Entries by GameSpot Reviewer

ARK: Survival Evolved Review

After a couple of dozen hours exploring the dinosaur survival simulation from developer Studio Wildcard, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what is both an impressive achievement and a deeply frustrating experience. One moment I was beaming over how I was able to slap together a hut on the beach and start a fire to keep warm during a long and spooky prehistoric night. The next I was swearing until I was out of breath after being killed yet again by a Dilophosaurus or a pack of Compys or a Titanoboa or whatever else decided to roar out of the jungle for a snack.

This is a pure, hardcore survival game where you’re dropped in your tighty whities on a beach by beings unknown (UFO-like monoliths float in the sky) with the sole goal of figuring out how to stay alive. Land and sea are populated with all sorts of dinosaurs and other assorted prehistoric creatures, ranging from the milquetoast Dodos and Moschops to aggressive predators like the Spinosaurus, the Megapiranha, the Troodon, the Raptor, and much, much more. So not only are you stuck essentially naked with nothing other than your wits to keep you breathing, just about everything stuck here with you has big pointy teeth and zero qualms about using them to rip you to pieces.

That said, there isn’t much of a learning curve. Everything is based on a hunter-gatherer system where you collect resources by killing animals for their hides and meat and other goodies, and by chopping down trees, smashing up rocks, and scavenging in the jungle for wood, stone, flint, berries, fiber, and more. Leveling up–which happens fast and frequently throughout the game to keep things interesting–provides points used to purchase engrams that serve as plans for all of the survival gear that you can make. You start with caveman stuff like stone axes, thatch huts, ragged clothing, and campfires, but soon progress to compasses, spyglasses, bows and arrows, wood structures, gunpowder, and more. Stick with things long enough and you move into the modern era with rifles and radios.

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Another major component of Ark is the ability to train dinos. Carefully combining knocking out your prey with feeding them results in tame creatures that can be ridden around the landscape and even bred. It’s something of a tedious affair involving a fair bit of gathering different types of food and waiting around, but it’s well worth it in the end as you can wind up with mounts far better at fighting other dinosaurs than you can with your puny fists and weapons. Toss in a wide range of crafting and that steadily increasing engram tech, and you’ve got an impressive sandbox in which to play.

All of this can be experienced either solo or together with other players on multiplayer servers that can be designated either PVE, where players cannot kill one another, and PVP, where they can, and there are basically no rules at all. Ark has been built around a tribal model, though, where playing cooperatively feels generally like the prescribed way to go.

Single-player does have its benefits, namely in that you avoid messy interactions with fellow human players. But going solo comes at the cost of cranking difficulty through the roof and forcing you to do everything for yourself. You have to become a one-man tribe to get anything done, and I found the process of chopping trees, hacking stone, and gathering assorted things in the brush to be a repetitive process. While you level up fairly quickly and add new engrams on a regular basis, it’s not exactly thrilling to spend all of your time mindlessly pushing buttons to accumulate one stockpile after another.

Of course, playing alone also means that you have to fight dinosaurs mano-a-mano. This means that you die. A lot. The game thankfully stocks the default areas where you spawn (generally coastal beach regions) with wussier, almost cattle-like creatures that can be farmed to get you started collecting meat and skins. But aggressive carnivores are never far away. The landscape is dotted with creatures that you have almost zero chance at killing or escaping, especially in the early hours.

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This outstanding sense of place and mood is offset by the sheer difficulty of everything that you have to do, the spectacular amounts of time necessary to experience even a tenth of what the game has to offer, and the randomness of death constantly destroying everything that you have built.

As a result, Ark does not make a great first impression. I was routinely slaughtered by Dilophosauruses on the beaches, gangs of Compys in the jungle, random Trodoons nearly everywhere, and even a positively brutal Spinosaurus that somehow managed to spawn in not far from where I began my game. Whenever I thought I was making progress, wham, along came a Raptor or something equally frightening to remind me of my place in the food chain. Even the water offered me no respite, as every little stream seemed to be well stocked with Megapiranhas and Sabertooth Salmon. These killer fish actually gave me my first wake-up call as to how brutal Ark was going to be. I finished my first thatch house and decided to start really exploring territory, starting with a quick swim across the bay. I didn’t get halfway across before I was eaten alive.

The only good thing being killed is that your stuff gets packed into a bag and left at the point of your demise, ready to be picked up by your respawned self. This is easier said than done, however, as the early-game’s random respawns generally place you a long way from where you died. And you have a limited amount of time to grab everything before it vanishes forever. Even worse, whatever killed you often hangs around the pack, as if it’s guarding the treasure trove in the knowledge that somebody is coming back for it. Other times, your gear is simply inaccessible. I don’t think I ever reclaimed my gear after being killed in the water, as those packs always wound up in the midst of schools of fish with steak-knife teeth.

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In a perfect world, playing the multiplayer version of Ark would solve the above problems. It doesn’t. All of these issues remain present when playing on servers with other people, and other, potentially even more serious annoyances, are introduced. Playing on an established public server means that you’re the new guy, so it doesn’t seem entirely easy to join a tribe. On the PVP servers, you can be an easy target for the more experienced players who enjoy playing serial killer. PVE servers let you relax and work cooperatively, but I saw a lot of people there doing their own thing exactly as they would have in the solo game. So aside from the social aspect of trying to stay alive in dino-land with the help of fellow human beings, I didn’t really see the point.

There is something majestic about Ark’s addictive and incredibly atmospheric design. I’ve never been so invested in the protagonist’s predicament, especially when huddling around a fire in the middle of the night or when facing off with a dinosaur that was stalking me, and the sense of being so utterly alone really sank in.

Still, this outstanding sense of place and mood is offset by the sheer difficulty of everything that you have to do, the spectacular amounts of time necessary to experience even a tenth of what the game has to offer, and the randomness of death constantly destroying everything that you have built. None of these things can exactly be considered flaws, as the designers surely intended the game to play like this, at least for the most part. But all of these factors also make Ark an acquired taste that requires a strong level of commitment that is not for everyone, probably myself included.

Metroid: Samus Returns Review

Metroid is a Nintendo institution, one that dates almost as far back as the company’s console business. The series includes phenomenal games like Super Metroid and Metroid Prime, two games that frequently appear on “best of” lists. But Metroid has been…

Knack 2 Review

PlayStation 4 launch game Knack was most memorable for its impressive use of particles; it used lots of tiny floating cubes, spheres, and pyramids to make up its main character. But beyond that, it was a throwback to PlayStation 2-era of linear 3D action games. As it turns out, not a lot has changed in the sequel, but as far as cooperative-centric action games go, Knack 2 ends up being a more enjoyable romp than the original.

Several years have passed since the events of the previous game, where the titular Knack and his friends stopped a rampaging goblin army from overtaking civilization. Knack 2 starts right in the midst of a fresh attack on the city of Newhaven, and over the course of 15 multi-stage chapters, the story takes some odd twists and turns for a game that is clearly aimed at a younger audience. There are bigger enemies than goblins afoot and the solid if cartoonish at times story includes some surprisingly not subtle parallels to real-world dictators and extremists.

Admittedly, things start off pretty slow, and for the first several chapters Knack 2 is a linear experience with basic combat and straightforward puzzles. As the game moves along, however, Knack’s moveset opens up thanks to an expansive upgrade tree and regular new move updates acquired during cinematic sequences.

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Once you’ve gotten past the initial stages, Knack 2 throws a good variety of different-sized foes at its hero, from human-sized soldiers to giant robotic menaces. As Knack grows in power, he can string together powerful combos, and you begin to feel the heft and power behind his attacks. The upgrade system is such that he’ll essentially earn new moves right up until the end, so there’s always something new to try, which adds appreciable variety to the game’s numerous battles.

Where things get really interesting is when Knack’s ability to shrink and grow is called upon with greater frequency. Knack can grown from an adorable pint-sized doll to a 30-foot-tall hulk–the more artifact parts he finds during a level, the bigger he becomes, although the truly giant-sized Knack is sadly reserved for only a few spots.

One sequence in particular has giant Knack rampaging through a goblin city, for instance, and the sense of power and scale is exceptional. Knack can run over enemies that were previously challenging foes like they were speed bumps and it’s a thoroughly entertaining power trip. The way Knack changes his stance and demeanor as he grows–from adorable to athletically lean to outright massive–also adds a lot of personality to his character.

Even more intriguing is how the game uses little Knack. Every level contains at least a few secret areas only accessible while he’s in his tiny form, but many of the puzzles and platforming sections require switching from big Knack to little Knack regularly. Since you can easily drop (and attract) his built-up parts with the press of a button, this size shifting mechanic gets a lot of mileage.

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So, while giant Knack feels nearly invulnerable, tiny Knack’s ability to deftly flip from one small platform to the next gives the game an almost side-scrolling platformer appeal. He’s deadly fragile when small, so avoiding enemies is frequently necessary, often by finding side routes (such as small ledges and air ducts) that would be impossible for larger-sized creatures to pass. It’s a refreshing interchange of gaming styles within the levels that gives Knack 2 a surprising extra layer of depth. There are even vehicle segments, where you take control of a goblin tank, and, in one of the most entertaining sequences in the game, rampage through a city in a giant robot capable of crushing enemy tanks under foot.

All this action is aided greatly by terrific graphics and notably wonderful character animation. Knack looks amazing, the giant robots seem to have stepped straight out of an epic anime, and many of the locations are gorgeous, ranging from rocking deserts and snow-covered mountains to beautiful gardens and ancient temples and urban sprawls. Unfortunately, Knack 2 uses a set camera, and it can be terrible at times. It sometimes presents issues with enemies attacking from positions you can’t see or reach, and during some platforming sequences, the camera can be more dangerous than any physical obstacle. Knack 2 is also really meant for cooperative play. It’s fully playable for one, but some of the puzzles and fights are much more frustrating without a partner.

At around seven to ten hours, Knack 2 is longer than you might expect. The issue with this is that there’s obvious artificial padding afoot. One glaring example is how the game starts off in the story’s present day, then flashes back. When you actually get back to the starting point again, it actually makes you replay that exact same level. Other times, platforming and combat sections dragged on a bit too long, but at least in those case you’re still earning more treasure and skill points for upgrading.

Knack 2 is definitely a holdover from the past, but it manages to surprise with varied combat and the pleasing back and forth between big and little Knack. Where the original game felt, frankly, like a launch title meant to show off the power of a new system, Knack 2 is a more realized version of Knack as a character, and the wonderfully weird world he inhabits.

Everybody’s Golf Review

The Everybody’s Golf series has consistently hit that sweet spot in providing arcade-inspired accessibility while preserving the unique challenges that make the sport of golf riveting. As its first foray on the PlayStation 4, the simply titled Everybod…

XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen Review

XCOM games are about staring down the impossible and choosing to fight on anyway. The premise of the franchise is that Earth is under siege by immeasurably more advanced alien swarms. XCOM 2 posits that we, as players, can’t be victorious. Where its pr…

Warriors All-Stars Review

In yet another attempt to wring some more cash out of its famous Musou series (or Dynasty Warriors and its spin-offs, to you and I), Tecmo-Koei have had the bright idea of releasing a game in the Musou mould that throws together a bunch of characters from its various IPs.

Series fans might initially raise an eyebrow at this, as the Warriors Orochi games have combined Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors characters for some time now, and more recently characters from Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden. But if Warriors All-Stars demonstrates anything, it’s that Tecmo-Koei’s back-catalogue is perhaps a little more varied than you thought.

The game plays out in typical Musou fashion, with you taking control of a general and proceeding to slash your way through literally hundreds of hapless enemies in each battle, and occasionally going toe-to-toe with an enemy general with similar abilities to your own. Charging up gauges by dealing or receiving damage allows you to unleash powerful attacks, and there are some light strategic elements at play as each battle features constantly shifting objectives that force you to make decisions about where to position yourself, which enemy generals to target, which allies to support, which bases to take control of, and so on.

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This core loop of near-effortless wading through hordes of enemies with the occasional urgent objective or battle with another general, remains as compelling as ever. The series has a reputation as a mindless button-masher, not least because standard enemies seldom even attempt to attack you, but there’s an alluring serenity to it at times, a satisfaction in neatly mopping up every last bit of red on the map before bringing the battle to a close. Moreover, while mastery of your chosen character’s moveset doesn’t initially seem a huge concern, it becomes essential as the difficulty ramps up and you’re forced to juggle more and more time-sensitive objectives. Dealing with hordes of enemies is easy, but you really have to learn to do it as efficiently as possible.

All-Stars mostly sticks to this formula, but it does have a few ideas of its own. As well as picking the character you’ll play as for each battle, you can also pick up to four other characters to accompany you. For the most part they’ll simply follow you around and help you defeat enemies as you go, but they also each have a specific supporting move that can be triggered at will. These range from status effects, such as putting enemies to sleep, to creating a vortex that sucks all enemies in its range into a small area, allowing you to more easily dispatch them with a single combo. In addition to this, each of these characters can be called up to stand side-by-side with your character and mimic their actions, essentially forming a ludicrous wall of death for a limited time.

Chief among the new additions, though, is Musou Rush. You start each battle with the ability to perform one Rush, and once used you can recharge it by fulfilling certain objectives. When activated, some chirpy trumpets kick in and you become incredibly overpowered for a short period of time, as your chosen allies appear on-screen to cheer you on as if they’re your biggest fans.

The best part of all is that it doesn’t even matter if there aren’t hundreds of enemies around to begin with–once you activate a Rush, the game just starts spawning them in front of you as fast as you can take them down. It makes absolutely no sense, but as a concession to the joys of player empowerment and the general idiotic brilliance of the Musou games, it’s a wonderful thing to behold.

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The diverse array of characters is an absolute joy … Anyone with an interest in niche Japanese games will see at least one unlikely yet familiar character that’ll bring a smile to their face

The diverse array of characters in the game is also an absolute joy. When viewing the initial set of available warriors, it’s easy to scoff at some of the more leftfield choices the developers have made; Sophie from Atelier, Arnice from Nights of Azure, Laegrinna from Deception… but it’s fair to say that anyone with an interest in niche Japanese games (and you’re reading a review of a Musou game, so: hi!) will see at least one unlikely yet familiar character that’ll bring a smile to their face, if only due to the sheer peculiarity of it. The inclusion of William Adams from this year’s surprise hit Nioh is a fitting one; the inclusion of Opoona from the 2007 Wii RPG of the same name is less understandable, and all the more brilliant for it.

Easily the best character in the game is Oda Nobunyaga, from the Samurai Cats series that never made it to the West. Modelled mostly on the famous Japanese warlord with almost the same name, Nobunyaga differs slightly in that he is a tiny cat equipped with a rifle and a magnificent baritone voice. His attack combos repeatedly summon groups of his tiny gun-toting cat-soldiers to blast anyone in the vicinity, and he might actually be the best character to ever appear in a Musou game.

That said, players might be a little disappointed by the paucity of game modes on offer. While previous iterations have included story modes, free battles, multiplayer, and the superb Empires mode that sees players conquering their way across a map by strategically picking battles to take part in, All-Stars has a story mode, and nothing else.

People hardly flock to Musou games for their labyrinthine narrative, and All-Stars certainly isn’t bucking the trend here. Of course, a game that pulls together dozens of characters from different franchises was never going to be massively coherent, but suffice it to say it’s the usual guff about a royal family performing a hero-summoning magic ritual so they can get some help defeating evil incarnate and heal the land. Still, skipping the cutscenes is easy enough, and if nothing else the knowing-ridiculous premise combined with the boldly-coloured menus and upbeat soundtrack give the game a strong Saturday-morning cartoon vibe.

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The aforementioned royal family has also helpfully split into three warring factions, each with their own storyline as well as unique playable characters and missions. So, even if you’re not fussed about the story, there are plenty of excuses for multiple playthroughs and the option to take on non-essential missions throughout to strengthen your characters means there’s certainly no shortage of things to do.

The trouble is that All-Stars has the misfortune of being released as the Dynasty Warriors 9 hype train is gathering speed, and Tecmo-Koei have made it quite clear that they’re on the cusp of bringing substantial changes to the admittedly formulaic series. While it might seem unfair to judge All-Stars against a game that doesn’t even have a release date yet, it’s hard to see it as something more than a stopgap to keep fans happy while the promised headline act is still in development.

That doesn’t stop Warriors All-Stars from being a lot of fun in its own right, though. Series newcomers might be better served by the likes of Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends or Hyrule Warriors–equally enjoyable games that can now be found at much lower prices–but All-Stars’ twist on the standard Musou mechanics and the delightful whimsy of its whole premise certainly elevates it enough to make it an easy recommendation for veterans.

And once again, to be clear: you can play as a talking warlord cat with a gun.

Last Day Of June Review

When tragedy strikes, we crave the ability to go back and change things. We grieve and yearn for a real-life rewind button that gives us a do-over. We often assume that future events are delicately determined based on every little decision that we make…

Absolver Review

There’s no other game quite like Absolver. Parisian indie developer, Sloclap, has defined it as an online melee action game, which is appropriate but doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Dig a little deeper and you’ll uncover an intriguing marriage betw…