Peggle 2 Review

I love the rising notes that accompany the bounce of a Peggle ball as it tumbles from peg to peg, each tinkle perfectly pitched to the serene melodies underneath. I love how each selection on the menu screen is accompanied by the notes from Peer Gynt’s “Morning”, a subtle nod to Peggle 2’s wonderful predecessor. And I love the rainbows, and the sparkles, and the blast of Ode to Joy that accompanies a perfectly cleared Peggle board. It’s absolutely mesmerizing, and indicative of a game that’s as much about lifting the weight of the world from your shoulders as it is spending hours figuring out the perfect peg-pummeling shot for a high score–and trust me, once Peggle gets its hooks into you, the hours will fly by.

Describe the absolute basics of Peggle to someone though, and they’ll give you the sort of sympathetic stare they’d give to someone who’d suddenly confessed to Coldplay being their favourite “rock band”. It’s so stiflingly simplistic at first glance that it’s hard not to wonder what all the fuss is about. All you do is shoot a small ball at different coloured pegs scattered around a level, attempting to hit each and light them up along the way. Blue pegs give you 100 points, orange pegs need to be cleared to progress, while purple pegs give you score boosts, and green ones activate power-ups. Once the ball drops out of play, the lit pegs disappear, and you fire off another shot. Your only method of control is over the direction of the ball and when you decide to launch it, with a neat physics system taking care of the rest.

That’s the face of a true Peggle champion.

That might make it seem like there’s not a whole lot you can actually do about hitting those pegs with any skill, and for sure, there’s an element of luck about the whole thing. But it’s that very randomness, the way that each shot is a gamble no matter how well-practiced you are, that makes Peggle so utterly engrossing–and the natural feel of the ball physics means that you never feel hard done by because of its random nature. The ball behaves just how you’d expect, and you adapt how you play around it. For every shot that hits just a single blue peg, there’s another that somehow bounces across the board for a long shot bonus, hits a purple peg on the rebound, and then skims its way across a group of orange pegs before neatly landing in the moving free ball bucket at the bottom of the screen. It’s an amazing feeling when it happens.

There are certainly some tricks to learn that come with practice too. Knowing how to skim a ball across a row of flat pegs for maximum points, or knowing just the right angle to hit a single peg to bounce it directly into the free ball bucket for a trick shot prove invaluable in later levels. With just 10 balls at your disposal, and many more pegs than that to clear, Peggle is just as strategic as it is random. Trying to beat challenges like clearing all the pegs, performing a certain trick shot, or beating an ace high score on each level can keep you going for weeks and months; I’m still trying to 100 percent the seriously tricky Zen level on the original Peggle to this day.

Ultra Fever! Catch it!

There are a bunch of new challenges too, under the guise of trials that challenge you to do things like beat a level under a certain score (much harder than it sounds), perform impossibly long slide shots, and score over a million points on a single level. But Peggle 2 never forces the really difficult trials upon you. There’s as much satisfaction to be had from just nailing all the orange pegs on the one of the ingeniously crafted levels as there is in going after all the rainbow trophies that you’re awarded for completing challenges. The delicate tones that emanate from each hit peg, the drum rolls, the way the camera zooms in as you’re about to hit the last orange peg, and the rapturous explosion of music and colour are all brilliantly designed to stimulate the senses, and give you a real feeling of accomplishment, even for the smallest of tasks.

Then there are the Peggle masters, each of them offering a different power up to help you along the way. There’s a greater visual focus on them this time, with each character getting the full body treatment, rather than being relegated to a headshot at the top of the screen. The results are absolutely hilarious. Play a Bjorn level and the colourful unicorn pulls the silliest of cringing faces as soon as you’re down to your last three balls; perform a particularly great shot and his horn transforms into a rock ‘n’ roll set of devil horns; and sometimes, for seemingly no reason at all, he farts sparkles.

Bjorn is the only returning master this time, bringing his super guide power with him. The rest are all new and feature a bunch of inventive powers that do just enough to change the way a level plays out without undermining the core mechanics. Play a level featuring Berg the yeti and he freezes the screen, making the pegs slide around the screen when you hit them. Clever level design means there’s plenty of opportunity to rack up some really high scores by chaining a bunch of pegs together. And if you get a particularly high score, you’re treated to the awe-struck bleats of Berg’s goat friends and a dance from the yeti himself, complete with a pixelated picture of his rear end.

In the first Peggle, Splork and his explosion power tended to be the go-to choice for nailing the really high scores. His counterpart here is Gnorman, a little tin robot that gives you the ability to hit three pegs at once for some outrageous high scores. His power proves particularly useful on levels that feature new armored pegs, which need to be hit twice, and levels that feature bumpers, which let you bounce the ball back into active pegs for more points. In a small but welcome tweak, you don’t have to complete the entire game before being able go back and use a different master to tackle the level. Now, you unlock a master simply by making it to their level, which means you can take on the most tricky challenges much sooner this time around.

Bjorn is one insanely happy unicorn.

There are other little tweaks too, such as the colourful and imaginative backdrops, which are far more detailed than before, and the background music which gives a more sedate take on the different celebration themes of each character. Yes, this time you’re treated to more than just Ode To Joy, and while it’d be a shame to give all the new tunes away here, rest assured they’re just as well chosen, and just as shamelessly jubilant.

Indeed, it’s that shameless pursuit of making Peggle 2 as fun and as accessible as humanly possible–no matter how cheesy the cost–that I absolutely adore. It’s the very epitome of a pure gaming experience, one that can be as deep or as simple as you want it to be, and one that never loses sight of what makes it so appealing to so many people. Sure, the window dressing here plays its part in the fun as much as the core mechanics of the game do, but that’s no bad thing; that all important feeling of accomplishment comes from the slick visual payoffs and charming audio cues as much as is does from skilful shots. Peggle 2’s randomness simply isn’t an issue once you’re locked into the Peggle groove. It’s heaps of fun, totally absorbing, and such a wonderful place to be.

Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW Review

Adventure. The word suggests danger, daring, and excitement, perhaps a journey into the perilous unknown. In Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW, you do indeed venture into dangerous realms, but all you find there is unadulterated drudgery. The game possesses none of the whimsy and imagination of the cartoon that inspired it. This is dungeon-crawling at its dullest and most rudimentary.

Princess Bubblegum has summoned the heroes of the realm, charging them with exploring the Secret Royal Dungeon beneath her castle and dealing with the rambunctious monsters who are not so securely imprisoned there. Unfortunately, she doesn’t warn Finn, Jake, and the rest of the gang that it’s more likely that the boredom will kill them than the monsters. You trudge through floors of the dungeon, hacking away at enemies and picking up piles of treasure here and there. That’s pretty much it.

Of course, there are some great games that rely on this basic premise. Some offer you a diverse range of attacks that feel powerful and are satisfying to use. Some pit you against memorable foes who use attacks that require you to play smartly if you hope to emerge victorious. Some include deep character customization options. Some have terrific gear you can find and equip to make your hero increasingly more powerful. Adventure Time has none of this. The game takes a few cues from the landmark multiplayer arcade dungeon crawler Gauntlet, but despite having the benefit of nearly 30 years’ worth of genre advances and innovations to draw upon, Adventure Time fails to even be as exciting a game as that old quarter-muncher.

Yes, there are a number of playable characters with different abilities. Marceline can float right over pits and traps, for instance, while the Ice King can freeze enemies. But no matter which character you choose, the exploration remains slow and tedious; the dungeons remain bereft of interesting places, enemies to fight, or items to discover; and the combat remains excruciatingly shallow and simplistic. No subweapon you might find and pick up in the dungeon, be it a kitten gun or a fire hose (that is, a hose that shoots fire) does anything to liven up the process of pushing buttons mindlessly until monsters fall before you. You can play with up to three friends, but then you’re all just sharing a miserable experience.

Oh yeah, the boss fights are terrible, too.

After suffering your way through a number of levels, you’re given the opportunity to return to the surface with the treasure you’ve collected, but there’s little of interest to spend that treasure on. You can sink it into a few absurdly expensive upgrades to attributes like health and damage, each of which can be upgraded only two or three times. The problem with them being so costly is that you can’t stash your gold anywhere. When you reenter the dungeon, you must give up any unspent treasure. This is an idea that works well in games like Rogue Legacy, in which there’s a satisfying loop of earning more treasure in the dungeon, which lets you strengthen your character, which lets you earn yet more treasure on your subsequent dungeon runs. But in Adventure Time, spending time slogging through several levels of the dungeon, only to realize that you don’t have enough treasure yet to purchase any upgrades and must try to slog through several more levels and collect still more treasure, just feels like punishment on top of punishment.

There’s the rare moment of humor, like when the vampire Marceline remarks, right after you upgrade her health, “I can’t die anyway!” But cutscenes and dialogue exchanges are few and far between, so even the most devout fans of Adventure Time won’t find enough entertaining quips or goofy moments to reward them for struggling through the dungeon. The game’s title may not provide justification for exploring the dungeon, but the much bigger I DON’T KNOW here is why anyone would play this game.

Dead Sky Review

You’re down to your last clip of ammo. The plan was to make it to the train station just ahead and hold out until help came. But your comrades have already fallen. Poor Billy. Poor Sarah. The despair of the zombie apocalypse had been the catalyst they needed to confess their feelings for one another. If you can hit that next shambler in the head, you may just be able to make the sprint to safety, for now.

Sadly, Dead Sky cannot properly capture the inherent dread of such a scenario. When you think of survival shooters, and zombie games in general, you expect a little suspense and tension, and actual fear of death. Unfortunately, Dead Sky is just masquerading as a survival shooter. Instead, it is a fledgling tower defense game that never grows out of its daydreams of being anything more.

You cannot fail this mission, no matter how hard you try.

The game’s menu greets you with ill-suited blaring rock music that doesn’t fit the tone of the game that follows. (When you’re trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, your first step is probably not to turn on a soaring guitar solo to draw attention to yourself and your roving gang of gunmen.) The single-player campaign is a quick six-mission distraction to introduce you to the core multiplayer action, with only two missions actually reflecting that core experience. The game opens up with you defending your buddy’s escape plan (his car) from a meager offering of slow-moving, mostly nonthreatening undead.

Once the car starts, you must drive away on a long street littered with zombies just waiting for you to plow them over. The mission is failable, but only if you come to a complete stop. And though the road is winding, you can drive straight until the very end for one final turn in order to beat the stage. Once you come to the end of the street, the game introduces you to a caricature hillbilly who tinkers in scrap metal (the game’s resource) in order to turn it into more usable forms, like a gun turret or a strange bug zapper that stuns the encroaching zombie horde. Wyatt, the aforementioned redneck, isn’t a humorous portrayal at all; he’s simply an overacted representation of Southern stereotypes. This character is grating, and he’s present throughout the multiplayer game.

Not even the flashlight can help you see a reason to keep playing this game.

The campaign attempts to get to survival shooter roots with a trip through the zombie-infested sewers, but because the zombies are uniformly spaced apart, there’s almost no tension in the journey. The sewers play more like an attempt at capturing the gameplay of an action role-playing game like Diablo or Torchlight (minus any exciting character skills) than a shooter, and the randomized weapon drops further push the game in that direction. You don’t find weapons in preset locations; they drop randomly from the zombies. Their temporary boost in power is great, except that the amazing power of the rocket launcher and railgun is wasted in a sewer with no more than two to three zombies approaching you at a time. There’s no epic carnage or cathartic mega-corpse explosion extravaganza.

Once you’ve completed the introductory campaign, the game pats you on the back and instructs you to try out multiplayer. “OK, let’s go!” you think to yourself, as you click Join Game. But, alas, you see naught but “Finding lobbies…” on your screen. “No problem, I’ll check again in a minute.” You keep telling yourself someone will host a game soon. And finally, a game appears. You click to join. But a fate far scarier than the game’s tepid zombies slaps you in the face: “Failed to connect.”

The random monster selection can make your otherwise fine defense arrangement useless, because you cannot prepare ahead of time.

Should you be lucky enough to find a game, you either must defend a building, or simply stay alive. You start with a bit of scrap metal you can use to upgrade your trusty pistol or purchase a few stationary defenses, which come in handy when you end up settling for a solo attempt on one of the maps intended for multiple players.

The multiplayer maps don’t have a final objective, but instead require you to survive or to defend the objective for as many waves as you can. Zombies randomly drop machine guns or shotguns for you to wield, but since you have limited ammo and no ability to stockpile weapons for later, they don’t change combat for long. Once you pick up a new weapon, you can’t switch back to your pistol or to a separate weapon, which greatly drags down the shooter aspects of the game.

There aren’t many people to compete with on the leaderboards.

The shallow shooting might have been more serviceable if the tower defense elements had been fleshed out, but unfortunately, you have only three tower options: a gun turret, a flame turret, and the bug zapper. Other static defenses include a very fragile wall, a bear trap to snare a single zombie, and a mine to clear out a few zombies at once, but to purchase any of these ineffective tools is to throw your scrap metal away. You also have the option to upgrade your character with better offense, defense, or support capabilities, but these upgrade costs quickly outscale the amount of scrap metal you’re getting once you consider the upkeep and replacements necessary for your turrets.

Last stand!

The “stronger” monsters that assault you starting in the second round are randomly generated. In some games you may encounter just a few zombie dogs and zombies with burning attacks, but other attempts at the game may unleash a legion of explosive gas zombies or zombies that pull you out of your comfort zone and into a group to maul you. The random monster selection can make your otherwise fine defense arrangement useless, because you cannot prepare ahead of time.

Dead Sky’s only saving grace is its inclusion of a leaderboard that lets you see how your attempts fare when stacked against the others defending Wyatt’s backwoods cabin or the abandoned wastelands village. Otherwise, everything that Dead Sky does or tries to do, other games do far better. There’s little room to experiment from game to game, and there’s only so long that fighting to have your name ranked among the few hundred other zombie slayers can keep you grinding in this poor excuse for a tower defense game.

World of Warplanes Review

With a fuselage chewed up by bullet holes, an injured pilot who’s bleeding out, and smoke trailing out of your engine, few things are more gratifying than ramming your doomed fighter headlong into the jerk who put you in such dire straights to begin with. World of Warplanes makes as much room for tactical sneakery as it does fancy flying, which gives your likelihood of surviving an exciting air of uncertainty. When the skies are swarming with fighters, dogfights spill into one another as you rocket through waves of antiaircraft fire and near misses. Layer on top of this an exhaustive list of unlockable planes and part upgrades to tinker with, and you have a game that is far more enjoyable than its repetitive nature might suggest.

World of Warplanes is a streamlined arcade-style experience built for easy accessibility. It takes only a minute or two to come to grips with the simple controls, and after a quick piloting tutorial, you’re booted right to the battlefield with minimal handholding. It’s a whirlwind introduction to be sure, but the flow of battle quickly becomes a familiar groove once you get a few missions under your belt. The fact that there’s only one competitive player-versus-player mode to dive into helps you get acclimated quickly, though that limitation is ultimately to the game’s detriment.

Hang in the hangar for tinkering fun.

Matches pit opposing squadrons in 15-on-15 battles for air supremacy over massive square maps. Victory is achieved by dealing enough damage to your opponents’ base or by blowing every enemy bird out of the sky. The latter tends to be the deciding factor in nearly every battle simply because aggressive players are always on the hunt for the next potential kill. This doesn’t make bombing and air-to-ground strafing runs any less useful, since you still gain experience for them, but it does keep matches short. Most games rarely bump up against the 15-minute time limit because there’s no one else left in the air at that point.

Given the flight speed of the zippier fighter craft, it isn’t long before squads clash in explosions of gunfire and chaos. Whether they unfold high in the clouds or closer to the ground, the inevitable dogfights that erupt are a thrilling highlight. Jockeying for position as you dive and climb or circle around to flank a foe–contending with antiaircraft flak and dangerous mountain terrain all the while–makes for some exhilarating moments. Taking damage to key areas of your plane and getting your pilot injured can severely impact handling too. That usually draws enemy fighters to you like hungry buzzards eager for scraps, but it’s pretty awesome to land those last few kills when you’re limping along.

World of Warplanes’ maps are packed with beautiful scenery both at ground level and in the skies.

Things are just as exciting near the ground.

Speaking of explosions, your time on the battlefield is often short-lived, at least until you sharpen your piloting skills and unlock better gear for your planes. The experience and cash rewards for making it through a match intact give you a big boost, although death is only a minor bummer thanks to the way missions are handled. Get blown up, and you can still stick around as a spectator to see how things play out, though hopping instantly back to your hangar lets you grab a different ride and start a new game. At first, it’s a nuisance that planes are tied to each match you initiate, forcing you to wait until a match is completed before you can free up the plane again. But the upside is that this encourages you to try lots of different craft and gradually improve your whole fleet rather than rely too heavily on one favorite.

The depth that World of Warplanes lacks in its sparsity of modes and short-lived air battles pops up in the huge number of craft you can unlock. With hundreds of planes arranged in class tiers across five different countries–USA, USSR, Germany, Japan, and the UK–there’s a lot of sweet military hardware to dig through. You’ll find everything from old biplanes and burly bombers to more modern jets, and each craft looks outstanding. Gaining access to them is a slow but satisfying process that makes each match you play, no matter how short or long, feel like it’s contributing to your overall progress.

Your first few aircraft are flimsy and get torn apart quickly in direct fire. Spending accumulated experience earned with each craft lets you access new planes and upgraded parts for each one, ranging from engines and guns to armor and special bullets. That’s when they become a lot more formidable and fun to fly. It’s a two-stage process, however. Once you spend experience to gain access to each additional ride and extra parts, you have to shell out accumulated in-game cash to actually buy and equip them. It’s a grindy system, albeit one that lets you get a lot of cool stuff without having to pay actual cash.

Bombing runs are a nice break from dogfighting.

Spending real money on gold currency is needed if you want to expand your hangar to hold a larger number of planes at once, or to speed the whole process up, but you have a good amount of starting space to work with. A small handful of souped-up planes can only be obtained with gold. Aside from being a bit more powerful than their non-premium counterparts within the same class, these craft are not necessarily the absolute best you can fly, but they don’t require research and they give you a boost in earned credits and experience. Elsewhere in the shop, you can purchase gold, credits, and temporary packages that boost your experience gain. These purchases range from reasonable to extreme in price, but they give you a solid advantage by providing quicker access to upper-tier crafts and powerful ammo.

Taking down a tough adversary is tops.

World of Warplanes’ maps are packed with beautiful scenery both at ground level and in the skies. Diving close for bombing runs gives you a closer look at ships, buildings, and infrastructure, while the sun and cloud lighting effects are beautifully captivating. Flying high gives you a strategic advantage to divebomb planes below you, and cloud cover can obscure the view, allowing you to spring a sneaky surprise. The map topography and ground-level designs make a much bigger impact on combat when you drop down to hug mountain peaks, buzz past AA guns, and rocket through deep canyons to try to shake someone on your tail. Despite the game’s good looks, it stinks that the map rotation is so limited. Each setting is impressively rednered, but you can’t pick which map you play on in a given match. This leads to lots of matches where you fly over the same few vistas, adding to the repetitiousness of the experience.

Taking to the skies in a seemingly endless string of short and intense matches proves to be a lot of fun in World of Warplanes, even when you feel caught in a time loop playing the same maps ad nauseam. Every encounter is pleasantly unpredictable, and the crazy kills and near misses keep the steady grind for cash and experience interesting. Ultimately, it’s the variety of planes and unlockable goodies available for each aircraft that keep you pushing through the more limited, recycled stretches of this airborne assault freebie. There’s room to grow here, but World of Warplanes leaves the runway with a sound foundation intact.

Blacklight: Retribution Review

Beneath the neon-bathed futuristic sheen and jagged dubstep warble of Blacklight: Retribution’s cyberpunk vibe lies a shooter that plays it too safe for its own good. Minor excitements such as a mech-like robo suit, a flamethrower, and hacking minigames don’t tip the scale far enough into innovative territory to round out the standard trigger-happy action on tap here. Every so often, the fast-paced running and gunning hits a high point, when the sprawling industrial maps are filled with warm bodies to blast. This free-to-play online shooter initially proves to be an enticing option on the PlayStation 4 if you’re looking for multiplayer mayhem on the cheap, but getting permanent access to Retribution’s coolest high-tech killing gadgets can take a punishing toll on your wallet.

When it comes to delivering basic bullet-flinging fun, Retribution gets the job done decently. Matches move along at a speedy pace, with only a few seconds passing between kills and respawns. The Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes are rounded out by familiar Capture the Flag, Kill Confirmed, and Domination offerings. Perhaps the most unique of the bunch, the latter puts a fun techie spin on point capturing by having you hack nodes with a timed numbers matching game–a frantic and amusing exercise in concentrating under pressure when there’s a firefight erupting all around you. When everything clicks in a given match, the momentum of battle can be intensely absorbing, even if there’s not a lot of wow factor.

With a few unpleasant quirks, some missing features, and a borderline draconian pricing model, it’s hardly a must-have shooter for kicking off the new wave of current-gen gaming.

The gritty urban battlefields you shoot it out across have lots of sneaky nooks and crannies to use to your advantage, and the grim atmospheric scenery is beautifully detailed in spots. That said, Blacklight: Retribution is not a shining showcase for the capabilities of Sony’s hardware. Texture pop-in on characters and weaponry is noticeable, though it doesn’t pose a major problem when you’re barreling down hallways and spraying lead in all directions. Death animations, in particular, are janky and inconsistent at best. You tend to either wind up hovering in the air with limbs splayed all akimbo or not reacting at all to the fact that you’ve just been shot in the face. Other rough spots, such as glitchy walls you can walk through and the omission of the co-op Onslaught mode found in the PC version, make Retribution on the PS4 a clear work in progress.

Diving into the action is usually quick and painless, except when it isn’t. Playing Retribution on the PS4 means occasionally suffering through agonizing waits to find a game in progress. At times, the player base is anemic. I’ve regularly been stuck fiddling around for several minutes at a clip waiting for a quick match search to drop me into an active game, only to have to back out and try again. That’s aggravating when you just want to get to the good stuff. Once you’re in, however, you can stick with the group you’re playing with for faster access to repeated matches. But even then, there is no guarantee you’ll be fighting against more than a small handful of opponents. Retribution’s straightforward combat is at its best when you’ve got a map full of players locked and loaded to face off against. It’s a shame that’s such a rarity at the moment.

Blacklight: Retribution looks nice enough, but it by no means ushers in the next console graphics revolution.

The coolest combat elements arise from Retribution’s futuristic trappings. Most notable is a sweet visor that lets you scan through walls to spot enemies. It takes a few moment to disengage, however, and that delayed timing gets you killed if you suddenly find yourself face-to-face with an opponent while using the visor. Points you earn in battle can be spent on the sluggish but brutal hard suit–a mech-like contraption you can hop into that’s heavily armed and a thrill to thunder across maps with. It’s not an instant win button, though. This beast is weak against flamethrowers and rocket launchers, which are among the other fun CP purchases at your disposal. This in-match spending system is separate from the accumulated virtual currency and the real-world cash you’re required to spend to access tons of gun parts, killer bots, cool traps, and other goodies needed to get the most out of this experience.

A ridiculously broad array of guns, getups, and doodads to swap out across your arsenal drive the ever-constant push toward leveling up and amassing spendable points. Customization is the key here, but it’s also the downfall of Retribution’s deceptive free-to-play model. Many of the guns and items available can be temporarily rented using currency you earn from completing matches. This is a great way to get a feel for different kits before shelling out actual money, but it takes an absurd amount of grinding to get enough to rent a single gun for one day, much less a week. Considering there are dozens of attachments available, ranging from scopes and muzzles to stocks and decorations, you have to churn through a ridiculous number of matches just to get a little taste of the goods. Real cash can be used to rent items too, but you’ll want to save your money for the real kicker: permanent unlocks.

Sweet tactical stock. If you want it, you’ll need to fork over the cash–or inordinate amounts of time.

Permanent unlocks require real money, and they aren’t cheap. A single gun can run you around $3.50, and between armor and tactical upgrades, you can drop upward of $30 on customizing a single character and loadout. By the way, that single character and loadout are all you start with. Additional quick-swap loadout slots cost $5 apiece. I can appreciate how the rental system lets you try before you buy, but prices across the board are unnecessarily steep. Retribution is only free-to-play if you’re content with a harshly limited, temporary arsenal.

Temper your expectations, however, and you can squeeze a reasonable amount of entertainment from Retribution without paying a cent. While they’re not as spectacular as the more high-end kits at your disposal once you level up and shell out some real-world green, the standard assault rifle, frag grenades, and other essential gear you start off with do a fine job of taking down adversaries. I spent many hours blasting away with only the limited freebie arsenal at my disposal and had quite a bit of fun along the way.

Strapped for cash and looking for something punchy to play on your PS4? Blacklight: Retribution has its fun moments to balance out the frustrating ones. But with a few unpleasant quirks, some missing features, and a borderline draconian pricing model, it’s hardly a must-have shooter for kicking off the new wave of current-gen gaming.

Fighter Within Review

It’s impossible to look cool playing Fighter Within. I’m not talking about a high standard of cool either, like Arthur Fonzarelli banging on a jukebox. No, while playing Fighter’s Within, you will look less cool than some pantless schlub who barely resembles a functional member of society. Frankly, any activity that involves flailing your arms and legs around like an apathetic Steven Seagal impersonator is going to draw some prolonged stares and titters (or in my case, howling laughter from supposedly supportive colleagues). This isn’t a problem in of itself; after all, you can look just as foolish playing the likes of Just Dance. The problem is that the flailing is in service to an awful fighting game that lends no joy to your embarrassment.

Unlike in Fighter Within’s predecessor, Fighters Uncaged, the motion tracking is not entirely hopeless this time around, even if its menu system is. I take a weedy swing at the screen, and my character punches; I do a little hop, and my character kicks; I hug thin air, and my character goes in for a throw. No, the greatest problem with Fighter Within isn’t its ability to sense your simplistic moves, but the incomprehensible banality of the game itself. A great fighting game is about speed, depth, and maybe some outlandish moves and combos. But in Fighter Within, none of that exists, because of its physical dependence on the bags of meat attempting to play it.

A fun game would be a good start.

Character movement is limited to sluggish hops backwards and forwards as you awkwardly lean your body; there’s only one type of kick; and combos are automated after you land five successive punches. Every drop of fun has been viciously squeezed out of the game, and the action is slowed down to a lifeless crawl. Some attempt has been made to add depth to the combat with counters and dodges and special moves charged by holding your arms up in the air. But these all fall prey to a lack of precision and a delayed response time, and the game soon devolves into a mess of flapping limbs.

Hugging it out doesn’t make Fighter Within any better.

A Fighter Within match goes down as follows: pick from a list of dull or–in the case of the overweight, angry kilt-wearing Scottish guy–offensive stereotypes; choose one of the bland, barely there arenas; stand like a lemon in front of the TV for what seems like an eternity as you feel your life ebb away during the excruciatingly long loading times; punch at thin air as fast as humanly possible until you trigger a combo; watch the lifeless combo animation; repeat these steps until your opponent is defeated; quickly realise that you’ll never get those 10 minutes of your life back; and question life choices.

You can rope some poor soul in for some local multiplayer this time around, which may let you stretch those 10 minutes out to 20. Any more than that, though, and you’re pushing the boundaries of friendship, patience, and sanity more than most people are willing to. A fun party game Fighter Within is not.

Combos are barely a challenge to perform, and barely worth watching either.

If you’re playing solo, then it’s worth noting that you have to subject yourself to one of the most laughable storylines to have ever graced a video game. It’s not just bad; it’s really, really bad, and the sort of thing you’d hear in a poorly dubbed kung fu movie, only without any of the kitsch charm. It meanders from coming-of-age adventure to fantasy gibberish with little explanation, but it’s the dialogue–delivered with all the enthusiasm of a wet sock–that really takes it to the next level of awful. In one exchange, a character exclaims “I’ve gotta run, someone’s waiting for me.” The reply? “Yeah, my knuckles!” Lines make so little sense that they swing right back from being bad to being so bad they’re hilarious. Case in point: “The only freedom is the fight to conquer for freedom.” I don’t know how to begin trying to explain that one.

Yes, the motion tracking isn’t as bad as in Fighters Uncaged, and yes, at least there’s two-player combat this time. But that’s pretty much like applying lipstick to an ugly pig. This is a totally flawed game that offers little more than a slow, barely competent combat system and a laughable storyline. And hey, if you’re that desperate to experience Fighter Within, get a friend to repeatedly kick you in the shins. It’s free, a nearly spot-on representation of the game, and far less painful.