Entries by GameSpot Reviewer

Valkyria Revolution Review

Spinning off a well-established game series into a different genre is always a risky move. On one hand, if the gambit is successful, you'll simultaneously introduce the franchise to a new group of players and give existing fans something new to reignit...

Valkyria Revolution Review

Spinning off a well-established game series into a different genre is always a risky move. On one hand, if the gambit is successful, you'll simultaneously introduce the franchise to a new group of players and give existing fans something new to reignit...

Cities: Skylines - Mass Transit Review

Public transportation has never been my favorite part of city-building simulations. I’ve always treated it as something of a necessary evil--a hassle best dealt with by quickly laying down extra roads, bus lines, or whatever other available gimmick so that I could keep constructing the new subdivisions and industries necessary to keep my citizens healthy and happy.

Mass Transit--the latest addition to the growing Cities: Skylines family from developer Colossal Order--doesn't quite change my mind on all of this, as I'm also a real-world mayor who focuses on the big picture. However, it comes awfully close thanks to an effective collection of people-moving options, ranging from ferries to monorails to blimps. What's included here smooths out some kinks in the original game's transit systems, allowing you to build more efficiently running cities--albeit at the cost of some added micromanagement that moves the game well out of the virtual mayor's office.

Mass Transit is centered on two areas, largely addressed in the three new scenarios and three new maps that present fresh challenges when it comes to efficiently moving your citizens from Point A to Point B. The most obvious facet of the expansion is what it adds to city character. You're free to embrace the quirks of each city's particular geography. You can practice something of a "sea and sky" philosophy for coastal and mountainous locales, for instance, using monorails and ferries to link neighborhoods and give your cities something of a Vancouver or Seattle vibe.

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Since Skylines is pretty familiar to its fanbase at this point, being able to mix things up like this and put a fresh face on everything adds more to gameplay than you might imagine. The new Ferry Empire scenario offers a fairly light challenge when it comes to moving folks around your watery city, but it's set it on a unique, beautiful landscape. Authentically, you have to work within the constraints of this terrain and embrace a municipal vision that's far from the relative cookie-cutter metropolises seen elsewhere in Skylines.

The other focus is city efficiency. Mass Transit provides tools that make for better-running cities. Perhaps the best example of this comes in the form of the new hub buildings. These structures form central locations for public transportation. They allow you to concentrate your efforts and properly plan out transit systems--a big improvement from the more seat-of-the-pants concept of the original game, where you're pressured to jury-rig and make it up on the fly. Here, hubs afford more opportunities to sketch out transit and approach development from a top-down perspective. You have more control as a result and become able to address transit as part of core city infrastructure, just like with electrical lines, water pipes, and sewers in the past.

One problem is the size of new additions, though. Retrofitting cities with hubs and other transit buildings can be a major chore, since they're generally pretty big. The "Fix the Traffic" scenario sums up how challenging this can be, as you can't seem to help leveling about half the city to get the snarled traffic situation smoothed out. Even laying down facilities that are a little easier to work with--train tracks, for instance--is both tough to design and to fit in without doing even more demolishing.

Structuring transit routes can be finicky, too. Simply establishing ferry pathways and routes can be frustrating and requires more trial-and-error than should be necessary for something seemingly so straightforward. So, it's best to start with a clean slate with this expansion, something also advisable to best enjoy the suite of new game options (new road guidelines, for example) released as a free Skylines update alongside this expansion.

All of this combines to make Mass Transit more about micromanagement. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if you're a control freak who wants to take a hands-on approach to everything in your city. But it does move Skylines further away from a simulation of what it's like to be the real mayor of a real city. With all of the extras added in the various expansion packs, the game now feels a little more like a municipal engineer or municipal planner simulation than anything that properly depicts what it's like to be the mayor overseeing everything.

Even with that caveat, Mass Transit adds more character and depth to what’s already the premier city-building simulation. It may be a bit disappointing that some of the original game's big-picture philosophy and mayoral authenticity has been sacrificed in the process, but it can be argued that these changes have also done an impressive job of filling out the public-transportation element of city design.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew Review

For better and worse, Star Trek: Bridge Crew is exactly what's advertised--it's a virtual-reality simulation of operating a Federation starship. For the first few moments, the sheer thrill of taking the Captain's chair in VR, looking around you to see crew members all working away at their stations, and issuing your first commands is all wonderful and novel. But the second you start yearning for new life, new civilizations, and to boldly go where no one has gone before, you find a game nowhere near that ambitious.

Set in the J.J. Abrams Trek universe, Bridge Crew's single-player campaign centers around the U.S.S. Aegis--which, after a brief training mission, sets forth on its task to help the Vulcans find a new home. This mission takes the Aegis into a Klingon-controlled territory, the Trench, and into the heart of a potentially ugly interstellar incident. You can fill one of four roles aboard the ship: the Captain issues orders to every other department from the holographic menu built into the player’s chair, the Helm puts you in the driver's seat, Tactical handles shields and weaponry, and Engineering determines how much power gets shifted to the ship's vital systems.

The single-player campaign is brief, but it acts as an extended tutorial on the ins and outs of running a starship. From the Captain's chair, you receive orders from Starfleet and issue the commands that lead the Aegis ever forward. However, particularly in single-player, those commands aren't as simple as just telling your crew to move forward at quarter impulse or fire phasers. Instead, they’re a piece-by-piece process that must be followed and timed just right, with every crew member involved performing their duties with precision. In single-player, even something as simple as warping involves opening a menu, setting the correct course, telling engineering to power up the warp drive, having the helm align the ship towards the target location, and finally issuing the order to perform the warp. The process becomes second nature over time, especially with a proper VR controller like the Playstation Move to navigate the menu-heavy UI.

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You also have the ability to temporarily switch to another position to take manual control over the ship's various functions and levers in single-player, but it's a lot to manage and not nearly the simple power trip you might expect. A.I.-controlled crew members have a nasty habit of being complete knuckleheads who don't know how to properly and strategically fly around obstacles when pursuing a target.

Bridge Crew is somewhat more immersive in multiplayer, where you can speak directly to your crew and coordinate actions by voice, but you need to meet certain requirements for it to go smoothly: four trustworthy crew members, all of whom know their roles inside and out, and who can pull it together long enough to take the game even marginally seriously enough to get through the trickier missions. The situation is helped by the fact that, thankfully, the game supports Cross-Play between PSVR, Rift, and Vive users, meaning there’s typically no shortage of players to fill all four roles. However, since voice chat goes through all sorts of different protocols via the uPlay service, consistent communication remains a problem. Even then, that's assuming you're not stuck with someone who won't stop quoting Galaxy Quest instead of remembering to keep your ship in low-detection mode in Klingon territory.

It didn’t happen often in my time with Bridge Crew, but sometimes the stars did, in fact, align with the right kind of crew: cheerful without being overly silly, strong in their roles, intuitive enough to question an order without the bridge descending into chaos, and being just plain fun, amiable companions. And once that miracle is accomplished, you're left to contend with Bridge Crew as a game. And that game is, ultimately, a fairly milquetoast space shooter.

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The big issue really comes down to the fact that experiencing the minutiae of running a Starfleet ship is such a thin, pedantic aspect of what makes Star Trek a fascinating universe to play around in. It's always been strong character work and far-reaching sci-fi ideas and allegory that have elevated the dry space-navy material. There isn't nearly enough of the former here. The single-player campaign has a story, one that's even a decent jumping-off point from the Abrams films (albeit one that's deeply reminiscent of Mass Effect: Andromeda), but you aren’t making the truly hard decisions that define the best Starfleet captains, nor are you able to interact with your crew or even the ship outside of the bridge room in any meaningful way.

Even Trek’s infamous no-win Kobayashi Maru scenario--playable here as part of the game's introductory chapter--ends up as little more than a mindless shootout while attempting to transport the doomed vessel’s crew. The remainder of the campaign never really rises above that, content to be a game of traveling between systems, scanning areas and artifacts, transporting life forms, and fending off Klingon Birds of Prey from time to time. It's a game that crucially needs more interesting challenges that can't be solved with phasers.

It's still somewhat thrilling to inhabit the captain's chair on the bridge of a starship--at the bare minimum, Star Trek: Bridge Crew accomplishes that mission. When the game is at its best, the spirit of cooperation between various asymmetrical elements is encouraging--even special. In every other regard, however, Bridge Crew is forgettable the second you pull out of VR.

Get Even Review

What if you could re-live your memories and the memories of others to see the world through their eyes? How would that make you feel about your own life decisions? Get Even, from Polish indie studio The Farm 51, tackles those questions and more. Get Even's best element is no doubt its story. With plenty of twists and misdirection, this psychological thriller contains an emphatic and thought-provoking ending. But its gameplay, which consists of puzzle-solving and shooting, does nothing of note other than distract you along the way.

Get Even starts in dramatic, bewildering fashion. Playing as Cole Black, a former soldier with a long criminal record and cloudy motivations, you start in what looks like a creepy psychiatric hospital. You're armed only with a silenced pistol and a smartphone. You are told nothing about why you’re there or where you are, but you quickly discover that your objective is to save a young girl with a bomb strapped to her chest. After taking down the men who captured her, you try to defuse the bomb, but it goes off. Casualties are presumed. Fade to black. You then wake up with a virtual reality device strapped to your head.

Black cannot make sense of what's happened to him or why. (You might also note that he sounds just like Sean Bean, but he isn't). The story gets even more distressing from there, as you try to piece together what happened as a mysterious scientist, Red, guides you through the asylum over monitors and speakers as part of your “treatment." You eventually discover that the asylum is not all it seems, and Red’s motivations only become more murky.

The first half of Get Even is spent under the guidance of Red, who is later revealed to be a character named Ramsey. You revisit Black's memories, piecing together clues and attempting to unravel the story behind the mysterious victim. You find evidence as you explore these virtual memories, which ultimately ends up on a board scattershot with photos and newspaper clippings. You may not discover everything there is to see during your first recollection of each memory, but you're free to return at any time to find what you might have overlooked and add a new piece to the puzzle.

Your vehicle to the virtual world--the Pandora headset--is Red's life work. It allows you to be a fly on the wall in Black's memories, where you can look but you can't touch. Finding the answers you seek is complicated by memories that are maliciously corrupted. Apparently someone or something is trying to conceal the truth to make it difficult to understand what is real and what merely appears to be.

For a while, trust in your own judgement feels out of reach. It's an intriguing way to tell a story, though it can be a lot to wrap your head around as the new and complex possibilities are introduced. But it all comes together in the end for you (and Black) in a very satisfying and unexpected way.

The action in the early stages of the game revolves around puzzle-solving and a limited amount of shooting, mostly with a weapon called a CornerGun. Black steals this item from a business rival of Ramsey's, and like its name suggests, its barrel can turn 90 degrees, allowing you to shoot around corners. This is one of the more unique aspects of Get Even’s shooting. It takes some getting used to, as firing around corners can be disorienting at first. It ’s a logistical challenge to learn where you need to stand or crouch to effectively fire around a corner, and it is very satisfying when you get the hang of it. Once you do, you can sneakily creep around, taking down enemies in secret.

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When shooting the CornerGun, you must land a headshot and make sure other enemies aren't closeby or else they will be alerted to your presence and come after you in an organized way. It's a bit unforgiving, especially on the Traumatizing difficulty (of note: Traumatizing and Gentle are the only two difficulty levels.) But it's a good challenge and very satisfying when you get it right. Enemies inside Pandora vaporize when you kill them, and the action pauses for a moment as they disintegrate into shards. This is a cool-looking effect the first time, but it eventually wears out its welcome as the ensuing pause slows down the action with frustrating frequency.

Another item at Black's disposal is his smartphone. It does basic things like display text messages and play voice calls, but is also equipped with a scanner that you can use on key items to learn more about them, while a heat vision camera alerts you to nearby enemies. A Vision tab on the smartphone illuminates certain key elements based on the context of a particular scene. All of this is critical info when problem solving.

Though it's an unremarkable looking game, Get Even is backed by a wonderful soundtrack from Olivier Deriviere that heightens tension and accentuates action with pulsing, pounding electronic sounds and string instruments.

Get Even's puzzles are rarely challenging or unique, and some can be frustrating when you have to look at the environment through your cell phone; bumping into objects while staring at the phone's screen is a common annoyance. But there are a few puzzles that provide new and interesting challenges. One of the more memorable instances comes in the second half of the game, where you essentially play out a game of Clue. Using evidence like newspaper cutouts and police reports scattered in a room, you must correctly name a murder weapon, a perpetrator, and the bullet's entry wound on the victim. It's not the most difficult task, but it's exciting to play the role of an investigator and it feels satisfying when you finally solve the mystery.

Eventually, you assume control of Ramsey, and this is where the story and gameplay get even more interesting. Ramsey performs an "audit" of Black's memories to try to learn more about the events leading up the the girl in the warehouse. He wants to...get even with the people responsible.

When you're playing as Ramsey, you have even more abilities than Black, one of which is a scanner that shows you where all nearby enemies are. Ramsey isn't armed by default, but he can "assimilate" into the enemies, taking over their bodies and picking up their weapons in the process. You can sprint, but you can move even faster by warping, and when performed in rapid succession, warps allow you to get the jump on enemies in superhuman fashion.

As you play through these memories, you will feel a sense of deja vu, as you're revisiting some of the places you played through as Black, but the story is experience in a new, unique perspective way. It is sort of like The Lion King 1.5, where you see the events of The Lion King from the perspective of Timon and Pumbaa. You tap into "engrams" scattered throughout the memories to see who Black spoke with, what they talked about, and how it contributes to the girl with the bomb. The mystery of the story is key to the intrigue of Get Even, and unraveling it yourself is the best part.

Though it's an unremarkable looking game, Get Even is backed by a wonderful soundtrack from Olivier Deriviere that heightens tension and accentuates action with pulsing, pounding electronic sounds and string instruments. If you are in a memory that begins to break down, strange things can happen. In one situation, I was shooting my way through enemies and a pop song played over the action because I was going in guns-blazing instead of the quiet and controlled manner that Ramsey advised, leading to the memory breaking down and glitching. The performances of the voice actors is also notable, as lines are delivered with believable conviction and emotion, especially in the case of Ramsey.

Get Even tells a devastating story that ends with a striking M. Night Shyamalan-like twist. Interestingly, it's the most crucial part of the entire story, and you see none of it. The visuals are left entirely to the imagination, which is unexpected and impactful. It is these kinds of powerful moments that emphasize Get Even's key strength--delivering a twisting narrative that is fascinating enough to make up for its lackluster gameplay elements.

Nex Machina Review

Nex Machina is a modern revamp of Robotron 2084 in all but name, and developer Housemarque even managed to collaborate with Robotron's creator, Eugene Jarvis, to bring the high-quality homage to life. Conceptually, the two games are nearly identical, a...

Nex Machina Review

Nex Machina is a modern revamp of Robotron 2084 in all but name, and developer Housemarque even managed to collaborate with Robotron's creator, Eugene Jarvis, to bring the high-quality homage to life. Conceptually, the two games are nearly identical, a...

Impact Winter Review

Trudging through a desolate, snow-covered landscape for ten minutes, scavenging a couple of gas cans, and hiking another ten minutes back to the fire you need to fuel sounds like a chore. This series of actions is what characterizes the experience of I...

Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days Review

Quentin Tarantino made a name for himself back in the early 1990s with the release of Reservoir Dogs, but the recently released Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days doesn't come close to reaching the same heights. It amounts to nothing more than a predictable t...

The Fidelio Incident Review

After the fateful plane crash that kicks off The Fidelio Incident, the panicked wife of our protagonist begs him to find the pages of a diary lost after impact, exclaiming, “They can’t find out who we are!” That statement ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy for a game that, outside of first-person exploration, seems confused about what it really wants to be.

In part, The Fidelio Incident is a loose, modern interpretation of the Beethoven opera referenced in its title: a heroic tale of a faithful wife disguising herself as a man to rescue her falsely imprisoned husband. It's certainly a narrative we don't see terribly often in games, but alas, the only strong ties back to the opera here are the names of our main characters--Leonore and Stanley (Florestan in the opera)--and one particular bit of backstory found halfway through the game.

But there's an even more unique narrative about the Northern Ireland Conflict afoot, using Stanley and Leonore's burgeoning relationship in the mid-1980s as an access point to explore what 30 years of ugly, small-scale warfare can do to a country and its populace. This aspect at least gets a bit more room to breathe in The Fidelio Incident, delivered as part of Leonore's scattered diary and Stanley's own hallucinatory flashbacks, but this, too, ends up a secondary concern.

Ultimately, all of this is really the window dressing for a graphically impressive but mechanically undercooked journey where Stanley seeks to rescue Leonore after their prop plane crashes and burns in a freezing, desolate area of Iceland. Leonore ends up trapped under the smoldering ruins on a mountaintop. Meanwhile, Stanley is stranded at the mountain's base and has to take the long way up, braving deadly sub-zero temperatures and looking for life-saving heat sources.

This ends up being the crux of the game: Stanley moving up the mountain, on foot, while trying to stay warm. It’s a "struggle" that turns out to be conveniently easy; the plane crash has strewn fiery debris across the entire area, steam geysers are rampant, and a seemingly abandoned scientific research facility still has enough working mechanisms to let Stanley turn up the heat with the twist of a valve.

The turning of valves ends up being the core gameplay mechanic, supporting the rudimentary puzzles that dominate The Fidelio Incident's brief playtime. For example, turning a newfound valve will create a new heat source, which will lead you to the next checkpoint. Lacking in real challenge, the valve-based puzzles are an unimaginative substitute for any number of other survival tactics that could’ve been employed--although, ironically, every attempt made to momentarily shake things up also falls flat. One of the game's scant attempts to introduce variety to the formula is a puzzle involving a hailstorm that's unrealistically localized to a small area of the mountain, an odd choice that forcefully breaks your immersion in the otherwise natural and believable setting.

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The fact that much of the game's story is delivered via diary pages--pages that so conveniently happened to fall unscathed next to scattered pieces of burning debris--feels similarly contrived, but the tale told within those diary pages tends to be when the game springs to life. Leonore's rapturous Irish lilt tells a tale of young love and attraction that, thanks to political and familial strife and one major, playable shocker of a criminal act, turns elegiac and regretful leading up to the present day. The Stanley and Leonore stranded on the mountain are middle-aged adults at the stage of their relationship where they're together because they don't know how to be with anyone else.

Their identities are further reinforced by strong vocal performances from Glenn Keogh and Bess Harrison. Stanley states the obvious with the fierce, all-encompassing realization of what he stands to lose if he can't locate his wife. And Leonore, hot-blooded and larger than life in the pages of the diary, is now tiny and frightened coming over Stanley's radio. The activities you engage in may be lacking, but the motivation to get through them is strong thanks to the sheer force of emotion.

Still, The Fidelio Incident being nice to look at and listen to doesn't necessarily make it interesting to play. The haunting, frozen vistas and enthralling backstory constantly trip over uninspired gameplay. Though there’s a measure of forgiveness to be had considering the length of the experience, even that concession is fragile in light of the obvious disparity that exists in the quality of the narrative and the gameplay that's forced upon it.