Street Fighter 5: Arcade Edition Review

The first rule of fighting games is to make sure your fundamentals are rock solid. If the foundation of your play isn’t on point, you’ll never be considered a viable competitor. The whiffed launch of Street Fighter V showed that this mantra is as applicable to the game as it is to the people playing it. When it launched in 2016 Street Fighter V had a strong gameplay core, but the emaciated frame containing it couldn’t stand up to its contemporaries.

A lack of modes that are considered staples for the series and the absence of tools to teach newcomers how to play left all but the most experienced fighting game aficionados out in the cold. This, unfortunately, came to define the discussion surrounding Street Fighter V, and although Capcom introduced offline modes and a suite of training options in the following months, that grey cloud has continued to linger over it.

Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition, however, represents a new beginning. Arriving two years after the game’s initial launch, it is a content-rich, well-rounded experience that pays homage to the series’ legacy while also revitalising its finely tuned gameplay. For newcomers or those put off by the paltry offerings of the original game, it’s the ideal entry point, and for those that have stuck with it since day one, it’s a free update that brings the fresh injection of ideas needed to reignite their fighting spirit.

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The most significant new addition is a single-player Arcade mode, which leverages nostalgia to great effect. It’s made up of six paths, each corresponding to a different entry in the franchise: Street Fighter, Street Fighter II, Street Fighter III, Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter IV, and Street Fighter V. While the progression through these is straightforward, with the player picking a character and battling through a series of opponents to face an end boss and receive an ending, thoughtful presentation elevates it.

The choice of characters for each path is limited to just the fighters who were available in those games when they first launched, with Street Fighter V equivalents thrown in to fill out the numbers. Costumes can be picked to reflect their classic design, so if you select Ryu in the first Street Fighter campaign you can opt for the floppy-haired version of the series’ iconic mascot. A new selection of musical themes and stings also evoke sentimentality; jump into the Street Fighter III campaign, for example, and the character select theme is a saxophone-infused jazzy number that’ll spark memories of playing it on a Dreamcast back in 2000. Go for Street Fighter Alpha and an energetic versus screen jingle channels the youthful motif of that spin-off series. As opponents are lined up, a little airplane moves across the screen to the location of your next bout as the announcer shouts the name of the country, harkening back to Street Fighter II. There are Bonus Stages, too, such as Street Fighter II’s barrel-busting mini-game and even a special brawl with the fighter formerly known as Shen Long.

It’s all really small, novel touches that land just that little bit harder in the year Street Fighter celebrates its 30th anniversary. The gameplay and character models are still the ones created for Street Fighter V, but this doesn’t dilute the nostalgia and, in fact, gives everything a charming high school reunion vibe.

Each character’s ending is a comic book-like page of art that summarizes their story for that incarnation, and if you meet certain conditions during a playthrough, more unique pieces of artwork can be unlocked. This might seem like an insignificant reward, but Capcom has brought in well-known artists with close relationships to the Street Fighter franchise such as Bengus, Akiman, and Ikeno to create these. Not only does this provide longevity to those that aren’t up for fighting online, but it also gives fans of Street Fighter’s art something to chase. These unlocks can be viewed in the new gallery, which also houses a sound-select mode that lets you listen to music from the game whenever you please. Again, another simple addition that reminds you of Street Fighters from yesteryear.

[Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition] is a content-rich, well-rounded experience that pays homage to the series’ legacy while also revitalising its finely tuned gameplay

The other big addition is Team Battle mode, which can be used to set up offline skirmishes between multiple combatants, human or AI. It’s very versatile, offering the options to tweak the number of participants, match format, and whether health is recovered in between battles and if Critical Gauge carries over, among other parameters. This is sure be a hit for tournament organizers, both professional and casual. It’s a quick and easy way to settle rivalries or just have some fun in a party environment.

For the solitary Street Fighter V player, these marquee new features provide plenty to do. However, there are also things like the Extra Battle Mode and Special Challenges, which are time-exclusive fights that dangle the promise of in-game currency or exclusive rewards such as titles and costumes to those who best them. The first of these is a series of fights across a prolonged period that unlocks a Viewtiful Joe outfit for Rashid. This is also where Street Fighter V’s ruthless Fight Money economy rears its head.

Fight Money, in addition to real money, can be used to purchase stages and costumes, but everything still feels unreasonably expensive. Although completing challenges and grinding out online battles are consistent ways of adding to your balance, you earn tiny amounts and not everyone wants to venture into the cutthroat world of online Street Fighter. As a result, the economy feels geared towards pushing players into spending real money, which is a shame. For anyone buying the game for the first time Arcade Edition is a way to get up to date on content. It is intended encapsulate everything released in Season 1 and 2 of Street Fighter V, and as far as characters go this is true. However, it would have been nice to also get the extra stages, if not the costumes. Admittedly, this is a greater concern for those that want everything; if you’re just after a specific item here and there, the Fight Money mountain isn’t as daunting.

Anyone who does feel inclined to purchase costumes with real money should take note of the new model viewer, which lets you preview how an outfit will look before you drop the cold hard cash on it. This is a quality-of-life improvement in Arcade Edition that at least provides the opportunity to make informed purchasing decisions from within the game, instead of being forced to resort to YouTube videos.

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Outside of gameplay modes, Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition’s big gameplay shakeup comes in the form of a second V-Trigger for every character. For those that need a refresher, V-Trigger is a unique move that can completely change a character’s capabilities. It becomes accessible when a meter is filled by taking damage, landing well-timed crush counters, or using V-Skills. Arcade Edition’s selection of new V-Triggers are an antidote to stagnation felt by veteran players of Street Fighter V. Two years into the game’s life, characters have largely reached the point where they’re played in a specific, optimised way, and for the most part this means everyone employs the same styles, strategies, and combos. Alternative V-Triggers open up each fighter in the roster to re-examination, and also creates just enough room for creativity and expression without sacrificing what originally made them distinct.

Ken is still a quick-footed powerhouse but now has the option to use his new Shinryuken to stand his ground and up his damage output. M. Bison players can swap the extra mobility of his original V-Trigger to gain access to a command grab and a Psycho Crusher with V-Trigger II. Laura’s Matsuda Sway, meanwhile, helps her get out of high-pressure situations or make reads that lead to further damage. V-Trigger II is an additional wrinkle on a fighting framework that has already proven itself to be deep and rewarding. Street Fighter V emphasized clean play, measured strategy, and consistent execution, and with these new moves, each character feels fresh and unpredictable again.

The final notable improvement in Arcade Edition is in Training mode, which now displays detailed frame data, so students of the game can be fully informed on the technicalities of moves, the knowledge of which can be employed in high-level competitive play. If that’s a bit too far down the rabbit hole, there’s also a toggle that will just show you when you’re safe and unsafe after executing an attack, which is something that’s easy to understand and factor into play.

With a slick new interface, fully featured online and offline modes, and every character released thus far–plus Sakura, the first fighter from Season 3 of its DLC–Street Fighter V feels like a complete package. It has always been a strong fighting game that continues to get better over time, but it remained a game for genre enthusiasts. Arcade Edition, however, is a game that you can confidently recommend to anyone. Two years after its launch, Street Fighter V is finally fighting fit.

Spellforce 3 Review

Some cross-genre games are blended like ingredients in a mixing bowl, while others let their two halves live side-by-side. SpellForce III fits into the latter category, pairing role-playing and real-time-strategy elements. Though the end result is anything but unified, such a contrasting design keeps you from falling into a consistent routine. It also broadens the outlook of the stereotypical fantasy RPG, expanding the limited worldview of a handful of adventurers into the more expansive perspective of a general controlling an army.

Opening missions serve as an extended tutorial, first giving you the basics on how role-playing works, then moving into base-building strategizing where you take the fight to foes on a larger scale. You may start off exploring a map as part of a small party of heroes, slaying the odd gang of goblins or undead or giant spiders and cracking open chests stuffed with weapons, armor, and the usual assortment of magical goodies. You may finish off by taking all that you learned about the landscape while exploring, and build a base, constructing facilities to gather resources, and then whip up an army to hurl at foes who have been doing the same thing.

The baroque plot carrying you through it all assumes some familiarity with the SpellForce franchise, as you are dropped right into the aftermath of the Mage Wars on the Dungeons & Dragons-ish world of Eo. Events here serve as a prequel to the earlier SpellForce games, so it is tough to get up to speed initially. Main plot points feel like typical fantasy fare, though, as they revolve around your semi-chosen one status as the child of a treasonous mage. But there is a lot of depth and background information to absorb. Thankfully, everything eventually rounds into a compelling story. You just need some time to figure out your place amidst all the initially bewildering references if this is your first visit to Eo.

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Plot is further developed through dialogue that includes quiet, character-building moments alongside stereotypically epic conversations about gods and magic. But as far as your involvement is concerned, there aren’t a lot of meaningful choices to make. There are also strange shifts in tone, like some of the dialogue was written and recorded before any decision was made on what sort of age rating the game would aim for. So you get lengthy stretches where characters clearly go out of their way to avoid swearing, using awkward words like “heck” and “crap,” and others where characters let loose with incessant f-bombs.

Impressive presentation gives the game real visual impact whether you are playing adventurer or general. Maps are extremely detailed, with lots of little touches and great variety in background scenery. There is a very good balance here between trudging through murky caverns and wandering through forests and plains. The one drawback is that the settings can be too detailed at times, and things like chests and other points of interest are not all that easy to notice. You need to swivel the camera a lot to ensure that you don’t miss anything. And all of this fidelity comes with the price of lengthy loading times, too. Venturing into any new locale drops you to a screen that gives you percentages on loading things like “Initializing Creature Resources,” which pulls you right out of the moment.

Character progression involves few surprises compared to other D&D-inspired games, and each character has access to just a few main skill classes and branching abilities. And since you gain experience fairly quickly, you can ultimately sample a lot of what’s on offer. There are various schools of magic, combat skills like brutality and archery, and all-around categories such as leadership, with branching talents that include the usual range of attacks, buffs, and spells.

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Combat is equally forthright. It’s all real-time and rather chaotic, without a tremendous amount of thinking required in a given moment. Consider it a blend between the tactical battles of traditional RPGs and the more frenetic hack-and-slash of action-first RPGs. Combat is never so incessant as to grow tedious, and individual battles seem to fly by. The pacing of these sections is spot-on, with one distinct map after another pulling you into ever-more exciting bouts.

A similar story can be told when it comes to the RTS side of SpellForce III. Whenever a mission gets to the point where more is required than a party of adventurers, the game switches to an RTS mode and unlocks a construction menu where those adventurers lead the way as heroes in the army. From there, you build a town center and begin gathering the wood, stone, and food that form the game’s staples. There are three building tiers, which means you start with expected basics such as the logging cabin, hunting cabin, stone works, and barracks, move on to a second level of iron smelters, forges, and farms, and then into a third that lets you exploit magical Arya water, train elite units, and build stone watchtowers.

Population caps regularly get in the way of fully manning facilities. This forces you to quickly expand territory and earn more population by setting up new outposts (peasants are locked to their regions, too, which also makes it imperative to keep pressing forward), but manpower always seems to lag behind. Needing to wait for carriages to ship resources to new outposts causes further delays, and you can’t wait around to let stockpiles grow because enemy AI is on the attack almost immediately. Resources are also extremely limited, which also keeps you pushing onward so that you can keep the goods flowing to keep cranking out troops.

While both the RPG and RTS elements presented here stay true to form, the overall game is more than the sum of its parts because of how it makes such disparate concepts serve the goal of creating a militaristic role-playing epic. Incorporating base- and army-building into a traditional role-playing formula adds a scope and weight that would not be present if the game never went beyond three or four guys swinging swords and slinging spells. The end result may not be innovative, but it is an interesting and entertaining tweak of RPG conventions offering a lot to anyone looking for something offbeat and engaging.

Tiny Metal Review

With no sign of Nintendo’s Advance Wars strategy series returning any time soon, a game that attempts to fill the void like Tiny Metal is easy to get excited about. Thankfully, developer Area 35 has delivered a game that captures the spirit of the works that inspired it, and one that feels right at home on PC and on the go with Switch.

By and large, this is simply a game where adorably rendered soldiers with little armored vehicles take turns moving across a gridded map to fight their enemies one turn at a time. A unit represents a small squad, and when two units meet, the squads exchange blows while you pray some of your soldiers and vehicles survive the shootout.

Though Tiny Metal props up dire circumstances as the backbone of its campaign, it’s also a game with a shady arms dealer dressed as a circus clown, so you know it doesn’t take itself too seriously at all times. Average soldiers are expressively animated, and every unit type has their own personality, accent, and enthusiasm for destruction. This silliness is at odds with the dialogue-heavy and po-faced cutscenes, yes, but it also grows into the defining attitude of the game as you become more entrenched in combat. That said, don’t feel too bad for turning off the in-battle emotes, which quickly grow repetitive.

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You’re given plenty of options to consider during combat, with a range of ground troops and military vehicles that grows steadily from the start, each offering distinct capabilities. Average, run-of-the-mill riflemen can only survive encounters with similar troops, but they’re also the best at capturing city buildings and military facilities in pursuit of resources. A squad of rocket-launcher-equipped Lancers can’t travel very far per turn, or capture as quickly as infantry soldiers, but they’re the only units on foot that can put a dent in armored machines, known as Metals. Metals are probably the most all-around useful unit to place on the board, but they’re not as mobile as some of the recon vehicles that help unveil the fog of war, like Scouts, Radar units, or Fighter jets.

Most of this should be familiar to anyone who’s put more than a few rounds into an Advance Wars game, but Tiny Metal also has some new tricks up its sleeve to keep battles interesting for veterans. Focus Fire is a maneuver that allows multiple units to combo attack a single target. The benefits are twofold: the enemy can only retaliate against one unit per attack, and your combined attack gives you a better chance of wiping the target out before they get the chance to fire back at all. The riskier move, Assault, allows you push enemies off of a specific square, but at the cost of the enemy being able to fire first. Tiny Metal also has a Hero unit system where a super-powerful version of a specific unit type can be summoned to wreak havoc, but only once per match. These tactical considerations keep matches lively and unpredictable, and help distinguish Tiny Metal from being a mere Advance Wars copycat.

Following the tutorial battles at the start, the difficulty gradually increases as tactical options grow more diverse, with new units and commands appearing at a steady rate throughout the six-hour campaign. With multiplayer on hold until next year, one-off skirmishes are the current best way to keep playing after the credits roll, though they take some getting used to. Skirmish mode offers over 50 challenging battles, often in either inordinately small playing fields, groupings of rough terrain, or situations where you are grossly outnumbered and outgunned by the enemy. These fights will definitely keep you busy, but the jump in difficulty from the last mission of the campaign to even just the first few skirmishes is a big one that’s initially off-putting.

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The PC version of Tiny Metal is notably better looking and allows you to use a mouse, but fans of Advance Wars will find that playing on the go with Switch completes the nostalgic experience. The only major flaws in portable mode are the tiny fonts used in some menus, and a marked decrease in resolution when the camera zooms in to watch two units attack each other. The PC version gets more graphical options, and an unlocked framerate, but Tiny Metal’s throwback action feels at home on Nintendo’s portable.

Newcomers to the turn-based strategy genre are likely to have a blast with Tiny Metal all the way through its campaign, though the endgame is no doubt a little restrictive. Old hands to this type of strategy game will find a campaign that wears its influences on its sleeve, but still admirably and respectfully fits right in with them. It’s the kind of game where you jump in just to take two or three more turns and suddenly an hour has passed, and you can’t rest until that pesky enemy gunship or tank fleet is down for good. Hopefully that can continue next year if the multiplayer patch comes as promised.

Brawlout Review

The Switch has had a fantastic first year, but one of the big Nintendo franchises the console is still missing is the much-beloved Super Smash Bros.. While rumors are swirling about some sort Super Smash Bros. 4 port to Switch, a few enterprising indie developers are looking to fill the void with Smash-inspired fighters of their own. One such effort is Angry Mob Games’ Brawlout. While it makes a valiant attempt to put its own spin on the Smash style of platform fighting gameplay, Brawlout has some notable issues that aren’t easily overlooked.

It’s worth noting from the outset that the game is designed for competitive Smash fans. If you’re looking for a goofy free-for-all with zany items and copious stage hazards, this isn’t the game you want. What’s here is a very basic selection of fighting arenas with restrained gimmickry, no items, and a handful of game modes that are focused specifically on pure fighting.

If you’re familiar with Smash, the controls in Brawlout will feel like second nature. You have a regular attack button and a special attack button, and pressing these in combination with a directional input will change your attacks. Jumping and running also change your attack properties, and you can charge certain attacks for more power. The goal is to damage your opponent, then hit them hard enough to send them flying off the field. Sounds exactly like Smash so far, right? The big difference is that Brawlout doesn’t offer shielding or grab maneuvers. Instead, the buttons you would normally associate with these moves are re-assigned to a dodge move with an invincibility window that can be executed on the ground or in the air.

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While dodging is a mechanic that veteran Smash players will no doubt feel familiar with, the removal of shielding and grabs is quite puzzling. The lack of guard and throw mechanics, which are are nearly universal across all kinds of fighting games, limits your options in frustrating ways. The loss of shielding, for example, makes certain attacks a lot safer than they would be in other games of this sort, and puts a lot of power in the hands of someone going all-in on aggression. It doesn’t necessarily result in a more aggressive game; it just gives someone on the defending side fewer options and leads to more frustration.

Brawlout attempts to cover for the loss of these options with an upgraded Rage mechanic. Rage was something of a hidden mechanic in Smash 4 that would increase a character’s damage output when they had taken a lot of damage. In Brawlout, Rage is very clearly visible through a meter shown underneath a character’s damage readout. As a character takes damage, their meter increases. They can use the meter to power up their special attacks, utilize a combo-escaping burst when the meter’s at least half full, or enter full-on Rage Mode (indicated by a large burning flame graphic on the character’s damage indicator) when it’s at max. Special moves have different properties when used with and without Rage meter to fuel them, so keeping tabs on your meter becomes a big part of the game at higher levels of play.

Brawlout presents its comic combatants and arenas with confidence and style, but even the game’s relatively bland-looking characters prove useful during battle. Joining the cast of original fighters are two guests from other indie games: Juan from Guacamelee and the Drifter from Hyper Light Drifter. They both feel at home in the game, but as of this writing, Drifter is somewhat overpowered compared to the rest of the cast.

However, in order to access the full selection of characters and stages, you have to unlock them. And there is a lot of unlocking to do. Fighting on- and offline, completing the tutorials and arcade modes, leveling up characters, and fulfilling daily objectives will all earn you currency you can spend on “pinatas” (read: loot boxes) to earn characters, skins, and other goodies. To unlock more than three initial stages, you have to level up specific characters across numerous fights. No, you can’t just find one fighter you really click with and play with them; you need to play each character until you reach a specific level for them to unlock one stage apiece. And that’s a separate grind from the two different in-game currencies.

With the game being so slanted towards competitive play, Brawlout does its best to push you towards playing online. The problem is that, in its current state, online play is a mess. I had a handful of good sessions in my attempts to play online. By and large, my online bouts were defined by stuttering, clunky-feeling movement and laggy slideshows–issues echoed online by other players. It’s hard to recommend a competition-focused game like this when part of its foundation is so flawed.

Brawlout is clearly trying its best to create a unique identity from the game that inspired it. However, the ways in which it’s trying to do this–by removing key mechanics and putting an emphasis on grindy unlocks–don’t work in its favor. Combine this with an online mode that just doesn’t seem to function correctly most of the time and you’ve got a game that’s disappointing in its current form. Keep the Wii U or GameCube hooked up to get your Smash fix for now.

L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files Review

To refer to L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files simply as a VR port does it a disservice. In many ways, the game feels like a fresh experience with its new first-person perspective coupled with interactive environments. Despite its truncated length, you get the sense that Rockstar put a lot of work into The VR Case Files. It certainly has flaws, but raises the bar for what a good VR port should look like.

You play as the familiar detective Cole Phelps as he tries to solve several, mostly unrelated crimes within 1940s Los Angeles. Perhaps the biggest difference between The VR Case Files is that it only features seven missions, which provide roughly six to eight hours of gameplay. This is down from 21 cases in the original game and means that you lose the nuances from LA Noire’s overarching narrative. If you’ve never before experienced it in its entirety, it will be confusing seeing a new partner for each mission without any added context. Due to the missions’ very episodic nature, however, it largely still works.

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Talking with other characters makes up the bulk of the experience, but you still need to move around the city. The most straightforward method is to hold down the right trackpad and alternatively swing your arms side to side to virtually walk in the direction you’re facing. It can feel a little janky at times as some slight unwanted drifting may occur, but it gets the job done. The second, perhaps more nausea-free way to move, is to gaze at highlighted areas of interest and then press down on the trackpad to teleport.

The VR Case Files has been completely overhauled so that you can pick up a wide variety of highlighted objects in the world. It’s not quite up to the level of Job Simulator in interactivity, but Rockstar does a good job of convincing you that LA Noire was built from the ground up for VR. You can pick up plates, cups, and more and just toss them around as you see fit. Where this added interactivity becomes really impactful is when, for instance, you’re standing over a lifeless corpse examining how the person died. In general, the new first-person perspective bolsters the illusion that you’re a detective by allowing you to pick up and examine clues like you might in real life. It makes you think about evidence in a new light.

Not all these interactions are positive, however. For instance, you may have to hold a match book with one hand and then use your other hand to flip it open to look for additional clues inside. While these occurrences might not be a big deal in the base game where the solution is simply a button press away, the answer isn’t as obvious in VR when you don’t know what objects might have a second layer of interactivity using your free hand. Luckily, these instances are pretty rare.

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One the bright side, the new fist fighting mechanics feel like a surprisingly fun boxing minigame. Using room scale, you can get out of the way of punches and throw your own back at opponents. Characters react appropriately when hit, and punches feel very satisfying to land.

In general, the The VR Case Files has a lot of nice little VR touches. When you’re interrogating suspects, for instance, you hold a little detective booklet with all your clues in one hand, and you’ve got a pen in the other, which you use to select your line of questioning. You can even use the pen to write in the notebook. There’s really no meaningful benefit to the added mechanic, but it’s fun drawing silly pictures while you’re interrogating a suspect.

Driving has also been completely revamped. Since the game now takes place in first-person, car cabins are now meticulously detailed. To drive, you use the Vive controller to place your hands on the virtual steering wheel, but before you zip around town, you’ll need to start the engine by turning the key in the ignition. There are a bunch of nice little touches here that really make you feel like you’re sitting in a real car. For instance, you can use your palm to press down on the horn to honk, and you can even manually roll down the windows. The trigger on the right controller allows you to accelerate, and the trigger on the left allows you to break. Driving works as well as you’d hope given this control scheme, and it’s fun trying to weave through traffic as you chase runaway vehicles. You can also drive around the city at your leisure. While there really isn’t anything to do on the road other than to engage in some virtual tourism, it’s nice just driving through a realistically rendered rendition of 1940s LA.

Visually, the graphics and artstyle work wonderfully in VR. While the unique motion captured performances look fantastic in the base game, I had some concern that they might take you out of the experience in VR, considering it’s a new first-person perspective that gives you more movement agency to disrupt the pre-captured performances. Surprisingly, however, Rockstar employs head tracking, so characters will often look your way, even when you’re moving around them.

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The VR version isn’t without its flaws, however. While the few shooting sequences are often exciting, and the gun models look and feel accurate based on how you reload them, aiming is often imprecise. Furthermore, even though 99 percent of the game takes place in first-person, there are brief moments when the game switches to a more traditional third-person perspective, which can be a little jarring.

While the game encourages you to physically sit in a chair when the situation calls for it, there’s the occasional bug that makes it look like you’re a super small person with tiny hands when you’re playing seated.

While L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files has its flaws, it excels at making you feel and think like a detective in a way that the base game can’t. The VR version isn’t a replacement for the full game, but it’s a great companion that allows you to play the greatest hit moments from Rockstar’s noire opus in a welcomed new way.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Review

You know what’s a great idea? Stuffing 100 players into a plane to parachute down onto a desolate island to scavenge for weapons, armor, and supplies in hopes of surviving a bloody deathmatch. And to keep things interesting as numbers dwindle, throw in the impending doom of an electric field that forces players into an ever-shrinking warzone. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds turns this foreboding gameplay concept into an exhilarating multiplayer shooter. With several randomized variables that challenge you to adapt, no two matches are the same, and it’s what keeps you coming back for more. It’s not the first of its kind, and despite glaring flaws, PUBG emerges as the most accessible, mechanically refined battle royale game to date.

PUBG stands above its forebears by streamlining systems and mechanics to let you focus on gearing up, devising tactics on the fly, and executing them to the best of your ability. Gone are granular gameplay elements like crafting, bleeding, and the arduous navigation from games of this lineage. Jumping into a match is less daunting and faster paced than something like H1Z1: King of the Kill or earlier Arma II mods that Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene himself helped create.

Whether solo or with a squad of other players, the early phase of a match is filled with tense anticipation. Dropping out of an aircraft with just the clothes on your back, you’re expected to loot for weapons, ammo, armor, and health packs. These critical items litter the city centers, towns, and abandoned structures across the game’s two different maps. You have to account for the plane’s flight path and determine if you want to pick a fight as soon as possible; if so, it’s a race to find the first gun or immediately throw hands in a hilariously janky boxing match. On the flip side, parachuting to a more distant town results in a less stressful hunt for items; either way, you won’t always get the gear you want. In squads, sharing an abundance of ammo and health packs or helping scout for a vehicle highlights the tactical advantage of team play in the opening minutes.

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It’s absolutely necessary to juggle all of these factors in the early phase of a match, and by the same token, this can prove to be exhausting and repetitive. Despite having relatively smooth inventory management, it’s demoralizing to spend a majority of a match gearing up only to lose in the first firefight or die unceremoniously by distant gunfire coming from an undetermined direction. The harsh reality is part and parcel of the give-and-take you have to accept in PUBG for the more rewarding moments to surface.

After working through the hectic opening of a match, you then have to face the dread of engaging others while also keeping an eye on the slow yet ominous “blue circle of death” that forces players into an increasingly smaller zone. It gives you time to scavenge regardless of the area you land in, but the random nature of where the circle converges within a huge map ensures that no one strategy can be employed repeatedly. Whereas capture zones and specific choke points dictate the action in many shooters, PUBG leverages simple variables to stave off monotony.

You never know where the final firefight will take place, or which position will be most advantageous when things heat up, until the blue zone comes into view. One match could have the last 10 players fighting on the open shores and in between rock formations, and the next one could turn into a stalemate between squads holed up in buildings. Miramar, the newer desert map, showcases the evolution of PUBG with its more varied terrain, newfound verticality, and quirky touches to city interiors (like a luchador wrestling ring and a casino floor). Regardless of the map, the same rules and tactics apply, and it’s up to you to adapt to the given environment.

Positioning, scouting, and knowing when to engage are vital to success; these are tenets that feed into the emergent tactics formed in the matter of seconds that separate life and death, especially when playing in groups. Imagine a skirmish against another squad across a crowded city. Spotting enemy movement presents an opening for a kill that’ll turn the tide, but taking action puts you in potential danger. So do you pursue the enemy and brace for bullets raining down on you, or fire from afar and give your position away? If you take enough damage and get knocked down, teammates can revive you before you bleed out, but they’d be defenseless as the revive countdown ticks. PUBG is a series of calculated risks in the form of a shooter, and the unpredictability of where or when these moments happen keeps the game fresh.

As you inch toward becoming the last combatant standing, the tension ramps up exponentially. The risk-reward nature of PUBG is compounded by the fact that matches become more of an investment as they go on. But because of how much you have to work to achieve victory, winning is intrinsically rewarding, even without a tangible prize at the end. Whatever your style, there’s a way to survive if you play smart. That’s not to say the only triumph comes from winning, though. Survival itself is an achievement, every kill feels earned, and recognizing mistakes in a heated battle is a lesson learned.

PUBG retains some of the military-sim roots of its predecessors and is ultimately better for it; it’s another layer of forethought required during confrontations. You’ll find that guns aren’t easy to wield, as recoil is a major factor that negates the effectiveness of full-auto firing modes outside of close-quarters encounters. Bullet drop makes sniping much more challenging than lining up crosshairs while health packs take time to be applied, which makes you think twice about healing under pressure. PUBG’s learning process involves going through a lot of trial and error, but this is key in reaching the most satisfying parts of the game.

As of now, there aren’t any in-game tutorials to lay out the basics or jumpstart newcomers. Even after several hours, you may still not realize that you can hold the ctrl key and right-click items in the inventory to drop a specific quantity for squadmates, for example. Although it’s one of the more accessible games of this type, there’s a lot to learn and nothing to show you the ropes if you’re on your own.

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While PUBG focuses on executing the core mechanics that make battle royale-like games great, it lacks technical refinement. At launch, PUBG is noticeably improved from its early access days, but frame rates can still fluctuate inexplicably. Even a high-end PC can have trouble maintaining a consistent framerate with relatively modest graphics settings, evidence of PUBG’s ongoing optimization struggles.

Likewise, the familiar fear of seemingly random crashes and connection difficulties remains, and it’s sometimes almost as unnerving as an opposing squad converging on your location. (If it’s any consolation, you can pick up where you left off if you relaunch the game before your character dies.) You may also experience character models clipping through the environment and getting stuck inside objects. If and when these problems strike, an otherwise good match can be ruined in an instant.

PUBG’s technical shortcomings can undermine its broader achievements on rare occasions, but they don’t override your desire to continue playing. Each phase of a match presents a different type of tension that is equal parts thrilling and terrifying, driven by the insatiable desire to be the last person (or squad) standing. Whether you play solo or in a group, successfully executing adaptive tactics to win intense, high-stakes firefights makes for an incredibly rewarding experience. Every player has unique stories of their most memorable matches, and even after hundreds of hours, PUBG continues to inspire rousing tales of victory and defeat.

Hello Neighbor Review

Imagine you’re a small child in a quiet suburb, playing in the street on an idyllic afternoon. Suddenly, there’s a terrible shrieking from your neighbor’s house across the road. You run over and peek in the neighbor’s window just in time to see him barricading the basement door. What is he hiding down there? A prisoner? A nightmarish genetic abomination? Hello Neighbor has answers to that question, but not only is getting to those answers an enormously frustrating experience, but the answers themselves aren’t worth the effort.

Hello Neighbor is based around a stellar idea: In the game’s first act, you are that aforementioned child, who has taken it upon himself to sneak into his neighbor’s house any way he can and get into the basement. The neighbor–a gruff gentleman with an all-time great mustache–doesn’t take kindly to intrusions, though, and each time the child gets caught trying to sneak in, the neighbor sets new traps, locks doors, and patrols that area more often. Conceptually, it’s a promising twist on the usual neck-snapping military shenanigans of the average stealth game. The aesthetics are also a bit unusual, with a sort of warped 1950s retro design to everything that truly stands out. Unfortunately, that’s where the coolness ends.

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In practice, even with the game spending significant time in Early Access, it feels unfinished at launch. While it’s commendable that there’s so much leeway in how you can approach the neighbor’s house, Hello Neighbor tips the balance from player freedom to player neglect. The controls are bizarrely unintuitive, with an unusual and confusing button layout that can’t be remapped. But the further you progress in the house, the more convoluted the neighbor’s security system turns out to be.

Hello Neighbor hearkens back to the dark ages of point-and-click adventure games in terms of nonsensical solutions to simple problems. A complex magnet device, which you use to activate switches from afar in a couple of puzzles, is lying around in a place obvious enough to stumble on it by accident. Meanwhile, for some reason, something as useful as a simple wrench is lying in the neighbor’s fridge, where you would never think to look. All the while, the game itself offers zero insight into what a given item can or cannot be used for, with many items’ functions flying in the face of basic reason.

The game’s complete disregard for logic or consistency shows itself when the neighbor is factored in as well. Left to his own devices, he just wanders his home aimlessly, with no discernible pattern. However, no matter how softly you sneak around, no matter how carefully you evade, the neighbor’s ability to hear, see, and find you seems to be wholly unaffected by anything you do. In one of my earliest playthroughs, I had managed to sneak up behind the guy, trying to see if I could pick his pockets, and he never moved. Later, I was two rooms away from him, having snuck into an open window, and somehow, he went on high alert and found me. That level of unpredictability works when it’s a xenomorph in Alien Isolation, but not when it’s a guy dressed like Ned Flanders. The sole blessing here is that getting caught, despite being an experience entirely without tension since all the guy does is get up in your face, immediately drops you back at your house, typically with any items you’ve picked up along the way still in your inventory.

Eventually, with saint-like patience and persistence, you can grab the key to get to the basement. The game gets surreal from here, but with little payoff. Hello Neighbor limps into a second act, involving you as a full-grown adult moving back into your childhood home, while hinting at surprising revelations. Even then, that idea is executed in such a threadbare, half-baked, interpretive way that it doesn’t land with any sort of impact. Act 2 and the wholly offbeat finale are at least easier to navigate than the rest of the game, but even that just ends up exposing just how little there is to grapple with after the fact.

Hello Neighbor is a game you persevere in due to sheer luck rather than any sort of actual skill, foresight, or cleverness. There’s no catharsis, insight, or revelations waiting at the end of the ordeal, just a sort of uneasy malaise over what the images and environments near the end are meant to represent. As such, a simple, appealing concept is rendered inert. There’s a wonderful game to be mined out of what Hello Neighbor wants to be, but there’s nothing to be gained from experiencing what it currently is.

Gorogoa Review

Few games take the concept of altering reality to as artistic a level as Gorogoa. This labor of love made chiefly by one developer is a gorgeous and intriguing puzzle game that works because of its stunning art and intelligent puzzle design. Far from a traditional game, Gorogoa is a slow and methodical trip into the surreal.

Gorogoa is a compact game with a minimalist design that works exceptionally well. The entire story of two young men researching the lore of gods and monsters in their world is told through the striking visuals and musical score. The focus of the game as a whole is on the puzzle mechanics, which are more than up to the task of making this two-to-three-hour excursion worth taking.

A simplified version of classic point and click adventure games, you tap on interactive elements within Gorogoa’s artwork to trigger a mini-event. There are four panels on the main screen, each of which can hold a square-shaped picture. You can slide any picture into any of the panels and many of the puzzles require manipulating the pictures so they connect with each other.

Tapping on specific areas in a picture will usually zoom in on that element, and often if the element is a window or door, it will zoom right into a new location. Using beautifully detailed pictures, Gorogoa creates puzzles that work by altering the perception of the game’s own reality. Sometimes, for instance, a lamp in one picture is dark and you’ll have to find a lightsource within one of the other pictures.

To do this, you’ll have to find something glowing within another image, zoom in on the light source and then the lamp, and then move the circular hole of the lamp over the lightsource. This combines the two images to create something new. It also alters the remaining image(s) and usually leads to completely new paintings to explore.

Using simple touch controls, Gorogoa unveils surprisingly layered puzzles that can be confounding but that never feel illogical. It can be a challenge to figure out how all the images you’re provided at any given time interact with one another, but once you do, it all makes sense. Nothing feels random or contrived, which was a significant issue in classic adventure games.

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This sense of order to the game’s world also leads to a palpable sense of accomplishment when you sort everything out. The first few puzzles ease you into the mechanics of Gorogoa, then the game throws you into an incredibly complex maze of clockwork-like machinations that require manipulating multiple panels in quick succession. The idea of moving a falling object from one aspect of a picture down into others in order to cause something to break is genius and extremely satisfying when you get it right.

The art is stunning, the atmosphere fascinating, and the puzzles are incredibly devious and clever. Gorogoa might not be a long game, but it is easily one of the most engaging puzzle games in recent memory.

Gorogoa Review

Few games take the concept of altering reality to as artistic a level as Gorogoa. This labor of love made chiefly by one developer is a gorgeous and intriguing puzzle game that works because of its stunning art and intelligent puzzle design. Far from a traditional game, Gorogoa is a slow and methodical trip into the surreal.

Gorogoa is a compact game with a minimalist design that works exceptionally well. The entire story of two young men researching the lore of gods and monsters in their world is told through the striking visuals and musical score. The focus of the game as a whole is on the puzzle mechanics, which are more than up to the task of making this two-to-three-hour excursion worth taking.

A simplified version of classic point and click adventure games, you tap on interactive elements within Gorogoa’s artwork to trigger a mini-event. There are four panels on the main screen, each of which can hold a square-shaped picture. You can slide any picture into any of the panels and many of the puzzles require manipulating the pictures so they connect with each other.

Tapping on specific areas in a picture will usually zoom in on that element, and often if the element is a window or door, it will zoom right into a new location. Using beautifully detailed pictures, Gorogoa creates puzzles that work by altering the perception of the game’s own reality. Sometimes, for instance, a lamp in one picture is dark and you’ll have to find a lightsource within one of the other pictures.

To do this, you’ll have to find something glowing within another image, zoom in on the light source and then the lamp, and then move the circular hole of the lamp over the lightsource. This combines the two images to create something new. It also alters the remaining image(s) and usually leads to completely new paintings to explore.

Using simple touch controls, Gorogoa unveils surprisingly layered puzzles that can be confounding but that never feel illogical. It can be a challenge to figure out how all the images you’re provided at any given time interact with one another, but once you do, it all makes sense. Nothing feels random or contrived, which was a significant issue in classic adventure games.

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This sense of order to the game’s world also leads to a palpable sense of accomplishment when you sort everything out. The first few puzzles ease you into the mechanics of Gorogoa, then the game throws you into an incredibly complex maze of clockwork-like machinations that require manipulating multiple panels in quick succession. The idea of moving a falling object from one aspect of a picture down into others in order to cause something to break is genius and extremely satisfying when you get it right.

The art is stunning, the atmosphere fascinating, and the puzzles are incredibly devious and clever. Gorogoa might not be a long game, but it is easily one of the most engaging puzzle games in recent memory.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild – The Champions’ Ballad Review

Slipping back into Breath of the Wild is typically a painless process; spirited moments are never far away, and tranquil scenery makes the time between finding treasure and hard-fought battles consistently captivating. With so many things vying for your attention, it’s fair to say that the game doesn’t need to be expanded. But as the Master Trials DLC showed us earlier this year, there are still pieces of this lost chapter in Hyrule’s history to uncover.

For the game’s final act, The Champions’ Ballad, Link’s ancient allies (Revali, Daruk, Mipha, and Urbosa) get their chance to retake the spotlight. The result is less impactful to the overall story that we’re already familiar with, but the accompanying quests and new gear do a lot of heavy lifting, delivering over a dozen new stages to test your problem-solving skills in ever more interesting ways. They alone make a return trip to Hyrule worth getting excited about.

A big part of this new journey involves walking in the champions’ footsteps, re-enacting feats they performed prior to the fall of Hyrule, to unlock long-forgotten memories–but you must first prove yourself worthy of the opportunity. Upon returning to the Resurrection Chamber, the cave where Link awoke from his 100-year slumber, you’re given a weapon known as the One-Hit Obliterator. As the name implies, this short-range weapon allows you to kill an enemy in a single blow; but with your health consequently whittled down to a quarter heart, you’re also more vulnerable than ever.

Similar to how you may have felt when tackling Eventide Island or the Trials of the Sword, the threat of an easy death when wielding the Obliterator is stressful, and it takes time to acclimate to being such a fragile warrior. You may have shrugged off an occasional bee sting before, but it’s little incidents like these that teach you to think twice about every move during this phase of The Champions’ Ballad. Sadly, it’s a great setup that ends too soon. After clearing out four small enemy camps and the shrines that emerge from their defeat, the weapon returns to the resurrection chamber having “fulfilled its duty.” Even after completing everything the DLC has to offer, the weapon remains unusable, which feels like a missed opportunity.

With this stage of the new journey complete, you’re sent to the four corners of Hyrule on a glorified scavenger hunt. The accordion-playing Kass regales you with songs that hint at your objectives without completely spelling out the steps involved. Adding to the mystery are the visual hints that reference a specific part of Hyrule, but these pictures are limited, forcing you to pore over the map in search of your destinations.

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In a very pleasing way, the goals set for you take great advantage of Breath of the Wild’s numerous mechanics. You will take on a snowboarding challenge that tasks you to pass through rings in a limited amount of time, hunt Hyrule’s elusive dragons, and re-engage the banana-loving Yiga clan, among other missions that test the breadth of your capabilities. And for each task you complete, a new shrine surfaces from underground.

The Champions’ shrines force you to engage in mindfulness and critical thought. They typically involve a lot of moving pieces, veering away from combat in favor of puzzle-solving. So far removed from a life of shrine-hunting in the main game, returning to these creatively built challenges takes you back to a time when Breath of the Wild was this new and mysterious thing, an experience filled with surprises.

Upon completing the three shrines in a given set, you’re able to tap into the memories of the relevant champion. You don’t get the opportunity to directly control Hyrule’s famous defenders, but as Link, you re-enact their battles against Ganon’s four blights–the same four bosses you fight at the end of each of the game’s Divine Beast dungeons. The difference this time around is that you are limited to a small selection of gear based on what each champion would have carried into battle. Oddly, you retain access to the powers bestowed to you by the champions’ spirits in the past, which give you incredible advantages and somewhat negate what would otherwise be difficult battles. You can always turn off these powers if you choose, but given the context of exploring someone else’s memories, it would have made more sense had they been disabled by default.

Your immediate reward for beating each blight is the ability to recharge Champion abilities in less time, and new cutscenes for each champion; each one shows a recollection of when they were recruited to join Zelda’s anti-Ganon squad 100 years in the past. These vignettes are more playful than serious, which is a little disappointing considering the gravity of the calamity they’re up against.

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Thankfully, there’s a bigger and better reward waiting for you once you’ve resolved every champion’s quests: a new Divine Beast dungeon, complete with a totally surprising boss fight. In a similar fashion to other Divine Beasts, the final station requires you to manipulate the entire structure, rotating major components this way and that, as you work to resolve the four puzzles locking away the final area. It’s another reminder of how clever, if non-traditional, Breath of the Wild’s dungeons are. While shrines ask you to solve puzzles comprised of compact devices and easily conceivable constraints, the scope of the final Divine Beast (like the ones before it) is delightfully difficult to wrap your head around both for how big it is and how intricate its solutions are.

The parting gift for your efforts is one of the unlikeliest additions to The Legend of Zelda: an ancient motorcycle. Loosely modeled to resemble a unicorn, Link’s new bike fits thematically if not logically into Breath of the Wild’s mythical tapestry. On one hand, having a bike at the ready overshadows your stable of horses. On the other, tearing through Hyrule on a motorcycle is as ridiculously playful as it sounds. It even makes for a fun snowboard replacement on snowy hills, which helps escalate the sense of speed as you rocket down mountains and look for ramps to catch a bit of air. The only real disappointment: you can’t summon the motorcycle in the desert nor travel there if you’re already on the go. Attempt the latter, and an invisible wall prevents you from proceeding, exactly the same as if you tried to enter on horseback.

Who knows if Nintendo will continue to surprise us with fanciful new additions to Breath of the Wild down the road, but considering that The Champions’ Ballad is likely the final world on this chapter in The Legend of Zelda, it’s a bittersweet goodbye. There are so many wonderful quests and beautiful, tiny moments that make revisiting Hyrule’s past feel like reliving your own memories, when Breath of the Wild was truly new and surprising. Nintendo certainly could have extended some of the aspects within The Champions’ Ballad, such as giving you access to the Obliterator at anytime, and letting you ride your new motorcycle over sandy dunes, but these are minor blemishes on an otherwise great trip down memory lane.