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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.
  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  7. 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.
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. Early Access Preview: We Happy Few

    According to some, tripping on all manner of drugs can be a wonderful experience. That must be why the alternate-1960’s British city of Wellington Wells doses its citizens on Joy. The seemingly innocuous pill hides the terrifying, no good, very bad “thing” the government did. What that “thing” is may not be that important to the protagonists of We Happy Few. Rather, the three main characters have one goal; to escape Wellington Wells as expediently as possible. This quirky survival game is currently in early access (early alpha, roughly speaking), but the foundations for a sinister, thrilling experience are in place. All it needs is a little more Joy. Players take on the role of Arthur Hastings, a local newspaper editor who censors the daily articles. One fine day, he decides to skip taking his Joy. The symptoms of withdrawal are virtually immediate, with Arthur flashing back to his (likely) dead brother. The editor ends up crashing a birthday celebration that goes horribly awry. Arthur’s colleagues realize he hasn’t been taking his Joy, and the ever-watchful security forces try to accost him. From there, We Happy Few begins its tale of escape. Unfortunately, most of the narrative is not in the early access build. According to the developers, roughly 50% of the game is available to preview. Arthur features some well-voiced dialogue, but most of the key plot points have yet to be established. The two other protagonists are also a mystery but are said to be revealed in the coming months. What’s available in the preview build, then? The first thing you should know is that We Happy Few is first and foremost a survival game. Arthur’s physical needs are a constant and pressing threat to his health. Staying hydrated and well-fed can be a challenge when playing in the Joyless slums. The wastrels, or Joy-deprived citizens, are a depressed lot living in absolute squalor. That means the items to scavenge are fairly meager, including rotten food and occasional stashes of supplies. The player can craft plenty of items, from jimmy bars to weapons. Managing your inventory, however, requires a fair bit of planning. If you pick up everything you find, the inventory space will rapidly fill up. The bunker you start in features a safe that transfers across all safes in the game-world. Convenient, but when you’re in the field, managing assets can prove difficult. Earlier builds also exaggerated Arthur’s needs, meaning you burned through food and drinks every few minutes. The dynamic day-and-night cycle also forced you to sleep too frequently. A recent patch has rebalanced this, but it can still be annoying when you’re exploring environments and it quickly gets late. Arthur can also sneak around the wellies (Joyed-up citizens), but the best camouflage is to blend in. The player can feed the character Joy, which brightens the game-world and gives Arthur a happy stroll. If you’re off your Joy, avoiding contact with wellies is preferable. They’ll beat you to death in a matter of seconds. Players can defend themselves with found and crafted weapons, though melee combat is excruciatingly clunky in this early stage. That can easily be fixed by release, but it’s something to note if you buy into the early access program. Wellington Wells is procedurally-generated, so playthroughs aren’t identical. Unfortunately, the environments don’t look all that different. The buildings have a remarkably similar appearance, which can get a bit tiresome. I expect this to change once the game is further fleshed out. The good news is that We Happy Few still looks beautiful. The art style is unique and suits the funky atmosphere well. There are a bevy of side-quests that activate as you go along. Most of them are of the “fetch this item” variety, but a few are amusing. One has you attacking a running madman in the slums. In another quest, you have to attach a new power-cell to a bizarre altar made out of a broken TV. All very disquieting sights, I can assure you. It looks nicer if you pop a Joy! We Happy Few is still in its very early stages. It’s a bit repetitive and the survival aspects are not balanced ideally. The skeleton of the game, however, shows a lot of promise. If the combat and procedural generation elements are improved, We Happy Few could end up being something special. For now, it remains an interesting prospect to keep an eye on.
  13. Review: Battlefleet: Gothic Armada

    Developer: Tindalos Interactive Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Platform: PC (Steam) Release Date: April 21, 2016 ESRB: Unrated When I was a kid, watching giant spaceships tear each other to shreds was one of my favorite things to watch in sci-fi movies and TV shows. These slow, lumbering monstrosities were laden with turrets, cannons, and all manner of explosive devices, all meant to brutally dismantle lesser spacecrafts in an instant. Warhammer 40,000, then, should have been the perfect fit for me. Yet I somehow avoided the gothic spires and interdimensional conflicts that pit mankind’s endless fleet of capital ships against the Chaos fleets and Xenos threats. With a quick two-minute trailer, Battlefleet: Gothic Armada welcomed me with open arms. Does the actual game live up to the Emperor’s decrees for greatness, or does it slumber in the catacombs of mediocrity? The first thing you should know about Gothic Armada is that it’s tough. The game is certainly fair, but incredibly challenging. This digitized board-game is, essentially, a video game recreation of the original Battlefleet Gothic. There are no visible dice rolls, but you can definitely feel the odds machines and random number generators hard at work beneath the shiny, Unreal Engine 4-powered visuals. Gothic Armada is played on a 2D-plane, with an initial ship placement phase before combat begins. Knowing where to place your lineships, flagship, and escort ships on the first try is seldom possible on the tougher missions. Gothic Armada lends itself to trial-and-error, as you learn the necessary stratagems and tactics for success. Once you’ve finished preparing for deployment, the real fun begins. Combat is all about positioning, reminiscent of 18th and 19th century naval combat. Maneuvering your fleet into perfect position for cannon broadside blasts or torpedo salvos is endlessly satisfying. Firing a nova cannon into a mass of smaller opposing crafts results in all sorts of havoc. Ships come with various abilities and weapons, so it pays to read through the statlines and upgrade charts over the course of the singleplayer campaign. As you progress further in the story, you’ll unlock ability points and upgrade options for your ships, all of which need to be carefully chosen and fitted for the right fleet mix. If any ability doesn’t work in your favor, you can swap it out with another at the shipyard… for a price, of course. Credits to upgrade your ships are earned during main and side missions. The story missions are accessed via a galaxy map, with each mission consuming a deployment during a turn. You can also complete side missions, like convoy escorts, to increase the amount of credits you earn and unlock more gear for your ships. Losing a mission does not end the campaign, but it does reduce the amount of assets you have available for later levels. The less you win, the more you’ll suffer later. Naturally, I saved and reloaded quite frequently, until either my skills or luck won the day. The campaign focuses on the exploits of the Imperium’s Captain Spire. You’ll lead his fleet in an effort to stop Abaddon the Despoiler’s attempts to capture powerful artifacts and destroy the galaxy. Cutscenes are beautifully animated and offer a painted aesthetic, which suits the heavy gothic tones of the ship and set designs. The story supposedly offers some branching paths based on won and failed missions, but the ending didn’t seem to differ all that much. The plotline on offer is still entertaining and offers a great tutorial for the multiplayer side of things. Multiplayer is mostly instanced combat scenarios, with some variation in objectives. Players can choose from the Chaos, Ork, Eldar, and Imperium fleets. Later DLC will expand what’s available, and some balance tweaks need to be put into place, but the online side of things functions mostly as expected. The ramming Orks, speedy Eldar, vicious Chaos, and mighty Imperium fleets all offer various strengths and weaknesses. I found the Orks to be the most fun to play as, especially since they can ram opponents with reckless abandon and cause tremendous amounts of damage in short order. The Eldar are particularly annoying to play against, but with a few tweaks to their movement speed, should become a level opposition. The developers at Tindalos are currently planning to add the Space Marines, Tau Empire, and Tyrannids at a later date, so stay tuned for the fleet updates. Battlefleet: Gothic Armada is the latest in a space-opera resurgence. Featuring towering battlecruisers lined with endless cathedral spires and vast swaths of cannons, Gothic Armada is a strategy nut’s dream. Bathed in the glorious glow of the newest Unreal Engine iteration and crafted with loving care, this is the perfect game for Warhammer 40,000 fans and spaceship enthusiasts. Future expansions will continue to add new fleets and threats, so jump into the fray while there’s still time to honor the Emperor’s will and purge the Xenos threat. Pros + Entertaining campaign, with a variety of mission types + Beautiful visuals and ship designs + Satisfying combat and strategic elements Cons - Occasional glitches and balance issues online Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Gothic Armada is a strategy nut’s dream. Bathed in the glorious glow of the newest Unreal Engine iteration and crafted with loving care, this is the perfect game for Warhammer 40,000 fans and spaceship enthusiasts. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Steam code provided by the publisher
  14. Review: The Division

    Developer: Ubisoft Massive Publisher: Ubisoft Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One Release Date: March 8, 2016 ESRB: M for Mature This review is based on the PC version of the game Three years ago, Ubisoft unveiled The Division, one of the most ambitious projects in gaming ever conceived. The Division, an open-world, co-op focused MMO set in a post-apocalyptic New York, was to herald the next generation of console gaming. Ubisoft said it would blur single-player and multiplayer within a seamless, one-to-one replica of the Big Apple infested with criminal gangs, rogue soldiers, and other players. In-between then, we’ve been surprised and disappointed by games that have attempted to implement a similar conceit, a la Destiny. While The Division and Destiny may share a similar base concept, their implementations couldn’t be more different. Whether that’s enough for you to make the decision to purchase is dependent upon what you’re looking to get out of The Division. Ubisoft Massive’s rendition of New York is a lived-in, forgotten place. A weaponized smallpox virus, conveniently unleashed during Black Friday, has left the city in a state of chaotic violence and disrepair. Trash litters the streets, crime runs rampant, and the burned out hulks of once-mighty structures are all that remain of the greatest city on Earth. Players take on the role of an agent from an organization called the Strategic Homeland Division (SHD). The SHD is supposed to provide “continuity of government” in a time of societal collapse. Make of that what you will. The Division isn’t interested in the morality of the SHD so much as it is in giving you loot for shooting lots of “bad people” in the face. Much has been made of The Division’s use of civilian targets as the in-game opposition, but it’s mostly a vehicle for players to earn loot. There’s a main storyline, with some well-written mission segments and audio collectables, but the majority of the game is about player progression and unlocking new gear. Main missions on the solo side will provide player currency and XP, both of which help to grant the agent more powerful gear and abilities. Solo missions, which can be played in co-op, also help you unlock points for upgrading the solo hub. This base of operations visually expands as you upgrade three different wings. What you’re really doing, however, is unlocking three separate talent trees. My personal favorite is the Tech tree, which grants access to the Seeker mine and automated turret. For support players, it’s the perfect tree to invest time into. Side missions that populate each game zone will also provide points to upgrade each talent tree. The skill trees also feature Talents, which are placed into unlockable slots, and dozens of passive Perks. Some are more useful than others, especially in the Dark Zone, so look at each tree carefully to make sure you pick the right build for your use. The good news is that leveling up is a relatively quick process, so you’ll be able to create a balanced, well-rounded agent in a relatively short amount of time. Unfortunately, that’s due to the limited amount of solo side content. Quests outside of the main campaign usually devolve into fetch quests, defense missions, and “press this button” missions. It wouldn’t be undue to get some greater quest variety in subsequent expansions, especially since the main missions are well-crafted and a ton of fun. As you level up, you’ll gain access to better equipment that impacts three different statistical categories; Firearms, Stamina, and Electronics. Each category is given a numerical ranking, affected by your choice of weapons, backpacks, and more. A pair of gloves, for instance, might grant more DPS from your rifle but reduce your health pool. Another might make your skills more powerful but sacrifice primary DPS. It takes a while to get the hang of, but once you figure out the nuances of the system, you’ll be tearing through enemies like there’s no tomorrow… because there may not be a tomorrow. At the higher levels, weapons and gear also start to offer passive stat buffs. The greater the rarity tier of the item, the more passive buffs it has. In order to access these stat boosts, you’ll need to make sure you meet each buff’s ranking requirements from the three stat areas. Again, it sounds more intimidating than it really is. Dropped gear in the solo exploration mode is fairly standard stuff, though you might find a nice backpack or rifle here and there. You can also scavenge for crafting ingredients that allow you to make higher-end gear at the base of operations. Gear blueprints are unlocked as you complete more and more side missions, so make sure to keep up with those in addition to the main campaign. Arguably, The Division’s biggest draw is the previously-mentioned Dark Zone. This area, separate from the solo mission instances, seamlessly blends PvE and PvP in one chaotic region. The Dark Zone has an entirely separate leveling system, new safehouses, gear vendors, and currency. The best loot also drops in the Dark Zone, but in order to get it, you’ll have to extract the gear at designated zones. To do so, you’ll need to wait around two minutes for an extraction chopper to arrive, fending off waves of enemy AI and the occasional rogue agents. If you’re in a squad of friendly players, other agents are less likely to attack you. But if you decide to go lone wolf, be on guard. Neutral agents can turn hostile in the blink of an eye and steal all of your hard-earned loot in a flash. In concept, the Dark Zone is great. The execution is not as promising as I would have liked. There are no missions in this area, which does make some sense in keeping non-instanced servers. That said, some co-op or competitive game modes would be ideal, like pitting squads against each other to accomplish objectives or reach pre-ordained loot chests. As it is, the Dark Zone is a tense, entertaining experience, but Ubisoft Massive could do wonders with a few improvements to the gameplay. As you might have guessed from the opening, The Division is a gorgeous game. The “visual downgrade” that’s so frequently associated with post-E3 launches isn’t noticeable here. Ubisoft has crafted an intricate, detailed, worn presentation of New York and it’s incredible. Combined with the frequently-disturbing audio and video logs, The Division firmly establishes a sense of place. The audio is just as strong, with the cacophony of gunfire and explosions echoing across the empty streets, though I wasn't a fan of the repeating dialogue of enemy soldiers. More variety would have been greatly appreciated. If you’re expecting more Destiny, that’s not what you’re getting with The Division. Ubisoft has crafted a capable, considered cover-based shooter with relatively deep RPG elements. Adding in a seamless transition between solo and multiplayer content is a real treat, and the Dark Zone could become something special over time. I’m not in love with every decision Ubisoft made, but The Division (at launch) is a very solid foundation for future iterations and expansions. Pros: + Great blend of solo and multiplayer content + Deep customization and crafting options + Well-written campaign missions + Rewarding sense of progression and loot Cons: - Enemies begin to feel a bit samey - Some repetitious dialogue - Dark Zone needs some work Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good If you’re expecting more Destiny, that’s not what you’re getting with The Division. Ubisoft has crafted a capable, considered cover-based shooter with relatively deep RPG elements. As such, it's a solid foundation for future iterations and expansions. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a retail copy purchased by the reviewer
  15. Review: Dying Light: The Following

    Developer: Techland Publisher: Warner Bros. Entertainment Interactive Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One Release Date: February 9th, 2016 ESRB: M for Mature I originally passed on Techland’s open-world zombie action game/parkour simulator, Dying Light, when it debuted last year. While everything I’d heard about it indicated it was an awesome experience and the exact breath of fresh air the zombie game genre needed, there were too many other titles for me to make the time for Dying Light. After having mowed through The Following, the first major expansion for the game, I’m starting to sincerely regret passing on it the first time. The Following takes place after the events of Dying Light. While I won’t spoil any plot details from the main game, suffice it to say that the central narrative in the expansion is much better-written. Dying Light’s main campaign was sharply criticized for inferior plot development and hamfisted characters. While The Following doesn’t craft the finest of zombie apocalypse survivors, the story itself is what’ll draw you in. Kyle Crane is once again tasked with helping his band of misfit parkour instructors and survivors in Harran, only this time, he’s caught out in the farmlands of the nearby countryside. A dying man tells Crane and company about a secret place, protected by the Mother, where followers of the local religion are immune to the virus. To get to the Mother and her followers, however, Crane needs to earn the trust and respect of the local populace. This means strapping your gloves on and killing everything that tries to eat or shoot you, from gun-toting bandits to half-rotten walkers and everything in between. If you’re feeling especially brave (or foolish), The Following introduces several boss monsters known as Freaks of Nature. They’re much stronger than your garden variety of zombie and usually require co-op assistance to take down. If you decide to solo a Freak, extra patience and crafting materials are in order. Weapons and loot function exactly like the base game, with melee devices requiring constant maintenance using the limited repair system. Unless you’ve unlocked the tree skill that occasionally grants a free repair, you’ll be cycling through weapons at the usual rate. Loot crates are everywhere, mostly found in houses scattered across the countryside. If you hate lock-picking minigames, you might be turned off by how many locked crates there are. A bit of patience and a steady hand, however, will unlock plenty of useful goods and upgrade parts. While most of the gameplay, enemies, and quest types are similar to those in the base game, The Following introduces one drastic change to the formula; upgradable dune buggies. Traversing the countryside on-foot is a daunting task. Gone are the high-rises and rooftops from which Dying Light made parkour the star. The Following breaks out into open spaces and wheat-filled fields, so buggies are the best mode of transportation. These diminutive vehicles, however, are more than just ferries. They can be upgraded with various parts, engines, tires, paint schemes, and weapons (like a flamethrower and electric cage) to make it your own personal rolling fortress. All the internal parts need to be maintained using Dying Light’s infamous limited repair system, but continuously driving will provide you with the necessary experience to craft higher-end replacement parts. The buggy also needs to be refueled, and gas is readily available from the dozens of cars scattered about the environment. The closest comparison for The Following is Mad Max with zombies, so if you’re into grinding the undead into the asphalt, this expansion is probably up your alley. Really, the only odd design choice Techland made was making the entire experience separate from the main game. In order to access the additional content, you need to start The Following from the main menu. All items and skills from the base game are carried over, but the minor disconnect is jarring when you make the transition from Harran to the farmlands. You’ll also want to be around Survivor level 10 or 12 before you start the expansion content, else you may be over-run by the wicked-fast crowds of virals during the day and the lethal volatiles at night. For $20, Dying Light: The Following is jam-packed with content. The game-world is massive, rivalling the vertical playgrounds of Harran. The implementation of upgradeable combat buggies and even more loot means the best time to explore Dying Light is now. The Following adds a decently-written narrative with a surprising ending, along with some unique boss encounters and the ever-satisfying combat. At the bargain price-point, The Following is a worthy addition to your digital collection. Pros: + The new buggies are awesome + A solid story with a great ending + Rewarding combat and loot + It’s Mad Max with zombies! Cons: - Too much lock-picking - Some quests are a bit too familiar Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Dying Light: The Following is jam-packed with content and a worthy addition to your digital collection. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher