Beyond: Two Souls Review

The PS4 port of Beyond: Two Souls doesn’t fix the game’s core issues. It’s still a very stilted, awkward experience in spots, usually right after a stretch where the gameplay and narrative get everything right. What it does do–thanks to this edition’s best new feature, where the timeline-hopping narrative can be played in chronological order–is strip away some of the high-concept pretense and deliver a straightforward story that’s stronger as a result.

Beyond: Two Souls is about the life of Jodie Holmes (performed by Ellen Page), a girl who, since birth, has been tethered to an otherworldly entity named Aidan. Naturally, having a poltergeist as an impulsive companion doesn’t exactly equal an ideal life–especially since Aidan’s presence leaves Jodie open to frequent visits from the malevolent side of the hereafter. But even when she’s not being dragged around by invisible horrors, Jodie still has to contend with Aidan’s mischievous tendencies. And on days when Aidan is calm, there’s just life as a socially awkward girl who sees things that nobody should ever have to see. We follow Jodie over a stretch of 15 years, watching her deal with the world–and the world deal with her–and make decisions that change the course of her life.

This experiment went well.

Beyond feels right at home on PS4. Textures are noticeably upgraded from the PS3 version and lighting improvements galore create an even more stunning cinematic experience. The actual playing of Beyond hasn’t changed significantly in the transition to PS4. For the most part, it’s still a copy-paste job from Heavy Rain. Most of your time is spent wandering through closed environments, looking for the magical prompt that signifies when you can interact with an object or person.

In keeping with Quantic Dream’s trademark style, action is handled by quick time events in a dynamic fashion, taking full advantage of the DualShock 4’s motion-sensing functionality. The PS4 edition of the game does add a few tricky bits, where QTEs use diagonals instead of normal up-down-left-right prompts, but those only pop up in two of the chapters. The timing of the prompts seems stricter, which means that Jodie is liable to take a few more brutal hits when the going gets tough, but the QTEs don’t determine the course of the story so much as they bring the action to life. Yes, you could, in theory, just set the controller down during an action scene and let it play out on its own, but you’d be watching a sequence of Jodie getting the crap kicked out of her ad nauseum. Actively participating in Jodie’s struggle is much more gratifying.

If only she had a Fulton baloon.

Through the course of the game, the best moments in each action scene require your input, whether you’re jumping between moving vehicles, tossing soldiers into the road, stealing a motorcycle, blowing past a police garrison, or saving people from a burning building. There are even a few scattered sequences of stealth combat, where Jodie tackles hapless bad guys into the dirt.

Beyond’s big hook, of course, is the fact that, any time you have full control over Jodie, you can instantly switch to Aidan and roam the world as a phantom, floating through doors, walls, and objects, listening to secret conversations, force-pushing objects around, choking the life out of folks, or even possessing hapless victims. The seams of the gimmick show often. It’s built into the story that Aidan can actively hurt Jodie if he travels too far, but how far exactly seems to be determined by the needs of the scene rather than consistent logic.

Beyond feels right at home on PS4. Textures are noticeably upgraded from the PS3 version and lighting improvements galore create an even more stunning cinematic experience.

Having said that, the puzzles, obstacles, and story points built around Aidan’s powers are wonderfully plotted. A painful goodbye interrupted by Jodie’s irritating father can be salvaged if you choose to give him a much-deserved goodbye choke. More than once, Aidan will have to rescue Jodie from a sticky situation by possessing one of her enemies, forcing him to kill his friends and then himself. Its seldom that we get to see a story through the eyes of a spirit, and the extent to which its used in Beyond leads to some fascinating conclusions.

The chronological version of this story told in the new PS4 version is a marked improvement over the original, where the key points of Jodie’s life were scrambled up and presented as a random series of disparate moments as opposed to a life flashing linearly before her eyes. As a chronological narrative, we get a much better sense of the burden of Jodie’s powers, watching her grow from a curious but sheltered child into a rebellious teenager who longs to live in the real world, and ultimately, into a young woman who finds herself routinely beaten by society.

Page and Dafoe deliver excellent performances.

Much of the story’s impact can be laid at the feet of Page. Her performance, both vocal and physical, is powerful; it retreats to hollowly call upon the full weight of Jodie’s collective traumas in one scene, using the same trauma to fuel a deep, embittered rage in the next. Willem Dafoe brings a similar gravitas. His side of the script is steeped in exposition, especially toward the end, but there are times when he demonstrates genuine warmth and paternal concern for Jodie–traits we rarely see from Dafoe. The supporting cast varies. Kadeem Hardison, the only other “name” actor in the game, is solid in his role, but elsewhere, actors fail to keep up and weigh down scenes with poor acting that contrasts with Beyond’s more capable cast members.

Beyond remains an imperfect experience but is still compelling for what it accomplishes.

They’re bound to Beyond’s schizophrenic script, which flips between sequences of earnest, pensive drama, high-octane action, and well-directed but conceptually goofy supernatural blather. The highs are spectacular: The sequence where Jodie deals with homelessness stands out, and a scene where she reunites with a heavily medicated relative is brutally harrowing. The lows, however, are bewildering in their shallowness: An eye-rolling incident at a bar, a detour into Navajo mythology, and a character’s sudden shift into comic book villainy ultimately disappoint. Occasionally, there are scenes like Jodie’s solo mission to take down an African dictator, which, while delivering a stellar dose of action, feels disconnected from the overarching narrative.

Beyond remains a unique experience, even as the tools implemented in its creation have become commonplace. It’s filled with concepts that are immediately odd and illogical, but if you accept them on their own terms, they add up to a fascinating if unconventional tale. Beyond remains an imperfect experience but is still compelling for what it accomplishes.

Yakuza 5 Review

Diving back into Japan’s criminal underworld with Yakuza mainstay Kazuma Kiryu as its narrative anchor is like jumping into another season of a well-received cable TV drama. It usually doesn’t take eight years for a show to reach its fifth season but Yakuza 5 was worth the wait. It even manages to be more feature-rich than its predecessors thanks to a robust set of stories and minigames spread across multiple urban districts across Japan. Savoring Yakuza 5 is about being pulled in by not only its woven plotlines and energetic combat, but also the numerous activities that bring its world to life.

Just like the games of Brendan McNamara (The Getaway, L.A. Noire), the Yakuza series has always belonged at that end of the urban open world game spectrum where gameplay takes a backseat to story. We’re talking about Metal Gear Solid levels of exposition through lengthy cutscenes. Yakuza 5’s heavy themes of honor among criminals and workplace loyalty are aptly presented through the lens and production values of a big budget TV show, and you’d be hard pressed to come up with any game outside this series that features this much melodramatic piano music.

Kazuma Kiryu hasn’t aged much since the original Yakuza, and he’s never looked better.

If there’s one key feature from Yakuza 4 that this sequel capitalizes on, it is the value of having multiple stories. As much as Kazuma Kiryu could be effective as a solo protagonist, having four other playable characters, each with their own lengthy and fleshed-out storylines, adds immense value to Yakuza 5. These journeys are personal, and plot threads intertwine like those of a Tarantino film, and converge at the end like a narrative Voltron.

Kazuma kicks off Yakuza 5 on an intriguing note: disguised as a taxi driver making a modest living in Fukuoka. Between highway racing challenges and standard driving missions, there’s a lot of entertaining taxi gameplay to distract you from the story for hours. Unlike other games of its ilk, Yakuza 5 treats driving around city streets as a challenge, with strict traffic laws to follow–until you get on the highways, where anything goes. Another chapter puts you in the shoes of ex-con Taiga Saejima, deep in a snowy forest and far away from the game’s concrete jungles This leads to a surprisingly engrossing hunting minigame where stalking prey without startling them is harder than it looks–especially when the intensity of snowfall fluctuates frequently–causing you to take a breath and compose yourself before every shot.

Although Yakuza 5 never attempts to be a real simulation of life in Japan, the areas of selective realism within are one of its biggest draws.

Taxi racing and hunting are just two of myriad diversions that support Yakuza 5’s tale, and with over two dozen types of minigames, there’s a lot to discover when you’re out and about. It’s brilliant that arcades in the game feature an arcade-perfect version of Virtua Fighter 2 and that Namco Bandai’s Taiko Drum Master exists, even if it only has a three-song playlist. Casino games like poker and baccarat are well-represented, as are traditional sports practice areas like batting centers and driving ranges. When enduring the failure of my fifth attempt at grabbing a plush toy from a UFO Catcher, I couldn’t help by recall my struggles at the similar games of chance in Shenmue, and in real life.

Yakuza 5 is the closest thing we’ll get to a proper Taxi Driver video game.

Nothing in Yakuza 5 underscores the series’ passage of time more than Haruka Sawamura’s story arc. Originally the young girl who was the plot’s focal point in the first game, she is now sixteen years old. Her continued and consistent relevance in the series serves as one of the many rewards to fans who have followed Yakuza since the first game. In Haruka’s world, there is only one sensible career path for a Japanese teenage girl: idol singer. I afforded myself one eyeroll at this unoriginal premise before I wholeheartedly jumped into the early stages of her burgeoning career.

Given the series’ history with rhythm-based action, mostly through karaoke, this chapter will be familiar to Yakuza fans. It’s not just about matching button inputs to on-screen prompts during a practice session in the dance studio. There are meet-and-greets with fans, appearances on various TV shows, and even dance-offs in the streets.

Haruka’s songs are more infectious and tolerable than anything by Sega’s Hatsune Miku.

Haruka’s variety show appearances are impressively authentic, not just with the banter between her and the host, but also with the lighting and camerawork. It’s not for everybody, but it’s a welcome interlude from the heavy doses of suspense and intrigue in the other plotlines. Still, Yakuza 5 never veers too far from the beaten path, with Rival idols and conflicts with competing management companies providing a dash of drama to Haruka’s tale.

Although Yakuza 5 never attempts to be a real simulation of life in Japan, the areas of selective realism within are one of its biggest draws. I still remember walking into a convenience store in the first game and admiring the level of detail, from the magazines to the bright and unflattering overhead lighting. This and many other types of business look all the more detailed in Yakuza 5, right down to the pastel color schemes in the pharmacies. And as much as one can survive the game’s more hostile sections with a boost from energy drinks, sometimes you just want a bowl of health-replenishing ramen or curry. Given all of Yakuza 5’s urban attractions and the vibrancy of most of its various large locales, you’d think that Sega received a subsidy from the Japan National Tourism Organization.

The core combat in Yakuza 5 is mostly unchanged since the first game and it’s a credit to the series that this hasn’t become totally stale after all these years. Fans will immediately recognize Kazuma’s fighting animations, especially when he’s smashing opponents’ faces with a unusual weapons, including the likes of a bicycle. The tried-and-tested combat serves Yakuza 5 well, but without any type of counter system for self-defense, it shows its age.

You’d be surprised what Taiga Saejima can pick up.

Make no mistake, though, there is depth to Yakuza 5’s combat. Throws, dodges, and opportunities to learn new moves ensure that fights aren’t a one-dimensional affair. The series was one of the first street brawlers to include context-sensitive environmental finishing moves, a feature that was improved upon by United Front Games’ Sleeping Dogs, and it’s put to great use here. Smashing a thug’s face on the side of a building never gets old; it always looks brutal, but more importantly, it offers a gratifying sense of finality to a fight. As much as you can mash your way to victory with quick attacks, these deadlier moves are doubly effective in scaring off the other gangsters, turning a sixty-second brawl into a fifteen-second display of intimidating might. Of course, moments of slapstick complement the harsh side of combat, including the use of an injured foe as a weapon against his unfortunate buddies, adding insult to injury.

Yakuza 5 makes up for its modest shortcomings with enthralling diversions and eye-popping settings that compel one to look at travel deals to Japan.

While playing the prior games isn’t a prerequisite, loyal fans who have followed the Yakuza series up to this point will feel rewarded with every throwback, whether it’s the return of a supporting character or a revisit to a ramen shop that has remained in business for multiple games. Even if melee combat lacks the sophistication of modern action games, Yakuza 5 makes up for its modest shortcomings with enthralling diversions and eye-popping settings that compel one to look at travel deals to Japan. Come for the stories, but stick around for Yakuza 5’s world; it’s unconventional in the best way possible

Rainbow Six Siege Review

The average Rainbow Six Siege multiplayer match contains a surprisingly small amount of shooting. Gunplay is, of course, still central to the Siege experience, but there’s so much more to it. You’ll spend just as much time strategizing with your teammates, carefully laying traps, reinforcing destructible walls, and feeling your heart race as the dull, distant rumble of your enemies’ breach charges suddenly gives way to intense and immediate chaos. And that’s just on defense.

Few modern shooters can match the heart-pounding exhilaration and immense strategic depth Siege achieves with its asymmetrical PvP. With no respawns, no regenerating health, and only five players per team, every life suddenly feels meaningful and precious (though you can still monitor security cameras and communicate with your team in death). Running-and-gunning will almost certainly land you on the sidelines, so you’re much better off using your drivable drone to scout ahead or coordinating with your teammates to ensure all sightlines are covered.

Siege’s spectacular sound design can save your life. Play with headphones on if you want to know exactly where the enemy’s approaching from.

Not only does the intense one-life setup encourage players to approach every encounter thoughtfully and methodically, it also fills a long neglected gap in the FPS genre. While shooters that emphasize twitch shooting over tactics can grow tiresome, Siege’s seemingly endless array of viable strategies makes every round memorable and organically begets the kind of brilliant, unpredictable moments you can’t wait to tell your friends about.

In any given round, you could repel from a rooftop, smash through a window, and flash the room with a stun grenade, or just lie prone in a dark corner waiting for enemies to wander past. Maybe on defense you’ll fortify four team members in a single room but send the fifth out into the wild in hopes of catching the other team off guard. You could also play some mind games by remotely detonating an explosive purely as misdirection before infiltrating through another point of ingress. All these mechanics breed creativity and allow the game to evolve as players develop (and react to) new strategies.

All these mechanics breed creativity and allow the game to evolve as players develop (and react to) new strategies.

Unfortunately, there is a campaign-sized hole where Siege’s single-player should be, and while a carefully crafted, story-driven experience would have further solidified the game’s position as one of the year’s best shooters, Siege still manages to compensate in other ways. Franchises like Halo and Call of Duty have set the bar for the amount of desirable content you can cram into a game, and Siege clearly falls short of that mark. But consider a game like Rocket League, which has delivered serious longevity with a single game mode. Siege, to me, feels like Rocket League or even Team Fortress 2 in that its pure, competitive nature makes it eminently replayable.

Even outside of its natural competitiveness and deep well of mechanics, Siege’s PvP provides enough variables to keep players engaged. There are multiple match types, over a dozen maps, randomized objective locations within those maps, differing times of day for every stage, mixed mode servers that automatically scramble all these options together, and, most importantly, 20 distinct Operators, all of whom open new gameplay avenues. Even characters whose unique gadget seemed useless at first inevitably proved me wrong. I assumed Doc’s remote revive dart would never come in handy given that allies are far more often killed than wounded; then I saw someone punch a tiny hole through a wall to revive a fallen teammate pinned by gunfire on the other side.

Environmental destruction plays a major role in Siege’s multiplayer.

And while Siege may not contain a campaign, it does offer 11 singleplayer “Situations” that are both legitimately helpful and surprisingly robust, considering they’re essentially training missions. Each situation features three difficulty options and three optional objectives–which enhances their replayability–and each one focuses on a different aspect of the game like bomb defusal or destructible cover. They lack the cohesion, polish, and narrative drive of a campaign, but they’re at least diverse enough to prove worthwhile.

You can also choose to tackle Siege’s Terrorist Hunt mode alone, though it’s definitely more approachable as a cooperative experience. As with the competitive multiplayer, each player gets one life and only a finite amount of health, but here you must hunt down a preset number of AI-controlled terrorists or disarm bombs while an infinite number of enemies attempt to interfere. Being so outnumbered while having no way to heal turns every round into an intense war of attrition; even if the first guy doesn’t kill you outright, he might shave off enough of your health that the next guy can easily take you out. When you make it to the end of a 20-minute round with only a tiny sliver of health remaining, finishing off that final terrorist provides such an incredible high I found it nearly impossible to hold in my reflexive “Hell yeah!”

Despite all this excess adrenaline, Siege still suffers a few rough edges. The progression system, for example, feels slightly empty and metes out experience too slowly. Thankfully, Casual PvP will be available right out of the gate, but you’ll have to accrue enough XP to reach level 20 before you’ll unlock Ranked PvP. It makes sense the game would gate Ranked matches given that they remove much of the in-game assistance that makes Casual PvP accessible (a fact the game fails to explain, unfortunately), but grinding all the way to level 20 takes far too long. Why not set the limit lower and let players decide when they’re ready?

Microtransactions are limited to weapon skins and XP boosts, so you can easily ignore them if you prefer to save your money

In addition to XP, players also earn Renown–Siege’s version of in-game currency, which can be used to purchase new Operators, weapon attachments, and weapon skins. Again, forcing players to slowly earn new Operators makes some sense: it creates a sense of connection and ownership while encouraging players to really explore and capitalize on each character’s unique skills. I was also able to unlock two attackers and two defenders in roughly three hours (thanks in part to some generous boosts early on), and that collection of four Operators proved substantial enough to enable my enjoyment despite limiting my options.

However, I still encountered situations where my operators had already been selected by other players, which forced me to play as the generic “recruit” stand-in. And more importantly, customization options are extremely limited. You can buy custom sights and scopes or equip your guns with various stabilizers and silencers, but these attachments only marginally impact gameplay, and because you’re only outfitting one or two Operators at a time, you’ll earn every upgrade with very little effort. This undoubtedly preserves the balance of the game, but it’s pretty difficult to feel like you’re progressing when there’s so little to work towards.

Everything from the strength of your internet connection to the makeup of your team can impact your enjoyment of Siege, but importantly, Siege itself does everything it can to ensure you’re able to enjoy the game in spite of these variables.

Being an always-online game, Siege also comes with it’s fair share of minor annoyances that, while mostly unobtrusive, are still worth mentioning. Map rotation could be more consistent. Console players could use more in-game communication tools beyond the temporary marker icon. Matchmaking needs to be just as smooth on PC as it currently is on consoles. Purchasing and equipping new gear shouldn’t require players to back out of matches. There needs to be an easier way to kick and report disruptive players.

Everything from the strength of your internet connection to the makeup of your team can impact your enjoyment of Siege, but importantly, Siege itself does everything it can to ensure you’re able to enjoy the game in spite of these variables. Across all the hours I spent online, players were consistently cooperative and communicative, and to some degree, I have to credit Siege’s tutorials and situations for adequately conveying how the game is meant to be played.

My experiences weren’t always perfect, but when Siege works, there’s nothing else like it. It’s not designed to appeal to all players, and that’s exactly what allows it to be something special. With so much strategic depth, those periods between firefights actually become some of the most rewarding, while firefights themselves are made all the more intense by the knowledge that you’re fighting for your life, not just your kill/death ratio.

Just Cause 3 Review

Just Cause 3 makes no apologies for its outrageous nature. It’s a power fantasy in every sense of the phrase, placing you in a world rife with destructible environments and giving you creative instruments with which to destroy them. There are intermittent technical problems, and scripted moments detract from the freedom found elsewhere, but in the end, Just Cause 3 provides a spectacular, explosive sandbox experience.

The plot revolves around returning protagonist Rico Rodriguez, who’s arrived in the fictional Republic of Medici during the height of Sebastiano Di Ravello’s military dictatorship. The story here is forgettable, but delivers an effective invitation: dozens of military installations cover the world map, and it’s your job to blow them up for the rebel forces.

Rodriguez himself is a mashup of masculine action stars and comic book characters, so it makes sense that I often felt like a superhero in his shoes. By supplying you with a wingsuit, parachute, and grappling hook, Just Cause 3 gives you an effective means of transportation, as well as a smooth, nuanced traversal system.

There is a steep learning curve, but with practice, I was leaping from helicopters, gliding through enemy bases, and floating over farmland with ease. It’s thrilling to leap from a cliff, free-fall for 10 seconds, grapple to a nearby rock, and use the momentum to launch back into the air with parachute deployed. Rico actually felt like a hero learning his new skillset. It’s as if Avalanche Studios combined Batman, Spider-Man, and The Punisher, and thrust its creation into a vivid Mediterranean landscape.

For a place soon to be covered in explosions, Medici is gorgeous.

What follows is a collision of spectacle and scale. Helicopters dot the sky. Explosions chain across the screen. Combining a parachute and grenade launcher transforms Rodriguez into a floating artillery battery from above. In a world teetering toward total destruction, Just Cause 3 grants you the tools to push it over the edge.

The traditional grenades, remote mines, and numerous land, air, and sea vehicles are all on call in the rebel arsenal. Then there’s the tether: this grappling hook modification attaches two separate objects, and flings them toward each other, often with hilarious results. Rodriguez can reel enemies toward explosive barrels, collapse watchtowers, and pull attack helicopters into a fiery end. It’s a testament to this game’s creativity that guns were my last resort.

There’s a sequence in Just Cause 3 in which a fleet of helicopters pursue you over a mountain range. In any other game, I may have resorted to the RPG slung across my back. But in keeping with this game’s lack of convention, I grappled to the nearest attack chopper, pulled the pilot out, and assumed control in his place.

Just Cause 3 makes you feel like Batman, Spider-Man, and The Punisher combined.

But that somehow still felt too normal. So I evacuated my helicopter mid-air, opened my wingsuit, glided toward another nearby enemy, and grappled to his chopper door. By repeating the process, I ditched helicopter after helicopter, sending both pilots and machines soaring into the mountain range below, all without firing a single shot.

The game provided no hint to this approach. I just devised a plan and watched it unfold. Just Cause 3 doesn’t nudge you in one direction or the other–it shows you the possibilities, and gets out of the way.

Like all of Just Cause 3’s best moments, the tether encourages experimentation, rather than thoughtless reaction, and as the hours passed, the destruction remained creative and unpredictable. New domino reactions and car crashes were always on the horizon. It’s a small mechanic, but its effects can be massive, and it encapsulates what makes Just Cause 3 so fun. Even now, after 30 hours in this idyllic sandbox, I’m sure I haven’t seen every use for the tether.

And just when it seems the well of experiments might be running dry, Avalanche Studios adds variety to proceedings. As you liberate new provinces from enemy hands, challenges pop up across the map, including vehicle races, machine gun score contests, and wingsuit dives. They’re fun on their own, but they’re also well worth pursuing. By completing these, you’ll unlock new gear mods, which change the functions of certain items.

Much of the action takes place mid-air.

While some of these are minor, such as increased grenade capacity or a nitrous boost for vehicles, others reveal dynamic new ways to experiment in Just Cause 3’s sandbox.

Take the rocket boost mines, for example. Whereas previous iterations of the device just detonated at a chosen time, this modification sends objects careening into distant structures before exploding. I used this on cars numerous times, creating two-ton bombs that flew toward enemy fuel tanks with increased velocity after I dove from the driver’s seat.

This cascading structure is what makes Just Cause 3 so great. There’s a cadence to how you approach its world: outpost liberation leads to challenges, which leads to gear mods, which leads to experimentation. And more often than not, each tier of this formula is entertaining in itself. That each flows so well into the next makes the overall experience all the more rewarding. Just Cause 3 excels because it adds variety to the equation throughout, making destruction and mayhem entertaining far past the early hours.

However, Just Cause 3 does deviate from its open-world freedom at times, and when it does, it falters. The scripted story missions progress the plot, but the actual gameplay involved is repetitive at best, and broken at worst.

Despite its spectacle, Just Cause 3 is filled with bugs, bad AI, and other rough edges.

The vast majority of these tasks are escort missions, in which you defend a plane, or boat, or caravan of jeeps. Protecting another character can be tiresome to begin with, and because their behavior is unpredictable and often unintelligent, I restarted checkpoints far more than felt fair. Halting progress because of my own mistakes is one thing, but when it was out of my hands, my patience grew thin.

Just Cause 3 is also filled with bugs and other rough edges. The parachute closed at random, cars disappeared while moving, and AI behavior made several story objectives impossible for a short time. One mission required me to steal a prototype combat tank from Di Ravello’s forces, and extract it by boat to the hidden rebel base. However, the boat was too far from the dock for me to board it, and I had to reload the previous checkpoint. It repeated the same mistake twice more after that.

For a game that places death front and center, it was often inconsistent with whether I should die. I’m happy Just Cause 3 is lenient with its falling damage–considering I’m in the sky more often than not–but I survived a 500-foot fall at one point, only to die from a shorter one soon thereafter. These mishaps would be easy to overlook if they didn’t disrupt an otherwise fluid experience too often.

Late-game upgrades make traversal even smoother.

When Just Cause 3 is consistent, however, it’s a stunning display of cause and effect, as watchtowers topple into fuel tanks, which blow up nearby helicopters, which sail into oncoming vehicles. I often spent hours setting up outlandish chain reactions, or trying new gear mods, knowing full well I wasn’t making any progress in the traditional sense. I was content to just sit back and marvel as it all happened.

But there’s a more thoughtful undercurrent as well. Despite the explosions and instant gratification throughout, Just Cause 3 also encourages experimentation and foresight, planning and careful approaches. The results are as rewarding as they are entertaining.

Editor’s Note: The majority of our time with Just Cause 3 was spent with the PC version, followed by several hours on both PS4 and Xbox One. Based on the review builds provided, the game performed better on PC, with higher and more stable frame rates, fewer bugs, and better looking environments. However, the problems did not affect the overall experience enough to impact individual scores.

Xenoblade Chronicles X Review

Of all the open-world games to come out this year, Xenoblade Chronicles X may be the most formidable. It is a truly enormous game, both in scale and scope, with towering animals and rock formations stretching as far as the eye can see. Even after as many as 60 hours, X continues to provide taller mountains to climb, and stronger opponents to topple, with no end of new challenges in sight.

At the same time, X is a long RPG with a thin story and repetitive, lifeless characters. You hear the same jokes over and over again, and endure drawn-out cutscenes with little to no emotional payoff. Like so many Japanese-made RPGs, X’s serious moments are often undermined by the presence of a cute and cuddly sidekick. When you aren’t wincing at the sight of Tatsu–the game’s stuffed animal of choice–you may instead be reeling from the soundtrack, which is dotted with low-rent tracks that make you reach for the mute button.

These are reasons enough to walk away from most games, but X isn’t most games. By offering a steady stream of challenges that take you to fantastic places and put you into fights at the feet of giants, X has no problem enticing you back for more. It’s a feat of large-scale game design that would be impressive on any console or computer, let alone on the modestly-powered Wii U, and getting the chance to explore and fight in a world as impressive as this one is worth enduring a few annoyances along the way.

Your journey begins when you wake up in a life pod on Planet Mira. A spaceship that escaped from Earth crash landed here after just avoiding complete destruction in an alien conflict, and the few humans who remain are left to fight for the survival of species. As a member of Blade–the military organization in charge of scouring Mira and defending humanity–your primary goal is to locate the invaluable pod known as the Lifehold. If Blade can secure it, the safety of your colony–New Los Angeles—will be ensured. If it falls into the wrong hands, your time is up.

Healing your characters requires you to react to QTEs, which can be difficult during heated battles.

Apart from the odd name given to your colony, X’s story isn’t memorable, save for a couple twists. However, the context provides an excellent framework for exploration and combat. You play the part of a soldier on the frontier who treks across Mira, an ancient land whose features suggest a storied and chaotic past and whose inhabitants regularly dwarf your squad of explorers. Massive, electric creatures hover over land and sea, and spiders the size of small houses march across plains. Dinosaurs and mammals with feet taller than your character cast huge shadows over the land, and while I felt intimidated the first time I saw one of these monsters, I dreamt of the day that I would be strong enough to take one on in a fight. With enough time and energy, that dream can become a reality.

While some animals are content to leave you be, others are aggressive and will attack on-sight. You defend yourself and your team of three AI controlled soldiers in real-time combat which, for the most part, is a smooth and exciting experience. Every character has a melee weapon, a ranged weapon, and, depending on their class, a selection of offensive and defensive Arts (read: abilities) at their disposal. You earn new Arts when you level-up, and special class-based skills unlock every time you earn a new rank, so you have a steady stream of new abilities to experiment with as your adventure continues. Once you begin to identify skills that suit your play-style, you can invest a third measure of experience–battle points–to soup up your favorite moves and craft a unique fighting style.

After dozens of hours exploring on foot, the moment you jump into the pilot’s seat of a Skell is an awakening.

Instead of casting healing spells or using consumable items to patch up wounded warriors, you rely on a QTE system, which is triggered by a complex series of events in battle. Something as basic as healing, in a game where combat is central to the experience, should be made clear from the start, but you’re left to decipher a complex system, known as Soul Voices, where you assign automatic actions to very specific battle conditions. As much as you might want to, you can’t totally control the tide of battle, so you pick and choose variables, praying that when the going gets tough, you’ve assigned a suitable automatic event to save the day. If this sounds confusing, it’s because it is. While it’s rare that you’re left without an opportunity to recover some health, there are times when you wish that you could take matters into your own hands.

X does a poor job of explaining things in general, and you will spend a lot of time with the in-game manual, pouring over pages in search of information. X allows you to dive deep into character progression and resource management but, without proper guidance, you will undoubtedly get lost. This may sideline more advanced pursuits in order to continue exploring and fighting–if only because those activities come so naturally.

You always remember your first Skell.

Story missions set a good pace for exploration and skill development, and the conclusion of each chapter grants you access to a new series of rewarding side quests. It’s unfortunate, however, that you can’t organically weave your way from one chapter to the next. Each story mission comes with a set of prerequisites, such as surveying a percentage of Mira, or, collecting a certain number of items from the wild. Exploring Mira isn’t big ask, because it’s just another excuse to dive headlong into its captivating wilderness, but fetch quests aren’t as simple as retrieving items from fixed locations; the items you have to collect appear at random, be it from enemies or in the wild. Sometimes you find exactly what you need in a matter of minutes, but on a bad day, it can take hours.

Though progression sometimes slows to a halt because you’re required to complete a seemingly unimportant mission, grinding in any form can be made easier by recruiting other players’ characters. By visiting a terminal at your base, you can spend in-game currency to hire avatars that people have shared online. While this isn’t something you have to do often, hiring a high-level character can make it easy to grind for experience, or to venture into dangerous territory. Even though I couldn’t chat with her and strategize, I still loved that I was able to recruit a level 60 character named Samus and watch her tear through a swarm of aliens when I needed it most.

Xenoblade Chronicles X is a feat of large-scale game design that would be impressive on any console or computer, let alone on the modestly-powered Wii U.

Exploration and missions are an important part of being a Blade soldier, but you are also responsible for setting up a network of devices to mine Mira’s resources and gather information. Miranium is a key resource that can be invested in weapons and armor manufacturers in order to unlock powerful exotic gear. From your humble beginnings in kneepads and wrist guards, you slowly blossom into a skilled warrior who’s decked out in the finest ornate alien equipment, and it’s all because of your efforts as an explorer. X has no shortage of wondrous sights to behold, but it also incentivizes you in other, more beneficial ways.

Just when you start to think that you’ve exhausted your hunt for new gear, you unlock Skells, which are X’s giant bipedal robots. After dozens of hours exploring on foot, the moment you jump into the pilot’s seat of a Skell is an awakening. It can transform into a vehicle on-the-fly, allowing you to traverse large swaths of land in a flash. You are considerably more powerful in combat, too, and you finally have a fighting chance against monsters that previously seemed out of your league thanks to your newfound beam saber and missile launchers. You can also trample over smaller enemies without skipping a beat; small being relative, of course, as practically everything in X is bigger than you when on-foot.

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Your first Skell is just the beginning–there are multiple models to buy, each with over a dozen parts to customize and upgrade. Between your party of four and any Skells that you acquire, X gives you a near endless supply of goals to pursue and countless beasts to test your might against. After 65 hours doggedly chasing the next best thing in X, I felt like I had only scratched the surface, with game’s the biggest challenges still ahead of me.

Mira and its inhabitants are awe-inspiring, and experiencing everything X has to offer is a monumental and rewarding task. It makes the journey consistently interesting by giving you intricate control over your characters’ abilities and gear, and by offering a wealth of new toys to play with as time goes on. You will roll your eyes at characters, and bemoan the unnecessary story padding, but these frustrations are quickly forgotten when you head into the wilderness in search of unexplored territory and unforeseen challenges. X is a grand adventure that satiates your appetite for exploration and combat in ways that few games ever do, but because getting started is half the battle, it’s an experience reserved for dedicated players who have the patience and energy to unearth its greatest treasures.

The Crew: Wild Run Edition Review

Ambition has never been an issue for The Crew. When it launched last December, Ubisoft’s open world “carPG” attempted to provide players the opportunity to drive across the entire continental United States with a full squad of friends, competing in a wide variety of events like traditional circuit races and chaotic desert raids along the way. Unfortunately, much of the game’s potential went unrealized. The world map–while indeed massive–led to hours of empty commuting through bland environments. The online multiplayer’s myriad technical issues crippled its cooperative aspirations. Even the driving felt too floaty to offer much satisfaction. The Crew, in short, was disappointing, especially given how appealing its original aims were.

Now, just shy of 12 months later, Ubisoft has released the Wild Run expansion, and like the original, it bursts with ambition, building out the base game with motorcycles, monster trucks, drag and drift builds, new licensed vehicles, dynamic weather, visual upgrades throughout, game-wide physics adjustments, and a massive on-going online competition called The Summit. With such an impressive suite of new opportunities on offer, it’s painful to report execution once again undermines ambition.

Wild Run exists as both DLC and a total package disc that includes the full game and a Wild Run download code.

Admirably, several of Wild Run’s broadest updates are available to all players, not just those who purchase the expansion (if you already own The Crew, your game most likely updated itself last week). Chief among these: upgraded graphics and physics, as well as all new weather effects. And while each objectively improves its previous iteration, The Crew as a whole continues to trail behind the competition. Take the dynamic weather: During the dozen or so hours I spent driving around Wild Run, I encountered only moderate rain. That’s an improvement over the complete absence of weather in the base game, but honestly, it’s hard to get excited about some underwhelming white dots that vaguely resemble rain drops refracting headlight beams.

To the game’s credit, wet streets noticeably change your cars’ traction thanks to the improved physics and handling. Every vehicle now reacts more believably to user inputs, making the simple act of driving a bit more enjoyable than it had been previously. This update doesn’t resolve every issue, though. At times, it still feels like cars aren’t even touching the road but rather gliding on top of it. Most of the subtle sounds and visual cues that make games like Forza satisfying remain absent here. Same can be said of the visuals: Issues like assets that pop into existence as you approach them have been resolved, but textures are still bland and uniform while objects like pedestrian cars still feel oddly boxy and unrealistic. The Crew finally looks like a current-gen game, but it’s still deeply unimpressive compared to something like Need For Speed.

All Crew players receive updated physics, graphics, and weather, but if you want bikes and dragsters, you’ll have to buy Wild Run.

You could argue The Crew’s dated graphics are an inevitable consequence of its incredible scope, but its open world is still more of a nuisance than an asset, especially for new players who can’t fast travel to undiscovered areas. Wild Run attempts to assuage the potential tedium of cross-country commuting by introducing FreeDrive Stunts, an anywhere, anytime mode that throws randomized goals at players. On-demand mini-objectives are a fine idea, but the objectives themselves–drive on the wrong side of the road for 800 yards, near-miss 15 vehicles, and so on–are forgettable at best and impossible at worst. How can you jump a certain distance within a time limit when there are no ramps around? Similarly, FreeDrive Challenge–which allows players to quickly drop checkpoints on the world map to create ad-hoc events–is an amazing idea that falls apart in practice because it’s only available while players are participating in in a co-op Crew. If you’re playing solo or can’t keep random internet players around long enough, you’ll never see a FreeDrive Challenge in action.

Fortunately, Wild Run’s new vehicle specs prove a bit more reliable–and yes, I do mean “specs.” For the uninitiated, The Crew allows players to select a variety of tuning profiles that automatically equip your chosen vehicle with everything it needs to rip up the streets or the race track or the untamed wilderness. Wild Run introduces three new specs that can be added to many of the game’s existing cars: drift, drag, and monster truck. Drift and drag cars are so unruly–fishtailing wildly in every direction–they’re nearly impossible to use outside of the extremely limited number of events specifically designed for those specs. Within those events, however, they work well and add even more variety to The Crew’s already impressive collection of race types.

Drag events are simple but satisfying: Players must rev their engines to fill a meter to exactly the right level, then match prompts while accelerating and shifting. There’s not much to it, but if you’re looking to test your timing and push The Crew’s speed limit, you now have a new best option. Drift events, as you might expect, ask players to rack up points by chaining drifts together within a time limit. Thankfully, the scoring system is a bit more generous than the comparable Need For Speed, but the handling never quite clicked for me, too loose and fiddly to feel truly satisfying. Overall, drift trials deepen The Crew but may not fully scratch your drift itch.

The Summit adds some new areas, but most events utilize previously existing portions of the world.

Monster trucks and the newly added motorcycles, on the other hand, are a total blast no matter where you drive them. As you might expect, motorcycles are fast and nimble, which presents a welcome contrast to many of The Crew’s more sluggish vehicles. The real winners here, though, are the monster trucks. It’s hard not to love hilariously oversized tires that let you roll over just about everything in your path, especially when they’re attached to something like a Fiat. Monster trucks also bring with them massive Trackmania-style arenas, which are basically big, ridiculous skateparks for monster trucks. Not much can match the joy of pulling double backflips on a half-pipe in a Ford Raptor.

Unfortunately, I was only able to find monster truck events within the new month-long, Burning-Man-meets-autosports competition called The Summit. Given that the competition consists of weekly qualifiers leading up to a final Summit at the end of each month, we’ll get just one new monster truck event per week at this current pace. Thankfully, the Summit offers plenty of other options that, while not as enjoyable as its monster trucks, give players a tangible reason to consistently return to The Crew. You’ll find drift and drag events, of course, as well as time trials and circuit races, but you can also engage in unique PvP events like Blitz Brawl, which challenges players to race between semi-randomly appearing zones and hold each zone until the next one appears. Each leg of the Summit offers six or seven unique events, which a healthy enough number to allow its evolving structure and leaderboard-driven competitiveness take root.

In spite of all this new content, many of the base game’s frustrations persist. The UI is still an unintuitive mess, the story is still laughably bad and impossible for new players to avoid, and finding players to join my Crew frequently took far too long. And while the driving mechanics and general visuals have undoubtedly improved, they still haven’t caught up to other, better racing games like Forza and Need For Speed. As a result, The Crew as a whole remains a lackluster experience, even with its monster truck half-pipes.

The Crew: Wild Run Edition Review

Ambition has never been an issue for The Crew. When it launched last December, Ubisoft’s open world “carPG” attempted to provide players the opportunity to drive across the entire continental United States with a full squad of friends, competing in a wide variety of events like traditional circuit races and chaotic desert raids along the way. Unfortunately, much of the game’s potential went unrealized. The world map–while indeed massive–led to hours of empty commuting through bland environments. The online multiplayer’s myriad technical issues crippled its cooperative aspirations. Even the driving felt too floaty to offer much satisfaction. The Crew, in short, was disappointing, especially given how appealing its original aims were.

Now, just shy of 12 months later, Ubisoft has released the Wild Run expansion, and like the original, it bursts with ambition, building out the base game with motorcycles, monster trucks, drag and drift builds, new licensed vehicles, dynamic weather, visual upgrades throughout, game-wide physics adjustments, and a massive on-going online competition called The Summit. With such an impressive suite of new opportunities on offer, it’s painful to report execution once again undermines ambition.

Wild Run exists as both DLC and a total package disc that includes the full game and a Wild Run download code.

Admirably, several of Wild Run’s broadest updates are available to all players, not just those who purchase the expansion (if you already own The Crew, your game most likely updated itself last week). Chief among these: upgraded graphics and physics, as well as all new weather effects. And while each objectively improves its previous iteration, The Crew as a whole continues to trail behind the competition. Take the dynamic weather: During the dozen or so hours I spent driving around Wild Run, I encountered only moderate rain. That’s an improvement over the complete absence of weather in the base game, but honestly, it’s hard to get excited about some underwhelming white dots that vaguely resemble rain drops refracting headlight beams.

To the game’s credit, wet streets noticeably change your cars’ traction thanks to the improved physics and handling. Every vehicle now reacts more believably to user inputs, making the simple act of driving a bit more enjoyable than it had been previously. This update doesn’t resolve every issue, though. At times, it still feels like cars aren’t even touching the road but rather gliding on top of it. Most of the subtle sounds and visual cues that make games like Forza satisfying remain absent here. Same can be said of the visuals: Issues like assets that pop into existence as you approach them have been resolved, but textures are still bland and uniform while objects like pedestrian cars still feel oddly boxy and unrealistic. The Crew finally looks like a current-gen game, but it’s still deeply unimpressive compared to something like Need For Speed.

All Crew players receive updated physics, graphics, and weather, but if you want bikes and dragsters, you’ll have to buy Wild Run.

You could argue The Crew’s dated graphics are an inevitable consequence of its incredible scope, but its open world is still more of a nuisance than an asset, especially for new players who can’t fast travel to undiscovered areas. Wild Run attempts to assuage the potential tedium of cross-country commuting by introducing FreeDrive Stunts, an anywhere, anytime mode that throws randomized goals at players. On-demand mini-objectives are a fine idea, but the objectives themselves–drive on the wrong side of the road for 800 yards, near-miss 15 vehicles, and so on–are forgettable at best and impossible at worst. How can you jump a certain distance within a time limit when there are no ramps around? Similarly, FreeDrive Challenge–which allows players to quickly drop checkpoints on the world map to create ad-hoc events–is an amazing idea that falls apart in practice because it’s only available while players are participating in in a co-op Crew. If you’re playing solo or can’t keep random internet players around long enough, you’ll never see a FreeDrive Challenge in action.

Fortunately, Wild Run’s new vehicle specs prove a bit more reliable–and yes, I do mean “specs.” For the uninitiated, The Crew allows players to select a variety of tuning profiles that automatically equip your chosen vehicle with everything it needs to rip up the streets or the race track or the untamed wilderness. Wild Run introduces three new specs that can be added to many of the game’s existing cars: drift, drag, and monster truck. Drift and drag cars are so unruly–fishtailing wildly in every direction–they’re nearly impossible to use outside of the extremely limited number of events specifically designed for those specs. Within those events, however, they work well and add even more variety to The Crew’s already impressive collection of race types.

Drag events are simple but satisfying: Players must rev their engines to fill a meter to exactly the right level, then match prompts while accelerating and shifting. There’s not much to it, but if you’re looking to test your timing and push The Crew’s speed limit, you now have a new best option. Drift events, as you might expect, ask players to rack up points by chaining drifts together within a time limit. Thankfully, the scoring system is a bit more generous than the comparable Need For Speed, but the handling never quite clicked for me, too loose and fiddly to feel truly satisfying. Overall, drift trials deepen The Crew but may not fully scratch your drift itch.

The Summit adds some new areas, but most events utilize previously existing portions of the world.

Monster trucks and the newly added motorcycles, on the other hand, are a total blast no matter where you drive them. As you might expect, motorcycles are fast and nimble, which presents a welcome contrast to many of The Crew’s more sluggish vehicles. The real winners here, though, are the monster trucks. It’s hard not to love hilariously oversized tires that let you roll over just about everything in your path, especially when they’re attached to something like a Fiat. Monster trucks also bring with them massive Trackmania-style arenas, which are basically big, ridiculous skateparks for monster trucks. Not much can match the joy of pulling double backflips on a half-pipe in a Ford Raptor.

Unfortunately, I was only able to find monster truck events within the new month-long, Burning-Man-meets-autosports competition called The Summit. Given that the competition consists of weekly qualifiers leading up to a final Summit at the end of each month, we’ll get just one new monster truck event per week at this current pace. Thankfully, the Summit offers plenty of other options that, while not as enjoyable as its monster trucks, give players a tangible reason to consistently return to The Crew. You’ll find drift and drag events, of course, as well as time trials and circuit races, but you can also engage in unique PvP events like Blitz Brawl, which challenges players to race between semi-randomly appearing zones and hold each zone until the next one appears. Each leg of the Summit offers six or seven unique events, which a healthy enough number to allow its evolving structure and leaderboard-driven competitiveness take root.

In spite of all this new content, many of the base game’s frustrations persist. The UI is still an unintuitive mess, the story is still laughably bad and impossible for new players to avoid, and finding players to join my Crew frequently took far too long. And while the driving mechanics and general visuals have undoubtedly improved, they still haven’t caught up to other, better racing games like Forza and Need For Speed. As a result, The Crew as a whole remains a lackluster experience, even with its monster truck half-pipes.

Skyshine’s Bedlam Review

If you took my favorite things and threw them in a blender it would come out looking like Skyshine’s Bedlam. Its blend of Mad Max’s aesthetic, turn-based strategy combat, and roguelike trappings made me think I’d found the perfect game for me. But just like love at first sight, once I got to know Bedlam a little better, I realized that looks can be deceiving.

In Skyshine’s Bedlam, you helm a vehicle known as the Dozer. The minute story details change from playthrough to playthrough because of the procedurally-generated nature of the game, but the main goal is to flee your home of Bysantine and drive you and your passengers to the Aztec City–Bysantine is suffering under the tyranny of a crazed warlord, King Viscera (no, not the ex-WWE wrestler). Along the way, you’re stopped by wanderers, hostile factions, and other events and people that prevent you from just making a bee-line to your destination.

Great artwork carries an otherwise shallow experience.

Combat is a turn-based affair where you fight groups of marauders, mutants, and cyborgs. Your entire party can perform two actions per turn, which can be used to either move around, or to attack an enemy; for example, if you move one character and attack with another, your team’s turn is over. This is far too restrictive in practice, and you often feel like there are only two strategies: move your character out of harm’s way, or kill one enemy and have one of your characters die because you couldn’t get them to safety.

Simple tactics, like using a shotgun to knockback enemies into range of another character’s attack, feel rewarding, but those moments are fleeting. There’s not much strategic depth, and other than move distance, attack range, and damage, there’s little else that distinguishes one character class from another, and little else to toy with during combat. I ultimately felt lucky–not accomplished–when I was victorious.

The comic book-like presentation is great, and there’s some enjoyable animations to behold, especially during combat. Killing an enemy with certain weapons, such as puke or a shotgun, causes them to crumble into a pile of bones. Characters perform finishing move animations if you kill an enemy point blank, like kicking them in the balls and delivering an elbow drop. These are pretty satisfying to watch and make some of the shots look absolutely devastating.

“That’s not a knife. THIS is a knife.”

The Dozer plays a major role in the world-traversing part of the game. During these segments, you click on icons to move around a randomly-generated map at the cost of food and fuel; the icons on the map will deliver tidbits of story through text. Sometimes you end up in a fight, sometimes you find some resources, and sometimes nothing will happen. Unfortunately, the variety of text that appears on the map is low, as I found text repeating itself quite early on, which pulled me out of the story.

There are times when they’re unhappy, scared, or in need of a breath of fresh air, but it doesn’t delve deeper than that and I really wish Bedlam would give me a good reason to care about them. You rarely get the feeling that you’re harboring living, breathing humans.

In addition to providing transportation, the Dozer can be used to heal teammates, turn them invisible, and to attack enemies. These abilities don’t count as an action, but they require power cells–a rather limited resource. These attacks deliver a devastating blow to your enemies, but because of the high resource cost–due to the rarity of power cells–I rarely used the Dozer for anything but healing my group.

In the context of the story, your passengers are precious cargo, which you can lose if you’re unlucky, or play poorly. There are times when they’re unhappy, scared, or in need of a breath of fresh air, but it doesn’t delve deeper than that and I really wish Bedlam would give me a good reason to care about them. You rarely get the feeling that you’re harboring living, breathing humans. Though the game ends if you run out of passengers, they’re oddly plentiful, to the point that it’s a no-brainer to give some of them up in trade to refuel the Dozer. As long as you make it to Aztec City, you are rewarded with new soldiers, regardless of how well you treated your crew.

The Dozer: your home away from home.

Defeating all of the hostile factions–Marauders, Mutants, Cyborgs, and Rogue A.I.– allows you to unlock new factions and their respective Dozers. Each faction has its own unique abilities and stats; Rogue A.I. can teleport, while the Cyborgs can go invisible, allowing them to avoid getting hit for a turn. The big problem is that it’s not clear how you defeat a faction; it requires luck and patience, as finding the events that lead to unlocking a Dozer is seemingly random.

Not being able to make meaningful, permanent progress is ultimately its biggest flaw, and when something so crucial is missing, it’s hard to recommend.

You occasionally run into Elites during your travels, which are significantly larger and stronger characters than the average wastelander. With a greater amount of health and strength, they’re tough, but they will join your ranks if you can beat them. It feels like a special event when they appear, and I always make a beeline toward them when they show up, dreaming of my powerful new recruit. Favorites include a lizard-mutant that pukes an acid-like substance and a giant wildman with a triple-barrelled shotgun that shoots incendiary ammo.

“It was definitely something I ate.”

Normally, you organically find Elites during your journey, but in the new Challenge mode, you start with a random crew of Elites and stronger-than-average soldiers from the get-go. Here, your goal is reversed: you travel from Aztec City to Byzantine, though King Viscera and factions are still on high alert, now with increased health and strength. This puts you past the stage of leveling up your crew and puts you right into the middle of hard-hitting combat. This is initially thrilling, but it can also be frustratingly difficult; you often feel forced to focus all of your resources on boss characters, which often leaves you empty handed, and ill-prepared to face the rest of your opponents.

Skyshine’s Bedlam has some good moments, but the story is devoid interesting or layered tales. The experience is largely defined by chasing simple goals while enduring repetitive dialogue and narrative beats along the way. Combat feels good enough, but there’s not much to it, and little to strive for. Not being able to make meaningful, permanent progress is ultimately Skyshine’s Bedlam’s biggest flaw, and when something so crucial is missing, it’s hard to recommend. There is some fun to be had, but Skyshine’s Bedlam ultimately mirrors the reality it depicts. You can survive hardships, but only if you struggle through them.

Minecraft: Story Mode Episode Three–The Last Place You Look Review

(There be story spoilers below. Proceed at your own risk!)

Endermen were already the creepiest creatures in the world of Minecraft, but the latest episode in Telltale’s narrative take on the hit game makes them close to something truly disturbing. In Minecraft Story Mode: The Last Place You Look, these enigmatic creatures take center stage, proving to be a scary antagonists in several key sequences. Their use here is emblematic of Minecraft Story Mode’s clever approach to creating a narrative within the wider world of Minecraft; there’s a real reverence for the original game on display, and while the adherence may be strict, the way the many disparate pieces of Minecraft have been put together in service of an increasingly compelling story continues to be engaging.

This third episode of Minecraft Story Mode features the same propulsive energy as the second, with the added bonus of also being the most thrilling narratively. By the end of this short chapter, the stakes for the entire series have not only been elevated but, in many ways, completely reset as well.

Episode Two ended on a somewhat lame cliffhanger, and it’s not long before our group of heroes manage to find their way out of their predicament by doing the very Minecraft thing of just digging straight down. From here, The Last Place You Look moves briskly, skipping from an exciting opening sequence set within a gigantic mob grinder filled with enemies to a visit to the End to find the last missing member of the Order of the Stone (voiced by the always excellent John Hodgman).

Whatever you do, don’t look at the Enderman!

Along the way, some of the series’ key relationships and plot lines are moved forward, some quite significantly. Lukas’ growing unease threatens to boil over, your character’s relationship with your Wither sickness-infected party member–whose identity is dependant on a choice you made in Episode 1–gains complexity, and the team’s overarching goal of coming up with an explosive solution to defeat the gigantic Wither destroying the world comes to a head.

Narratively, this is the most complex Minecraft Story Mode has been so far, which is a welcome change from the simpler, black-and-white shading of previous episodes. It’s also the most emotionally wrought. Several scenes were quite affecting, and was surprising given the series’ fairly light and jovial tone so far. While Episode Three is still light years away from the rawness of Telltale’s take on The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, younger players may need some guidance with some of the heavier situations that occur.

Episode Three also ramps up the tension, and it’s all thanks to those creepy Endermen. Their cold stares, propensity to teleport suddenly, and open- jawed screams are used to great effect here. All of the sequences where hero Jesse and the crew having to contend with Endermen are clear highlights.

It all leads to a conclusion where, while not completely surprising in its details, is still presented in an exciting, involving way that makes you feel–almost–like resolution is close at hand. There’s also a last-gasp character revelation that makes for Story Mode’s first truly intriguing cliffhanger. The ending made me long for that next episode to come quicker.

As always, Minecraft Story Mode’s love for the source material shines through, in touches both large and small. Seeing a gigantic, complex grinder in action made me regret never having the time or skills to make a machine like that in my own Minecraft game, while little character touches (like everyone lowering their eyes so as not to attract Endermen attention) shows off the series’ consistently wonderful attention to detail.

OK, so there may be trouble brewing here.

Minecraft Story Mode’s third episode is the best so far, weaving action and story in a tight, focused package. This is another short episode (my first playthrough clocked in at less than 90 minutes), which makes Story Mode a little on the brief side compared to recent Telltale offerings. But that brevity is my biggest complaint, which, if you look at it from the most charitable view, means the game never outstayed its welcome. Story Mode remains a great experience–especially if you’re playing with younger fans of Minecraft–and my anticipation for the next episode remains high.

Minecraft: Story Mode Episode Three–The Last Place You Look Review

(There be story spoilers below. Proceed at your own risk!)

Endermen were already the creepiest creatures in the world of Minecraft, but the latest episode in Telltale’s narrative take on the hit game makes them close to something truly disturbing. In Minecraft Story Mode: The Last Place You Look, these enigmatic creatures take center stage, proving to be a scary antagonists in several key sequences. Their use here is emblematic of Minecraft Story Mode’s clever approach to creating a narrative within the wider world of Minecraft; there’s a real reverence for the original game on display, and while the adherence may be strict, the way the many disparate pieces of Minecraft have been put together in service of an increasingly compelling story continues to be engaging.

This third episode of Minecraft Story Mode features the same propulsive energy as the second, with the added bonus of also being the most thrilling narratively. By the end of this short chapter, the stakes for the entire series have not only been elevated but, in many ways, completely reset as well.

Episode Two ended on a somewhat lame cliffhanger, and it’s not long before our group of heroes manage to find their way out of their predicament by doing the very Minecraft thing of just digging straight down. From here, The Last Place You Look moves briskly, skipping from an exciting opening sequence set within a gigantic mob grinder filled with enemies to a visit to the End to find the last missing member of the Order of the Stone (voiced by the always excellent John Hodgman).

Whatever you do, don’t look at the Enderman!

Along the way, some of the series’ key relationships and plot lines are moved forward, some quite significantly. Lukas’ growing unease threatens to boil over, your character’s relationship with your Wither sickness-infected party member–whose identity is dependant on a choice you made in Episode 1–gains complexity, and the team’s overarching goal of coming up with an explosive solution to defeat the gigantic Wither destroying the world comes to a head.

Narratively, this is the most complex Minecraft Story Mode has been so far, which is a welcome change from the simpler, black-and-white shading of previous episodes. It’s also the most emotionally wrought. Several scenes were quite affecting, and was surprising given the series’ fairly light and jovial tone so far. While Episode Three is still light years away from the rawness of Telltale’s take on The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, younger players may need some guidance with some of the heavier situations that occur.

Episode Three also ramps up the tension, and it’s all thanks to those creepy Endermen. Their cold stares, propensity to teleport suddenly, and open- jawed screams are used to great effect here. All of the sequences where hero Jesse and the crew having to contend with Endermen are clear highlights.

It all leads to a conclusion where, while not completely surprising in its details, is still presented in an exciting, involving way that makes you feel–almost–like resolution is close at hand. There’s also a last-gasp character revelation that makes for Story Mode’s first truly intriguing cliffhanger. The ending made me long for that next episode to come quicker.

As always, Minecraft Story Mode’s love for the source material shines through, in touches both large and small. Seeing a gigantic, complex grinder in action made me regret never having the time or skills to make a machine like that in my own Minecraft game, while little character touches (like everyone lowering their eyes so as not to attract Endermen attention) shows off the series’ consistently wonderful attention to detail.

OK, so there may be trouble brewing here.

Minecraft Story Mode’s third episode is the best so far, weaving action and story in a tight, focused package. This is another short episode (my first playthrough clocked in at less than 90 minutes), which makes Story Mode a little on the brief side compared to recent Telltale offerings. But that brevity is my biggest complaint, which, if you look at it from the most charitable view, means the game never outstayed its welcome. Story Mode remains a great experience–especially if you’re playing with younger fans of Minecraft–and my anticipation for the next episode remains high.