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Harrison Lee

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Harrison Lee last won the day on November 24 2017

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About Harrison Lee

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    Hockey Analytics Fan
  • Birthday 11/29/1994

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    Did I already mention hockey? Yes, hockey analytics. A lot. Like, cover me in statistics and call me silly.

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  1. Harrison Lee

    Game of the Year 2018 - Harrison's Picks

    It feels like 2018 came and went, with nary a moment to pause and reflect on all that’s happened. Likewise, the 2018 game release schedule felt like a never-ending deluge of content to fill your metaphorical face with, a digital buffet that likely left you overstuffed and guilt-ridden. With such a barrage of gaming to deal with, picking a list of standouts certainly wasn’t easy. That said, here are some titles you should consider sinking your time and money into. You can trust me; I’m not a doctor, but I do know a good time when I see one. Monster Hunter: World They say there’s nothing like the thrill of the hunt, and Monster Hunter: World offers hunts like few others. Gamers have long salivated over the idea of an open-world, beast-hunting epic, and MHW does not disappoint. It offers a dizzying variety of gear, combat styles, and gigantic creatures to conquer, all within a gorgeous environment begging you to dig around. While MHW will take a while to learn, it’s also the most accessible entry in the franchise, and a welcome introduction for newcomers. Give this fine action-RPG a go, and see why it continues to inspire series loyalists globally. FIFA 19 The beautiful game is artful, cunning, and savagely cruel. I speak, of course, about football (Editor's note: Soccer to those of us in the USA), the planet’s most popular sport. Football is exceedingly simple, yet unfolds its complexities in the individual expressions of its top players. Whether it’s the world-class scoring touch of Cristiano Ronaldo, the prenatural attacking instincts of Jadon Sancho, or the stout positioning of defensive wunderkind Mattijs de Ligt, FIFA 19 captures every moment of glory and defeat in great detail. The underlying mechanics, ball physics, passing, and moment-to-moment action make this the best entry in the FIFA franchise to date. While the timed finishing opportunities are more of an annoyance, the addition of game modifiers to Face-Off means a whole new ballgame of hijinks are in-store. Some modes could greatly benefit from an update, but it’s hard to argue with the sheer volume of content FIFA 19 offers as-is. NHL 19 Like the FIFA franchise, NHL thundered into 2018 with the best game the series has offered in ages. For once, NHL 19 feels just right, with greatly improved player skating, checking, animations, and defensive positioning. The slightly improved presentation and addition of some needed mechanical tweaks to the management mode round out a much-improved package. Pond hockey modes offer some additional online entertainment, but most will likely bypass it for the Hockey Ultimate Team offerings. While few fundamental changes have been made to the core experience, the tweaks EA did make should be more than enough incentive for series fans to dive in once again. My Hero One’s Justice Bandai-Namco frequently caters to the more anime-inclined among its western audiences, and they could scarcely contain their excitement at the prospect of a My Hero Academia video game. My Hero One’s Justice, a fighting game instantly familiar to those who’ve played the Naruto franchise of games, is a love-letter to My Hero’s most ardent fans. The game isn’t exactly complicated and lacks the depth of other similar titles, but offers more than enough sights and sounds to keep fans of the franchise occupied for hours. It doesn’t hurt that the action is frequently explosive and visually-dazzling, echoing the art-style of the anime in full 3D. If you have any interest in the My Hero series, there’s no reason for you to pass this game up. Far Cry 5 The Far Cry franchise is fairly predictable. You get dropped into a hostile environment, have to spark a resistance of some sort, and go on an incalculable number of collect-a-thons. Ubisoft knew it needed to freshen the formula somehow and turned to some mild controversy to make Far Cry 5 feel new again. The resulting game really isn’t all that different (or offensive) from previous Far Cry entries, but the Montanan landscape provides a wonderful environment in which to dispatch hundreds of crazy cultists. The combat is still as tight and explosive as ever, so if you’re looking for another big-budget FPS, you could do much worse than Far Cry 5. Game of the Year Red Dead Redemption 2 When people refer to games as art, there’s often a bit of cynicism from observers. Red Dead Redemption 2, however, truly is artistic. Rockstar have crafted their most ambitious, emotionally-stirring release yet, a massive behemoth of grim beauty and vibrant violence. Surprisingly, RDR2’s best moments are found in the quiet horse-bound voyages along dusty roads, or the slow ambles through troubled frontier towns. The world of RDR2 feels genuinely lived-in, and your participation often exists as a microcosm of action within the grander scale. With unbelievable production values, stellar writing, and a jaw-dropping sense of scale, RDR2 is truly 2018’s greatest achievement in gaming.
  2. Harrison Lee

    Review: Flipping Death

    Developer: Zoink Games Publisher: Zoink Games Platform: Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One Release Date: August 7, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game Flipping Death is developer Zoink’s newest foray into side-scrolling cartoon adventure games. Those who recall Stick It to the Man! are likely aware of the studio’s penchant for oddball humor and situational comedy. Flipping Death follows in its spiritual predecessor’s footsteps, adopting a similar tone and art-style. Does it do enough to stand out from Zoink’s growing library, or will you be left flipping Death off? Players inhabit the mind of Penny Doewood, a recently-deceased young woman with a love of the macabre and all things Halloween. Death, however, is not the end for our dear protagonist. The scene literally flips to a place called the Otherside, where ghosts, restless souls, and all manner of strange creatures exist. Penny awakens in this alien, yet familiar, parallel world and immediately earns a job from Death himself. It seems the Grim Reaper is tired of constantly taking lives, and craves a quiet vacation to the Moon where there’s nothing but blissful, peaceful solitude. Flipping Death tasks Penny with solving the various crises of restless souls all across the Otherside. From a ship captain who got caught cheating because of his boat’s name to vivisected superhumans craving revenge, the offbeat cast of quirky characters provides much of Flipping Death’s charm. To help the ghosts reach a satisfying rest, Penny must possess the bodies of the living on the other side of her new world. While inhabiting a living host, Penny gains access to whatever abilities that person has. Each of these abilities is crucial to solving Flipping Death’s bevy of environmental puzzles, but can also be used to complete side objectives that reward character art cards. The perspective shift can be a bit jarring at first, but you’ll grow accustomed to it as time goes on. What you may struggle to come to grips with are the platforming mechanics, which feel a bit loose at the best of times. The Switch’s small controller nubs only make the lack of precision all the more noticeable, though it likely won’t impede your progress that much. Using ghost Penny’s scythe to teleport and capture souls in order to possess the living takes some getting used to, but the controls eventually become second-nature. Flipping Death isn’t terribly difficult, but a few of the environmental clues and the sequence of characters needed to complete the puzzles may stump you once or twice. The game encourages a trial-and-error approach, though you may find yourself possessing characters out of order. Unfortunately, I did run into a bug that did not let one of the characters I possessed leave his office-space, forcing me to reload the level. The rest of the experience was largely error-free and enjoyable. Like Stick It to the Man!, Flipping Death’s visual presentation is wholly unique and engrossing. The cartoon-esque world is vibrant and full of teeming, creepy things scuttling in the backgrounds. Character models are well-designed and fully-voiced, lending a good deal of strong production value to the whole experience. The Switch port does seem to suffer some minor input lag and dropped frames every now and then, but it’s to be expected given the hardware. This is, by and large, a well-executed version of the game that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. I missed out on Stick It to the Man!, but Flipping Death is a great introduction to Zoink’s zany brand of humor. The writing is consistently strong, even featuring some genuine warmth amid the gut laughs. A few odd bugs here and there and some occasionally frustrating platforming mechanics mar an otherwise-strong game, but that shouldn’t deter you from wearing Death’s mantle once again. With the Halloween season nearly upon us, there’s no better time to get spooky and take a trip to the Otherside. Pros + Well-written and genuinely funny + Beautiful art style and great audio production + Fun puzzles and a vibrant game-world Cons - A little buggy at points - Platforming on the Switch can be hit or miss Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Flipping Death is a brief, but very enjoyable journey through the spirit world. Its puzzles, artistic vision, and sense of humor are all on point. You’d do well to give this macabre world a look. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  3. Harrison Lee

    Review: The Lion's Song

    Developer: Mi'pu'mi Games Publisher: Mi'pu'mi Games Platform: Switch, PC, iOS, Android Release Date: July 10, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game When I played The Lion’s Song, I felt one thing: warmth. The diminutive point-and-click adventure, set in early-20th century Vienna, is a sepia-toned love letter to the creative process. If you’re a fan of art, or an artist yourself, The Lion’s Song may resonate with you more than most. The game is divided into four chapters, with the first three focusing on the lives of several European musicians, painters, and mathematicians. If you enjoy your games with a healthy dose of atmospheric presence and history, then stop reading and snag The Lion’s Song on Switch or PC right now. The first chapter focuses on musician Wilma, who struggles with anxiety and dissatisfaction with her work. Wilma also happens to long for her mentor, a composer who seems to be blissfully unaware of her attraction to him. To get away from the hustle and bustle of Vienna, the mentor sends Wilma to a secluded cabin in the mountains in order to help her compose a masterpiece worthy of her talents. The process is not without conflict, and Wilma spends much of her time in the cabin seeking inspiration and grappling with her inner demons. Unlike most point-and-click adventure titles, The Lion’s Song is restrained with its use of interactive elements. Wilma’s cabin, for instance, only features a few useful objects or sights to select. The more important aspect is the outcome of the cabin stay, and the success of Wilma’s trials is conveyed through the small snippets of music that play when she feels inspired by something. Quietly, there are several narrative decision points that occur, but none that feel obtrusive or have obvious consequences. The plot seems to chug along, regardless of the decisions you make. The other chapters intertwine with Wilma’s story, and with each other. The plot threads that come together feel natural and expected, though I won’t spoil them for you. Suffice it to say that Vienna feels a bit smaller and more intimate, despite its obvious urban sprawl. The final chapter reveals what happened to each character over time and closes out the personal stories nicely. If players so choose, they can also change the decisions they made in the other chapters and see the resulting dialogue outcomes. It’s a nice option to have, though I opted to stick with the plot decisions I’d made previously. Vienna is as much a character as the artists and feels vibrantly alive despite the limitations of the environmental art. Through clever sound design, a well-composed soundtrack, and a pseudo “slice of life” depiction of each artist, Vienna is colored between the narrative margins. It allows the scenes to feel expansive and full, even if the screen only shows a small grouping of characters at any single time. You get a small sense of what it might have felt like to be in a Viennese ballroom, sipping tea with Gustav Klimt and schmoozing amongst the local avant-garde art critics, or attending a massive concert hall during a violin performance. The Lion’s Song is a joy to look at, with the beautiful sepia hues adding a vintage feel to the scenes. Much like the artists and thinkers depicted within, the game’s art is expressive and well-crafted. It made me want more of it, and I wish The Lion’s Song had more chapters. Your time with Vienna will be all too brief, but it’s a pleasure while it lasts. You’ll feel the pain of failed innovation and the triumph of a creative vision realized. The Lion’s Song is a beautiful game, and the time required to experience Vienna’s atmosphere is minimal. It’ll leave you longing for a European art expedition, even for those who aren’t dedicated art fans. The creative struggles each character endures are humanized and relatable, especially for anyone who’s tried to innovate or create. If you’re the creative type, The Lion’s Song is a must-play experience. Pros + A charming, beautiful adventure filled with warmth + Relatable, well-realized characters + Great sound design and music + Vienna is well-realized in small snippets Cons - It ends too quickly! Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic If you’re a fan of classic point-and-click adventures, art, well-written stories, or all of the above, you owe it to yourself to see what The Lion’s Song has to offer you. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  4. Harrison Lee

    Review: Pato Box

    Developer: Bromio Publisher: Bromio Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC, PS Vita Release Date: July 9, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game I’ll be the first to admit that the description and press material for Pato Box was more eyebrow-raising than intriguing at first. A spiritual successor to the Punch-Out!! series starring an… anthropomorphic boxing duck? A black-and-white comic book art style? I was more than a bit puzzled but decided to roll the dice and see what wackiness Pato Box had in store, and I can genuinely say I wasn’t prepared. Pato Box is a fusion of game styles, mixing the classic boxing matches of Punch-Out!! with a semi-3D explorable environment. It’s a wholly unique experience that’s only out-weirded by the story. The plot immediately tosses the titular 'Patobox' into a pickle. The popular duck boxer isn’t so popular with his promoters at Deathflock, and they attempt to off him in a rigged match. Patobox sets out on a quest to get his revenge on Deathflock, punching everything that stands in his way in the face. Much of Patobox’s out-of-ring time is spent exploring the Deathflock headquarters and prepping for his bouts. The duck can talk to various building inhabitants and occasionally has to solve small puzzles, avoid obstacles, or play minigames to progress. Deathflock’s place of residence is pretty large, and there all manner of hidden goodies and sight gags for players to dive into. For whatever reason, Pato Box also decided it’d be cool to make your primary source of interaction with the gameworld a punch. If you feel like breaking chairs and dishes, go right ahead! No one seems to care that Patobox can break everything in sight. The matches, of course, are where the game makes its true home. Like Punch-Out!!, players assume the perspective of Patobox from behind and have a few basic jabs and punches. However, Pato Box spices things up with different dodge mechanics, some tactically-important punch types, and interactive objects that are often themed after each boss. Every match is a puzzle to unravel, exploiting the mechanics to best take down the opposition. Make no mistake, Pato Box is hard. You’ll lose more than a few fights as you work out how to face each boxer. This probably comes as no surprise, but Pato Box is full of camp and humor. The story never takes itself seriously and revels in the weirdness of a duck boxer. Patobox never really talks and seems to only convey his thoughts by staring at things. Somehow, his allies always seem to know what’s on his mind, which makes his silence all the more amusing. Patobox lets his fists do the talking, and that’s all that really matters. Beyond the protagonist, the art style will probably be the first thing to grab your attention. Pato Box is a gorgeous Mad World-esque comic book dreamland. Characters communicate with comic word bubbles, and the coloration looks like a black-and-white newspaper cartoon. The developers have done a great job conveying the feel of a graphic novel in Pato Box’s style, and it lends a lot more credence to the idea that Pato Box is truly its own beast apart from Punch-Out!! I only have a few minor quibbles, and most concern the fights. It was a bit tricky to tell how much damage I was dealing or being dealt, with very visual cues to suggest my health situation until it was almost too late. It also artificially inflated the difficulty at times, and I wasn’t always sure if my punches were landing. Eventually, you get used to the rhythm of bouts and the mechanics become second-nature, but folks who haven’t played Punch-Out!! may have some initial struggles. The exploration segments are also fun, but a tad slow and occasionally lacking in things to do. Again, it’s a fairly minor complaint about an otherwise great game. Pato Box isn’t weird just to be weird. All of the quirky sights and sounds feel relevant to the game’s universe, and everything just “works”. The marriage of adventure games and Punch-Out!! is out of left field, but the concept is well-executed. That Pato Box finds ways to innovate on the Punch-Out!! formula only enhances the quality of the matches. Every boss is unique, and the developers have done a great job forcing players to change strategies. Don’t sleep on the next Rocky. Give the boxing duck his due and pick up Pato Box. Pros + Zany concept that actually succeeds + Visually-striking and artistically unique + Well thought-out boss battles Cons - Exploration occasionally drags on a bit too long Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Pato Box does its own thing and does it well. If you love the Punch-Out!! franchise or weird, surrealist art pieces, Pato Box should be up your alley. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  5. Harrison Lee

    Review: Vampyr

    Developer: Dontnod Entertainment Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC Release Date: June 5, 2018 ESRB: M for Mature Note: This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game Playing Vampyr feels a lot like cracking open a three-quarters full piñata. The exterior is attractive and inviting, so you grab the nearest baseball bat and go to town. The candy spills out and you quickly devour it all before realizing something’s amiss. There’s less candy inside than what the tag on the piñata promised. The candy you’ve consumed then begins to turn a bit sour, and you’re left wanting something a bit more satisfying. Vampyr comes really close to being something awesome but falls prey to its own ambition. Vampyr’s anti-hero, Dr. Jonathan Reid, is dead. Or, at least, he was dead before being mysteriously resurrected amidst a pile of corpses. Reid wakes up with one heck of a hangover and a sudden craving for blood, along with some creepy narration from an unknown party. He’s immediately pursued by vampire hunters through the seedy underbelly of London, taking refuge at the local Pembroke Hospital under the auspices of a former medical colleague. Reid’s mission is to locate the person that brought him back from the dead and added his vampiric tastes. Whether he does so by curing or burning London to the ground is your choice. The first thing you’ll notice is how oppressive post-World War I London feels. The city is gripped by the plague of Spanish flu, and people are dying by the bucketfuls. Mass graves are everywhere, and crimson liquid coats the streets. Amidst this carnage, a darker power calls to Reid and his compatriots. Something is turning ordinary people into feral, bloodthirsty beasts. You can feel that fear and tension in the constant darkness and sheets of fog that swirl around London’s dirty back-alleys. The developers at Dontnod certainly nailed the look and feel of an early 20th-century city embroiled in chaos. Reid begins his search through the various districts of London, each with its own cast of characters and issues to deal with. The good (or bad) doctor can choose to pursue side-quests or rescue people in need, working to stabilize the health of the district. Characters with ailments can also be treated with medicinal elixirs created through the game’s simple crafting system. Interacting with and healing patients around each district will improve the overall health of the region. More importantly, Reid’s knowledge and treatment of each patient adds to the experience pool gained from Vampyr’s central gameplay conceit, “embracing”. Almost every named character Reid meets can be drained of blood for valuable experience, which players use to level up Reid’s combat abilities. Special abilities, health buffs, and combat techniques can only be accessed through large quantities of blood, so “embracing” offers a tantalizing path towards rapidly making the game’s combat easier. Unfortunately, killing an NPC badly damages the overall health of a district and will block off any quests related to that character. Your choices may also alter certain plot beats as you go along, in addition to any major decisions you make outside of killing characters. The point of the mechanic is to make you feel like a predator profiling its hapless prey, and the game greatly succeeds at this portrayal of villainy. Vampyr’s structure of choice is fascinating, but once you start digging around, you quickly discover it’s not nearly as developed as it looks. For one thing, I found certain decisions were a bit too vague in description, so I ended up screwing over half a district because the choice text wasn’t explicit. I don’t mind ambiguity or anything, but losing quest or “embracing” options feels a bit punishing. It’s also not clear why killing off someone like a gang member or a hustler would actually harm a district’s health, but such is the case in Vampyr. London is also prone to being a bit lifeless. I know the game’s plot suggests that citizens clear the streets due to the plague, but the game should then find other ways to reward exploration. Instead, I often ran into unproductive dead-ends or hollow building fronts that looked interesting from the outside, but only served as window dressing. The somewhat open-world often struggled with this, lacking ways to fill the play-space with engaging content. The well-acted dialogue with citizens provided some interesting tidbits of lore and hints for other characters, but it didn’t feel deep enough to mask the lack of things to do. Vampyr’s combat system also has a few issues. It’s a simpler version of Bloodborne or Dark Souls, with a lock-on targeting system, punishing damage, a slower, more methodical approach. Unfortunately, the targeting system is a bit wonky and often locks on to guys who aren’t the central threats. Reid’s attacks also require a good deal of close range combat, and the hit detection was occasionally spotty. Fights against tougher enemies and bosses often felt very similar to one another, requiring lots of dodging, healing, and quick strikes before dancing away. The action looks great but feels repetitive in practice. If you choose not to kill anyone like I did, the difficulty of combat noticeably increases, but not enough to lead to more than a few extra deaths here and there. I reviewed Vampyr on the Xbox One X, and despite the console’s added horsepower, the game did not run particularly well. It looked to be locked at 30 frames per second, with significant slowdown and framerate drops at random intervals. Vampyr isn’t exactly a technical marvel, so I was a bit surprised at the lesser optimization. The dialogue, as indicated previously, is generally well-acted. The music also suits the ambiance well and adds to the darkened atmosphere of London. The general feeling I came away with was that Vampyr was a neat experiment that came short of accomplishing its objective. There’s a strong framework for a fantastic action-RPG here, but technical limitations and a lack of content variety hamstrings the game. With further development and polish, the Vampyr franchise could be a cult classic. As it is, however, we’re left with an interesting but deeply flawed title that will probably resonate with a limited audience. Pros Strong, oppressive ambiance A great concept of choice that really emphasizes your predatory nature Lots of engaging dialogue to dig through Cons Combat is relatively lackluster Quite a few technical issues throughout Game world lacks development Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10) Decent Vampyr is a great concept with middling execution. The skeleton of the game provides hope for a brighter future, but the appeal of this particular title is likely limited to a select few. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  6. Harrison Lee

    Game of the Year 2017: Harrison's Picks

    2017 was one of the first years I actually had difficulty keeping up with the steady stream of games. I felt inundated with a deluge of appealing titles, more so than previous years. Sitting down and sifting through what caught my attention has taken no small amount of effort, but I’ve come up with a list that might uncover some hidden gems for you. If you’re like me and missed out on some of 2017’s lesser-known stars, the holidays are the perfect opportunity to catch up. Pull up a chair, stoke the fire in the hearth, and kick back for a blast from the very recent past. (Editor's note: Unlike previous lists, Harrison's list is presented in no certain order) Stories Untold Inevitably, Stories Untold is going to draw comparisons to Netflix's Stranger Things. The ‘80s aesthetic, soundtrack, and title font all evoke the Netflix phenomenon. Stories Untold, however, is a far different animal. Inspired by text-based adventures of yesteryear, this short game traverses four episodes of psychological and atmospheric horror. There are no jump-scares, per se, but Stories Untold can be a deeply unsettling experience. It gets under your skin without the usual guts and gore of your average horror game. I won’t say more because I’d spoil what makes it special, but this is one title you’d be remiss to pass on. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus I will admit the recent political climate has been a mental drag. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is both the manifestation of and the antidote to my current anxieties; a bludgeoning gut-punch of a game that comes face-to-face with the worst aspects of human nature. Despite the depravity, however, hope remains a constant theme. Even as you’re decapitating and dismembering baddies to make America Nazi-free again, Wolfenstein II pulls on the emotional chords more than I expected. I genuinely cared for the characters and rooted for this tiny insurgency to overthrow the horrors of Nazi tyranny. Just as Wolfenstein II pulls no punches in its depictions of violence, so too does it delve into racism, domestic abuse, misogyny, and modern societal ailments. This game is bold, and in some ways, vital. Call of Duty: WWII Call of Duty has always been a meat-and-potatoes shooter. It’s the series that’s resisted franchise burnout time and again, despite the push and pull of the shooter market. WWII represents a hearkening back to what made the series popular in the first place. The campaign is more measured, the multiplayer pared back a bit, and the action as grimly visceral as ever. In some ways, Call of Duty is more formulaic than it’s ever been. In other ways, it feels like a new experience. You might not be impressed by Call of Duty’s return to form, but those who’ve longed for the series to return to its roots will be greatly pleased with Sledgehammer’s effort. LEGO City Undercover Telltale Games has made some serious bank off of comic book franchises and LEGO adaptations of popular movies. Few of their titles, however, scratched the itch for fun that LEGO City Undercover somehow reached. LEGO City technically came out a couple years ago for the WiiU (Editor's note: Would you believe it was actually four years ago?; it was one of Jason's Top 10 Games of 2013!), but I’d only recently gotten around to checking out the recent port on Nintendo Switch. I wish I’d given this game a shot sooner because it’s a hilarious parody of Grand Theft Auto, detective noir, and every police film you can imagine. One-liners and pop culture references back up an entertaining open-world playground, where players can zip around and stop criminal clowns in their tracks. It’s all light-hearted fun, and something more folks should give a chance. FIFA 18 Sports fans already know one simple fact; EA owns our souls. We pour out buckets of cash each year to the FIFA franchise, and subscribe to the silly trading card metagames that rob us of patience and money. For all my cynicism, it’s moot because FIFA 18 is such a darn good product. The presentation, tweaked gameplay, and breadth of content are top-class. This is FIFA at its peak, and boy is that summit a blast. The addition of Football Ultimate Team Squad Battles adds an additional strategic layer to building your dream football squad, incentivizing competition against rival players’ teams. The singleplayer story, 'The Journey', remains a well-written campaign for those tired of multiplayer. Whatever you’re looking for out of FIFA, you’ll find it here. Space Hulk: Deathwing Space Hulk technically came out last December, but it was kind of a mess. As you might expect, I withheld digging in until I felt the game was in an acceptable state. The developers at Streum On spent months patching it up and rebalancing the combat per player feedback. The result is a better optimized, fairer co-op shooter with big beefy tank-people. Space Hulk is bloody good at conveying a sense of mass and impact, surrounding you with a literal army of xenos to cleanse. Nothing like old-fashioned alien killin’ to get the blood pumping, eh? Redeemer I enjoyed kung-fu movies as a kid, so Redeemer is something of a guilty pleasure. It’s a gory, virulently-stupid splatterfest where every punch seems to send a geyser of red stuff shooting everywhere. Combat is fast, crunchy, and brutal. While ranged combat is something of a mixed bag, Redeemer absolutely nails the melee aspect to a T. Those looking for subtlety need apply elsewhere. Redeemer is a face-punching simulator dialed to 11. Ghost Recon: Wildlands I have a hard time saying Ghost Recon: Wildlands is good. It isn’t. At least, not in the traditional sense. It’s a big, goofy, occasionally-shoddy open-world shooter that’s best taken with a grain of salt. If you give in to its dumb premise and cut loose, Ghost Recon reveals itself to be a raucous time. No, the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. Yes, the writing can be way too serious at times. Yes, you should absolutely give it a try if you have a few friends who also own the game. Messing with the game’s open-ended combat arenas and muddling through some hilarious bugs adds to the charming mess that is Wildlands.
  7. Harrison Lee

    Review: Elex

    Developer: Piranha Bytes Publisher: THQ Nordic Platform: PC, PS4 and Xbox One Release Date: October 17, 2017 ESRB: M for Mature Note: This review is based on the PC version of the game Most modern RPGs have favored diverse, emergent storytelling, where traditional gameplay tropes of the genre are eschewed for greater accessibility and player empowerment. The Elder Scrolls series is the most obvious and greatest example of this trend, but there remain bands of holdouts who prefer their RPGs a bit more hardcore. The most old-school fans of the genre have often turned to Piranha Bytes, a German studio with a repertoire of flawed gems. The eccentric developer’s most recent release, ELEX, is much the same as the infamous Gothic and Risen series that have inspired it. You begin as nothing, and after hours of grinding, you’ll be only slightly more than nothing. The sooner you figure out everything can and will kill you, the sooner you’ll be on your way to deciding the fate of ELEX’s expansive, dangerous world. The Earth-like planet of Magalan is in rebuild after an apocalyptic meteor shower has left the landscape desolate. Humans huddle in small communes, from Mad Max-style bandits to nature-worshipping forest guardians. The planet’s surface is now scarred by strange blue crystals called elex. Some of the humans, known as Albs, have taken to ingesting the crystals in order to gain exponentially increased strength at the cost of their humanity. Believing the rest of the world to be a plague of free will, the Albs will stop at nothing to extinguish resistance and bring the world of Magalan under control. Players take on the role of ex-Alb Jax, a former commander who’s left for dead after he fails an important mission. For some reason, Jax has to hunt down his brother who tried to kill him and take his revenge. Not much of this is really explained, save for some loading screen text, but the plot is more or less a pretext to go nuts. Players will come into contact with four different factions, each with their own set of quests to complete, fighting styles, and purchasable gear. After visiting each faction and getting some introductions out of the way, players are free to align with a given faction and pursue the associated main quest lines. Many of the choices you’ll make throughout the various missions will impact later plot outcomes. It leaves a better sense of permanence and impact, even if the consequences aren’t immediately felt. The side quests are equally engaging, focusing on the efforts of various faction members to make a living in a post-apocalyptic society. You’ll be doing as many supply runs and fetch quests as you will combat encounters. Despite the general similarity in quest types, it doesn’t always feel as rote as it sounds. Part of this is due to the strong world design ELEX offers. Environments are generally varied, and there are always fun secrets and side quests hiding off the beaten path. Jax comes prepackaged with a jetpack, which means getting around to higher elevations is a breeze. Just be forewarned….the earlier levels make it difficult to traverse enemy-ridden areas. Your equipment is your only defense against Magalan’s steady stream of non-level scaled threats, so you’ll find avoiding conflict tends to be the best bet until your gear is improved. You’ll be doing a lot more running than fighting. When fighting becomes unavoidable, ELEX fumbles a bit. There’s a combo-based combat system that’s a holdover from previous Piranha Bytes games (unless you’ve played Risen, you wouldn’t know this). Like many of ELEX’s systems, not much is explained. You’re left to deduce the combat mechanics on your own, which can lead to some frustration when you’re regularly getting caved in by mutant dogs. Melee is also the most useful method of combat, with ranged weaponry being mostly ineffective due to ammo/damage constraints. ELEX is also a little rough around the edges on the technical side. You’ll see some funky bugs every now and then, including a bit of clipping or getting stuck on game-world objects. Some of the voice-acting can also come off a bit stilted, though I generally didn’t notice it that much. This is clearly an ambitious game limited by a smaller budget, but you’ll be too busy trying not to die to notice. What may frustrate you more is the hit-or-miss combat and the lack of clarity in how to navigate Magalan. ELEX is very old-school in its approach and pulls no punches in keeping you in your place, occasionally to detrimental effect. If you like your RPGs a bit on the punishing side, ELEX will likely be up your alley. It can be a beautiful, ambitious, and rewarding game. It can also be a maddeningly difficult and obtuse experience for the uninitiated. If you let ELEX unfold itself to you, you’ll find a deep, rich lore around decently-engaging exploration. Jax’s adventures don’t always land with a bang, but there’s probably something you’ll like in ELEX’s toybox approach to world-building and combat. Pros A rich, detailed game-world that is nowhere near as boring as the name Plenty of freedom to decide who you want to align with or destroy Surprisingly ambitious given the budgetary constraints, with plenty of things to see and do Cons Lacking polish on the technical side, and some stilted voice-acting/writing Painfully difficult for beginners, even on the easiest setting Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good ELEX won’t reinvent the wheel, but what it does offer is charming, if occasionally maddening. Take the time dig into Pirahna Byte’s weird mash-up of sci-fi and fantasy tropes if you dare, but stay for the atmosphere and freedom.
  8. Harrison Lee

    Review: Nidhogg II

    Developer: Meshoff Games Publisher: Meshoff Games Platform: PC, PlayStation 4 Release Date: August 15, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game The art of the duel is one of pop culture’s most unmistakable tropes. A one-on-one battle of wits, physicality, or both, exists in everything from Hollywood films and TV shows to professional sports. Nidhogg 2 knows the allure of single combat all too well and seeks to outshine the debut effort of the original, fast-paced fencing game. Is this fight worth the price of admission, or has the humorous dueling simulator seen its heyday too soon? Nidhogg 2 is a game of timing and strategy, which seems obvious from the outset. Unlike the original, however, the sequel adds a slew of new weapons with which to dismember, skewer, and disembowel your nemesis with. Battles are often see-saw tug-of-wars, with opposing players battling back and forth to see who can reach the other side of the screen first. Levels are divided into distinct “scenes”, with the sole objective of killing your way to the right or left of each space. Victory results in being devoured by a giant space worm. Yay? The new weapons that supplement the balanced fencing sword offer more tactical nuance. The broadsword is slower but extends your reach, while the bow offers a difficult but effective long-distance option. The fencing rapier remains the easiest to use and master, rewarding those who parry and beat their opponent’s timing with brutal finishes and eye-cratering kills (literally). Nidhogg 2, no matter how colorful, certainly doesn’t shy away from the gory details. Speaking of colors, Nidhogg 2 looks noticeably different than its predecessor. Levels are virtual acid trips of strange cartoon spaces, with appropriately weird-looking player avatars. Kills paint the environments in neon-hued pools of bodily fluid, and certain environmental objects add the suspense of not being able to see the opponent you’re trying to stop. It all leads to frenetic, chaotic combat that may or may not suit your aesthetic tastes. I didn’t mind the presentation, but the art style wasn’t my favorite either. The driving soundtrack in the background is varied for each level, but does tend to get a bit repetitive for the matches that last longer than 5 minutes. There isn’t much else to the audio beyond the clang of swords and disturbing squeals of dying foes. Nidhogg 2 is, in some respects, as minimalist as the original. If you’re looking for an audio-visual experience that leaves you breathless, you may find yourself breathing a bit more than anticipated. Nidhogg 2, of course, is a multiplayer game at heart and shines best when played with frenemies. You can challenge the AI to a basic arcade mode, but nothing beats couch co-op where you’ll find yourself laughing hysterically at the thousands of dumb ways to die. Additional players can be added to the fray for even more chaotic madness, but Nidhogg 2 is at its best when it’s just you and the person who killed your parental figure or insulted your honor. Whichever backstory you choose, you can rest assured that the race to the space worm is amusing, stupidly violent, and guaranteed to make your eyes bleed neon. The single-player offerings and presentation are a bit spartan, but Nidhogg 2 was made to be enjoyed with others. Skipping out on the multiplayer would be doing a disservice to what is sure to become a staple of dueling fans everywhere. Pros + Easy to pick-up and play with friends + Deeper, more nuanced combat system + Naturally-occurring humor + Controls quite well Cons + Singleplayer offerings are a bit lacking + Art style may be off-putting Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Nidhogg 2 is a nice expansion of the original, splicing in a handful of new weapons and a rather drastic new visual direction. While it may not be the best experience solo, dueling friends has never been easier or more entertaining. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher
  9. Harrison Lee

    Review: Full Throttle Remastered

    Developer: Double Fine Productions, Shiny Shoe Publisher: Double Fine Productions Platform: PC, PS4, PS Vita Release Date: April 18, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PC version of the game A few years ago, I was at a yard sale digging through a box of old PC games when I hit upon a floppy disk copy of Day of the Tentacle. I was born in the mid-90“s and had missed out on this LucasArts gem of point-and-click adventure mayhem. To be honest, I still haven“t popped the game in. No one uses floppy disks anymore and I don“t have the hardware to run it. Funny, right? Someone at Double Fine must have heard my groans over not getting to experience the classics because we“ve been graced with Full Throttle Remastered, a spruced-up version of Tim Schafer“s darkly-comedic bikerthon. Does the updated version do the original game justice, or is this remaster out of gas? Above: Original Release Below: Remastered Version I didn“t get to play the original Full Throttle, but Double Fine has included the unedited version of the game alongside the remaster. At any point, you can toggle between the gorgeous original pixel art and the new hand-drawn look. The audio has also been given a proper makeover, with voice-overs sounding crystal clear and the rockin“ soundtrack popping in the background. While the remaster does a good job updating the look and feel of the game, I prefer the original pixel art to the remastered version. The new art just doesn“t feel quite right, though it“s definitely respectful of the original game. The remixed audio, however, is blissfully pleasant to listen to. Full Throttle follows the exploits of the rough-and-tumble Ben and his biker-gang, the Polecats, in a dystopic post-apocalypse world. Only one company builds road hogs in this desolate era, and the Polecats are front and center in a plot to reconfigure the company to build… mini-vans. Ben becomes the fall-guy in a murder conspiracy and has to battle numerous obstacles to save the company, the Polecats, and the spirit of motorcycling. Along the way, he befriends a well-characterized supporting cast and solves a host of entertaining puzzles. Few challenges stand in Ben“s way for more than a few minutes, and the ride is over before you know it. But what a ride Full Throttle is. Tim Schafer“s ode to biker gangs won“t last you more than the average Call of Duty game, but it“s a well-paced, entertaining dramedy all the same. That said, there are a few speed-bumps in the experience. Some noticeably unsmooth transitions rear their heads in cut-scenes, and audio occasionally drops out completely as a new scene is loaded. The bike combat, maligned when the game originally came out, also hasn“t aged well. It“s a bit clunky, but is mercifully over in short order. An object-highlighting feature has also been added to help you find solutions to the puzzles faster. I noticed it rarely highlighted the objects I needed to pick up and use, so I“m not sure how much time it really saved me. Not that Full Throttle needs to go any faster, mind you. I“m a bit ashamed to admit Full Throttle occasionally tested my wits. I don“t often play point-and-click adventures (barring the Sherlock Holmes series), and there were a few moments where the puzzle solutions had me a little baffled. In the context of the scenario, the solutions made sense. I just didn“t pick up on them in time. It“s refreshing to see a game that moves at a brisk pace, yet isn“t afraid to apply the brakes and force you to think. Full Throttle isn“t terribly difficult, but there are a few puzzles that might have you consulting a walkthrough. Full Throttle is LucasArts“s often-overlooked adventuring gem. While I missed it the first time, I“m happy to report it“s absolutely worth playing, even in this day age. The quippy one-liners, entertaining plot, well-defined character archetypes, and occasionally challenging puzzles all add up to a fun ride. Full Throttle never overstays its welcome and is a little shorter than I“d like, but you“ll enjoy the rush while it“s there. Don“t miss this great update to a classic. Pros + A unique sense of humor and place + Entertaining, well-written plot + The original pixel art is as beautiful as ever + The remastered audio is excellent Cons - The combat sequences are still rough - A few awkward scene transitions here and there Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Full Throttle is a fast-paced, enjoyable point-and-click adventure that will inspire nostalgia in the most devoted LucasArts fans, while welcoming genre newcomers with beefy, grease-covered arms. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher.
  10. Harrison Lee

    Review: Super Dungeon Bros

    Developer: React Games Publisher: Wired Productions Platform: PS4, XB1, PC Release Date: November 1, 2016 ESRB: E 10+ Gauntlet remains one of the all-time greats in the dungeon-crawling sub-genre, creating a template that numerous games have tried, and failed, to successfully replicate. Super Dungeon Bros, a rock music-themed hack-and-slash dungeon delver, is the latest to try and recapture the magic. While it“s decently put-together, there are too many flubbed notes to make this one more than an afternoon couch co-op session. Super Dungeon Bros takes place across three main environments with vaguely Norse-sounding names (Cryptheim, Bogheim, etc.). Taking control of one of four medieval rock frat bros, players must kill a bunch of monsters and skeletons across several dungeons. The environment is littered with traps and baddies to slay with reckless abandon, though it“s best tackled with friends. Trying to solo Super Dungeon Bros is a painful experience. Scattered throughout the levels are various crates filled with coins and health. Gold coins can be used to upgrade your character of choice after each dungeon, or exchanged for weapons. The health drops are especially useful when soloing, as the difficulty ramps up quickly without warning. With only four lives to spare, plundering each of the dungeons is an exercise in dying frequently. There“s quite a bit of variety as far as armaments are concerned, but loot isn“t enough to save Super Dungeon Bros from its most critical flaw; boredom. You“ve played Super Dungeon Bros before, only with more variety, more loot, and deeper gameplay mechanics in titles like Diablo III. Super Dungeon Bros is competent, but doesn“t offer enough to differentiate itself from the crowd. It“s a shame, because rock-themed games are few and far between these days. Like the rest of the experience, Super Dungeon Bros doesn“t commit enough to its inspirations and feels like a retread of better games. Even the combat is rote, with attacks lacking a weighty crunch and enemies looking all too similar. The bosses provide some much needed enemy variety, but trying to take them on without friends is no fun at all. The environmental traps can also be a nuisance, especially if you get swarmed by the hordes of monsters that will randomly appear without warning. One thing that“s absolutely true about Super Dungeon Bros is that you will die… a lot. If, like me, you don“t handle swarms of bad guys very well, an in-game shopkeep offers some extra lives and health at a significant cost. Whether you actually make it far enough to require this shifty fellow“s services is another matter entirely. Whether you“re killed by enemies or boredom, there“s not enough here to keep players coming back for more punishment. It“s disappointing, because Super Dungeon Bros could have been an enjoyable dungeon-crawling experience. Instead, it“s out-of-tune and in need of some serious polish. Pros + Some decent boss fights and loot + Solid visuals and audio + A competent outing for couch co-op Cons - Doesn“t make use of the rock theme effectively - The bros are kind of annoying - Insane difficulty spikes - Not solo-friendly at all Overall Score: 4.5 (out of 10) Below Average Super Dungeon Bros could have been an enjoyable dungeon-crawling experience. Instead, it“s out-of-tune and in need of some serious polish. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher
  11. Harrison Lee

    Game of the Year 2016: Harrison's Picks

    2016 was a pretty crappy year in general for everything not related to video games. Fortunately, the video game side of things was flipping awesome, with scores of great releases from well-established franchises and brand new IPs. The bounty of games inevitably leads to the all-consuming question: which ones should be added to your played list during the holidays? Or better yet, can I afford them all? Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen Dragon's Dogma has been around a couple of years and finally made its way to PC early this year. This definitive edition, which includes the Dark Arisen content, adds all sorts of small visual improvements, unlocks the framerate to 60 FPS, and has fast-travel. If you have a PC and a pulse, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen needs to be in your library. The unique blend of action-RPG elements and a Monster Hunter-esque host of beasts is unlike anything else out there. The best news is that it can be found on the cheap. Battlefleet Gothic: Armada Official GP Review The Warhammer 40K mythos has always been prime grounds for a proper video game treatment. To date, very few competent releases have graced our palms. Then along came Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, a wonderful space-based RTS that pits giant warships against each other in absolute slugfests. Featuring a deep campaign with story-altering decisions and a robust combat system, this game does the Warhammer universe justice. Alienation Guns, gore, and aliens. Alienation delivers exactly what Housemarque promised and then some. Explosions shatter the landscape as monsters are reduced to piles of goo. Players are given a host of alien-dispatching tools to get to work, a nice progression system, and randomized loot. While the difficulty spikes can be off-putting, Alienation is at its best when players are teaming up or squaring off against each other to silence the beasts from beyond. DOOM I really can't say much more about DOOM that hasn't been said already, but if you have any interest in shooters, this needs to be in your library yesterday. DOOM is a great interpretation of the classic franchise, eschewing nuance for nut-punching the devil over and over again. With a thrilling campaign and serviceable multiplayer, DOOM is one of the best FPSes to come out in ages. The Elder Scrolls Online: One Tamriel I'm not much for MMOs, but The Elder Scrolls Online is one of the rare exceptions that deserves your attention. The original game came out some time ago but was derided by reviewers for restricting what made The Elder Scrolls so memorable; player freedom. The recently-released One Tamriel update unshackles players of all levels and sets them loose to tackle quests and exploration in whatever order they please. It makes a very solid foundation a totally fresh experience, and that's before Zenimax adds the Homestead update. Game of the Year Titanfall 2 DOOM would have held the title of 'Best Shooter', but Respawn shocked me with just how great Titanfall 2 is. The sequel to the under-rated online shooter adds a campaign and further refines the progression system to a spit-shine. The result is a varied experience backed up by gorgeous visuals and one of the best gameplay feels in some time. Titanfall 2 is an excellent shooter and deserves your hard-earned cash.
  12. Harrison Lee

    Review: Strike Vector EX

    Developer: Ragequit Corporation Publisher: Ragequit Corporation Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC Release Date: August 30, 2016 ESRB: M for Mature This review is based on the PS4 version of the game The selection of combat flight games is relatively limited these days. The once-thriving genre has dwindled to a scant selection, many of which aren“t very good. Strike Vector EX is a new entry, but calling it a flight game would be a bit misleading. It sits somewhere between Ace Combat with VTOLs and a frantic, arena-based FPS. If that combo sounds strange, don“t be alarmed. Strike Vector EX is a lot more familiar than it might sound. The game immediately starts off with a serious-toned intro movie. The cutscenes (including the intro) feature some nice animated art, but the voice-acting is incredibly cheesy. The intro tries to deliver some semblance of a storyline, yet fails to establish any firm characters or factions. Past the beginning, the game mostly does away with plot. As soon as the hard rock soundtrack kicks in and the bullets begin to fly, you know what you“re in for. Strike Vector“s campaign is brief, fun, campy, and self-aware. It never overstays its welcome and serves as a smooth introduction to the online component. Missions consist of dogfights, escort segments, aerial one-on-one duels, and more. It“s never too taxing and offers a good afternoon“s worth of action. During the campaign, you“ll be able to swap loadouts and test out a variety of special abilities for your titular Vector. Finding the right loadout, like a plasma cannon with an area-of-effect healing shield, can mean the difference between victory or defeat. The Vectors are remarkably fun to control, transforming into high-speed aircraft or VTOLs with the press of a button. Dodging missiles and pulling hard braking maneuvers to get the jump on an opponent never gets old. It also helps that the controls give you a great deal of finesse when maneuvering through the arenas. Verticality and building-based cover points become important once you start taking on human opponents. The loadout and customization options also allow you to modify your Vector to whatever role and look you please. Whether you fancy close-range combat or long-distance shooting, the choices are limited to your imagination. The online combat is suitably thrilling, translating the pace of an arena shooter to the sky. The modes on offer are straightforward, but the unpredictable nature of Vector combat and the customization options should keep players coming back. The console scene has lacked a fun flight combat game for years. With the dormancy of the Ace Combat franchise, Strike Vector EX provides a welcome respite from the norm. If you“re hoping for a visually-resplendent experience, Strike Vector probably won“t wow you. I personally loved the sense of speed and particle effects on display, but many of the aerial arenas lack a certain amount of detail. They certainly don“t look bad or anything. That said, I would have appreciated a bit more life in the background. These are, after all, supposed to be floating cities in the sky. Some civilian traffic or signs of other people would have been welcome. Strike Vector has finally found its way onto consoles with this “redux” version, and it“s about bloody time. The PC release was a minor cult hit, and I can imagine a thriving competitive scene emerging for those who take the plunge. Strike Vector EX successfully marries FPS sensibilities with high-flying hijinks. If you“ve been deprived of entertaining aerial action, look no further than this gem of a title. Strap in pilots, because we“re bound for a little turbulence. Pros + Brief, entertaining campaign + Great controls and handling + Diverse multiplayer and customization options Cons - Campaign might be too brief for some - Combat arenas are a bit lifeless Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great If you“ve been deprived of entertaining aerial action, look no further than this gem of a title. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  13. Harrison Lee

    Review: Alone With You

    Developer: Benjamin Rivers Inc. Publisher: Benjamin Rivers Inc. Platform: PS4, PS Vita Release Date: August 23, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PS4 version of the game Alone With You bills itself as a “sci-fi romance adventure game.” Before watching the trailer, I“d heard next to nothing about this small slice of retro-adventuring. Having experienced what Alone With You has to offer, it“s more along the lines of an interactive version of The Martian, with a little bit of the film Her thrown in for good measure. It“s an intensely melancholic, somber game, but one that effectively pulls at the heart-strings. I won“t spoil anything beyond the basic premise, but know that you might want to bring a tissue box for the endings. You take on the role of the last human survivor of an interstellar colony. The host planet is in the death throes of a failed terraforming project and mining operation. There is only one goal; to escape. The lone survivor, however, isn“t quite as alone as he or she first appears. The colony is monitored by a personable AI whose name is a mishmash of incomprehensible letters and numbers. No matter. The AI knows your name, and that“s all that matters. To get off-world, the survivor has to repair an escape ship and hope to be picked up by passing shipping vessels. The AI creates hologram versions of four of the colony“s most important members, assembling a dream-team to help the survivor rebuild the ship. Each hologram has many of the memories and character traits of the long-deceased colonist. In fact, the simulation is so good that the holograms are eerily life-like, as if they truly exist in their simulated worlds. Alone With You dabbles in some of these existential quandaries, but never delves too deeply. The most pressing matter, of course, is scouring several locations for ship parts. Alone With You then becomes a classic adventure game, complete with some light puzzle-solving and environmental exploration. All of this serves to carry the narrative forward, especially as you unearth details about the past lives of the four hologram colonists. The game progresses in days, with the survivor only able to visit one location per 24 hours before taking a quick nap. Depending on which sites you visit, you“ll get to talk with a corresponding hologram and report your findings. I mentioned that Alone With You is repetitive in nature, and it feels like a purposeful design choice. The character is alone, and undergoing the same daily routines feels oddly fitting for the sole survivor of a mining colony. Some might be deterred by this decision, but I felt like it fit with the story. As the only living human around, you get stuck with having limited travel options and a short period of time to escape. The most rewarding part of the game is getting to talk to the other colonists. They all have unique personalities, and finding certain documents or items in the real-world will open up new dialogue options. There“s also some degree of romance, though I hesitate to use the term. It“s more about companionship and trying to fight the feeling of isolation. Regardless, a few encounters have romantic undertones, should the player so choose to pursue them. Alone With You is visually striking, favoring a retro-pixel aesthetic. The game looks like something out of Sierra“s ”90s catalog. The audio is appropriately spartan, with a somber electronic soundtrack backing the sound effects. The artistic choices combine to make the player feel lonely and abandoned on this world. The conversations with the AI, however, remind the survivor that he or she is never truly alone. After the midpoint of the game, the experience begins to drag on. There“s some mild back-tracking, though each visit to a site opens up new areas. The repetition of waking up, checking in with the AI mainframe, and flying out to a location gets to be a bit much. Perhaps that“s the point, creating a sense of overbearing futility. A few players might be turned off by this, but those that stick through to the end will have an emotional payoff awaiting them. Alone With You is a melancholic exploration of what it means to be alive. It“s also a sci-fi adventure game with some romance. That classification, however, doesn“t really do the game justice. There“s definitely a game here, but it serves as a vehicle for the emotional stories of the colonists. If you give Alone With You a chance, you“ll discover that space is never as lonely as it seems. Pros + A well-written story that tugs at the heart + Beautiful visuals and audio + Some smart puzzle design that never proves too challenging Cons - Can drag on at several points - A bit too repetitive for its own good Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Alone With You is a melancholic exploration of what it means to be alive. If you give it a chance, you“ll discover that space is never as lonely as it seems. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  14. Harrison Lee

    Review: Valley

    Developer: Blue Isle Studios Publisher: Blue Isle Studios Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One Release Date: August 24, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PC version of the game I went into Valley relatively blind. I“d seen a trailer or two, but didn“t dig around too much. With a fairly boilerplate name, Valley is one of the most inconspicuous adventure titles of the year. That“s a shame, because it“s easily one of the best experiences I“ve had in quite some time. If you have any interest in supernatural sci-fi, world-building lore, evocative soundtracks, and Sonic the Hedgehog, stop reading and grab Valley right now. Still not convinced? Then read on about one of 2016“s early sleeper hits. Many have described Valley“s opening sequence as a walking simulator. That“s an apt description, but doesn“t hold true for very long. The protagonist (either male or female, depending on your preference) is searching the Rocky Mountains for a mystical artifact called the Lifeseed. The Lifeseed is said to contain untold power, one that could alter the fabric of reality if used. The protagonist, however, isn“t the first to have sought the artifact out. During World War II, the U.S. military attempted to harness the Lifeseed“s power, relying on L.E.A.F. suit-equipped “Pathfinders” to lead the charge. Before the player can get to the Lifeseed, he or she has to follow suit and strap on an abandoned L.E.A.F. suit. I mentioned Sonic the Hedgehog for a reason. The L.E.A.F. suit is the closest thing to replicating the immense feeling of speed that the Sonic series is known for. Using the mechanical exosuit, players can run down hills, make death-defying leaps, and shoot beams of life-restoring energy at dying creatures. Everything in Valley is tied to the suit, including the central narrative. Much of the plot occurs well before the player has arrived. Audio logs embedded in the suit pace the story along, drip-feeding story beats as the player moves throughout the titular valley. The narrative is fairly compelling, and I found myself decently enthralled by the conflict between several characters. Though all the people on the island are long-since deceased, the well-acted voice-overs make it feel as though their actions were recent. The L.E.A.F. suit also has a few extra features, including a grappling hook and magnetic boots. Some of these abilities won“t come into play until late in the game, which is something of a minor disappointment. The end-game platforming stages, including a few thrilling tunnel runs, are a genuine joy to bound around in. Numerous secrets are also littered throughout the environment, so it pays to take the less-trodden path if you want a few convenience upgrades for the suit. Journal entries provide additional backstory, coloring the lore of the forgotten valley. Death is one of Valley“s central themes, and the L.E.A.F. suit grants some truly unique characteristics. The first is a pseudo-immortality, whereby the suit transfers the user to alternate reality where they didn“t die should he or she meet an untimely end. While the suit allows for quick reality swaps, it comes at the cost of some form of life in the valley. Luckily, the player can replenish the valley“s health by shooting energy at dead trees and animals. If the suit“s energy is running low, just grab a few floating blue orbs or suck the life out of some other creatures. The messaging, clearly, is not so subtle. The second ability the L.E.A.F. suit provides is the ability to fight off monstrous spirits. These beasts will try to sap you of your energy, and battles become a small test of balancing energy consumed from shooting and energy lost from being hit. There“s even a boss battle later in the game, but the combat is never more than a distraction. It only serves to add variety to the relatively short experience. The platforming and story are clearly the central stars here. Valley is visually stunning, with gorgeous particle effects and level aesthetics rewarding your investment. The soundtrack is equally strong, standing alongside some of the best music composed in any genre. I“ve heard reports of some object-clipping and players getting stuck on level geometry, but I only encountered this once or twice. The only complaint I have is that checkpoints aren“t frequent enough. Valley can be completed in just a few hours, but having to restart entire areas over is a tad tedious if you need to temporarily quit the game. Unlike some titles, Valley has a very distinct beginning, middle, and conclusion. While the ending is somewhat dark, the narrative reaches a fitting finale that ties several loose ends. The plot isn“t overly complicated, but it“s nice to see the game pay attention to its own explanations of theoretical physics and the lore of the world. If, by chance, you pick Valley up, I would recommend passing on gathering all of the medallions. The in-game narrative tells you they“ll open up a secret temple, but the rewards are a bit underwhelming. There“s probably a metaphor for greed in there. Valley is an under-the-radar title that should be anything but. It“s a riveting action-adventure game, bolstered by a strong plot and rich soundtrack. If you have a few hours and a need for speed, surrender yourself to the Lifeseed and see what Valley has to offer. It“s existentialist and spiritual meanderings don“t always land, but it“s a fun ride all the same. Pros + The L.E.A.F. suit makes Sonic blush + Gorgeous visuals and an amazing soundtrack + Great plot and some neat lore Cons - Some lore is a bit underdeveloped - Inventory management feels unnecessary at times Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Valley is an under-the-radar title that should be anything but. It“s a riveting action-adventure game, bolstered by a strong plot and rich soundtrack. If you have a few hours and a need for speed, surrender yourself to the Lifeseed and see what Valley has to offer. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  15. Harrison Lee

    Review: Headlander

    Developer: Double Fine Productions Publisher: Adult Swim Games Platform: PC, Mac OS, PS4 Release Date: July 25, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen As a kid, I was raised on schlocky sci-fi movies with the infamous “stereoscopic 3D vision”. These movies were trashy, gaudy, and silly, but absolutely charming. Actors in rubberized suits whacked each other over the head with plastic swords or fired hilariously fake lasers at space aliens. Chief among these films were the Godzilla and Space: 1999 series. Both movie and TV franchises were terrible in their own right, but the creative vision and imagination powering each series kept me engrossed. Double Fine“s Headlander attempts to recapture that nostalgic glory, albeit with an action-puzzle platformer overlaid with ”70s funk, shag carpets, and double entendres. It“s the kind of game that was made with me in mind. While Headlander doesn“t always hit the mark, it“s still an entertaining head trip for those who dig sci-fi with a little disco. Headlander takes place in the far retro-future, where humanity has abandoned its need for organic bodies and transferred human consciousness into robotic vessels. Lording over this mechanized version of human society is the ever-vigilant, sinister AI known as Methuselah. For reasons unknown, the sentient computer program has made humans docile in their new robotic hosts. Methuselah“s ambitions are never made clear, but Headlander doesn“t care about a dense plot so much as it is invested in a plethora of sci-fi tropes and in-jokes. One such (inappropriate) joke is derived from the game“s primary conceit, the player avatar. You take control of the last organic human being known to the galaxy, but there“s a minor issue; you“re just a head. Encased in a rocket-powered helmet, you are humanity“s last shot at beating Methuselah and freeing society. To outwit and outlast the AI overlord, you“ll have to navigate a series of complex environments, steal bodies from the robotic Shepherds, and solve a variety of relatively simple puzzles. The head can vacuum off the electrical noggins of opponents and “headland” on to them to seize control. This allows players to unlock color-coded security doors and gain access to a variety of flashy laser weapons. Pressing F will also unleash a super funky dance, just for kicks. Stealing robotic bodies is crucial as your head is incredibly fragile. One or two direct hits is usually enough to end your day on a dour note. As you progress, you“ll gain access to upgrades that allow you to add protective shields and more health, but it won“t be enough. Methuselah has a literal army of robocops to send your way. Mercifully, his Shepherds come with a variety of weapons to make the war easier, from single-shot laser pistols to room-clearing hand-shotguns. Lasers zig, zag, and ricochet all across game levels in a delightfully stupid, chaotic manner. If a useful enemy body stands on the platform above, you can bounce a shot off a wall and remove his or her robotic skull for an easy body steal. You can also hijack robo-dogs, rolling maps, and almost any robot you can decapitate. Naturally, Headlander will find a way to insert a NSFW joke about it that either induces a chuckle or sarcastic groan. The puzzling side of Headlander is mostly straightforward. You“ll have to backtrack and disable various laser walls or sneak through air ducts to find power-ups and switches. Every now and then, there“ll be a puzzle that“s bloody frustrating. The chess-match sequence comes to mind, though I“d consider a few of the bullet hell combat sequences to be just as puzzle-like. Later boss fights also spike in difficulty, so be prepared to smash a few keyboards. Headlander is never impossible, but there are a few points where it feels that way. The other knock against the game is the focus on repetition. Most titles have lists of three tasks to accomplish, but Headlander bucks the mold with sets of five. Doing something three times can be aggravating, but five times is a bit overkill. Sure, you get to explore more of the game-world and hear some of the wacky dialogue that accompanies it. It sucks that you“ll have to grind through the same task five times to do it. A few optional side quests help to break up the monotony, but the core quest-line could do without the repetition. It begins to feel like filler after some time. If you like a ”70s disco aesthetic bathed in a warm filmic haze, Headlander will likely appeal to you. It“s gorgeous to watch in motion, with lively backgrounds complementing pulses of blaster fire and explosions. As you might expect, the shag carpets are also lovingly rendered. The audio is just as strong, with some hammy voice-acting and retro tunes accompanying the action. The audio-visual side only serves to enhance the atmosphere of Headlander“s campy sci-fi playground. Headlander is best thought of as an entertaining distraction. It“s not particularly long, but the implementation of a flying head and the hilarity of body-stealing seldom gets stale. The repetition of tasks can be frustrating, but it“s abated by the visually-rich environments Double Fine has crafted. Just be prepared for a few incredibly difficult segments on your quest to free humanity. If, however, you appreciate the glimmer of a disco-ball, grab Headlander now. Pros + A great homage to cheesy ”70s sci-fi movies + Popping off robot heads and stealing bodies never gets old + Gorgeous visuals and great audio enhance the experience Cons - Some noticeable difficulty spikes - Repetition of tasks tends to get old very quickly Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good If you like a ”70s disco aesthetic bathed in a warm filmic haze, Headlander will likely appeal to you. The repetition of tasks can be frustrating, but it“s abated by the visually-rich environments Double Fine has crafted. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher