Entries by GameSpot Reviewer

The Town Of Light Review

The Town Of Light feels like a victim of its own design. While it tells an interesting albeit disturbing story of mental health treatment in the early 1900s, it's plagued by repetitious gameplay, long load times, and visual issues that hold it back from delivering the impact it strives to deliver.

Based on real accounts from the 1930s and '40s, The Town of Light focuses on Renee, a young woman who's suffered from severe mental illness for the majority of her life. Her struggle began with sporadic blackouts as a child and eventually developed into bouts of anxiety and the sounds of strange voices in her head. Pushed over the edge by the horrors of a sexual assault, Renee is callously committed to the real-world Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra, an understaffed, overcrowded asylum in the Tuscan town of Volterra, Italy.

You assume control of Renee after the fact; at a time when the asylum has long been abandoned. She's a somewhat unreliable narrator, failing to recall exactly what occurred during her tenure at the asylum. The vast majority of your time is spent wandering the halls and grounds of the large hospital, piecing together what happened to Renee during her stint. You revisit sites of traumatic events, discover and study pages from her journal, and page through medical records, which offer eye-opening insight into the horrifying, violent ways mentally ill patients were treated nearly a century ago.

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While The Town of Light struggles with portraying the ways in which people cope with mental health issues, it at least makes piecing Renee's story together an interesting process. The twists and turns therein are paced well enough that you'll remain engaged throughout. Some exposition may be drip-fed to players through found documents and the like, while big story beats are presented as hand-drawn cutscenes. Each method is linked to a different part of Renee's story, whether it’s recalling the doctors who abused her, the fellow female patient who helped her explore her own sexuality, or the circumstances that led to her hospitalization in the first place.

These moments are carried by solid art direction; letters are detailed and appear to be written by hand. Flipping through Renee's journal reveals a number of dark and thought-provoking drawings that supplement the anecdote she's sharing. Despite the generally static presentation, the game's hand-drawn cutscenes utilize a unique crosshatched, watercolor style. When it comes to the The Town of Light's tiny details, there's plenty to admire despite the heavy context that surrounds it.

While the hospital is large, with tons of rooms to explore to find the aforementioned narrative tidbits, the drab and ugly environments do take their toll, and not in a way that reinforces Renee's tragic story. For the majority of the game, you'll walk through the same hallways filled with similar-looking rooms looking for scraps of evidence, guided only by vague objectives. This persists until the last third of the game, when you step outside the asylum's walls--a turn that isn't as uplifting as it sounds.

At first you're sent to the asylum's outer grounds to examine headstones in a graveyard, but you're then transported into a cognitive labyrinth in Renee's mind. You'll walk endlessly, trying in vain to figure out where to go and what to do next. Suddenly and for no explicable reason, you're sent back into the asylum. Both of these sections are confusingly designed, stretching on far longer than feels necessary. It's at this stage that The Town of Light stops being an interesting examination of a troubled mind, and becomes a frustrating game that may not be worth completing after all.

At least on Xbox One, all of this is made worse by poor technical performance. There are consistent frame rate issues when you're exploring outside the asylum, where turning in any direction also results in noticeable screen tearing. Load times are equally off-putting, stretching on for upwards of a minute at a time. This is also the case within menus, where opening up the collectibles screen comes at the cost of about a 30-second wait.

It's disappointing to see The Town of Light struggle so often, because the story it presents is both harrowing and captivating at times. While there's an interesting narrative to be found in its world, the moment-to-moment gameplay and repetitive environments impose an unavoidable malaise. Given the fact that the game is based on actual accounts of psychiatric treatment in the early 1900s, you might be better off looking up the real stories that inspired The Town of Light rather than forcing your way through a version of them here.

Steel Division: Normandy '44 Review

Steel Division: Normandy '44 is a very peculiar sort of real-time strategy game. Instead of trying to encapsulate hundreds of years of history or even the entirety of a single war, Steel Division is all about the specifics. Your pool of units is limited to a few key types. The rest is emergent--these soldiers and their gear were designed to work in tandem, so you'll need to as well. But that leads to beautiful match pacing and aggressive fights that hinge on your intelligence and your mastery of the battlefield.

As you might have guessed, given the name, Steel Division centers on the lead-up to (and resolution of) the 1944 Normandy beach invasion in World War II--better known as "D-Day." What's a bit more surprising, though, is the game's exhaustive approach to detail. The whole of the French countryside has been accurately reproduced here with the help of Royal Air Force reconnaissance photos of the time. For the purposes of play, that means real-world schemes work just as well here.

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That, plus the fact that Steel Division comes from hardcore strategy publisher Paradox Interactive, might lead you to think the game isn't inviting to new players. Thankfully, however, that's not the case. Steel Division may layer on meta-strategy later on, but the basics are rather simple. You'll be working with the standard array of tanks, vehicles, infantry, and artillery. The game includes dozens of variants of each, based on different historical divisions and nations, but as far as the single-player mode goes, that's all you need to know.

Matches focus entirely on how well you leverage each of these units' strengths and use them as an interdependent network. There's no base-building or resource management to pad this out. You aren't getting big unit upgrades or fiddling with new supply lines. You have one "resource" that builds up over time, and you spend it to deploy new units. You order up troops, you pick where you want them, and that's it. It's fortunate, then, that this foundation is more than strong enough to carry the experience.

Steel Division gets a lot of mileage out of some very simple concepts. On any given map, you're only managing about 10 different unit types. With those, you'll be either holding an area or heading off to kill some guys--defense or offense. Units counter one another in a simple, self-explanatory order. Anti-tank infantry is for taking out tanks, of course--put them where you don't want tanks rolling. That may sound flippant, but it's not. Each of these units aligns their real-world equivalent so well that your task might be simple, but the outcome won't be. While you’re setting up your heavy infantry, your foe is no doubt preparing their artillery to pin down your anti-tank rifles.

This works because the game limits ammunition, forcing you to resupply every so often, and those units are, as you might suspect, squishy. This forces you to divert resources to supply critical positions you hold and means that you’re always a little bit vulnerable. It’s impossible to perfectly secure your trucks, but foes won’t always know where you'll come from. There’s a psychological element here that elevates the stakes and complexity of play. The sum of those elements working in tandem is some ferocious blood sport.

The adrenaline of pulling together a coordinated attack is priceless, and Steel Division is all about chaining these moments together, directed as they are by an aggressive tie to historical realism.

You'll have to constantly scan the field, checking up on unit progress and making sure they have enough munitions. It's a lot of micromanagement, but there's enough tactical diversity that it works. Most matches will have you rapidly switching between softening up sturdy targets so that you can secure a new location and running door-to-door to clear out homes with your infantry. Success takes constant vigilance over the field.

For the most part, that's not too hard to manage. The campaign, which is broken up into three sections with four missions in each, doesn't tax the mind too hard too fast. Instead, you'll get a steady introduction to more advanced concepts--like the ludicrously detailed sightlines and how you can and need to use each unit's sphere of awareness to your advantage. You'll play with their use and application a bit before moving onto a new lesson. It teaches you well enough, but it really just serves as a lead into the multiplayer and that mode is raucous fun.

Steel Division lets you group up into teams of up to nine human players, and that dramatically increases the complexity of your tactics. You can apply pressure to enemies by leading them through elaborate ambushes or pulling together an aggressive pincer flank. You'll notice, however, that there's not a lot to be done with defense--that due to the fact that, without bases as a center of power, there's nothing that really needs defending directly. Your necessities are ad hoc: Secure this point so that you can field an assault from that one, for example. This reflects the mobility of the Normandy assault and that neither side was keen on settling in for a drawn-out, bloody fight.

You may scoff at that, though, after your first few multiplayer games. Games with other humans (or even AI) can run on any of several maps that can scale up to positively ridiculous sizes. They exist to encourage dynamic, emergent stories. A hamlet locked down by machine guns and flamethrowers could be a ploy to lure an armored assault, letting you counter with a barrage of heavy artillery. Being at once divorced from the realism of the Second World War and intimately tied to its combatants, location, and gear means that you can arrange high-stakes scenarios that no commander would orchestrate. That leads to some incredible moments when the ploys do actually work out. If they don't, your front may collapse, but a steady stream of resources means you'll probably be able to mount some type of defense in short order.

That synergy leads to its own sort of intra-game pacing. At first, players will all be jockeying for position, but as they settle in, attacks become directed and concentrated--especially with teammates. Then the match shifts to center on how you can best capitalize on openings you've created without overreacting. Overcommitting soldiers can strain your ability to supply them with ammunition--meaning you may earn a temporary foothold in a new spot, but you'll have to be active to make it last. Similarly, swinging too hard against an enemy will turn you into easy pickings. While most strategy games lean on rock-paper-scissors combat pretty heavily, rarely is the difference in effectiveness so pronounced. Artillery shreds vehicles so fast, you'd think the targets might as well have been tissue paper. There’s a solid counter to everything, and the challenge becomes finding that solution and deploying it well in countless different micro-scenarios.

Pinning down enemies with suppressing fire is a blast. So, too, is a well-executed offensive that cracks and divides enemy front lines. The adrenaline of pulling together a coordinated attack is priceless, and Steel Division is all about chaining these moments together, directed as they are by an aggressive tie to historical realism. If there's one failing here, it's that the game doesn't offer many chances to explore that rich field on your own before jumping into multiplayer matches. But when it all comes together in the perfect match, Steel Division's magic is undeniable.

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Dirt 4 Review

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Tekken 7 Review

The Tekken series has a long-standing reputation in arcades, but for many players it was the console ports that left a lasting impression. These versions often introduced offbeat, dramatic story campaigns, as well as more extensive additions such as delightfully odd beat-’em-up and sport modes. And in recent years, the goal of unlocking and customizing outfits for the game's large cast rounded out the most rewarding objective of all: getting good. Tekken 7 keeps most of these traditions alive and once again delivers the tight, hard-hitting action for which the series is known. The game has some server-stability issues at launch, but it's otherwise a great sequel that confidently claims its position among the best fighting games today.

Similar to other 3D Fighters like Dead or Alive and Virtua Fighter, Tekken 7 focuses on utilizing space and lateral movement during combat. By and large this is a game of inches; most fighters punch, kick, and grapple up close to one another and there's little margin for error. A moment of indecision or a sloppy move against a more skilled player can lead to a string of pummeling strikes and a hasty defeat, courtesy of the game's long combo strings. Though Tekken 7 can be punishing, its fighting system isn't as difficult to get into as it lets on. With an intuitive control scheme that assigns one button to each limb, you can learn how to attack and retaliate, step by step. The long-term trick is putting in the time to dissect and memorize your favorite character's moveset to hone your reflexes and diversify your tactics.

The biggest complaint you can lob at Tekken 7 is that it doesn't do a good job of explaining the intricacies of its mechanics, let alone how you should approach learning your character of choice. The move lists for each character often hover around 100 entries, serving as a mix of one-off special attacks and combos. Save for a few icons--which represent attack properties that the game also fails to thoroughly explain--lists are disorganized, with no categories or hierarchy to speak of. The best you can do is hop into training mode and shift from one move to the next. Thankfully, you can scroll through attack hints live, during practice, and without repeatedly entering menus.

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None of this is to say that Tekken 7 is too deep, which would be a ridiculous complaint--the depth of its roster and fighting styles is to your benefit. The point is that new players will have very little help learning anything beyond the basics once they jump into battle. This is disappointing, given that other fighting games have demonstrated that the best way to retain new players is by giving them a fighting chance, and the lack of instruction is odd for Tekken, which only one game prior (Tekken Tag Tournament 2) gave players Fight Lab mode--a place to study how mechanics and different types of attacks can dictate the flow of a match.

But if this isn't your first King of Iron Fist tournament and you've kept up with Tekken over its more than 20-year tenure, you’ll find that Tekken 7 delivers the same great combat you know and love with a hefty batch of new characters--and a few new mechanics. The game includes notable new supermoves that can be triggered when a character's health is dangerously low, which is also the right time to unleash a rage drive--a powered-up standard combo attack. The most important new addition is the power crush attack attribute: Relevant attacks can absorb incoming hits mid-animation, allowing you to risk a little health to increase your chances of landing a critical blow, which injects Tekken's otherwise familiar fights with a renewed element of surprise.

With more than 30 playable characters, Tekken 7 offers plenty of fighters and opponents to study. Impressively, nearly a quarter of the roster is brand new. The most conspicuous Tekken freshman must be Akuma, the red-haired bad guy of Street Fighter fame. The introduction of fireballs and hurricane kicks might seem like an odd fit for Tekken, but they don't feel overpowered in light of the fact that every character comes with their own advantages. And when it comes to facing down Akuma's projectiles specifically, they can be easily sidestepped given the game's 3D movement. Street Fighter fans will appreciate how easy it is to fight as Akuma, since many of his traditional moves and inputs are present and accounted for. Even Street Fighter's meter-based mechanics have been carried over for his Tekken debut.

Interestingly, Akuma also plays a pivotal role in the main story mode. Hailed as the final chapter in the series' long-running story of martial-arts papa Heihachi Mishima and his quarrelling family, Tekken 7's narrative will delight Tekken veterans, especially when the oft-referenced-but-never-before-seen Kazumi Mishima breaks onto the stage. The only major downfall here is the robotic and stale narrator, a reporter covering the Mishima family. His delivery is too shallow to take seriously and not witty enough to make his deadpan cadance funny. You may also notice that some fights seem arbitrarily difficult along the way, but thanks to the gift of shortcut commands for powerful attacks--a system referred to as Story Assist--they’re more of a temporary annoyance than a barrier.

Beyond the two to three hours spent on the main story, every character not present therein gets their own brief chapter, limited to a short text intro, a single fight, and a unique ending cutscene. Not all are created equal, but there are gems to find that are purposefully awkward and light-hearted--the perfect complement to Tekken's pervasive melodrama. Fans of the alien samurai Yoshimitsu will, for example, appreciate how he's initially humanized and made vulnerable, only to be subsequently kneed in the groin by the object of his affection.

Tekken 7 lives up to the series' penchant for tongue-in-cheek shenanigans and generously gives you access to the series' entire back catalog of cutscenes, from the very first Tekken's low-res clips all the way to background movies made specifically for Japanese pachinko machines. There’s a lot of Tekken history to unlock, and the collection is a wonderful trip down memory lane.

Using Fight Money earned by playing the game's various modes you can purchase both cutscenes and cosmetic items for characters. Tekken 7 offers a lot of basic variations of hairstyles or glasses to buy, and an equal amount of stranger outfits and accessories--including neon butterfly wings, a floating clownfish companion, and automatic rifles, to name a few. While you certainly don't need to dress fighters up in ridiculous outfits, doing so will give you a new appreciation for how comfortable Tekken 7 is in its own skin. It's a hardcore, demanding fighting game, but it's also happy to be the butt of its own jokes.

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Items--so-called "treasure"--can also be unlocked rather than purchased within the Treasure Battle mode, which puts you in a series of fights with increasing rewards and challenges. There's also training mode and an arcade mode where you can practice your moves, but Treasure Battle is easily the most attractive way to spend your off-time in Tekken 7. If you're going to practice before hopping online to fight, you might as well have something to show for it.

A few days after launch, Tekken 7's online modes are experiencing a few issues across all platforms, and while these are mostly isolated to ranked matches, it's not uncommon to lose connections in casual matches, either. It's an issue that publisher Bandai Namco is aware of and plans to patch, but at the moment, it's not always easy to get into a match unless you're willing to hammer attempts for minutes on end. When you're eventually able to get into a match, pray that it's over a better-than-average connection; Tekken 7 becomes a slide show online under lesser conditions.

Notwithstanding that ranked matches are currently a crapshoot, Tekken 7 remains an easy game to recommend. Its diverse roster is packed with a wide range of personalities and fighting styles, bolstered by a raucous attitude that begs to be taken seriously while simultaneously mocking its more peculiar whims in the process. Tekken fans will find their next favorite game--one that's the product of decade's worth of refinement. And while some of this depth will be lost or out of reach for newcomers, there's enough fun to be had outside of hardcore competition to keep players from all walks of gaming thoroughly entertained.