The Pillars Of The Earth Review

For those with patience, there’s a wonderful story of political corruption, self-discovery, and religious reliance to be found in The Pillars of the Earth. However, for anyone with a short attention span, it’d be hard to recommend this game as its slow pace and often drip-feed-style storytelling can make it tough to get through. Stick it out, however, and you find that this first episode (of three) hints at a larger, more meaningful story to come.

Based on Ken Follet’s 1989 novel of the same name, this adventure game gives you control of two characters with intertwining stories. The first of which is Philip, an abbey Prior who’s more or less responsible for a war between two English settlements. Philip, while sometimes unsure of himself, is portrayed as a considerate, mindful character. His counterpart is Jack, a child who’s grown up off the grid, living in a cave with only his mother. Jack is far less sure of himself and, at the encouragement of his mother, hardly trusts the world around him.

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Following these two characters is a highlight of The Pillars of the Earth, seeing the way their stories eventually come together and influence one another. But it’s the story at large and its cast of secondary characters that make this world worth inhabiting. Each environment, scene, and character also has their own unique, hand-painted look to them, often with grand senses of scale and depth.

Set in the 12th century, The Pillars Of The Earth tackles plot points both grandiose and granular. After King Henry I of England dies without a set heir, his nephew and daughter feud over which of them should take his place. This clash causes turmoil in England, leading to eventual wars. And while political strife makes up a lot of the overarching story, The Pillars Of The Earth isn’t afraid to dive deeper into its characters, showing quiet, intimate moments where, for example, Jack learns about his upbringing or Philip writes letters to his brother. The dichotomy between these two layers keeps you–for the most part–intrigued along the way.

A large cast of unique characters fleshes out this tale, adding secondary layers of motivation to the game’s story. Within the first few minutes, you meet all of the the monks at Kingsbridge cathedral, where Philip has been named Prior. Each of them has a unique relationship with Philip, and it’s your job to navigate their conversations and form alliances whenever possible. Furthermore, Jack’s uncertainty about the world combines with his childhood curiosity. These moments are helped along with strong voice acting and a wonderful script that’s packed with emotion.

And yet despite the interesting characters and stories that await, it’s still difficult to wholeheartedly recommend Pillars of the Earth. While it’s certainly not uncommon for adventure games to forego action for narrative, The Pillars of the Earth moves at a snail’s pace. There is drama, but little in the way of tangible tension.

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And unfortunately, there are a slew of technical issues to contend with along the way. Loading new environments often slows the framerate down to a chug (on Xbox One), and characters would sometimes talk over one another, making it difficult to follow either line of dialogue. The game also enters a load screen nearly every time it plays a new scene, which is a lot. For a game with an already slow pace, this can really hinder a lot of interest as you’re forced to sit through extra screens and endure poor framerates just to get to the next story beat.

It’ll be interesting to see how The Pillars of the Earth evolves over its next two episodes. As of right now, it’s crafted a fascinating story full of great characters. It might not be a game for everyone as it deliberately chooses to take its time getting to the point. However, if you enjoy gripping dramas, and don’t mind sitting still for a bit, The Pillars of the Earth will reward your patience with the beginning of what appears to be a fascinating tale.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Review

Team chemistry abounds in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, which is not surprising for a side story to a series famous for its AI-partner-driven gameplay. A decade’s worth of adventures and a conclusive epilogue might place franchise mainstay Nathan Drake on permanent retirement, so now is as fitting a moment as any to wander and fight through a new Uncharted from a fresh perspective. With a roster of characters as large as Uncharted’s, developer Naughty Dog had a wealth of promising pairings to choose from. After playing through The Lost Legacy, it’s hard to imagine a better Drake-less pairing than the treasure hunter Chloe Frazer and ex-mercenary Nadine Ross. Not only do they prove themselves as capable adventurers, but also entertaining ones with the kind of chemistry that doesn’t rely on Nathan Drake-inspired wisecracks.

The duo’s vastly different backgrounds and motivations create a dynamic ripe for a classic apprehensive alliance and the tensions that come with it. Seeking an artifact called the Tusk of Ganesh in the Western Ghats of India, the pair find themselves racing against Asav, a perpetually angry warlord who places highly in the Uncharted villain ruthlessness power rankings. It’s also a quest rich in exposition and substance, with lot of credit given to the well-written banter between Chloe and Nadine. Not only is it engaging to hear them bring down their emotional barriers of mistrust, but the small talk helps fill in the blanks since the events of Uncharted 4. Moveover, the dialogue eventually reveals the meaning of the game’s subtitle, which shines a light on Chloe’s personal drive to find the tusk. Just the fact that her history differs from Nathan Drake’s opens the door for new insights on recurring Uncharted themes, namely the dangers of ambition and the relationships that can suffer as a result. These are messages that adventure genre fans can appreciate even without a connection to the series’ past.

The dense vegetation of India and its peppering of ruins reflect Naughty Dog’s amusingly consistent attachment to jungles in Uncharted. In The Lost Legacy, the studio doubles down on tropical forests with striking results. The lush surroundings and detailed remains of ancient civilizations are fitting trivia-laden conversation starters for Chloe and Nadine. And despite that The Lost Legacy is shorter than even the first Uncharted–six hours compared to eight–these insightful archeological chats about Hindu mythology don’t feel forced or rushed.

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Such refined moments are indicative of The Lost Legacy’s impressive conciseness, packing a ton of Uncharted history in its moment-to-moment experiences. For those new to Uncharted, that translates to a lot of death-defying stunts any given minute. Moreover, the stealth tutorial is fittingly brief, chase sequences are consistently riveting, and climbing sections never feel drawn out. All the while there’s an ebb and flow to both the pacing of the narrative and how gameplay sections are spread out. In other words, for every instance of high intensity, there’s a well-placed opportunity to take a breather.

The jungles also provide the ideal setting for Naughty Dog to expand and refine its open, free-roaming designs previously seen in the much praised Madagascar map of A Thief’s End. This new open map–which is the setting of two of The Lost Legacy’s chapters–demands a lot of driving, but going over your own beaten paths doesn’t feels like a chore. This is thanks to the wealth of timeworn man-made remains worth exploring and–more often than not–climbing. While you’re challenged with navigating up these structures, thoughtful level design ensures the way down is an easy and quick descent. For a game that originated as a more modest expansion to Uncharted 4 with the projected size and scale of The Last of Us: Left Behind, this section alone illustrates why Chloe and Nadine’s adventure warranted a larger production.

Both expansive and confined areas prove memorable for the host of combat encounters that invite player ingenuity and improvisation. Many of The Lost Legacy’s shootouts offer a wealth of emergent and new gunplay opportunities after every death and retry. It’s not a mere race of exchanging gunfire; there are plenty of chances to outflank Asav’s army by making use of columns and elevated platforms rather than fighting enemies head-on. It’s a showcase of easily executable simple pleasures, like striking enemies from above and knocking out a soldier from around a corner.

That’s not to say there are no other ways to outwit these squads. Clearing a fully-staffed patrol with a dozen discreetly-thrown grenades with zero detection isn’t only possible but also a satisfying rush. Playing as a ninja and triggering no alert states is even harder, but many of the combat areas are large and well-designed enough that such gratifying outcomes are possible. Just don’t expect many–if any–opportunities to play the pacifist; the more linear levels require full sweeps and takedowns of whole crews.

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There’s never been a more even mix of puzzles, combat, and exploration in the Uncharted series than in The Lost Legacy. While the series has had its share of dry switch-activation chores disguised as puzzles, this game keeps such sections to a minimum. This new batch of quandaries will stump you long enough to make the feeling of solving them rewarding. And sinces these obstacles are visually themed on the Hindu gods that are the focus of the duo’s quest, no prior Uncharted experience is necessary to solve these puzzles.

Unfortunately, adequate time was not available to evaluate the game’s multiplayer and wave-based Survival modes. As these are the exact game types of Uncharted 4’s online component–that use the same servers no less–you can expect a level of chaotic gunplay and melee combat not found in The Lost Legacy’s story mode. A contrast to the less aggressive enemies in the campaign, fighting against real-life players is a veritable free-for-all where you’re using everything from rope swinging to RPGs to survive. The common supernatural powers found in sought-after artifacts, the motivation of earning gold to summon AI support soldiers, and a time-sucking progression system adds depth to what would’ve been an otherwise forgettable adversarial online mode.

The Lost Legacy doesn’t signify a new era for Uncharted so much as it presents an opportunity to show the series from new perspectives, for which Chloe and the AI-controlled Nadine are perfectly capable. With a new playable treasure hunter comes new settings and character motivations, wrapped in a comfortingly familiar Uncharted package. The thrill of playing through set pieces that call back scenes from the earlier games is all the more enhanced when seen through the gameplay mechanics introduced in A Thief’s End. The initial hours of The Lost Legacy give an “Uncharted Greatest Hits” vibe, but it grows into a more nuanced, clever experience, ranking among the best in the series while also making its own mark as a standalone Uncharted that isn’t anchored to Nathan Drake’s harrowing exploits.

The Long Dark Review

As The Long Dark emerges after years in early access, it introduces the first two chapters in a five-part story, called Wintermute. The game’s demanding survival mechanics have the potential to mesh well with the story of a plane crash survivor stuck in the Canadian wilderness of Great Bear, but it’s too early to say whether or not Wintermute’s narrative ultimately pays off. It is, however, clearly off to a rocky start, leaving the more open-ended sandbox mode as the best reason to jump into The Long Dark today.

During Wintermute, you play as Will Mackenzie, a loner pilot working in the northern reaches of Canada, who agrees to help transport his distressed ex-wife and her mysterious cargo somewhere into the far reaches of the woods. Though there are a few revealing moments shared between Will and Dr. Astrid Greenwood before their plane comes crashing down, the quick and cliched implication of an emotional backstory through suggestive and vague dialogue makes a weak first impression. It certainly doesn’t help that many of the scenes throughout Wintermute’s first two episodes are hampered by odd animation jitters and floating objects that pop in and out frame.

While you both survive the sudden crash that cuts your conversation short, you are separated from one another, and Will succumbs to injuries that make surviving the harsh winterscape a true challenge. Recovering from the crash acts as the game’s tutorial, throwing you into the basics of survival. Whether it’s seeking shelter, starting a fire, or generally looking after your vital signs, almost everything you need is covered, giving you some confidence before you set out on a journey to find your lost passenger. Learning how to make the most of The Long Dark’s survival mechanics is no simple task, but these foundational steps are relatively easy compared to the hurdles that lie ahead.

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Despite Mackenzie’s apparent desperation to find Astrid, he’s more than happy to scout the countryside to gather things for other people, ultimately earning nothing for himself except scraps of information about Astrid’s possible whereabouts and increased knowledge of the wild. It’s frustrating to watch–and even more frustrating to play.

As you carry on, most of your time will be spent scouring abandoned structures for granola bars, harvesting meat from animal carcasses found frozen in ice, and dodging the elements as best you can. Tools like knives and hatchets can be built provided you have the right blueprints, parts, and access to a forge or a workbench. They also need to be maintained using spare parts, which can be gathered by breaking down extra items. Annoyingly, inventory management doesn’t let you optimise your carry weight by combining like items, so instead of being able to do something like emptying lantern fuel containers into a jerry can, you’re forced to carry them all around separately. Be careful where you tread, as well, as it’s not uncommon to get stuck in geometry without the means to free yourself–you aren’t able to jump, only crouch and walk.

Mackenzie’s survival knowledge is minimal to begin with, so his crafting abilities are minimal at best, but what he can make is essential. Blueprints can be found to learn how to craft new items, though these are extremely few and far between. In my experience, most crafting time is spent breaking down things found in the world; spare chairs, tables, curtains, old bedrolls, there’s a lot that can be fixed into something else, and it could be life-saving. By combining some sticks, a bit of spare cloth, and some lantern fuel, you can make a simple torch, providing not just light and heat but also warding off any potential predators that may be circling nearby.

The first episode never really lets go of your hand, keeping you close to a small township for most of its entirety–and rarely asking you to venture to edges of the playable area just beyond the town limits. It’s not until the second episode that you’re set free–albeit under the conflicting pretense of playing fetch for someone else–across three large expanses of untamed wilderness.

Refreshingly, these spaces are deathly beautiful and a showcase for The Long Dark’s striking visual style. When the aurora borealis shines at night, it’s nothing short of stunning–the green hues bounce softly off of snow-covered surroundings. Likewise, the stark pink and orange sunsets that wash over Great Bear are consistently captivating. They are easy come, easy go, due to the game’s dynamic weather system, but it’s impressive how the world–and your place within it–can turn on a dime, choking clear skies with a gusty snowstorm, turning a moment of peace into a chaotic dash for shelter.

When you set aside the available Wintermute episodes–which, crucially, you can–The Long Dark’s tough yet rewarding gameplay owns the spotlight.

When you set aside the available Wintermute episodes–which, crucially, you can–The Long Dark’s tough yet rewarding gameplay owns the spotlight. Survival mode is unforgiving, but it plays to the game’s best strength, and you can always dial down the difficulty to keep going–likewise, if you’re finding it too easy, you can ramp it up as well. The sandbox also has five challenges you can attempt if you require a hint of direction, offering a more catered survival experience, but without the stringent procession of tasks seen in Wintermute.

Stricken from frostbite, and desperately wanting shelter from a violent blizzard, the feeling of helplessness in the sandbox mode gets overwhelming, and it’s in these moments of desperation that The Long Dark is most effective. And thus every minute you survive, and every meter of progress you make, feels remarkably rewarding–the result of a series of calculated decisions you made in the face of depressingly unfavorable odds.

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When the weather isn’t out to kill you, chances are you’ll find some wildlife that would be more than happy to try. A lone wolf can be handled by waving around a lit torch or flare in its face, but if a pack gets a whiff of you nearby, the only option is to run. And did I mention bears? There are bears, and they aren’t interested in being friendly. Death comes swiftly and brutally at the hands of the animals in The Long Dark, a stark contrast to the slow fade into darkness that comes with growing colder and hungrier.

It’s important to remember that The Long Dark is just waking up from early access. It’s cold, hungry, and huddled somewhere under a rock face, but it’s just gotten the fire started. Another three story episodes are still due, so there is time to turn things around for Will and Astrid. However, because the best parts of The Long Dark are already alive and well in survival mode, perhaps Wintermute’s weak beginning is reason enough to stick to what’s worked for the game all along, blemishes and all.

Sonic Mania Review

From the opening title’s splash screen, Sonic Mania‘s presentation is intoxicating. Its colorful, retro 2D graphics and vibrant ’90s-inspired pop soundtrack is enough to make any Sega Genesis fan squeal in excitement. In this jointly developed game, Sega and members of the Sonic fan-hack community have created a loving homage to the blue hedgehog’s glory days. But Sonic’s latest outing isn’t only concerned with reminding you of his past; though it is decadent in this regard. Sonic Mania exceeds expectations of what a new game in the franchise can look and play like, managing to simultaneously be a charming celebration of the past and a natural progression of the series’ classic 2D formula.

Taking place shortly after the events of Sonic & Knuckles, the game’s story sees Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles getting involved once again in a battle against Dr. Eggman–this time over a mysterious emerald artifact. However, the conniving scientist isn’t alone; enlisting the help of the Hard-Boiled Heavies–a group of customized Eggrobos. But the story takes a backseat as the time honored premise endures: defeat Eggman and his baddies, and collect all the Chaos Emeralds.

Sonic Mania makes a strong first impression thanks to amazing visuals and music. Its presentation replicates the charming aesthetic of Sonic’s earliest games with thorough detail. While the pixelated sprites of Sonic and friends are reminiscent of their Sega Genesis’ counterparts, they take on a new life with a higher degree of detail and animation quality. The new effects add an extra layer of personality to the iconic characters that’s a joy to see in motion.

On the other end of the spectrum, the game sports an assortment of new music tracks and remixes of greatest hits. They channel the New Jack Swing dance music stylings that heavily influenced Sonic’s soundtracks in the ’90s, remaining just as catchy and well-orchestrated here. Both visuals and music work together in Sonic Mania to build up an aesthetic that’s evocative of earlier games, but in a pleasing style that feels contemporary all on its own.

On top of Sonic Mania’s fantastic presentation, the game also controls like a classic-style Sonic game. You have the option to play as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles; you can even work cooperatively with another player as Sonic and Tails a la Sonic 2. From the get go, the movement physics and overall feel of each character are distinct yet familiar, staying faithful to the originals. The gang’s unique abilities remain intact, albeit with one exception: Sonic has a new Drop Dash, which allows him to quickly roll forward after a jump. It’s a small addition, but it provides a handy new way to pick up speed or avoid incoming danger.

 It can feel exhilarating to pass through a multitude of pathways, especially at top speed.
It can feel exhilarating to pass through a multitude of pathways, especially at top speed.

Level design is at the series’ best here, sporting 12 zones that are each meticulously designed with cleverly placed obstacles and varied pathways that keep you guessing. It can feel exhilarating to pass through a multitude of pathways, especially at top speed. No route ahead ever feels incorrect as you sprint through loops or hit springs launching you into different directions, and there are rarely any instances where the action halts without reason. And thanks to the visibility granted by the widescreen aspect ratio and the smooth framerate, your awareness and sense of control running through a zone feels better than Sonic’s classic outings ever did.

It also helps that levels are designed around the abilities of each character. While Sonic can blaze a trail through a zone, Knuckles and Tails can find other paths beyond his reach thanks to their respective climbing and flying abilities, which often lead to new ways of experiencing the same stage. It’s enjoyable to engage with the subtle ways each character interacts with the world and the conveniences they offer. And you’re rewarded for taking the time to do so, as on some occasions, characters even get completely new levels to explore that are designed specifically around their abilities.

We all know where this goes...
We all know where this goes…

Sonic Mania closely follows its forebears, utilizing the exhilarating sense of speed that the 2D games charted their success upon. However, it never incorporates elements from the past purely for the sake of nostalgia; rather, it expands upon the familiar with new ideas of its own. This is most apparent when you play remixed versions of older zones from the first five games. Sonic Mania’s version of Sonic 2’s Chemical Plant zone introduces a mechanic where you constantly jump on jelly to bounce upwards to new parts of the level. Changes like this liven up the design of well-known levels, offering fresh and gratifying new experiences.

New zones, on top of offering a suite of charming visuals and catchy melodies, deliver plenty of inventive concepts that diversify and build upon the series’ fast-paced level design. Whether it’s by encouraging you to freeze yourself into an ice block to smash through walls, or challenging you to figure out a maze-like sequence of gates to reach the end of a zone, the ideas the game explores give it a strong sense of identity compared to the originals.

In the same style as Sonic 3, every level culminates in a boss fight–ranging from relatively simple, to demanding set-piece battles where you go head-to-head with Eggman and his minions. However, there are some fights that pay homage not only to past games, but early spin-offs from the Sonic’s history, such as Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine and Sonic Fighters. There’s also a fair number of more challenging battles that require more advanced tactics to beat. One has you dodging projectiles as you use a series of poles to propel yourself towards a spider robot. Boss fights offer a great balance of difficulty, steadily challenging and entertaining you in numerous ways as you progress.

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The past and present seamlessly intermingle in Sonic Mania, answering your nostalgic yearning, while satisfying your thirst for fresh concepts.
The past and present seamlessly intermingle in Sonic Mania, answering your nostalgic yearning, while satisfying your thirst for fresh concepts.

The more you play Sonic Mania, the more it rewards you with reasons to keep playing. Additional modes like Competition and Time Attack offer other ways to experience its levels. Aside from acquiring all the Chaos Emeralds to obtain the true ending, one of the most compelling reasons to replay zones come from Secrets–Sonic Mania’s term for unlocks that give you access to new characters and abilities. For example, you can play through the entire campaign using Sonic’s Insta-Shield ability from Sonic 3. You can even unlock “& Knuckles” mode, where a second player can play cooperatively with you as Knuckles instead of Tails.

However, the caveat is that you can only turn on Secrets when playing without save functionality, so if you want to play using these abilities, you can only do so by going through the game in one sitting. It’s a strange limitation that restricts your ability to take advantage of everything the game has to offer. Regardless, with so many unlockables to obtain and experience, there is always an initiative to go back for another run.

For years the Sonic series has chased the legacy of its early games, constantly delivering experiences that either came close or failed to recapture the spirit that made them classics. Whether it was by getting wrapped up in story or putting too much emphasis on speed instead of level design, the newer games lost track of what made the originals great. Sonic Mania methodically uses its sentimental appeal to great effect, but in the process, it heals the wounds inflicted by its most disappointing predecessors and surpasses the series’ best with its smart and interpretive design. An excellent 2D platformer, Sonic Mania goes beyond expectations, managing to be not only a proper evolution of the series’ iconic formula, but the best Sonic game ever made.

Editor’s note: We have now tested both the Switch and Xbox One versions of Sonic Mania, and have updated the review accordingly. – Matt Espineli, Aug. 15, 2017, 4:00PM

Agents Of Mayhem Review

Agents of Mayhem isn’t subtle. The single-player action-adventure game from Saints Row developer Volition is all about being larger than life, with intense superhero-versus-supervillain combat and raunchy protagonists who drop F-bombs as much as they drop real bombs. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t offer much more than a “to the extreme” attitude, which wears out its welcome in record time thanks to incessantly recycled missions, numerous bugs, and a juvenile script that mistakes swearing for humor.

You take on the role of the titular Agents of MAYHEM (Multinational Agency for Hunting Evil Masterminds), a group of future superheroes that look and feel like the R-rated offspring of a union between the ’80s G.I. Joe cartoon and the Agents of SHIELD TV show. The agents float above the world in a helicarrier-like fortress called the Ark, but you spend most of your time with them on the battlegrounds of Seoul, South Korea, a crisp and clean metropolis dotted with sky-high towers. It’s there you wage war against the League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations.

Basic elements of the story and setting work well in establishing an initial mood and place. Seoul’s skyscrapers, whitewashed future tech, and industrial design make it more than just a battleground. It’s a little too sterile to embrace the quirkiness of something like Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos, without cops or oddball characters wandering around muttering to themselves, but it’s still a memorable location that feels alive in its own way.

Agents tackle LEGION in three-person squads, although they fight one at a time with you swapping them in and out depending on personal preference and the challenge at hand. Squads can be fully customized on the Ark before missions, and there are a dozen agents on the roster, each with skill and weaponry specialties that you earn as you level up.

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Your heroes include: Hardtack, the hulking former naval officer who totes a shotgun and has a special harpoon attack, Kingpin, the rapping gang leader with an SMG, and Joule, the electro-blaster toting Italian fashionista, to name a few. Try as they might to elicit a laugh, the agents fail to be likeable characters. This is in part due to the tired tropes and stereotypes they embody. But look beyond their superficial flaws, and it’s their dialogue–along with most of the writing in Agents of Mayhem–that will make you cringe the most.

The in-your-face attitude of the cast and the world around them wears thin, very fast. The entire game seems to have been scripted to the tastes of a 12-year-old boy, with non-stop swearing and ceaseless one-liners comprising the bulk of dialogue. “You want me to f–k it up? Don’t you? Don’t you?” insists Hardock before firing his Mayhem Mines. And cutscenes fall flat with jokes such as, “If you want to wear open-toed shoes, be sure and do some maintenance on your toenails,” which is more reminiscent of a Madlibs short than a conscious attempt to be clever.

At least the villains are somewhat more interesting than the heroes. Boss battles feature the most engaging combat of the entire game, with gimmicks based around each villain’s character and plot. But everything here still trips over failed attempts at humor. The most annoying examples have to be the missions that conclude with you taking down a boss’s auto-tuner, and another where you defeat an enemy by shooting his “scrumptious” balls.

Repetition is the hallmark of the actual missions, though, no matter what villain you happen to be battling. You fight through the same corridors of the same underground LEGION lairs–which look like high-tech warehouses–spread throughout Seoul, killing the same helmeted troops over and over again. At first, the explosive combat is fun and impactful–when you fire a shotgun, or detonate some mines, or even just launch an arrow, you feel it–but you quickly get worn down by doing the same things on repeat. It doesn’t take long for the game’s initially exciting explosions to fade into the background.

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Missions are also bizarrely constructed. You engage a mission, beam down from the Ark to a Seoul warp point, then visit more than one checkpoints on your way to the actual starting position, and finally arrive at your destination to actually begin the mission you just spent the last few minutes winding up. In most cases, missions involve a lot of pointless traveling across the city, for no apparent purpose aside from stretching things out. Sometimes you have to make your way to the tops of buildings to keep things rolling, again often for no clear reason.

To top everything off, there are a number of bugs you have to contend with as well. Button presses regularly don’t work, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself incapable of swapping out agents despite meeting the necessary conditions. You will also end up inexplicably locked in cars, and the only way to fix the issue is by reloading an old save or ramming the car into your surroundings until it explodes–the agent behind the wheel dies, but you came back to life as another. Mission objectives and waypoints frequently bug out as well, sometimes appearing when they are no longer relevant, and other times not appearing at all.

Personality can only take a broken and repetitive game so far. The attitude behind Agents of Mayhem has potential, at least if it’s executed properly. But there’s little to Agents of Mayhem beyond its foul-mouthed and bombastic attitude, which push the game into grating and obnoxious territory. Throw in the poor mission design and bugs, and you’ve got a game with loads of mayhem, but not much else.

Matterfall Review

Matterfall is another game in developer Housemarque’s particle-effect-heavy catalog. Drenched in neon and engulfed in a thumping techno soundtrack, it posits itself as a game for those interested in tackling challenging side-scrolling action and chasing high scores. And while the intense action and pulsating score make Matterfall a thrill to watch, a sloppy combination of mechanics and a few crucial oversights leave this game both disappointing and frustrating to play. Save for a few moments of greatness, Matterfall fails to make the most of its promising foundation.

As is the norm for Housemarque, Matterfall’s obligatory opening cinematic quickly introduces your motivations before setting you free to chase high scores. You play as Avalon Darrow, a freelancer hired to clean up widespread and dangerous alien technology. As a massive evacuation is in effect, freelancers come in to eradicate the out-of-control technology and extract whatever citizens remain. And thus, you embark on a journey through three worlds with four stages each (the last being a boss battle).

It doesn’t take long for Matterfall to seem all too similar to Housemarque’s previous games. It operates in a 2D environment in the same vein as most side-scrolling action-platformers, but it has eight-directional inputs similar to Nex Machina. There are character upgrades, cyberpunk motifs, obligatory point multipliers, and the studio’s signature, highly detailed special effects. Housemarque knows how to craft a captivating game, and Matterfall continues the studio’s impressive, trademark design. It’s tinged with vibrant blues, greens, and pinks reminiscent of the prettiest sci-fi worlds, and the synth soundtrack creates a rhythm that fosters intensity, fueling the frenetic chaos on-screen.

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While Matterfall as a whole doesn’t display a lot of innovation, Housemarque tries to be inventive with the new Strike ability, a dash that emits a shockwave to stun enemies (to increase the amount of points gathered from them) and destroy nearby projectiles.

You can combine Strike with Avalon’s double jump, granting you access to higher terrain and potentially imprisoned civilians bearing augmentations, upgrades that can be equipped to one of three slots. Augments vary from active tools like grenades and shotguns to passive benefits like greater Strike radius and increased weapon damage, and while they can add new tools to experiment with, they never feel like crucial additions to your repertoire.

A well-timed Strike feels satisfying, yet a peculiar design choice prevents the ability from feeling like a reliable tool: there’s nothing to indicate when its cooldown timer resets. Unsurprisingly, because of this lack of notification, you wind up in situations where your best intentions mean nothing in the face of swarms of enemies you can’t avoid and projectiles you can’t destroy. This isn’t a problem elsewhere–an audible cue informs you of changes to your score multiplier, and secondary weapons are given a graphical cooldown timer in the bottom-left corner of the screen–so the omission of an alert for a crucial mechanic feels like an oversight.

Unfortunately, Avalon also feels too stiff to control. Her double jump has no forward momentum; you can only propel yourself forward by using Strike, and since it’s unclear how often or when Strike can be used, chaining together Avalon’s mobility options can be cumbersome and tedious. Matterfall understands eight directional inputs–your gun, mapped to the right stick, fires in all directions–but Avalon can only dash in four directions: up, down, left, and right. This limitation feels contradictory in the face of Matterfall’s insistence on agility and multiplier combos, especially when inputs fail to register as intended.

The rigid controls are further illuminated during boss battles, intense bouts with gargantuan enemies who fire barrages of projectiles, frequently accompanied by a few weaker enemies you encountered earlier in that world. These boss battles provide a true test of the augments and skills presented to you, forcing you to adapt during these multi-tiered fights. Boss battles deliver a bullet-hell experience, with all the incessant deaths and walls of projectiles you’d expect. Because the controls are stiff and Strike has an unclear cooldown, these showdowns are more exercises in trial and error than they are a test of adaptability and skill, meaning you’re going to die repeatedly. Death inevitably leads to long load times while you wait to jump back into the action, and since boss battles are always difficult, waiting around while the game loads just so you can die again grows tiresome.

At first it’s great to engage with Housemarque’s tried-and-tested designs again, but Matterfall never manages to build off of its promising foundation, and it even mishandles one of the studio’s longest-standing mechanics: dashing. There is still some fun to be had, and it’s easy to appreciate the technical artistry on display, but factor in inconsistent controls and long load times, and it’s easy to grow frustrated throughout the Matterfall’s short campaign.

Observer Review

After Blade Runner implanted itself into the minds of moviegoers back in 1982, elements of its cyberpunk world and story would echo throughout pop culture for decades to come. Despite writers, filmmakers and game designers telling stories in similar worlds with outstanding results, the familiar dark rainy streets, grimy neon lights, and cautionary tales of body augmentations remained seemingly steadfast. With that in mind, it’s a small revelation to see Polish studio Bloober Team take early cues from these influences and use them as a springboard to create something new and exciting with Observer.

Set in the year 2084, Observer tells the story of Daniel Lazarski (played by Blade Runner’s Rutger Hauer), a detective who works the despair-ridden streets of Krakow under the direction of the leading corporation of the Fifth Polish Republic, Chiron. The world at large has gone to ruin. A digital plague killed thousands of augmented people and a colossal war wiped out any previous global superpowers. Thanks to this all-consuming conflict, Chiron rose from the ashes and became the leading authority and manufacturer of basically everything. Lazarski takes jobs from his contact at Chiron and using his body tech, is able to violently jack into the minds and memories of people (alive or dead) to track clues and solve crimes. Hence his official job title: Observer.

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Lazarski gets called to a slum in the worst part of Krakow and this is where the majority of the game takes place. Citizens are divided into classes and this bleak Class C district is bursting at the seams with desperate, frightened people hiding in their rancid apartments and whose only escape from the absolute hell of their daily lives is drugs–chemical or technological.

Essentially a detective story, Observer almost immediately becomes more than the sum of its parts. Talking to residents, examining crime scenes and deciphering clues make up a lot of the gameplay here but it is all housed inside gorgeously detailed environments, the twisted memories of deranged strangers, and one of the most intriguing cyberpunk narratives in years. There’s a constant sense of the towering dark skyline of the city but you’re too focused on putting your hands in the muck to feel like you’re missing out on anything greater. The society that has been carved out in this apartment building is all that matters and it’s here that Observer starts to pull away from its influences and blaze its own unique trail.

Told from a first-person perspective, Lazarski slowly unravels events with his augmented technology by scanning crime scenes for either biological or electronic evidence (either of which can reveal different clues). He also makes use of his “Dream Eater” augmentation, which is designed to observe people’s minds. Throughout the course of the game, it is these extraordinary sequences that present the horrific story beats in psychedelic, surreal ways.

From terrifying nightmare worlds, low-tech video game holograms and game designs that border on mad genius, both you and Lazarski emerge from these sections mentally exhausted but also instantly compelled to push forward to find out what happens next. Exploration, discovery and human interaction drive the narrative forward. In these bloody crime scenes and filthy apartments, the ability to open a door inches at a time adds another sense of sweat-soaked tension. Being in the moment is all that matters and every movement you make, whether it’s scanning ID tags on illegal body mods or sneaking a look at the tenant list before the janitor comes back, pushes you deeper into Observer’s illusion.

Another key feature that helps this universe emerge fully formed is the outstanding sound design. Hallways creak as you stalk from door to door, listening to bizarre noises rising from each apartment. The crackle of terrified residents through speakers, broken video screens blasting static and the cacophony of rainstorms envelope you in an uncomfortable tale. Mixed with the truly disturbing sounds coming from somewhere in the basement and Arkadiusz Reikowski’s ominous industrial music and Observer’s clutches become almost impossible to escape.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of moments that are frustratingly jarring. More than once, you are forced to engage in some instant-fail cat-and-mouse sequences that really don’t fit with the rest of what Observer is trying to achieve. However, they are brief and are over within a few minutes. Problems like this are quickly forgotten when you’re lost in a discussion with a tenant telling you about his religious order which rejects body modifications or slowly discovering the oppressive extent of Chiron’s reach, from desktop computers to picture frames. Everything is covered in a film of grime. Random neon lights sputter in and out of life in the hallways and obsolete technology is bolted onto apartment doors making it clear that nobody of importance cares about this corner of the city.

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That’s why Observer succeeds as well as it does. Every scene adds a meaningful piece of the puzzle to a world and a story that you want to immediately know more about. It consistently presents surreal moments and surprises that would seem like, on paper, the work of lunatics. However, in this grimy and hopeless corner of Krakow, they feel completely at home. The writing for even the most fleeting of characters (even dead ones) feels genuine. Every person here, from crappy parents yelling at their kids while talking to you through a grimy video screen to abstract constructs of lost souls trapped in their own minds, has a convincing life of their own and that commitment to detail make Lazarski’s descent into this future hell, and his own personal demons, all that more compelling.

Cyberpunk is a reflection of where we’re headed as a society, an oddly alluring reality where we’ve allowed impressive technology into our lives at the cost of our humanity. This is a niche genre that needs new revisions and new pioneers so it can keep evolving as we inch closer to seeing its fictional warnings play out in real life, and Observer adds to the familiar parables in fascinating and unexpected ways. In that respect, and on so many other levels, Observer is a haunting and remarkable achievement.

Nidhogg 2 Review

The beauty of Nidhogg was in its simplicity. Its minimalist style and two-button gameplay fed into what was a wonderfully streamlined and focused experience. With Nidhogg 2, developer Messhof has attempted to expand the multiplayer fencing game with more maps, different weapon types, and a busier art style, with mixed results. Some of the changes–particularly the weapon selection and grotesque aesthetic–prove to be distractions from what is otherwise an excellent party game.

Nidhogg 2’s concept, as with the first game, is to stab your opponent and race past their decaying corpse onto the next screen. Your enemy will respawn on the new screen within a couple of seconds to once again impede you from reaching your goal–a giant hungry worm. You can jab your sword at any of three heights–head, torso, or… below the torso–or throw it for a long-ranged attack. Of course, flinging your sword leaves you vulnerable, as does attacking at the wrong height, which creates openings for your opponent to counter.

You’re often left frustrated that your attempted swipe of a sword failed because you happened to reappear holding a bow instead.

This was the meta-game driving the original Nidhogg’s competitive gameplay–except now there’s more pieces to the puzzle. The sequel introduces three new weapons: a thicker broadsword, which can be swung from either top or bottom to bat your opponent’s weapon away but leaves you vulnerable in the middle; a dagger, which has a much shorter reach but allows you to stab more quickly; and the long-range bow. Arrows can only be fired in the middle or bottom and can be hit back in your direction, but they’re by far the longest ranged weapons in the game that don’t leave you defenceless afterward.

The expanded arsenal is of course designed to add depth, and it does: wielding a dagger for a few seconds can be a refreshing change after three years spent playing Nidhogg with just the same old rapier. But the game’s fast-paced nature and its lack of warning as to which weapon you’ll spawn with next means that you’re often left frustrated that your attempted swipe of a sword failed because you happened to reappear holding a bow instead. You can change the order of weapons you’ll spawn with in Tournament Mode, but even there the speed at which matches unfold makes adapting in the split-second respawn window a struggle. In addition, those customization options are not included in Quick Play, Arcade, and online multiplayer–a minor but strange decision given some may wish to turn the new weapons off entirely.

The introduction of weapon variety also impacts balancing. The uniformity of map design and character types creates a level playing field, but this serves to further emphasize each weapon’s weaknesses. The dagger in particular feels very underpowered–it’s tricky to use its speedier stab when your opponent has a much longer sword keeping you at bay. Similarly, arrows take too long to fire, meaning a quick opponent can easily gain the upper hand. Even if they don’t, arrows are pretty easy to dodge, and you’ll be too busy hammering the Square / X button out of frustration to take advantage.

The pulsating electronic soundtrack helps each stage feel as enjoyable, as varied, and as weird as the last.

Messhof has taken a similar “bigger means better” approach when it comes to Nidhogg 2’s art style. The minimalism seen in the original is gone in favour of a style that, while still retro, is noticeably noisier. At times, the lighting is lovely, and the greater color range allows for much more varied locales than the original’s monochrome level design. But the style also makes it harder to immediately see what’s happening on-screen, and this lack of clarity is representative of the sequel overall. Possibly the only area in which the increased amount of content has benefitted Nidhogg is in those added maps. The original arenas have been rebuilt, and they’re accompanied by a number of all-new locations. They contain a number of environmental hazards such as pits, moving ice, and long grass–as well as a pulsating electronic soundtrack–helping each stage feel as enjoyable, as varied, and as weird as the last.

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Despite all the distractions, however, Nidhogg 2 can be brilliant. The original’s tense, frantic, hilarious nature has not been diminished, and local matches offer some of the best same-room multiplayer around. I think my ear is still ringing from a friend shouting so loudly (repeatedly) after he beat me (also repeatedly). Nidhogg 2 becomes a sport: even onlookers get swept up in the tug of war the game evolves into, and you’ll cheer or cry more in each swing of momentum than most video games manage to muster in a whole campaign. It effortlessly creates moments of nail-biting tension and in the very next room uproarious hilarity: in the moment, simply batting an arrow back at an opponent can seem like the most daring maneuver ever attempted, while falling into a pit immediately after a momentus kill can paralyze a room with laughter.

You’ll cheer or cry more in each swing of momentum than most video games manage to muster in a whole campaign.

Each strike is lethal, and every inch of ground gained over your opponent feels like a huge step toward victory. The controls have remained as natural as they were in the first game, allowing you to plan and execute strategies with ease, making it perfect for group sessions even if some haven’t played before. And when you figure out your opponent’s strategy, exploit it, and just before they respawn you reach the finish line to win a tournament, it’s exhilarating. I just hope my ear stops ringing soon.

Nidhogg 2, then, adds a lot without really adding much at all. The new weapons and busy aesthetic can frustrate, making the overall package feel less refined, but the core gameplay still shines through. Despite its problems, Nidhogg 2 is spectacular, engrossing, funny, tragic, and dramatic in equal measure, and it will no doubt become another party game staple. Nidhogg 2 sacrifices simplicity for more options, and it doesn’t prove to be a good trade. But when the underlying action is this good, I’ll put up with the odd unwelcome dagger.

Even with the possibility of vertical movement, FPS maps are wasted if there aren't adequate weapons and abilities to play with. Lawbreakers addresses this challenge through an intelligible diversity in the armaments and specialities spread across its nine classes. There's a reasonable assortment of advanced finesse fighters, beginner-friendly gateway classes, and well-rounded combatants who are useful in any map/mode combination. Even after about 100 matches, it was pleasing to see that no one class dominated, especially among high performing players, which is a credit to developer Boss Key's thoughtfulness in honing these characters.

The lack of standardized weapon and movement types make each of these fighters all the more distinct. The Vanguard, for instance, offsets the immense potency of having a gatling gun by not having a secondary weapon. The lack of boosts or upward mobility makes the armored Titan seemingly useless when delivering the batteries in Overcharge, but this class is invaluable for guarding the battery when it's charging at your base (the mode's main goal). And learning how to optimize a role based on your team makeup, map, and mode is part of the fun, which is perpetuated by the welcome ability to change your classes mid-match.

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While Lawbreakers isn't the type of shooter that awards skill-boosting gear as you level up, discovering additional gameplay depth after getting the hang of flying becomes its own reward. Like experienced Street Fighter competitors, advanced players will feel a sense of accomplishment learning which tactics and attacks work best against specific classes. The challenge is in discerning who you're fighting in a given moment since the already-cluttered user interface does little to convey that specific kind of visual information. Tailoring an attack strategy against a class works when you're in a sudden mid-air duel just yards apart, less so when you're trading shots across a courtyard and you can't tell if you're firing at an Assassin or a Wraith.

From the Asian-influenced architectural designs of the Redfalls map or the futuristic shopping mall that makes up the Promenade arena, Lawbreakers' battlegrounds are well-carved to accommodate every class. The balanced mix of wide open spaces and confining passages in all of Lawbreakers' maps present a wealth of combat scenarios. That includes turning the tables on the predator/prey dynamic or using your environment to gain a tactical advantage. The Juggernaut, in particular, will no doubt become the bane of many, thanks to the class' hallway-sized pop-up barrier. Imagine playing the swift Assassin, thinking that you had a straight shot to deliver a ball to the goal, only to have the Juggernaut throw up a wall at the homestretch.

Such obstacles are easily countered by knowing the alternative routes. As with any shooter map, time is the only factor preventing you from committing every turn, shortcut, and hiding spot to memory. A common benefit of knowing the layout well is the palpable gratification of taking a battery or ball from the center of the map to your goal in less than 5 seconds in the Overcharge and Blitzball modes.

This map memory learning curve wouldn’t be as steep if not for all the time you spend running into locked doors and crossing invisible boundaries that pick away at your health. The maps' other shortcoming is the environmental art style, where futuristic surroundings can't mask the arenas' uninspired visuals.

The contrast of richness in functionality and lack of memorable visuals also applies to Lawbreakers’ ensemble cast. Their designs support the notion that high detail does not equate to pleasing aesthetics. You only need to look to the class selection screen to see the fighting game influence, where a large and culturally diverse group exude personality, hungry for a fight. Yet despite their array of outfits and confidence-oozing body language, this group largely lacks the magnetic charisma that inspires loyalty and discussion of favorite characters in real life.

No Caption Provided
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With any given Quick Match, your mileage will vary on how many strangers decide to work as team players. It's a testament to the combative appeal of Lawbreakers that it's not unusual to engage in brief isolated duels. Whether a player's motivation is to distract an opponent from the objective or the bloodlust of notching another kill, it's a shame that there is no Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch mode to add variety to a suite of match types centered around delivering items to goals or dominating territory.

Given the unique demands of anti-gravity gameplay, the PC version's comprehensive yet concise tutorials turn out to be crucial for onboarding new users. That makes their puzzling omission from the PS4 version disappointing. The fact that you're given currency for participating in the tutorials on PC only twists the knife. To further affirm the PC version as the preferred platform, we also experienced post-match glitches that forced us to relaunch the game from time to time on PS4.

Lawbreakers delivers dopamine hits beyond the arena through post-match score tallies and letter grading. Continuous play also begets higher player profile levels which--after every level up--yields Lawbreakers' cosmetic customization reward: Stash Crates. Capitalizing on the ever-popular, anticipation-driven appeal of random card packs, these loot boxes--packing four items of various rarities (and the occasional in-game currency)--reinforce Lawbreakers’ replayability. And the spectacle of opening these crates is as ceremonious and well-animated as anything you’ll find in Madden or Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.

One sign of any worthwhile team-based shooter is a level of accessibility where everyone feels they can contribute no matter their play style, and Lawbreakers succeeds in this manner. And while the lack of Deathmatch is a lost opportunity, its sufficient playlist of modes offers a viable outlet to flaunt your kill/death ratio, even if it's at the expense of team success. What counts is that its fresh anti-gravity mechanics transcends its first-glance novel appeal and creates limitless combat situations that will be new and inviting to many shooter fans.

'>

Lawbreakers PC Review

Ever since the introduction of jump pads in shooters, an FPS that offered greater freedom of flight was inevitable. Lawbreakers feels like one such result. There’s a moderate learning curve to maneuvering and surviving in-air and within the myriad anti-gravity spheres of the game’s arenas. When you do manage to adapt to sniping on the fly or boosting down a corridor with strategic purpose, the resulting outcomes can feel sublime even if you rarely receive the post-match MVP award.

Even with the possibility of vertical movement, FPS maps are wasted if there aren’t adequate weapons and abilities to play with. Lawbreakers addresses this challenge through an intelligible diversity in the armaments and specialities spread across its nine classes. There’s a reasonable assortment of advanced finesse fighters, beginner-friendly gateway classes, and well-rounded combatants who are useful in any map/mode combination. Even after about 100 matches, it was pleasing to see that no one class dominated, especially among high performing players, which is a credit to developer Boss Key’s thoughtfulness in honing these characters.

The lack of standardized weapon and movement types make each of these fighters all the more distinct. The Vanguard, for instance, offsets the immense potency of having a gatling gun by not having a secondary weapon. The lack of boosts or upward mobility makes the armored Titan seemingly useless when delivering the batteries in Overcharge, but this class is invaluable for guarding the battery when it’s charging at your base (the mode’s main goal). And learning how to optimize a role based on your team makeup, map, and mode is part of the fun, which is perpetuated by the welcome ability to change your classes mid-match.

No Caption Provided
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While Lawbreakers isn’t the type of shooter that awards skill-boosting gear as you level up, discovering additional gameplay depth after getting the hang of flying becomes its own reward. Like experienced Street Fighter competitors, advanced players will feel a sense of accomplishment learning which tactics and attacks work best against specific classes. The challenge is in discerning who you’re fighting in a given moment since the already-cluttered user interface does little to convey that specific kind of visual information. Tailoring an attack strategy against a class works when you’re in a sudden mid-air duel just yards apart, less so when you’re trading shots across a courtyard and you can’t tell if you’re firing at an Assassin or a Wraith.

From the Asian-influenced architectural designs of the Redfalls map or the futuristic shopping mall that makes up the Promenade arena, Lawbreakers’ battlegrounds are well-carved to accommodate every class. The balanced mix of wide open spaces and confining passages in all of Lawbreakers’ maps present a wealth of combat scenarios. That includes turning the tables on the predator/prey dynamic or using your environment to gain a tactical advantage. The Juggernaut, in particular, will no doubt become the bane of many, thanks to the class’ hallway-sized pop-up barrier. Imagine playing the swift Assassin, thinking that you had a straight shot to deliver a ball to the goal, only to have the Juggernaut throw up a wall at the homestretch.

Such obstacles are easily countered by knowing the alternative routes. As with any shooter map, time is the only factor preventing you from committing every turn, shortcut, and hiding spot to memory. A common benefit of knowing the layout well is the palpable gratification of taking a battery or ball from the center of the map to your goal in less than 5 seconds in the Overcharge and Blitzball modes.

This map memory learning curve wouldn’t be as steep if not for all the time you spend running into locked doors and crossing invisible boundaries that pick away at your health. The maps’ other shortcoming is the environmental art style, where futuristic surroundings can’t mask the arenas’ uninspired visuals.

The contrast of richness in functionality and lack of memorable visuals also applies to Lawbreakers’ ensemble cast. Their designs support the notion that high detail does not equate to pleasing aesthetics. You only need to look to the class selection screen to see the fighting game influence, where a large and culturally diverse group exude personality, hungry for a fight. Yet despite their array of outfits and confidence-oozing body language, this group largely lacks the magnetic charisma that inspires loyalty and discussion of favorite characters in real life.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

With any given Quick Match, your mileage will vary on how many strangers decide to work as team players. It’s a testament to the combative appeal of Lawbreakers that it’s not unusual to engage in brief isolated duels. Whether a player’s motivation is to distract an opponent from the objective or the bloodlust of notching another kill, it’s a shame that there is no Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch mode to add variety to a suite of match types centered around delivering items to goals or dominating territory.

Given the unique demands of anti-gravity gameplay, the PC version’s comprehensive yet concise tutorials turn out to be crucial for onboarding new users. That makes their puzzling omission from the PS4 version disappointing. The fact that you’re given currency for participating in the tutorials on PC only twists the knife. To further affirm the PC version as the preferred platform, we also experienced post-match glitches that forced us to relaunch the game from time to time on PS4.

Lawbreakers delivers dopamine hits beyond the arena through post-match score tallies and letter grading. Continuous play also begets higher player profile levels which–after every level up–yields Lawbreakers’ cosmetic customization reward: Stash Crates. Capitalizing on the ever-popular, anticipation-driven appeal of random card packs, these loot boxes–packing four items of various rarities (and the occasional in-game currency)–reinforce Lawbreakers’ replayability. And the spectacle of opening these crates is as ceremonious and well-animated as anything you’ll find in Madden or Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.

One sign of any worthwhile team-based shooter is a level of accessibility where everyone feels they can contribute no matter their play style, and Lawbreakers succeeds in this manner. And while the lack of Deathmatch is a lost opportunity, its sufficient playlist of modes offers a viable outlet to flaunt your kill/death ratio, even if it’s at the expense of team success. What counts is that its fresh anti-gravity mechanics transcends its first-glance novel appeal and creates limitless combat situations that will be new and inviting to many shooter fans.

Even with the possibility of vertical movement, FPS maps are wasted if there aren't adequate weapons and abilities to play with. Lawbreakers addresses this challenge through an intelligible diversity in the armaments and specialities spread across its nine classes. There's a reasonable assortment of advanced finesse fighters, beginner-friendly gateway classes, and well-rounded combatants who are useful in any map/mode combination. Even after about 100 matches, it was pleasing to see that no one class dominated, especially among high performing players, which is a credit to developer Boss Key's thoughtfulness in honing these characters.

The lack of standardized weapon and movement types make each of these fighters all the more distinct. The Vanguard, for instance, offsets the immense potency of having a gatling gun by not having a secondary weapon. The lack of boosts or upward mobility makes the armored Titan seemingly useless when delivering the batteries in Overcharge, but this class is invaluable for guarding the battery when it's charging at your base (the mode's main goal). And learning how to optimize a role based on your team makeup, map, and mode is part of the fun, which is perpetuated by the welcome ability to change your classes mid-match.

No Caption Provided
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While Lawbreakers isn't the type of shooter that awards skill-boosting gear as you level up, discovering additional gameplay depth after getting the hang of flying becomes its own reward. Like experienced Street Fighter competitors, advanced players will feel a sense of accomplishment learning which tactics and attacks work best against specific classes. The challenge is in discerning who you're fighting in a given moment since the already-cluttered user interface does little to convey that specific kind of visual information. Tailoring an attack strategy against a class works when you're in a sudden mid-air duel just yards apart, less so when you're trading shots across a courtyard and you can't tell if you're firing at an Assassin or a Wraith.

From the Asian-influenced architectural designs of the Redfalls map or the futuristic shopping mall that makes up the Promenade arena, Lawbreakers' battlegrounds are well-carved to accommodate every class. The balanced mix of wide open spaces and confining passages in all of Lawbreakers' maps present a wealth of combat scenarios. That includes turning the tables on the predator/prey dynamic or using your environment to gain a tactical advantage. The Juggernaut, in particular, will no doubt become the bane of many, thanks to the class' hallway-sized pop-up barrier. Imagine playing the swift Assassin, thinking that you had a straight shot to deliver a ball to the goal, only to have the Juggernaut throw up a wall at the homestretch.

Such obstacles are easily countered by knowing the alternative routes. As with any shooter map, time is the only factor preventing you from committing every turn, shortcut, and hiding spot to memory. A common benefit of knowing the layout well is the palpable gratification of taking a battery or ball from the center of the map to your goal in less than 5 seconds in the Overcharge and Blitzball modes.

This map memory learning curve wouldn’t be as steep if not for all the time you spend running into locked doors and crossing invisible boundaries that pick away at your health. The maps' other shortcoming is the environmental art style, where futuristic surroundings can't mask the arenas' uninspired visuals.

The contrast of richness in functionality and lack of memorable visuals also applies to Lawbreakers’ ensemble cast. Their designs support the notion that high detail does not equate to pleasing aesthetics. You only need to look to the class selection screen to see the fighting game influence, where a large and culturally diverse group exude personality, hungry for a fight. Yet despite their array of outfits and confidence-oozing body language, this group largely lacks the magnetic charisma that inspires loyalty and discussion of favorite characters in real life.

No Caption Provided
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10


With any given Quick Match, your mileage will vary on how many strangers decide to work as team players. It's a testament to the combative appeal of Lawbreakers that it's not unusual to engage in brief isolated duels. Whether a player's motivation is to distract an opponent from the objective or the bloodlust of notching another kill, it's a shame that there is no Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch mode to add variety to a suite of match types centered around delivering items to goals or dominating territory.

Given the unique demands of anti-gravity gameplay, the PC version's comprehensive yet concise tutorials turn out to be crucial for onboarding new users. That makes their puzzling omission from the PS4 version disappointing. The fact that you're given currency for participating in the tutorials on PC only twists the knife. To further affirm the PC version as the preferred platform, we also experienced post-match glitches that forced us to relaunch the game from time to time on PS4.

Lawbreakers delivers dopamine hits beyond the arena through post-match score tallies and letter grading. Continuous play also begets higher player profile levels which--after every level up--yields Lawbreakers' cosmetic customization reward: Stash Crates. Capitalizing on the ever-popular, anticipation-driven appeal of random card packs, these loot boxes--packing four items of various rarities (and the occasional in-game currency)--reinforce Lawbreakers’ replayability. And the spectacle of opening these crates is as ceremonious and well-animated as anything you’ll find in Madden or Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.

One sign of any worthwhile team-based shooter is a level of accessibility where everyone feels they can contribute no matter their play style, and Lawbreakers succeeds in this manner. And while the lack of Deathmatch is a lost opportunity, its sufficient playlist of modes offers a viable outlet to flaunt your kill/death ratio, even if it's at the expense of team success. What counts is that its fresh anti-gravity mechanics transcends its first-glance novel appeal and creates limitless combat situations that will be new and inviting to many shooter fans.

'>

Lawbreakers PS4 Review

Ever since the introduction of jump pads in shooters, an FPS that offered greater freedom of flight was inevitable. Lawbreakers feels like one such result. There’s a moderate learning curve to maneuvering and surviving in-air and within the myriad anti-gravity spheres of the game’s arenas. When you do manage to adapt to sniping on the fly or boosting down a corridor with strategic purpose, the resulting outcomes can feel sublime even if you rarely receive the post-match MVP award.

Even with the possibility of vertical movement, FPS maps are wasted if there aren’t adequate weapons and abilities to play with. Lawbreakers addresses this challenge through an intelligible diversity in the armaments and specialities spread across its nine classes. There’s a reasonable assortment of advanced finesse fighters, beginner-friendly gateway classes, and well-rounded combatants who are useful in any map/mode combination. Even after about 100 matches, it was pleasing to see that no one class dominated, especially among high performing players, which is a credit to developer Boss Key’s thoughtfulness in honing these characters.

The lack of standardized weapon and movement types make each of these fighters all the more distinct. The Vanguard, for instance, offsets the immense potency of having a gatling gun by not having a secondary weapon. The lack of boosts or upward mobility makes the armored Titan seemingly useless when delivering the batteries in Overcharge, but this class is invaluable for guarding the battery when it’s charging at your base (the mode’s main goal). And learning how to optimize a role based on your team makeup, map, and mode is part of the fun, which is perpetuated by the welcome ability to change your classes mid-match.

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While Lawbreakers isn’t the type of shooter that awards skill-boosting gear as you level up, discovering additional gameplay depth after getting the hang of flying becomes its own reward. Like experienced Street Fighter competitors, advanced players will feel a sense of accomplishment learning which tactics and attacks work best against specific classes. The challenge is in discerning who you’re fighting in a given moment since the already-cluttered user interface does little to convey that specific kind of visual information. Tailoring an attack strategy against a class works when you’re in a sudden mid-air duel just yards apart, less so when you’re trading shots across a courtyard and you can’t tell if you’re firing at an Assassin or a Wraith.

From the Asian-influenced architectural designs of the Redfalls map or the futuristic shopping mall that makes up the Promenade arena, Lawbreakers’ battlegrounds are well-carved to accommodate every class. The balanced mix of wide open spaces and confining passages in all of Lawbreakers’ maps present a wealth of combat scenarios. That includes turning the tables on the predator/prey dynamic or using your environment to gain a tactical advantage. The Juggernaut, in particular, will no doubt become the bane of many, thanks to the class’ hallway-sized pop-up barrier. Imagine playing the swift Assassin, thinking that you had a straight shot to deliver a ball to the goal, only to have the Juggernaut throw up a wall at the homestretch.

Such obstacles are easily countered by knowing the alternative routes. As with any shooter map, time is the only factor preventing you from committing every turn, shortcut, and hiding spot to memory. A common benefit of knowing the layout well is the palpable gratification of taking a battery or ball from the center of the map to your goal in less than 5 seconds in the Overcharge and Blitzball modes.

This map memory learning curve wouldn’t be as steep if not for all the time you spend running into locked doors and crossing invisible boundaries that pick away at your health. The maps’ other shortcoming is the environmental art style, where futuristic surroundings can’t mask the arenas’ uninspired visuals.

The contrast of richness in functionality and lack of memorable visuals also applies to Lawbreakers’ ensemble cast. Their designs support the notion that high detail does not equate to pleasing aesthetics. You only need to look to the class selection screen to see the fighting game influence, where a large and culturally diverse group exude personality, hungry for a fight. Yet despite their array of outfits and confidence-oozing body language, this group largely lacks the magnetic charisma that inspires loyalty and discussion of favorite characters in real life.

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With any given Quick Match, your mileage will vary on how many strangers decide to work as team players. It’s a testament to the combative appeal of Lawbreakers that it’s not unusual to engage in brief isolated duels. Whether a player’s motivation is to distract an opponent from the objective or the bloodlust of notching another kill, it’s a shame that there is no Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch mode to add variety to a suite of match types centered around delivering items to goals or dominating territory.

Given the unique demands of anti-gravity gameplay, the PC version’s comprehensive yet concise tutorials turn out to be crucial for onboarding new users. That makes their puzzling omission from the PS4 version disappointing. The fact that you’re given currency for participating in the tutorials on PC only twists the knife. To further affirm the PC version as the preferred platform, we also experienced post-match glitches that forced us to relaunch the game from time to time on PS4.

Lawbreakers delivers dopamine hits beyond the arena through post-match score tallies and letter grading. Continuous play also begets higher player profile levels which–after every level up–yields Lawbreakers’ cosmetic customization reward: Stash Crates. Capitalizing on the ever-popular, anticipation-driven appeal of random card packs, these loot boxes–packing four items of various rarities (and the occasional in-game currency)–reinforce Lawbreakers’ replayability. And the spectacle of opening these crates is as ceremonious and well-animated as anything you’ll find in Madden or Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.

One sign of any worthwhile team-based shooter is a level of accessibility where everyone feels they can contribute no matter their play style, and Lawbreakers succeeds in this manner. And while the lack of Deathmatch is a lost opportunity, its sufficient playlist of modes offers a viable outlet to flaunt your kill/death ratio, even if it’s at the expense of team success. What counts is that its fresh anti-gravity mechanics transcends its first-glance novel appeal and creates limitless combat situations that will be new and inviting to many shooter fans.