    Fly Punch Boom! is a delightfully unique twist on fighting games and arena brawlers, that is played out between anime-style superheroes across a 2D plane. It’s a completely different type of fighting game, and certainly not one without its own merits. You battle opponents across a number of intensely-vibrant and jam-packed arenas, from the open sea to the depths of space. The problem is that without seemingly any player base on the Nintendo Switch, players are left to find couch partners or face off continuously in the offline Arcade Mode.

    Gameplay in Fly Punch Boom! is relatively simple, but a lot of elements require lightning-quick reflexes. You zip around the map in a flash of light, and every time you come together with an opponent you end up in a clash, which requires you to pick Y, A, or X, for the corresponding Hit, Throw, Counter, which work in a rock-paper-scissors format. Hit beats Throw, Throw beats Counter, Counter beats Hit. Sounds easy enough?

    Well, it’s not quite as simple as winning the ensuing rock-paper-scissor battles; there are a wealth of intricacies which affect how combat plays out. Counters give a fast-paced QTE section that lets you return some damage of your own, and while throws may not do damage on their own they allows you to hurl your opponent towards the plethora of environmental hazards or even out of the entire arena. It’s these little aspects that help to keep combat fresh after dozens of battles, especially considering the relatively simplistic gameplay.

    The timing of your button presses is just as important in Fly Punch Boom!, and depending on where your press falls on a rising/falling meter, you will either fail, land a normal hit, or connect with a super attack. It’s not a bad system, but it’s definitely one that requires developing some muscle memory, lest you’ll be scrambling for buttons without the time to hit them. It’s also definitely a system that requires the player to enjoy, or at the very least tolerate, QTE sequences. If you don’t like Quick Time Events, this game is assuredly not for you.

    You can also fly around the map holding the Y button to automatically smash into your opponent, or into any of the buildings or set pieces strewn throughout the map. Smashing these into your opponent forces them into a life-saving QTE, where they must stop another bar traveling along another meter in the proper area. Falling inside the ever-shrinking yellow area means you are safe, while falling anywhere outside of it results in an instant-death.

    And there are a lot of these types of instances that play out in Fly Punch Boom! Hit your opponent with a mega-attack? Insta-death sequence. Knock your opponent out of bounds of the arena? Insta-death sequence. Hit them with a mega-attack after collecting glowing orbs that spawn throughout the arena? Oh, you’d better believe that’s an insta-death sequence. The best part is that each of these contextual actions provides an absolutely stellar Finisher if your opponent misses their timing, like being smashed through the Earth so hard it cracks in half.

    In my wealth of games against AI opponents, I got insta-killed far more times than I was able to execute it myself, mostly because the AI opponents can perfectly time their button presses. The size of your “safe zone” to stop the bar in decreases every time you’re hit with one of these moves, so the AI had no problem decimating me on most occasions. I feel like playing against another human opponent with similar reflexes would have made for a more even back-and-forth.

    The core overarching issue with Fly Punch Boom! is a consistent lack of a player base on Nintendo Switch to be matched against online. I can’t precisely put my finger on what is causing the lack of players, but my inability to match with other players does not appear to come from issues with the matchmaking system itself. Steam/PC players are able to find opponents consistently, but on Nintendo Switch I’ve spent as much time in matchmaking screens as I have playing the game.

    It has gotten to the point where I launch the Online and set up a game, either Hosting or in Quickplay, and then just set my Switch down and wait. The developers have instituted a little mini-game to keep players occupied, but this got tiresome after the first several minutes. In my entire time playing Fly Punch Boom (and it’s worth noting I took an extra week with this review in an attempt to allow the player base to expand) I have only been match with several players, and half of these ended in disconnection.

    It’s a real shame, because that is definitely where Fly Punch Boom! is meant to shine. Luckily for people looking to scratch that multiplayer itch, the game also features local multiplayer. This is a huge boon for Nintendo Switch owners looking for more couch-brawling games. Unfortunately my wife had no interest in playing a fast-paced fighter with me, and because of the pandemic I was not able to invite any of my usual cohort over to test out the merits of the local multiplayer.

    That being said, I can assuredly say that after my time with Fly Punch Boom! that it would undoubtedly be a fantastic addition to party game nights. I am excitedly looking forward to the day when I can re-institute our Friday Night Fights game sessions and introduce all of my friends to the chaotic ballet of over-the-top anime superhero battles. Until that time unfortunately, it looks like I’ll be relegated to perfecting my skills against offline arcade opponents and unlocking all of the in-game achievements.

    I really hope that Jollypunch Games manages to solve the lack of player-base on the Nintendo Switch, because Fly Punch Boom! has a lot of potential to be a spectacular online multiplayer for the console. Until that time however, players will have to content themselves with the offline Arcade Mode and hope for an end to quarantine so that we can invite our friends over for some couch-mayhem.

    Even with the issues connecting to anyone online, Fly Punch Boom! is a lot of fun and utilizes some classic mechanics to create really unique gameplay. I definitely enjoyed my time playing, even though it got somewhat stale after only playing against AI opponents for so long. If Jollypunch Games can help the online community grow on the Nintendo Switch, I am confident that Fly Punch Boom! could have a lasting impact on the console’s fledgling fighting game scene.

    Final Score: 7/10

    Fly Punch Boom! is an exceptionally unique twist on the fighting genre, but a lack of online community on Nintendo Switch substantially impacts the experience.

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

    The Last Of Us Part II Review

    Title: The Last Of Us Part II Released On: June 19, 2020 Genre: Action Adventure, Survival Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 Developer: Naughty Dog Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment MSRP: $59.99 USD/$79.99 CAD

    It’s once a generation that we witness the type of game that leaves a longstanding and resonating impression on us. A game that impacts you as the player so viscerally, so wholly that it causes you to grapple with your own moral code as it intersects with that of the protagonist you are controlling. The Last Of Us Part II is an absolute masterpiece in storytelling, supported by exhilarating and brutal gameplay and an intricately crafted world that you cannot help but lose yourself in.

    Lightning has most assuredly struck twice here, and undoubtedly Naughty Dog has learned from everything which made The Last Of Us a generational hit to once again create a game that will inevitably go down as one of, if not the best games on the PlayStation 4.

    The Last of Us Part II Snow

    After a traumatic experience disrupts the relative peace for Ellie and the community in Jackson, Wyoming where she and Joel decided to settle, you embark alongside her on a perilous journey across the United States in search of justice, retribution, and answers to questions left long-unanswered. It’s a story that will not only force Ellie to come to grips with her own morality, but cause the player to also question their own.

    Through their expert storytelling craft, Naughty Dog has created a deep attachment between the player and Ellie, enveloping us intimately in her story in such a way that I have rarely seen other developers accomplish; certainly not at this level. She is an exceptionally relatable protagonist, and the investment that you end up feeling in Ellie’s plight, and in her quest for vengeance, is a raw and natural feeling and one that assuredly will impact most players in their core, as it did to me. I am not ashamed to say that I found myself tearing up during The Last Of Us Part II on multiple occasions, just from the sheer emotional weight of the journey.

    The Last of Us Part II Ellie

    This effect that the narrative holds over you isn’t just because of the specific situations that Ellie finds herself in; it’s because they feel like situations that you are finding yourself in. The struggle is very concrete, and even though the game is set in a post-apocalyptic world infested with cordyceps zombies there is an undeniable mirror held up to our own experiences as people and the principles that shape our morality. Throughout your shared journey with Ellie, the narrative grapples with a wealth of very important real-world themes, which blend seamlessly into the overarching core storyline. Religion, sexuality, and gender identity are all important themes woven into the threads of the narrative.

    It won’t just be Ellie that you end up invested in; old friends and new allies that you’ll meet along the way become an integral part of your journey, forging deep connections in a world where most people are out for themselves; growing from their shared experiences, and the constant struggle they find themselves faced with.

    The Last of Us Part II NPCs

    It’s a heart-wrenching, gut-punching, and generally emotionally tolling story – in the best way possible. It’s an intense and mature narrative with a lot to take in, and one that I think benefits from stepping away from time to time, simply to reflect. Much in the same way you would with an engrossing piece of literature, stepping away to reflect on how the weight of the narrative increases its resonance.

    And, if the thematic overtones don’t make you reflect, the equally impactful gameplay certainly will.

    The Last of Us Part II Gunning

    Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, combat in The Last Of Us Part II is an extremely violent and intense experience. Whether you’re facing off against the Infected or other survivors, combat is never something delivered lightly in The Last Of Us. You can approach combat in a variety of ways though, depending on how you want to play, as well as what the situation warrants. I tried to engage every enemy stealthily to begin, only transitioning into a furious melee or firefight if I was spotted. Even though certain encounters may benefit from a specific approach, great care has been taken to allow the player to progress in a way they see fit, assuming they have the ammo and supplies to do so.

    This is where the survival aspect of The Last Of Us Part II really comes into play; every encounter has to be measured if you want to ensure you will be prepared for future encounters. Bullets ought be fired sparingly, and the use of both stealth and found melee weapons make sure that you will have some ammunition and supplies left for whatever is over the next ridge. It’s very easy to back yourself into a corner by expending your ammo in a firefight only to find yourself woefully under-prepared for your next encounter. Everything from cloth and alcohol to explosive materials and sharp objects can be gathered from the environment to craft essential items to aid you in combat.

    The Last of Us Part II Zombies

    Whichever way you choose to engage in combat, Naughty Dog has made sure that every encounter is impactful. Stealthily sneaking up on someone and stabbing them in the neck with your butterfly knife is one of the most gruesome stealth-kills I’ve ever experienced, but there was a certain satisfaction to be had as 19-year-old Ellie casually told middle-aged men to “Shut the fuck up” before viciously ending their lives. Even the sounds of the executions are more vivid than what I was expecting. You can discern subtleties such as the blade penetrating the flesh to the subsequent spurts of blood erupting violently from your victim’s neck, resulting in a shockingly visceral experience time and again. I can still hear the sounds of soldiers choking on their blood as Ellie moves on to her next victim.

    It’s quite an intense experience, and one that you will likely find yourself performing dozens of times throughout your journey, on both unsuspecting Infected and humans alike. After 30 hours of gameplay and easily over 100 executions later, I still found myself exhilarated by the gruesome executions.

    The Last of Us Part II Executions

    To assist in these executions Listen Mode has returned from the first game, with some improvements that allow Ellie to really gain the upper hand in combat situations. The mode allows the player to hear enemies through walls or foliage, which is exceptionally useful for sneaking up on adversaries so that you can perform a stealth execution; one of the only ways to take out an opponent which doesn’t consume a resource. You’ll want to rely on this a lot, because the A.I. is exceptionally intuitive. While enemies may follow somewhat cyclical routes, any disturbance will cause them to break from their routine.

    Once you’re spotted, combat becomes a very different dance altogether. Infected are extremely attuned to noises, especially the blind Clickers, and will lock onto Ellie immediately if she makes a sound. Human opponents are much smarter, and will actively work to flank the player while using varying combat methods to force you to think on the fly. The A.I. systems force the player to learn how to leverage all of the tools at their disposal, and outsmarting them becomes an exercise in learning from your past mistakes.

    The game checkpoints frequently, so you are typically only several minutes away from your last save. This is considerably useful if you are the type of player who likes to reset checkpoints so they can have every encounter go exactly according to plan. You have the option to use the most recent checkpoint, or to reset the encounter to its beginning so that you can re-plan your entire strategy. For players who don’t mind a less “organic” playthrough, this presents itself as a useful feature.

    The Last of Us Part II Encounters

    The world of The Last Of Us Part II, from Washington to Wyoming, is teeming with places to explore and old-world buildings to lose yourself in. Every environment feels alive, which is an impressive feat considering it can be hard to breathe life into a post-apocalyptic landscape. Lush greens crawl across the dulled brick and concrete of buildings long forgotten, showing the time that had passed since the 2013 outbreak. Nature has begun to claim back the landscape in ways we didn’t see in the first game, creating some stunning vistas that just begged to be admired and explored.

    Every visual aspect of the game, no matter how minute, has been intricately detailed. Every set piece has received so much attention that they tell their own stories without needing any collectible notes; even though there are most assuredly a wealth of collectibles that lend even more weight to the unspoken sub-narratives in the world. Every new building, room, or area feels unique, and even after 30 hours of playtime I didn’t find myself coming across re-used set pieces. Instead, each new locale presented an opportunity to further immerse myself into the world Naughty Dog carefully handcrafted.

    The Last of Us Part II World

    Following along with the stories of individuals that Ellie discovers through notes that she finds tucked away became one of my driving forces throughout the game. Stories of families trying to make it through the earliest days of the Outbreak. Insight into the factions that occupy the world and some of their driving forces behind their actions. Love letters between couples separated by necessity, wondering if they would ever be reunited. Everywhere you visit has a story to go along with it; you just have to look.

    Each of these stories, pieced together through scraps of paper and letters found along your journey, help to paint the picture of the world that came before Joel and Ellie. They are another integral aspect of the living world, or what’s left of it, that lend further weight to providing the game with verisimilitude; something the developers appear to have mastered to bring us an experience so close to reality that it’s almost uncanny. These stories also further entice the player to search every nook and cranny in the hopes of finding resolution to these tales that begin to affect Ellie as she recounts them.

    The Last of Us Part II Horse

    Keeping on the lookout for supplies in every locale is critical, because supplies are used not just to craft useful items – such as medkits, incendiaries, and silencers – they are also required to upgrade your weaponry. Crafting tables are strewn throughout the world, and you can utilize them and scavenged scrap metal to improve the capacity, accuracy, damage, and other aspects of your favourite guns. You’ll amass a wealth of weaponry throughout your travels, often pried from the hands of a long-dead corpse, and taking care to upgrade your go-to gear is a satisfying endeavor. Not only does it improve the characteristics of the gun, but no attention to detail has been spared in the visual improvements as well.

    Ellie also has her own upgrade paths which can be unlocked using the medicine found in the bathrooms and pharmacies of long-forgotten buildings, which allow the player to improve her passive and crafting abilities. Seemingly minor upgrades such as extending the distance that Listen Mode can reach, or increasing the number of items that are crafted from scavenged supplies, make a world of difference in every encounter. If you pay close attention to your surroundings, you can even find magazines to unlock additional skill trees.

    The Last of Us Part II Crafting

    Whereas the original The Last Of Us was a mostly linear adventure with some open environments to explore along the way, this time around Naughty Dog has exponentially expanded upon that formula to create locations that feel like their own segmented open-worlds. Rather than stopping by a building to explore and scavenge, Ellie is given entire street blocks and neighborhoods filled with abandoned houses and ransacked shops, each hiding necessary supplies and collectibles which tell the stories of lives once lived.

    Traversal is paramount in Part II, with many of the game’s secrets falling far off the beaten path. Finding a crack in the wall to slip through or a dangling cable to rappel with are just some of the enticements that you may stumble across, and solving the occasional mental platforming puzzle will often reap great rewards, both in terms of story and scavenging opportunities. The game is really at its best when you take your time with it, not rushing to the next objective but really soaking in every locale.

    The Last of Us Part II Environment

    The Last Of Us Part II is easily the most graphically impressive game that I’ve played on the PlayStation 4. The detailing is so vividly striking at points, and was further reason for me to ensure that I explored every inch of the game. Environmental effects, from how the light plays through branches of the trees, to the way rain impacts structures or puddles when it falls, and even the hypnotic swaying of leaves in the gentle breeze; have all been painstakingly detailed to be as accurate as reality. Playing on the PS4 Pro with HDR made low-lit areas notably more evocative, although they were still crystal clear even when I disabled the feature.

    This attention to graphical fidelity follows through into every corner of the game. Character models are exceptionally detailed to the point that you can see every facial twitch and muscle movement through the in-game engine. This also adds further weight to the combat, as the enemies you take on genuinely look real and you can actively see them take their last breaths during execution scenes.

    The Last of Us Part II Friends

    It’s this attention to every single small detail that makes the world of The Last Of Us Part II so real and encompassing. There isn’t a single point throughout the game where I caught myself thinking “Hey, that didn’t look/feel right” but instead found that every experience mimicked the reality that the developer worked so hard to bring to life.

    A big part of what made the game really ‘hit home’ and added further resonance to the impact of both the narrative and atmosphere was the beautiful and haunting soundtrack. The music was arranged perfectly to suit every environment, and helped to set the proper tone for the complex and emotional story. The piano and acoustic guitar play key roles in the music of The Last Of Us Part II, adding substance to the heartfelt moments, eliciting fear during tense engagements, and even evoking a smile during periods of calm.

    The Last of Us Part II Guitar

    It’s difficult to really pin down where Naughty Dog deserves the greatest acclaim with The Last Of Us Part II. With most games, you can pinpoint an area where the developer excels; graphical fidelity, narrative structure, an atmospheric soundtrack, immersive gameplay. TLOUP2 manages to excel and exceed expectations in every single major aspect of game development, which has created an experience that becomes all together consuming.

    Naughty Dog has a way of making us feel for all sides of the story that we are playing through; not just how it affects our protagonist. Their storytelling gives you insight into the story as a whole without being limited to what is immediately affecting Ellie. It gives the player a very cohesive and well-rounded perspective on the plight not just of your protagonist, but of the major factions that occupy the world. This is a world where everyone is struggling to survive, and where the hardest and most immoral choices may often feel like the right ones to make.

    The Last of Us Part II Tied Up

    The Last Of Us Part II is by no means a short game. While the original game ran from 12 to 16 hours depending on how much time you took exploring, Part II can take up to 30 hours if you’re looking to get the most out of the experience. I am wholly impressed at Naughty Dog’s ability to craft such a compelling narrative and gameplay that kept me hooked right until the final credits. A narrative of this length and complexity, and a story-driven game that takes around 30 hours, are both exceptional achievements in game development.

    When the end credits rolled down my screen, I didn’t want to leave. Even though the story had culminated into something that while wholly unexpected, resolved all of the questions that I myself as the player had, something was still scratching at me. An urge to continue to explore the world, and to discover any hidden secrets that maybe I had missed. And, what’s more, there was an urge to replay and engage with a story I had finished just hours earlier, even if only to feel its impact once more.

    The Last of Us Part II Pit

    One of Naughty Dog’s most impressive feats in this venture, which I know is saying something after the amount of praise I’ve already lauded on the game, is the wealth of accessibility features which have been implemented to ensure that the most people can get the fullest experience from The Last Of Us Part II. Text-to-speech and audio cues have been implemented to benefit players with visual impairments, and there is a wealth of additional visual aids that are fully customizable to suit every need. In addition to completely remappable controls, there are also a number of traversal and combat-centric accessibility options which can be toggled to assist players who have difficulty with specific aspects of the game.

    This is another huge achievement in development, and one that I hope will allow many more players to engage with the full experience of The Last Of Us Part II without having to sacrifice any aspect of their enjoyment.

    The Last of Us Part II Boat

    To state it plainly, The Last Of Us Part II resonates with me deeply. It was a hugely impactful journey not simply across the United States, but through the internal and visceral struggles that we find ourselves in when we cannot let go. It’s a story not just about how love can overcome, but equally about how hate can consume. It’s a journey into the deepest recesses of the human psyche, when we are confronted with questions we don’t know how to answer, and problems we aren’t prepared to grapple with.

    I’ll say it again – lightning has, unequivocally, struck twice. The Last Of Us Part II will go down in history as one of the best sequels of all time, right beside The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, and The Godfather Part II. Naughty Dog’s latest masterpiece has not only surpassed the original game in every single aspect, leaving no shred of doubt at the developer’s indomitable craft for storytelling and game development, but it raises the bar for every other character-driven narrative.

    It’s an experience that I think everyone should play through, and it serves as a spectacular send-off to this generation of gaming. The Last Of Us II is a love letter to the entire gaming world from Naughty Dog, showing us that in the most difficult times, we find our true strength.

    Final Score: 10/10

    An emotional and impactful experience from start to finish, The Last Of Us Part II is a masterpiece of character-driven narrative and exhilarating gameplay.

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

    Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III – Review


    Title: Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III Released On: October 22, 2019 Genre: Role-Playing Reviewed On: PS4 Developer: Nihon Falcom Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software MSRP: USD $59.99 / CAD$ 79.99

    Few games released today are maintaining the old JRPG standards. Forgoing long, complex stories and opting for new systems and better graphics. While innovation is almost never a bad thing for in the gaming industry, it is always nice to see games continue with the tried and true methods. Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III does just that.

    Trails of Cold Steel features a very intricate story centered around anime-stylized characters and a colorful game world, animated with a nice level of detail but nothing that was graphically ground-breaking. Character models and movement were smooth with no graphical errors encountered, and the lines of characters and set pieces maintaining a crisp feel.

    Following the story line of this game is no easy feat. Being the third game in a series, players are expected to know of past events as the game still follows the same main character. This leads to characters from past games showing up with no introduction other than a name, and tons of references to old events that lead to the current game. Thankfully, they included a backstory menu on the main menu of the game in which the player can read up on all the important plot points and characters from prior games before starting. These are just blocks of texts with some pictures of characters behind them for the most part, there is no narration to them either making it a bit of a chore to read though them all.

    Many of the NPCs actually have developing story lines for themselves, while it is not bluntly obvious. As you talk to shop keeps and other random NPCs around the world you will notice that they will continue certain stories, or update the player on something that was spoken about last time. This was something that was in the prior titles as well, and it is a great feature but can be very time consuming to run around and speak with everyone in the game each chapter or so. The main story line is pretty solid, with some twists here and there that are vaguely foreshadowed by the use of pronouns. That is one of the issues this game has, pronouns. Quite often the characters are talking and describe objects or people with pronouns. So the player knows someone or something is about to show up, but not exactly what or who making the game a little predicable at points.

    The faces of the characters are fully animated during cut scenes, which is something that we don’t typically see in anime games, with the added bonus of a portrait of the talking character popping up and showing the facial animations anytime the cut scenes are behind or to the side of talking characters. This is a small touch that added a lot to the overall feel of absorption into the game world, as it was always like being in front of the talking character in normal conversation.

    Movement through the world is a series of areas with loading screen between each, however none of the loading screens ever felt drawn out, so down time is minimal. The enemies show up on the map, as opposed to random encounters which made exploring the hostile fields feel a little more relaxed. The maps themselves are colorful and keep in line with the game’s anime aesthetic. Moderate level of detail but nothing over the top similar the character design, however still pleasing to look at for the many hours of game play required for completion.

    Party is controlled in the third person, with a rotating camera as well. The camera does not stay in position during movement, always opting back behind the party which made exploration a tad strange as the character had to be stopped to get a good look of the area.

    In Trails of Cold Steel you can enter into battle in several different ways, depending on how you initiate combat. The party can either strike the enemy on the field, and if done from behind can gain advantage at the start of the fight, run directly into the enemy and start the fight on equal footing, or the enemy can attack from behind and get advantage instead of the party. There is also a special attack that can be used to start fights that will always give the party advantage, but it requires a resource gained from winning other fights and destroying objects in the field so it is not always available.

    The actual combat is a spin on the traditional turn based style. While it maintains the turn based methods, it added the ability to move the party members on their turns instead of attacking. This means you can move an area of attack ability away from other members, or move them all directly out of the way. This is also used to move a party member closer that is targeted with a heal or status buff in order to affect more members. This additional movement-factor creates the ability to add extra strategy into the fights instead of just standing still in a single formation all the time. Movement of characters effects just about every aspect of battle. Characters cannot cast arts on party members or enemies outside the movement range without wasting a turn to move and then start channeling the spell. If the player tries to basic attack an enemy outside of the range will suffer the same fate.

    Overall, Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is a great game for the JRPG fans. With a nice smooth anime style world and character design, a nice spin on the turn based combat system, and deep story and lore to dig around and learn, the game is sure to keep players busy for hours.

    Final Score: 7.5/10

    A smooth anime world, with deep lore to explore and a nice spin to the turn based battle system. JRPG fans are sure to enjoy this game for hours.

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

    Predator: Hunting Grounds Review

    Title: Predator: Hunting Grounds Released On: April 24, 2020 Genre: First/Third-Person Shooter, Asymmetrical Reviewed On: PS4 Also Available On: Windows PC Developer: IllFonic Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment MSRP: $39.99 USD/$49.99 CAD

    It has been fifteen years since we’ve had a dedicated Predator game — Predator: Concrete Jungle — not counting mobile iterations, ten years since the last full game to feature the dreadlocked alien — Alien vs. Predator 2010 — so fans of the series have been anxiously awaiting a new opportunity to go up against or step into the armor of the legendary Predator. IllFonic’s Predator: Hunting Grounds affords players the ability to experience both sides of the conflict in a new take on a genre that’s risen in recent years.

    Asymmetrical games are one of those genres that’s still yet to take extensive hold in the gaming industry at large, with the exception of a few notable titles. As a relatively new genre, we have been waiting for titles to break out of the molds that were set by this generation’s precursors — namely games like Evolve and Dead by Daylight — which have set the stage for developers to offer their own take on the four-versus-one gameplay.

    Enter Predator: Hunting Grounds.

    The new asymmetrical first/third person shooter from IllFonic and Sony Interactive Entertainment not only offers a substantially different take on the genre, but does it through reviving an element of pop culture that has been largely on the backburner for many years. While it suffers from several technical drawbacks, Predator: Hunting Grounds is an overall satisfying experience regardless of if you’re taking on objectives as the Fireteam, or taking on the Fireteam as Predator.

    The overall premise is of the game is relatively simple: the Fireteam, a group of four elite soldiers who can equip a multitude of weapons, gear and perks, must work together to accomplish a set of three objectives before exfiltrating the densely wooded jungle filled with armed guerilla forces bent on stopping you.

    Oh…and an otherworldly beast stalking you from the treetops.

    Playing as the Predator challenges the player to track down the Fireteam through the jungle by using your special thermal optic visor and sound-magnification, and then eradicating them with a diverse array of weaponry before they can complete their objectives and extract via helicopter. And it feels absolutely thrilling. Stalking through the trees, jumping from branch to branch and pouncing on an unaware Fireteam just long enough to cause some chaos before ascending back into the canopy and activating optical camouflage. It’s quite unlike any other multiplayer experience I’ve had, and when you execute it perfectly it feels so good.

    You don’t have to approach playing as the Hunter stealthily, and I had a lot of fun experimenting with different loadouts to see what worked best for me. Depending on your chosen playstyle and loadout, there are a wealth of ways that you can go about hunting and dismantling the Fireteam, but the game definitely functions at its best when you adopt a stealthy approach. Once you have knocked an enemy out, it’s possible to claim their skull as your trophy through a brutal execution and reduce the Fireteam’s numbers. But you have to plan your attack wisely, or you’ll drop into a barrage of bullets and instant death.

    For Predator, traversal is absolutely key to your success. As the Predator you have the ability to leap from treetop to treetop, giving you not only an excellent vantage point of the jungle floor below, but the perfect stage from which to launch surprise attacks on unsuspecting prey utilizing your optical camouflage. Your first job in every match is to actually locate the Fireteam, which can be done through a combination of visual and audio cues which are given to you through your optical thermal visor. If you make a lot of noise on your approach from the treetops however, the Fireteam can easily spot you from shaking tree branches and falling leaves, so it’s always wise to plan a stealthy approach when possible. The key is to get an enemy on their own, or to somehow break up the team, because even with your power-advantage it’s impossible to sustain coordinated fire from an entire team for more than a few seconds.

    Luckily you have more than a few gadgets to augment your assault against the humans. As many will remember from the movies, Predators have an absolute arsenal of weaponry and gadgets, all of which you can unlock and outfit yourself with, in addition to three classes which trade up mobility, defensive, and offensive capabilities. If you end up against a coordinated Fireteam that manages you take you down, you can activate your self-destruct as a last resort and attempt to take them out with you.

    Remember: if Predator doesn’t win, no one survives.

    Playing as the Fireteam on the other hand means sticking together, as venturing out on your own is just asking to be picked off by the Hunter. While Predator plays in third-person, you operate your squad member from a first-person perspective, adding additional weight to the asymmetrical gameplay structure. Compared to the relative creative way that the player controls Predator, in contrast the Fireteam plays like a fairly generic first-person shooter. It hasn’t been given the polish that we’ve come to expect from FPS games in 2020, and next to the unique Predator system it winds up feeling a bit lackluster. This isn’t to say that the overarching gameplay as the humans wasn’t still fun; just that the actual gunplay mechanics themselves almost feel like they could use a little tightening up.

    This side of the gameplay is also not nearly as strategic or in-depth as playing as the Predator, because all of your objectives are fairly straightforward. Find X, kill Y, and don’t die to Z. The Fireteam has a set of three rotating objectives that they have to accomplish within the time limit, which will take them in a zigzag across a vast portion of the map. These are usually related to finding items, activating a system of sorts, or killing some NPCs. Sometimes all three in tandem. That being said, there are other ways that the Fireteam can complete the match without completing their objectives, such as by killing the Predator and not allowing them to self-destruct. It’s not an easy feat to accomplish, but you get additional XP and a quick exfil if you’re able to thwart the Hunter’s final strategy.

    The Fireteam has their work cut out for them. In addition to fending off Predator, there are mobs of NPC baddies hanging out at all of the major objective areas, which can attack either the Fireteam or Predator, but are much more of a pain for the Fireteam. Players can be revived if they get knocked down, unless the Predator manages to claim them first. This temporarily knocks the player out of the game until one of the surviving players can reach a reinforcement area to call them back in.

    Your character also has a wealth of weapons and equipment that they can bring into the jungle to compliment your chosen playstyle, as well as several classes to supplement this which give bonuses to health, speed, or gear, as well as passive boosts to aspects like accuracy or damage. These help to add some variety to how you can outfit your character and switch up your playstyle, but doesn’t change the strategy nearly as much as switching up Predator’s loadout.

    Regardless of which side you decide to play on, it’s an entertaining game loop for sure. That is, when the game lets you play. Matchmaking times have gotten better since the most recent patch, but there can still be substantial delays in the online matchmaking, especially if you want to play as the Hunter. I’m not usually one to gripe too much about this when a game has first launched, because there are a lot of factors that can lead to increased load times, such as a larger-than-expected player base or unexpected server issues. This being said, my first attempts to play took me between 2 to 20 minutes to load into a match; on the shorter end when I wanted to play as Fireteam, and substantially longer when I chose to be Predator.

    With the recent patch, I am into most Fireteam games within 1-2 minutes, with Predator games still typically taking 6-10 minutes to find a match. Once you are connected there is no guarantee the match will actually start though, as I’ve had several with Predator where Fireteam members quit out or didn’t fully populate, and left me a lonely Predator with no one to hunt; or in one instance a lone Fireteam member facing off against the Predator. If the Fireteam spawns without a full team, it puts them at a substantial disadvantage, and the game seems to have difficulty populating half-full lobbies after players leave. On the positive side, matchmaking has been steadily improving since launch, and it is one of the factors which can be consistently improved upon. I am hopeful that we will see additional improvements in matchmaking with future updates.

    Once you have loaded into a match, regardless of which side you are playing on, you have to hit the ground running. With a fifteen minute timer counting down each match, it’s a race against both the clock and your enemy to complete your objective. From the dozens of matches that I played, I still have a hard time determining who really has the advantage in Predator: Hunting Grounds, which I think speaks highly to IllFonic’s ability to balance both sides of the hunt. While one side may be able to gain an advantage in certain scenarios — Predator does better when they can separate and surprise the Fireteam, and the Fireteam does better when they have cover and stick together — the game is all about capitalizing on these moments to turn the tide of battle in your direction.

    The biggest issue plaguing almost every single asymmetrical game is the difficulty in balancing a one-versus-four system. You can’t make the hunter too strong otherwise the “good guys” will always be up against an insurmountable task, but they still have to be powerful enough to be able to take on a coordinated team with some stealth and proper execution. The inability to manage this balance has been the critical factor that most asymmetrical games struggled with on launch, and even killed off one of the first games of the genre. But rest assured it is not an issue that Predator: Hunting Grounds is facing.

    I won just as many games with Predator as I lost, and lost just as many games with the Fireteam as I won. There was never an instance where I felt that the game or its systems were to blame for a loss; every failure was directly linked to an error that I made during the match. This means when you are playing with a Fireteam you have to have faith in your teammates to perform highly in their roles, as a lack of cohesion in the Fireteam is the best advantage you can possibly give the Predator. When the Fireteam operates as a team however, it becomes increasingly difficult for the Hunter to be able to find an opening.

    When playing as the Predator, the slightest error in judgement can cost you the game, or at the very least your one second chance that you are afforded. As the Hunter you must be much more measured and calculating in your actions, which definitely makes it the harder side to play as. I lost numerous matches because I dropped down a split second too late, or accidentally outed myself in the trees when the energy for my camouflage failed or I moved just a bit too quickly.

    There is a very substantial gap between the strategy needed to play as the Fireteam, and that needed to be successful as a Predator.

    There is a fairly standard leveling and progression system, with both Predator and the Fireteam unlocking new weapons, gear, and perks for either side as you level up your main profile. It’s one of those progression systems that actively entices you to play more, because you can see the unlockable rewards that you’ll obtain each level. In a move that seems very 2018 however, IllFonic and SIE decided to include “loot boxes” filled with cosmetics as the reward for leveling up. These are the standard fare, which reward the player with a common, rare, or exotic cosmetic item to change the appearance of your character or their weaponry, but which offer absolutely no change to the actual gameplay.

    I was fairly skeptical at first seeing lootboxes making a resurgence here, but I didn’t find them to be detrimental to the overall game, through locking integral upgrades into a RNG system. Since you unlock actual character upgrades and new weaponry through regular progression, the addition of lootboxes felt more like icing on the cake. I get a new weapon and Perk for hitting level 10, and then I also get a few random cosmetics. Win-win in my opinion. You can also unlock cosmetics in the customization menus by spending some of the in-game currency, Veritanium, which you collect throughout the map and for completing matches.

    I found the inclusion of a number of Predator puns for things that really didn’t need to be ‘punified’ both hilarious and slightly off-putting. As a new father I’m all for bad puns, but these felt more like Senior Chang inserting his name into random words in Community. Predkour? Predlocks? I think the fine folks over at IllFonic need some Preducation on being punny.

    Technical missteps and bad puns aside, I had, and will continue to have, a really good time playing Predator: Hunting Grounds. I was not able to play any games with a full Fireteam of friends working together in a Party, so I greatly am looking forward to enticing some friends with the game to try and execute a flawless Fireteam run. Playing as Predator was definitely the highlight of the entire experience, and the team at IllFonic did a superb job making stalking through the treetops feel like it was ripped right out of the movies.

    The core underlying principles behind Predator: Hunting Grounds‘ asymmetrical system are all solidly executed, and made fighting on both sides of the hunt feel exhilarating and impactful. While there is a substantial strategic gap between operating as the Fireteam or the Predator, this luckily doesn’t translate to an actual advantage to either side; it just requires a vastly different approach depending on which side of the hunt you are on.

    For anyone looking to try a different approach to the 4v1 gameplay structure, I can’t recommend Predator: Hunting Grounds enough. IllFonic has broken free of the mold that the asymmetrical genre was stuck in, and showed that there is a lot of room left for growth.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Predator: Hunting Grounds is a wonderful evolution of the asymmetrical genre, which balances both sides of the hunt while offering varying degrees of strategy.

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

    Convoy: A Tactical Roguelike (PS4) Review


    Title: Convoy: A Tactical Roguelike Released On: April 8, 2020 Genre: Roguelike/Strategy Reviewed On: PS4 Developer: Convoy Games Publisher: Triangle Studios MSRP: $14.99 USD/$19.99 CAD

    Convoy: A Tactical Roguelike states very plainly exactly what it is: a tactical strategy game with rogue-like elements. After enjoying a few years of play on PC, this game has now hit all three major consoles. Although the enticing gameplay mix might sound fun for fans of some of this game’s predecessors, this title is mired with tiresome core gameplay made more difficult on console. There’s an experience to enjoy here, but despite the cool concept, it is hard to recommend for players outside of the hardcore in this sub-genre.

    The Setup

    The game’s reason for being is this: after a solar flare in space, the crew of your ship, the Mercury, crash-lands on a planet called Omek Prime. To re-enable flight after the crash, you have to search for new parts for your ship like compression coils, flux capacitors and hyperdrive stabilizers.

    In the game world, you are surrounded by groups that want to have you killed. The Privateers are bounty hunters that enforce the law on the planet. The Raiders are gun-toting psychopaths that have been infected with a micro-organism causing them to have enhanced senses and erratic behaviour at the same time. Finally, the T.O.R.V.A.K. are the game’s cult that praises technology and admire artificial intelligence above all else. Each of these factions controls a part of the map and running through their territory while searching for parts may lead to verbal exchanges or physical altercations.

    The Core Loop

    The game is split into two main types of gameplay: navigating the wastelands of Omek Prime and battles with rebel groups on the planet’s surface.

    Adventuring on Omek Prime

    As mentioned from the top, each one of your runs will have you chasing after a different set of parts. The game map can take several minutes (and gas tanks) to traverse from your spaceship to one end of the planet and the hex-based map is controlled in different areas by one of the three factions. On the map, you will find encounter beacons that provide you with opportunities to speak with the factions, fight them or run into some of the other chance encounter types. Traversing the open-world takes up gas, which is one of the two resources that you have to keep track of in the game.

    There is a small set of critical parts to chase, which means that your core missions will start very quickly to repeat themselves (dialogue and all). Fortunately, there is more side content to find and other random encounters (some funny). This part of the game is tense because some encounters are marked on the map while others can happen randomly at any time. This part of the game serves its purpose and works well (minus the repeating content).


    The trouble comes with the game’s active battle sequences. In these Mad Max-inspired vehicle battles, you are charged with protecting your Main Convoy Vehicle (or MCV for short). This vehicle in the center can’t change positions on the grid-based battlefield. This vehicle isn’t helpless though, as it comes with one weapon out of the gate with the ability to add up to three more (like mine throwers or EMPs). If its health hits zero, it’s game over for you. To protect it, you will need to rely on your team’s escort vehicles to protect it. These vehicles can move to any position around the battlefield and can ram and shoot other attacking vehicles.

    Everything is upgradable: from your ships’ health and armour to the handling of your vehicles and their protection against mines. You can even buy or acquire new vehicles and weapons. However, this whole phase of gameplay is clunky, especially on console platforms. You can pause the action at any time, but moving your units around isn’t simple with a controller and is made worse by mapping movement exclusively to the left stick (d-pad movement would be simpler). Not only that, but I found that units didn’t always perform the action I wanted despite not getting a flag or warning indicating that I could not complete the desired action. Once the movement was confirmed, these actions couldn’t be cancelled. Additionally, if an enemy was in the process of moving between “squares” on the invisible grid, it caused complications for your units. A faint grid with indications as to where units were moving would have been beneficial.

    Not Great on Console

    This brings me to a very important point about the game: the port of this game is lazy for console systems. Beyond controls being sub-optimal on a controller, the UI for a large television is bad. Text is incredibly small most of the time and some of the controls (like moving around and purchasing items in the shop) were cumbersome. This game was released originally on PC in 2015 and I assume that some of these issues wouldn’t exist on PC because of mouse and keyboard controls and resolution adjustments.

    Punishing With Little Tutorialization

    This game is difficult for casual fans of roguelikes even on the “Easy” difficulty. Instead of slowly ramping the difficulty of encounters across each run, you will sometimes be faced with random encounters that spike in difficulty leaving you with little to no chance of defeating with your current loadout. The game does very little in the way of making your mistakes actionable, like many other roguelikes; a lot of the game’s progression comes down to chance. Even in battles on the lowest difficultly, you can lose one of your scouts instantly by keeping them in the wrong position as large debris passes by.

    Furthermore, this game has a very simple tutorial that doesn’t show some gameplay elements like ramming very well. I’m not ashamed to admit that I played for hours without realizing that ramming vehicles were essential despite the critical nature of this action. The game doesn’t even have a “controls” menu.

    Graphics and Sound

    Graphically, this game provides serviceable pixel graphics. There’s nothing pretty with these 16-bit era graphics, but a few of the larger boss vehicles do look pretty cool. It’s a toss-up, however, because other elements on-screen could have benefitted from more work (like the ugly parts in the game’s UI, for instance).

    From a sound perspective, a small set of low fidelity chiptune tracks accompany the action in the game. Also, vehicle battles are paired with a limited number of sound effects and lines of low fidelity spoken dialogue for grunts and tactical declarations. After a few hours of play, you will be listening to a podcast or music while you play.

    Verdict for Convoy: A Tactical Roguelike

    Convoy: A Tactical Roguelike sets a very small Venn diagram centre for its ideal player base due to cumbersome battles and repetitive gameplay, a tough difficulty curve and controls that are not meant for consoles. If you can move past all of these issues and are constantly on the lookout for new roguelike strategy games, you may enjoy this one, but know that there are better experiences in the genre that will be more rewarding than this title.

    Final Score: 6.5/10

    Convoy: A Tactical Roguelike is hard to recommend to fans outside of the roguelike strategy genre, especially on console.

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

    Langrisser I+II Review


    Title: Langrisser I+II Released On: March 10th, 2020 Genre: Strategy, Role-Playing Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch Developer: Chara-Ani Corporation Publisher: NIS America, Inc MSRP: $49.99 USD


    I’ve been playing Langrisser Mobile for just over a year now. After a very successful launch and celebrating it’s one year anniversary back in January, it’s still going strong. I like to think that it’s thanks to the mobile game’s success that we now have this complete remake for Langrisser I+II. It consists of the full first two games of the legendary SRPG series in a nice, tight package for the Playstation 4, PC (Steam), and the Nintendo Switch.

    Langrisser I begins when Kaiser Digos of the Dalsis Empire has begun to invade Baldea with an overwhelming number of troops, possessed with the desire to rule the world using the power of Langrisser. Prince Ledin escapes from Baldea during the attack, and must now embark on a long journey to retrieve the Langrisser and avenge his father.

    Langrisser II takes place several hundreds of years after Langrisser I. It is an age of countless small periods of strife, that begin and end, only to begin anew. The Kingdom of Baldea is no more, and the legendary sword Langrisser has become just that – a legend. A traveling youth named Elwin encounters and befriends Hein, a magician’s apprentice, during his journey. While staying at Hein’s birthplace, a small village in the dukedom of Salrath, Hein rushes into the inn one night, as pale as a ghost. A group of soldiers from the Rayguard Empire has attacked, seeking a girl named Liana who lived just outside the village. Why would the Empire do such a thing…? Feeling a sense of suspicion, Elwin departs from the inn in order to help Liana.

    Not a bad setup for the story, but the story is not the main focus here. It’s the tactical gameplay. Much like other SRPGs, you command your units across large maps filled with enemies, completing the objectives of each to advance to the next chapter. Pretty basic, but there are a number of systems in place to mix things up a bit.

    In addition to commanding your main units, who serve as “Commanders” on the battlefield, each Commander can hire a number of mercenaries to supplement their strength. When I say hire I mean you literally pay money at the start of each map to recruit them for that battle, but don’t worry – money is plentiful if spent wisely. Your hired mercenaries can be moved about on their own just like their Commanders, but they are at a bit of a disadvantage due to lower stats when they are not near their Commander’s Area of Command.

    As you level up your commanders, you’ll get access to new mercenaries. Some are lance-wielders, some are calvary, and some are even monsters like harpies. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses against other units in a basic weapon triangle that you’ll pickup on as the game progresses. Each of your commanders also have a skill/class tree that can unlock new mercenaries and special skills. These can boost their stats or afford them special perks in battles, such as boosted damage against other units or access to special area buffs to boost your allies. Some units also learn powerful offensive and support spells, and trust me when I say you’ll want to invest some time building up your spellcasters. They become VERY powerful later on, and will make difficult battles MUCH easier.

    In addition to the “normal” story route, Langrisser II has a couple of branching paths you can take, depending on certain choices you have Elwin make. I won’t spoil things, but you’ll want to keep a couple of different save files so you can see everything play out.

    The original Langrisser title we got here in the west (“Warsong” for the Sega Genesis), was known by fans of the genre to be exceedingly brutal. Your units were very often at a large disadvantage at the start of each map, and it was up to you to find a way to overcome that disadvantage. Needless to say, this didn’t sit well with the more casual crowd, and the game was something for only the more hardcore fans to enjoy. This version however, is much easier for everyone to dive into. You can return to previous chapters to grind for EXP and gold, and the overall stats of enemies seem lower than the original game. You won’t struggle nearly as badly with this remake.

    One of the high points of the Langrisser series is the artwork. The art from the original games and artist (Satoshi Urushihara) is here, as well as new art from Ryo Nagi, who also did the art for the Ar Tonelico series. You can freely toggle between both art styles at any point in the game via menus, which is a very welcome option. While the original art has a certain nostalgic charm to it, the new art isn’t half bad either.

    A new remake also means new version of the soundtrack, and Langrisser has plenty of memorable tunes to choose from. I became familiar with a lot of the music in the game thanks to the Langrisser Mobile versions, which I still somewhat prefer, but some of the tracks in this remake are still really good.

    In my experience with the Nintendso Switch version, I did not run into any glaring issues when it came to the game’s performance. I do, however, have a couple of small nitpicks with the game itself. While the game does have somewhat of an Auto Battle feature in the main menu (End Turn and any units who have yet to move will then be moved automatically), you still have to sit and wait for each unit to move before the turn flips to the enemy. This means you have to sit and watch your Commander AND all of their mercenaries move before the next turn happens. When you have 4-6 Commanders on the battlefield, each with 4-6 mercenaries assigned to them, this can take quite a bit of time — causing the battle to go on for far longer than it should.

    An option to speed this particular part of the game up would have been a godsend. It also takes quite some time to level up, even early one. Also, taking out a Commander will cause all of their assigned mercenaries to retreat from the battle. However this applies to friends and foes alike — so if one of your Commanders die, all of their mercenaries go with them, even if they are otherwise healthy and could still contribute to the overall battle. Even if one of your units is fairly powerful, be careful not to let them get overwhelmed.

    Despite my nitpicks, Langrisser I+II was a very enjoyable time. Having become a fan of this series recently it was nice to see how it all started, even in the form of this remake. I would definitely recommend this game to fans of the mobile game, or strategy RPG fans in general, but I wouldn’t call it a must-have title. For the price it’s a great deal, and you’re sure to get many hours of enjoyment from it if this is your genre.


    Final Score: 8.5/10

    The definitive version of two classic SRPGs, Langrisser I+II offers hours of intense strategic gameplay for even the most casual fans of the genre.

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

    Project SparklePony – A Dream Come True

    Every community has that expert go-to person. You know the one? That individual who offers the most sagely advice, and backs it up with the experience and know-how to solve almost any problem thrown into their wheelhouse. That person who, whether you want to or not, you’ll eventually find yourself reaching out to and asking the proverbial “can I get your advice on this?”

    For the Scholarly Gamers community, that person is AcuteJungle66, hereafter simply referred to as AJ. A wealth of community members have benefited from AJ’s guidance, regardless of it they were seeking advice on components for a PC build, or inquiring how to improve their Twitch stream quality. I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside my friend and colleague Chris Connor (the elusive alter-ego of AcuteJungle66) for several years now in a variety of roles, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to learn from his expertise and experience in the realm of PC building and modding.

    What are the Odds?

    AJ often enters online giveaways in an effort to acquire free hardware, although he is the first to admit that the odds of actually winning are considerably slim. So when Scan Computers posted the following video in February:

    AJ figured that he would give it a shot and tossed his hat into the ring. After all, who doesn’t like contests? You have to be in it to win it after all, or something along those lines. For his entry he submitted a picture or two of Arctic Flow (his current PC) and provided a brief description about what modifications he had performed. A few weeks later he was contacted by Thermaltake and asked to provide details of his proposed modding project.

    I still can’t believe that out of the thousands of applicants, I was shortlisted. absolutely amazing.

    – AcuteJungle66

    Needless to say, he was considerably excited at the prospect of being 1 of the 5 finalists that would be chosen to compete in the Thermaltake 2020 Case Mod Challenge. After a short wait, Thermaltake announced the contestants:

    Thermaltake 2020 Case Mod Challenge

    My heart was racing after being notified, I honestly could not believe it. I am extremely humbled to have been chosen.

    – AcuteJungle66

    Thermaltake 2020 Case Mod Challenge

    The competition was originally going to begin with a special launch event at Scan Computers in Horwich, England. All of the contestants would be fully briefed on the rules, provided with the hardware for the competition and filmed for promotional content; it was also going to be a fun-filled day with plenty of prizes to be won by the public. Unfortunately world events resulted in that particular aspect of the competition being cancelled.

    Instead, all of the components were delivered to each of the contestants at home:

    When that first delivery arrived…

    …it was like a dream come true.

    – AcuteJungle66

    Since the launch event was cancelled, this also meant that AJ (it still feels strange calling him Chris) needed to produce his own introduction video:

    If you live in the United Kingdom, then head on over to Thermaltake’s FB page for your chance to win some gear from Seagate.

    You can catch up on how AcuteJungle put together his current build, Arctic Flow, right here. Never one to shy away from details, there is a ton of guidance contained in these articles for anyone looking to build a PC. And if you want to see more of that guiding expertise that AJ has to offer, make sure to go check out his two phenomenal series: PC Building Fundamentals and Streaming Fundamentals. Both contain a plethora of of information that’s sure to be useful as both introductions and refreshers.

    Best of Luck!

    We are extremely excited for AJ, as we all know how much he loves his tech and wish him the best of luck in the Thermaltake 2020 Case Mod Challenge.

    If you want to keep up to date with the progress of Project SparklePony, there are several ways that you can do that:

    We also want to wish the best of luck to all of the contestants, we look forward to seeing the end results of all of the mods a few months from now.

    Video Game Marketing Needs to Subvert Expectations like APEX Legends

    Marketing video games, like many other categories of products, used to be a much simpler proposition. In 2020, purchasers of video games are among the savviest and most critical consumers out there, so getting them to pay attention to your game is a harrowing proposition. Having consumers pay for your game is even tougher due to the advent of free-to-play games that offer a dearth of content for no pricetag. Games in this style may not ask for an upfront investment, but a lot of them rely on a continuous cycle of new, sometimes paid content. With this style of content rollout, your game risks going to the well in the same way for so long that it stops catering to a mass audience. This applies to both in-game content and even subsequent marketing content. To keep players coming in and coming back, you have to break through the noise.

    APEX Legends has done that.

    APEX Legends Launch Key Art

    I am typically a very solitary video game player; most online and multiplayer games have never managed to grab me and keep me playing for long. In the past five years, the only shooter that I have engaged with heavily has been PUBG during the summer of 2017. My gaming echo chamber just doesn’t talk about them: I usually stick to a small set of outlets and podcasts to get news and never venture outside of it. Yet, APEX Legends breaks through, and has done so multiple times. This feature breaks down Respawn’s marketing successes while speculating why their team has been so successful.

    The Launch of APEX Legends

    APEX Legends, a game developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts began its life as a multiplayer mode for Titanfall 2 called Titanfall APEX. When the team’s take on the genre didn’t quite work with the speed and maneuverability of the player characters in Titanfall 2, the game was broken out into its own franchise with different movement and hero characters. It was a game that was started before Respawn’s acquisition by Electronic Arts, a game that no one expected from Respawn, and a game that started with an absolute bang right out of the gate.

    When the game launched as a free-to-play project in February 2019, APEX hit 50 million players within a month. Outlets spoke highly of the game’s launch which relied on the element of surprise, good messaging in light of EA’s missteps with Star Wars Battlefront 2, and influencer/streamer marketing; the team paid $1M to get Ninja to play the game on stream, for example. The game’s marketing worked because it relied on showing, not telling. It got me to try the game to see the its unique-at-the-time “pinging system”, solid networking and great core gameplay loop. I fell off after about a week, but tried the game despite not being a huge online shooter fan and left with a positive outlook: mission accomplished for the marketing team. The team at Scholarly Gamers recognized APEX Legends as a runner-up in their 2019 Game of the Year deliberations.

    APEX Legends Season 4: Assimilation

    In order to get me back into the game, it took some heavy subversion of the typical “hero shooter” or battle royale content marketing roll-out. For games like Rainbow Six Siege and Overwatch, the rollout consists of a trailer for new characters and/or a new season/year of content. However, with this season, the team at Respawn surprised players by announcing a character (James “The Forge” McCormick, a cybernetically-enhanced MMA Fighter) that was immediately murdered by the season’s real new character, Revenant. In an interview with Dotesports, Respawn design director Jason McCord indicated that once players data-mined Revenant out of the game, they created Forge and left a trail for players to find as an exercise in misdirection. McCord himself has commented that he couldn’t “…think of any other game that has gone through such hijinks,” and I think that statement is fairly accurate. For the first time since the launch of the series, the team included a character reveal vignette as the main trailer which revealed that APEX has a story with mysteries that have not yet been solved by the community. It also may set up future characters coming to the game.

    The Recipe to Respawn’s Success

    Without speaking directly to the team at Respawn, I would probably chalk up some of the excellence in marketing execution to the way that the team is structured. In an interview with GamesIndustry.Biz, we have learned that the team’s senior director of brand management Arturo Castro has worked with the team since the beginning of APEX Legends‘ development. The team’s marketing excellence goes beyond their launch and Assimilation reveals: you may remember the stunt that the team pulled at The Game Awards just a few short months ago. One of the game’s more charismatic characters, Mirage, made a surprise appearance to announce a holiday event with Geoff Keighley in a segment that many thought had to have been pre-recorded. However, this Game Awards Stunt, we found out later was done thanks to an army of visual effects wizards who helped Roger Craig Smith, the voice actor behind the character, appear live with Keighley.

    Having marketing embedded with the development team may not work in all instances, however. Drew McCoy, the executive producer of the game, cautioned that this relationship can easily break down when the balance between marketing insight and development direction are out of balance. When there’s trust and open communication about expectations on the development side and solid market insights coming from the marketer, great campaigns with developer buy-in can happen.

    What Separates APEX from the Pack

    Now, you may be thinking there are tons of marketing activations in free-to-play games that have gotten good press beyond APEX Legends‘ Season 4 campaign. The “Black Hole” event created by Epic for Fortnite may come to mind. Even though these types of event may subvert expectations, I would argue, that beyond generating buzz in the industry about the uniqueness of the event, this event doesn’t have the claws that APEX Legends‘ Launch and Season 4 rollouts possess. Events like Fortnite’s Star Wars and Black Hole events are there to please the existing players and grab headlines.

    Conversely, I would argue that APEX‘s marketing activations have managed to do more because they give players a deeper pay-off for their attention. The Assimilation launch of APEX in particular makes players realize that there’s much depth to the world. Spend the time and you’ll realize that this game is more than a [insert any other Publisher name]’s version of the Avengers. Players will be pulled in deeper thanks to the team’s Stories from the Outlands vignettes and may even go further than that with the theories about the world that are being spun up via the APEX Lore subreddit.

    APEX Legends Season 2 Key Art

    Replicating Respawn’s Success

    I think more teams in the business should take the a step back and brainstorm more marketing activities that will ask for an investment in a player’s time. Before doing that though, some teams may need to ask if their current structure is working, especially if marketing is done by a publisher who may not be embedded with the team. Through a better development-marketing alignment, teams can build trust that allow for really sticky marketing activities like the ones that have been generated by Respawn Entertainment.

    Darksiders Genesis Review


    Title: Darksiders Genesis Released On: February 26, 2020 Genre: Reviewed On: Xbox One Also Available On: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia Developer: Airship Syndicate Publisher: THQ Nordic MSRP: $29.99USD / $39.99CAD purchases)


    A Hell of a good time.

    One of the spectacular aspects of the Darksiders series is that no game has followed directly in the footsteps of its predecessor. This of course relates in part to the changing of developers over the years, but it has created a very unique progression in the series. Where the first game was a strict action-adventure, the second iteration saw the series take on much more RPG elements, before evolving into a slower pacing and more punishing combat with Fury’s appearance in Darksiders 3.

    In keeping with this trend, Darksiders Genesis is an excellent digression from the core series, which introduces the final Horseman Strife, along with a completely different gameplay structure than we’ve seen before in the series. Genesis treats players to a top-down roleplaying game which features fast-paced yet measured combat, as you travel through Hell alongside your brother War. Featuring a colourful cast and entertaining narrative, Darksiders Genesis is an absolutely spectacular entry into the series, especially for those who have been following the story. That being said I would still wholly recommend this game to newcomers to the series, who would no doubt be enticed to see what else the Horsemen have to offer.

    Genesis follows Strife and War on their latest mission from the Council, separated from the other Horsemen Fury and Death. The narrative is absolutely excellent, pitting the Horsemen against the Masters of Hell in a quest to uncover the plots of Lucifer, who is still bent on eradicating humanity. The game is host to a phenomenal cast of, well, mostly demons; a couple of whom you may remember from previous games.

    While the dialogue has always been entertaining in previous Darksiders games, the addition of the wise-cracking Strife is an absolute boon to the narrative. I don’t think a single other game in the series has had me legitimately laughing out loud on multiple occasions, and the back-and-forward between the two brothers easily constitutes one of my new favorite in-game relationships.

    Strife and War are an excellent duo on the battlefield as well, and while it’s possible to play the game single-player, the experience is much more entertaining with a friend. You can play Genesis in either local split-screen or online co-op, and inviting a partner is as easy as finding one of the Summoning Stones that are typically at the beginning of each chapter. For the most part online co-op was exceptionally smooth, with occasional hiccups that we can almost assuredly chalk up to network issues and not the game itself.

    You can freely switch between the two characters while playing solo or in a team, but if you are playing single-player you will need to do this occasionally to take advantage of the different skills that each Horseman has. As you progress through the game, Strife and War will unlock special abilities that are used to solve the puzzles which are scattered throughout each levels. Most of these puzzles are rather straightforward once you have obtained the necessary skill, but some of the optional trials had my partner and I scratching our abyssal heads trying to figure out how to solve them.

    Combat in Darksiders Genesis is thoroughly satisfying. One of the most exhaustive aspects of typical top-down hack and slash games is how tiresome the combat gets after a while. This couldn’t be further from the case in Genesis, and it feels like they have fluidly transported the combat from the core series into the new game. Fighting the armies of Hell feels impactful and measured, and even though you only have two basic attack buttons, the combinations that you can unlock creates a very diverse array of attacks.

    This is in addition to the three skills that you can unlock, each with their own important uses in combat. I typically played Strife while my partner took on the more melee oriented War, and my skills all allowed me to help control the battlefield. Strife’s clone laid down cover fire while distracting enemies, while dropping some explosive caltrops helped me to maintain distance and continue to lay down cover fire for War. Using your abilities requires Wrath, which you build up by defeating enemies and finding Wrath shards throughout the levels.

    Combat is also gorgeous, and every little animation is clear without getting lost within the melee. Both Strife and War have special execution animations for each type of enemy, which can be activated once an enemy’s health has dropped to a certain point. These serve as some of the best action sequences in the game, and performing a stylish finisher never lost its impact throughout the entire game.

    That being said, the entire game looks wonderful and we constantly found ourselves stopping to stare out over a vista; not something that I can say I would typically do in a top-down game. Airship Syndicate has put painstaking work not just into the environments that you’re treading, but have included beautiful backdrops which one can’t help but stop and admire. It’s one of those games where everything not only looks great, but feels perfectly suited to the atmosphere and gameplay.

    Darksiders Genesis also introduced a new combat augmentation system which uses special items drops by enemies called Creature Cores. These cores are slotted into an specific sections in your Core Slots and apply various effects and boosts to your health, combat, or wrath. Enemies will drop these at random, and each core can be leveled up through collecting multiple versions of it, or occasionally purchasing them from Vulgrim.

    In addition to their basic abilities, and combat augmentations, both War and Strife eventually unlock the ability to transform into their alternate forms; Chaos Form for War, and Anarchy Form for Strife. These transformations are used by filling the requisite gauge, allowing both characters to unleash devastating attacks to decimate all but the strongest enemies.

    Like any good top-down RPG, there is a wealth of loot to find, much of which takes the form of souls; currency that you can spend at your old friend Vulgrim’s shop. Veterans of the series will remember the demon shopkeeper from all previous games, always keen to exchange souls for new abilities, combos, or items. You’ll also meet another demon named Dis eventually, who will exchange souls for upgraded abilities for the Horsemen. A colourful addition to the cast, Dis’ is enslaved to Vulgrim and looking for a way to pay back her debt through helping the Horsemen.

    Most items don’t just cost souls however, but also require the more elusive Boatman coins, which are scattered throughout the majority of levels. Procuring these coins will often take a little bit of traveling off the beaten path, but exploring every nook and cranny of the dungeons is one of the most satisfying aspects of Genesis. There are secrets hidden everywhere, including special side-dungeons which offer up a wonderful digression to the core level, or the extremely valuable Trickster Keys.

    These special keys are used to unlock Trickster Doors, which offer up some of the best loot in the game, including character abilities and upgrades to the brothers’ health and Wrath. Unlocking every single Trickster Door in the game will allow access to a special door in Vulgrim’s Void, which is something that every completionist is going to want to aim for. Admittedly I am still two doors off, but I will not be putting down Darksiders Genesis until I’ve unlocked every secret.

    Or until I’ve mastered every single Arena, which is a separate wave-based section of the game that unlocks at approximately the halfway point in the campaign. There are multiple levels to the Arena with ascending difficulty, which can help you to rack up some additional souls or unlock Creature Cores that you need to augment your combat.

    The musical score for Darksiders Genesis was exceptionally striking, partially because I wasn’t expecting quite the epic ensemble. Major fights are treated to a striking orchestral melody, and even the haunting strains of the menu music are worth pausing to listen to for a few minutes. Music is an integral part of creating the right atmosphere in a game, and it’s something that I’ve often found hash and slash games never quite hit home with.

    Darksiders Genesis on the other hand has managed to wonderfully integrate music into their game, and used crescendos at the beginning of major battles to make the player feel the excitement not just through the combat itself, but through the atmosphere the combat is taking place in. It’s another one of those balances that Genesis just hits right on the head.

    Darksiders Genesis has a wealth of replay value, and after beating the campaign I expect that I will embark on at least one more full playthrough to finish finding the Trickster doors and unlocking all of the upgrades for both War and Strife, as I spent a majority of my time playing through as the new Horseman. Fighting in Genesis is genuinely so satisfying, and I’m still impressed with the developer’s ability to transfer the series’ special brand of combat into a top-down format.

    If you’re at all interested in the Darksiders series or in top-down RPGs/hack-and-slash games, this is definitely a title that you don’t want to miss. It’s perfect for couch co-op, linking up with a friend online, or just mowing through the legions of Hell single-handedly. I hope that in the future Strife will end up with his own game in Darksiders 4, as I can say with confidence he is easily my new favorite Horseman.

    Final Score: 9/10

    Darksiders Genesis has perfectly transported the series’ quintessential hard-hitting combat into a fluid top-down RPG with a Hell of a lot of replay.

    THQ Nordic provided two digital codes for the review copies of this game so that we could write the review from a cooperative perspective.