Posts

LA Noire Switch Review

When it first released in 2011, L.A. Noire was an anomaly; its facial capture tech was an innovative showcase of animation, and it’s focus on slower-paced interrogation puzzles widely contrasted the big-budget shooters of the time. Six years later, the game has surprisingly managed to make its way onto Switch. While a few sacrifices were made in performance and graphical fidelity to get L.A. Noire running, the ambitious spirit of this stylistic 1940s-era detective adventure remains.

L.A. Noire’s principal 21 cases are all present, including all of its DLC cases. As budding LAPD detective Cole Phelps, you spend the bulk of your time gathering evidence, interrogating suspects, and making accusations. Phelps is a fascinating, yet morally flawed, character whose checkered past is compelling to see unfold as the story goes on. The cases you solve remain interesting and well-paced, balancing slower, more meticulous investigative moments with brief shootouts and vehicular/on-foot chases. On Switch, the game controls as well as it did on previous generation consoles, especially when playing docked with a Pro Controller. It also offers motion and touch controls, which are welcome additions that make L.A. Noire feel more involved. Motion controls allow you to use the right Joy-Con to control the camera and physically manipulate objects you pick up, while touch controls command Phelps where to go and what investigate by simply tapping the screen. However, both control schemes don’t feel as functional as playing with a traditional gamepad setup.

Interrogations often lead to many of the game's most tense and captivating moments.
Interrogations often lead to many of the game’s most tense and captivating moments.
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

While L.A. Noire’s story and varied pacing are some of its most exceptional aspects, where it truly shines is in its interrogation sequences. Armed with your intellect and the wealth of evidence you collect during your investigations, questioning suspects and seeing through their facial ticks to expose their secrets lead to many of the game’s most tense and captivating moments. The facial animations hold up well, displaying a level of realism that’s still impressive. And with top-notch performances from its facial capture actors, interrogations are just as absorbing and believable.

In a subtle change from the original, interrogation options have been changed from “Truth,” “Doubt,” and “Lie” to “Good Cop,” “Bad Cop,” and “Accuse.” The new naming scheme helps to give you a better understanding of Cole’s behavior towards a suspect’s testimony, which was difficult to gauge in the original. The renewed context is particularly useful when a suspect is playing coy, where it makes sense that using the more forceful “Bad Cop” approach would root out more information. However, the new terminology isn’t perfect. There are situations where it isn’t specific enough; this is apparent when responding with “Good Cop”, where the option seems to lean more towards believing the suspect rather than following proper police protocol. Despite this occasional issue, interrogations are consistently rewarding, often requiring critical thinking and sharp judgment to complete perfectly.

There still isn't much to do in the game's faithful recreation of 1940s-era Los Angeles.
There still isn’t much to do in the game’s faithful recreation of 1940s-era Los Angeles.

L.A. Noire’s finer qualities are maintained, but its notable shortcomings also persist. Movement is a bit clunky during shootouts, and there are plenty of useless filler objects to sift through during crime scene investigations. But the most glaring issue lies in the game’s recreation of 1940s-era Los Angeles, which is authentic but doesn’t offer much to do outside of main missions and random street crime activities. New hidden collectables in the form of books and records have been added to the Switch version to encourage exploration, but it’s not made clear that these items exist nor does the game encourage you to seek them out.

These issues don’t do much to detract from the experience at large, especially considering how well the game runs and how good it looks. Visuals are reminiscent of the original version, only sporting new jagged edges, fluctuating textures, and noticeably weaker draw distances and dynamic lighting effects in some instances. However, these issues are less apparent when playing the game undocked, where it runs and looks the best.

No Caption Provided

Even considering L.A. Noire’s age, it’s a wonder that the game can be played on Switch.

On the other hand, frame rate maintains a steady 30 frames per second, only drastically dipping when surrounded by multiple NPCs or vehicles while on foot. Though, it’s not a deal breaker, seeing as the game consistently performs well during the moments where it matters, like during investigations, interrogations, and car chases.

Even considering L.A. Noire’s age, it’s a wonder that the game can be played on Switch. While nowhere near as technically striking as seeing Doom run on the console, there’s still something special about playing what was once such an ambitious game on last-generation consoles in the palm of your hand. And the game lends itself well to the platform; the bite-sized length of missions makes it a great fit for playing on the go.

If sharper visuals and higher frame rate are huge factors in your enjoyment, then you’re better off playing L.A. Noire on PS4 and Xbox One, which sport added bells and whistles that elevate the game’s performance. But if you’re charmed by the idea of experiencing it portably, then L.A. Noire on Switch comes recommended. It may not work the best under pressure, but it’s well worth replaying or experiencing for the first time on Nintendo’s convertible console.

Football Manager 2018 Review

With each passing year, Sports Interactive iterates on the long-standing fundamentals of its Football Manager series. A slight tweak here and there: applying some ease of use adjustments, or tinkering with the 3D match engine–like a manager moving pieces around a whiteboard. Some of these tweaks might not become evident until you’ve spent hundreds of hours entrenched in the virtual dugout, while others may only affect those eccentric enough to deploy a tactic featuring a Raumdeuter. In Football Manager 2018, minor refinements are similarly sprinkled throughout; but, crucially, there’s also a significant new addition, and other impactful overhauls, that are palpable from the get-go, profoundly changing the way you manage and interact with your team on a daily basis.

The first of these is a new module called Dynamics that focuses on the topsy-turvy world of player morale. The concept of squad happiness has existed in Football Manager since the early days, but the cause and effect of your actions was previously hidden behind an algorithm we weren’t privy to, which made managing your player’s mood a case of pure guesswork and gradually learning through repetition. That all changes in FM 2018, as each interaction with your squad now has a clear, defined outcome that helps keep your chosen group of expensive primadonnas in check. A detailed hierarchy displaying your team leaders and most influential players advises you on who not to annoy; social groups determine which individuals sit around the breakfast table with each other based on parameters like their shared nationality and how long they’ve been at the club; and myriad other menus track your player’s individual mood, their confidence in you, and the consequences all of these variables has on team chemistry.

Click image to view in full screen
Click image to view in full screen
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

A harmonious squad generally leads to better results on the pitch, with the team’s collective mental state contributing to the quality of their positioning, vision, and reactions during the course of a match–making it imperative for you to maintain your team’s high spirits if you have any notions of success. Football is a results-based business after all, and player power is definitely a factor in FM 2018. If the squad is displeased with how you’re doing on match days, or how you’re handling their various personalities off the pitch, you’re liable to find yourself unemployed. Thankfully, with the addition of a hierarchy and social groups, there’s a surfeit of valuable information guiding your decision making that helps you understand how to handle different types of player.

If a rugged team leader comes into your office complaining about a lack of playing time, you’re going to have to weigh up the risks of introducing him to the starting line-up when he might be off form, or face incurring a potential player revolt if you turn him down and piss him off. Conversely, if a player on the lower rungs of the hierarchy comes to see you with the same issue, telling him he’ll have to remain patient is less likely to upset even a small portion of the dressing room, and may not bother anyone at all. Admittedly, conversing with players in FM still lacks the subtlety of believable human interactions, but with all of this new information on hand, player reactions appear more logical than ever, and keeping influential players onside will ensure there are fewer unhappy players knocking on your door. It’s a fun, personable new module to toy with, and it emboldens Football Manager’s recent focus on the human side of the beautiful game.

Meanwhile, an overhauled medical centre places an increased emphasis on Sports Scientists, with each one providing you with crucial information on how and why your players are suffering from injuries, and how you can counteract their pulled hamstrings and twisted ankles from occurring too frequently. If there’s a busy period coming up where you’ve got, say, three matches in seven days, you’ll be advised on which players are most at risk of sustaining injuries from the wear and tear of successive action. It forces you to be more proactive with your training schedules and player selection, as you’re encouraged to adjust the intensity of training sessions on a week-by-week basis, and intelligently rotate your team in an attempt to keep your squad healthy without sacrificing results, (which also ties into Dynamics and how you can maintain squad harmony through frugal management of your team’s playing time).

The 3D match engine does continue its steady progression after a poor showing in FM 2016–and the same can be said of this series as a whole.

Dynamics also factors into FM 2018’s improved scouting system. When it comes to finding new players, you’re now able to set a scouting budget: spend more and you’ll cast your net wider; spend less and you can rely purely on the existing knowledge of your scouts. However much you spend, the process of unearthing new talent is slow. Your scouts will gradually build a picture of the type of player you’re looking at, represented by a rating out of 100 that covers their attributes and also the type of personality they are. A player might be good enough from the statistical side of things, but will they gel with your squad? Maybe they don’t fit into any social groups, or maybe they carry too much influence and will risk upsetting the balance of your dressing room. These are the types of things you have to consider when signing a new player, and it makes each transfer window much more engaging.

AI logic has been modified, too, ensuring other teams are smarter at handing their transfer business. You’re unlikely to see the likes of PSG spending ludicrous amounts of money to stockpile talent they’re only going to leave rotting on the bench–as has been the case in previous years. Transfer fees and budgets have also skyrocketed to reflect these astronomical times, with teams (particularly in the Premier League) holding out for more money for even the most marginal of talents.

When it comes to assembling your team on the pitch, the tactical interface is relatively unchanged. There are new player roles like the Carrilero and Mezzala, and more player instructions–such as the opportunity to direct your central midfielders into wider areas–that give you more options when it comes to establishing your team’s playing style. But it’s disappointing that this aspect of Football Manager hasn’t seen any substantial developments. Building your tactical plan is still far too rigid and restrictive, and would benefit from giving you more control over how your team functions, particularly during specific phases of play. The current tactical interface is serviceable, and there’s now a plethora of useful analysis that pinpoints the strengths and weaknesses of your setup, but a more robust system would elevate this aspect of the series in a crucial way.

Once you emerge out of the tunnel, the 3D match engine is at least better at demonstrating how each team follows your tactical setup. Any adjustments you make mid-match are immediately tangible, and players have enhanced intelligence all over the pitch. You’ll see strikers timing their runs behind the defensive line, players opening up their bodies to curl Thierry Henry-esque finishes into the bottom corner, and midfielders will generally play a more expansive brand of football–if you let them. There are still baffling moments where players will inexplicably stop dead in their tracks, which is particularly troublesome in defence. And goalkeepers are still inconsistent–one moment they’re saving everything that’s thrown at them, the next they’re palming a daisycutter into their own net. It’s certainly not perfect, then, but the 3D match engine does continue its steady progression after a poor showing in FM 2016–and the same can be said of this series as a whole.

For a game that’s so consuming you might not even realise the sun’s gone down, it feels almost irresponsible to proclaim that giving you more things to do is a resounding positive. Yet the way these new and overhauled systems coalesce with Football Manager’s deep and emotional fundamentals is fantastic. The series’ propensity for telling emergent stories has only increased with this emphasis on player personalities and morale, and it bleeds into every other facet of Football Manager 2018’s design, from transfers and injuries, to team selection and tactical considerations. These are changes that tilt the simulation closer to reality with captivating aplomb, and ensure that the armchair managers among us are kept busy for another whirlwind 12 months of 40-yard screamers and cup final heartbreak.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Switch Review

Six years after its release, Skyrim still manages to be relevant. Between the 2016 remaster, the upcoming VR version, and now a Switch port, it’s hard to forget about The Elder Scrolls V, and that’s a testament to how absorbing an RPG it is. With the addition of instant portability on Switch, it’s even harder to put this high quality port down.

Skyrim is one of the best Switch ports currently available, though it’s not too surprising considering the game’s age. It runs smoothly with a rock-solid frame rate both in smaller spaces and in the overworld. Text can be a little small when playing in handheld mode, though it still performs and plays as well as it does docked and with a Pro Controller. The newly introduced motion controls are all optional as well; wagging a Joy-Con will swing melee weapons, and you can use motion to fine-tune your aim with your bow. Skyrim does retain the glitches it has always been known (and loved) for, though, including bizarre NPC pathing problems. In our 10 hours testing the game, we didn’t find any new bugs, so it’s just the silly weirdness you might remember.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9

The main addition on Switch is Amiibo compatibility, which nets you extra treasure and works well within the existing game. Amiibo use is nested in the magic menu under powers, and you have to cast it the way you would any other power before tapping the Amiibo to the NFC reader. Like in Breath of the Wild, using an Amiibo isn’t a guarantee of good loot–in this case, Zelda Amiibo give you a chance to get Link’s Breath of the Wild tunic, the Master Sword, and the Hylian Shield, though you might get a chest filled with arrows, random weapons and armor, or an assortment of meats instead. You can use each Amiibo once per day, but we were able to get all the cool gear in one day using a few Zelda Amiibo around the office. As a bonus, the gear is better than any of the early-game weapons and armor you can get, and you can easily sell off the other loot you don’t want.

The quality of the port aside, Skyrim has certainly aged since it first released in 2011. On top of the jankiness of movement and NPC interaction, there are a few outdated things that might be hard to contend with. Most glaringly, the oft-maligned sword-and-shield combat is still underwhelming, since it never felt great to clumsily swing a sword around to begin with. Certain recurring dialogue that has ascended to meme status can be grating, too, provided you’ve heard it enough. There’s also no mod support currently, so if you’re used to the user-created quality-of-life mods available on PC and other console versions, it can be weird to go back to regular old Skyrim, even if you still find its quirks and more old-fashioned aspects charming.

Skyrim is one of the best Switch ports currently available.

But everything great about Skyrim is preserved here as well. Pursue whatever it is you want to–whether it’s just completing the main story or stealing as much cheese as you can carry–and you’re all but guaranteed to find interesting stories along the way. Progressing through its still very deep skill tree is a huge but satisfying endeavor in figuring out exactly how you want to play (though magic- and archery-based combat specializations are preferable). There’s so much to do in Skyrim that it’s likely you haven’t done it all yet, and because it’s now portable, you can pick it up and play for shorter bursts that can easily turn into hours.

The original version of Skyrim is still an immense, engrossing RPG, and the quality, number, and variety of its quests makes it as easy to become lost in its world as ever. With the addition of Zelda-themed gear that’s actually useful–and the fact that you can play anywhere–the Switch version of Skyrim is a great excuse to revisit a much-loved RPG.

Ashes Cricket Review

Very few sports struggle to survive the transition from real-life to video game like cricket does. Cricket is perceived as slow and long; some might even call it a little bit boring. Cricket video games have often suffered similar problems, often weighed down by cumbersome, complex controls and glacial pacing when compared to the likes of a FIFA or a Madden. Ashes Cricket suffers some of these inherent problems as well as a few of its own making, but also manages to capture the heart of the game in a way that few have achieved before. Despite some poor presentation and a handful of bugs, fans of the sport will find Ashes Cricket a good way to enjoy the virtual sound of leather on willow.

For those of you not from Commonwealth nations, The Ashes is the name of a series of five, day-long matches held between Australia and England that has been going on for well over a hundred years, and serves as this game’s flagship mode, with fully licenced men’s and women’s squads from both nations. If a full test series seems a little intimidating, there’s no shortage of other variants to play. Casual matches are quick and easy to set up, allowing you to get into a Test, 50 over, or 20 over match with total ease. You can go online and play a match with some mates, jump into the nets for some training, or if you want something completely different, you can create your own match type in the match editor, which lets you change up almost every facet of the game to your heart’s content. You can even create your own stadium, defining everything from the grandstands and the pavilion, down to the individual roads that lead into the grounds. While I can’t imagine everyone getting a kick out of being able to make their own stadium, it’s great to see this level of customisation offered out of the box.

But when it comes to playing the Ashes series, the emphasis is on the licensed Australian and English teams, who all match their real world likenesses. However, it’s on this visual level where Ashes Cricket’s flaws start to show. Players lack any kind of nuanced facial animations, so they tend to maintain a steely, thousand-yard stare at all times. Animation quality varies throughout; while core actions like batting, bowling, and some field movements look top notch and smooth, transitions between animations can be problematic. On more than one occasion I had a batsman run out because they took too long to turn around and get their bat back over the crease, something which I had no control over at the time because they were on the opposite end of the wicket. Losing a key player in a moment like this can be not only hugely frustrating, but it can change the face of a match as well. This can also be a problem in the field, where slow animations when chasing down the ball can leave you begging for a little more effort from your players.

Lack of a full license means all the other national teams–any country that’s not Australia or England–as well as club and state teams are sadly filled up with fantasy players instead of their real-life counterparts. However, through the player and team editor modes, the community is encouraged to create their own squads, and this is backed up by the inclusion of a Get Best button which automatically downloads all the highest rated community made players for that team. It’s not as ideal as having fully licensed squads, but it’s one way to creatively circumvent the problem.

The worst part of the lacklustre presentation is the in-game commentary. It is irredeemably bad, to the point where I can only recommend turning it off and saving yourself the pain. When they aren’t busy making incomplete calls, they are making entirely incorrect ones, all while sounding bored out of their minds. What makes everything even worse is the fact that the team is voiced by professional, real-world commentators.

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

Thankfully, the act of playing the sport in Ashes Cricket is enjoyable. The full career mode lets you create a brand new player and skill them up through the ranks, from club and state/county level cricket all the way up to fighting for international selection. Playing and performing well in matches will reward you with SP, which is spent on raising your player’s skills, and in turn, helps raise your player’s profile and chances of selection for the national team. It’s one of the most engaging game modes thanks to its depth, modelling the full, real-world club/county cricket structure.

How you engage with career matches is also completely up to you. You can choose to take control of the full squad or just your player for each match, which significantly changes how a match plays out based on whether you’re a batter, bowler, or an all-rounder. While controlling a full squad gives you complete control, playing as a single player feels much more focused. A batter will rarely, if ever, have to worry about bowling, so you can elect to skip the fielding portion of the game entirely, taking control only when your player comes onto the pitch to bat their innings. Letting players focus on specific parts of the game works well as a way of keeping play progression moving along steadily, without getting bogged down by the sport’s arduous match lengths.

And while the game’s worst moments make an appearance on the field, the parts that do work both feel good and capture the moment-to-moment nature of the sport that makes it so alluring. Controls for batting, bowling, and fielding feel intuitive, save some slight inconsistencies, with two distinct control variations available to pick from: standard or classic. While the standard controls rely more on timing your button presses when batting and bowling, the classic variety instead relies on use of the two thumbsticks to control the action. Classic controls feel just right for batting, giving you the most flexibility, whereas for bowling the standard controls felt more intuitive. You can mix up control styles however you please, but ultimately it doesn’t matter which you choose, because smashing a bowler to the boundary or taking a batsman’s stumps out of the ground with a swinging fastball feels nothing short of fantastic in either mode. Appealing for a wicket is left to the player to handle, though, and the game doesn’t do a great job of communicating this. Caught behinds, lbw’s and run outs all require an appeal and while I enjoyed being able to control this, more automated help could be offered for novice players in this regard.

No Caption Provided

A lot of the field work is handled semi-automatically, with the closest fielder chasing down the ball on their own, and the player then choosing which end of the wicket to throw the ball too. But the speed and trajectory with which the ball is flung back to the wicket feels inconsistent as sometimes the ball will come back hard and fast, other times it’ll be a harmless lob, despite nailing similar timings on the throw.

But the most enjoyable part of Ashes Cricket is when the ball is smashed towards one of your fielders and time slows down to a crawl, triggering a sequence where you need to quickly move a cursor into a circle then hit the corresponding button to safely take the catch. It puts the emphasis on the tension of the moment instead of relying on an automated fielder. Get it right and you’ll take the catch, but get it wrong and it could cost you dearly. It’s a shame this mechanic doesn’t trigger for catches that go straight down the fielder’s throats, as I like the idea of the player being responsible for the outcomes, but mostly because it looks and feels really good when you get it right.

Ashes Cricket has definitely got its issues; bad commentary, some rough presentation, only two licensed teams and a few bugs. But ultimately they can be shaken off, because the feeling of enjoyment I get when I’m playing Ashes Cricket is palpable. I haven’t played or watched the sport in over 10 years, but sitting down to play here feels intuitive and familiar in a way that’s surprisingly comforting. The batting, bowling and fielding all feel better than they have in any other cricket game before, and the sheer variety of game types and customisation offered makes Ashes Cricket, in spite of its issues, a sports game worthy of your time.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 Review

As an ode to the ever expanding Marvel universe, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is practically without peer. The characters you’ll play, the locations you’ll visit, and the references you’ll come across span the length and breadth of the comic juggernaut’s history in comics, TV, and film, extending to the genesis of Marvel as Timely Comics way back in the forgotten mists of time (the 1930s). In fact, outside of the exclusion of X-Men and Fantastic Four characters (for some undisclosed and surely byzantine legal rights reasons), this game is the most Marvel any Marvel game has been so far.

It’s also pretty much the most Lego game any Lego game has been so far, which is to say all of the charm and wit and ease of play of this long-running series is here, but also all of its little faults and idiosyncrasies. Outside of the dizzying array of heroes and villains you’ll (eventually) be able to play, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 adds little to the franchise in terms of innovation or transformation. There is only more, but more doesn’t necessarily mean better.

What’s here, though, remains appealing, particularly if you have some kiddos to share the experience with. The aforementioned charm and wit of the Lego formula is becoming predictable and creaky after almost two dozen entries, but manages to retain that sense of simple joy inherent in seeing Lego-fied versions of some of your favorite pop culture characters bash around in a brightly colored world, quipping their cute little quips all the while. Seeing a Lego Ms. Marvel embiggening while geeking out that she’s fighting alongside Spider-Man is simply delightful, as is seeing teleporting Inhuman dog Lockjaw flopping onto his back for a belly rub.

The game is filled with little charm bombs like this, but if you read that previous sentence and came away with questions like “Who or what is a Ms. Marvel?” and “There are dogs in video games, now?”, then perhaps some of this appeal will be lost on you. Needless to say, your familiarity with all things Marvel will impact just how cute you think all of this is. And the cuts here run very deep. From the inclusion of cowboy characters from old Timely/Marvel series like Kid Colt and Arizona Annie, to more recent characters like Spider-Man Noir from the Noir Universe (this Spidey uses guns, guys!), Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 seems tailor-made for the Marvel super fan.

That’s not to say those whose Marvel knowledge comes only from the recent big budget films (but who did see the last Thor movie and thought the rock guy was pretty funny) will be left clueless amidst a series of complex comic references. The game anchors it’s main narrative on the cinematic versions of the Guardians of the Galaxy, with Star Lord, Rocket, Groot (both baby and full-grown), et al racing to Earth to help stop megalomaniac-from-the-future Kang the Conqueror from doing his thing (ie, conquering). It’s a doomed quest, as Kang quickly achieves his raison d’etre, ripping the fabric of the time-space continuum and creating Chronopolis, a mish-mash of worlds from different time periods and Marvel realities.

From here, it’s up to the heroes of the Marvel universe to band together and stop Kang. The gameplay here will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s played a Lego game in recent years; it’s bash bash bash on enemies and the environment using simple combat mechanics, before solving various environmental puzzles that may or may not involve bashing things some more (or alternatively using a specific character’s special abilities to progress). To its credit, the many characters in Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 do sport some interesting abilities, so much so that you can for the most part look past the cookie-cutter nature of most of them and find individual heroes with unique skills. The combat, though, remains stakes-free. There are no “lives”, and dying simply means regenerating in the same spot not even seconds later. Dark Souls this is not.

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

But that ease-of-use has always been the main appeal of the Lego games, especially for parents. As is usual with this series, the entire game can be played in co-op, and it’s fun to partner with a developing gamer through these relatively stress-free adventures. The puzzles here can sometimes get a little obtuse, but that’s exactly why it’s a great shared experience. Your little ones can have fun running around and mashing buttons playing as the Invincible Iron Man, while you do the legwork of figuring out how to actually progress through a level.

There’s also an impressive amount of things to do in Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2. Apart from the hundreds of available characters (most you’ll have to unlock) and the approximately dozen hours of the main campaign to work through, the “world” of Chronopolis is also expansive, functioning as an open world where your heroes can find little sidequests, missions, racing events, and other activities when you’re not chasing the main storyline.

Of course, these other activities aren’t all enormous fun, but if you’re a Marvel nut or a completionist (or both), then this game’s basic cheerful gameplay and demeanour will make all of those extra pursuits worthwhile. Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is reverential to its source material, even if the game that surrounds that adoration is starting to sag somewhat. After all these years, the Lego formula is still a winner–but only barely.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 Review

As an ode to the ever expanding Marvel universe, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is practically without peer. The characters you’ll play, the locations you’ll visit, and the references you’ll come across span the length and breadth of the comic juggernaut’s history in comics, TV, and film, extending to the genesis of Marvel as Timely Comics way back in the forgotten mists of time (the 1930s). In fact, outside of the exclusion of X-Men and Fantastic Four characters (for some undisclosed and surely byzantine legal rights reasons), this game is the most Marvel any Marvel game has been so far.

It’s also pretty much the most Lego game any Lego game has been so far, which is to say all of the charm and wit and ease of play of this long-running series is here, but also all of its little faults and idiosyncrasies. Outside of the dizzying array of heroes and villains you’ll (eventually) be able to play, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 adds little to the franchise in terms of innovation or transformation. There is only more, but more doesn’t necessarily mean better.

What’s here, though, remains appealing, particularly if you have some kiddos to share the experience with. The aforementioned charm and wit of the Lego formula is becoming predictable and creaky after almost two dozen entries, but manages to retain that sense of simple joy inherent in seeing Lego-fied versions of some of your favorite pop culture characters bash around in a brightly colored world, quipping their cute little quips all the while. Seeing a Lego Ms. Marvel embiggening while geeking out that she’s fighting alongside Spider-Man is simply delightful, as is seeing teleporting Inhuman dog Lockjaw flopping onto his back for a belly rub.

The game is filled with little charm bombs like this, but if you read that previous sentence and came away with questions like “Who or what is a Ms. Marvel?” and “There are dogs in video games, now?”, then perhaps some of this appeal will be lost on you. Needless to say, your familiarity with all things Marvel will impact just how cute you think all of this is. And the cuts here run very deep. From the inclusion of cowboy characters from old Timely/Marvel series like Kid Colt and Arizona Annie, to more recent characters like Spider-Man Noir from the Noir Universe (this Spidey uses guns, guys!), Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 seems tailor-made for the Marvel super fan.

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

That’s not to say those whose Marvel knowledge comes only from the recent big budget films (but who did see the last Thor movie and thought the rock guy was pretty funny) will be left clueless amidst a series of complex comic references. The game anchors it’s main narrative on the cinematic versions of the Guardians of the Galaxy, with Star Lord, Rocket, Groot (both baby and full-grown), et al racing to Earth to help stop megalomaniac-from-the-future Kang the Conqueror from doing his thing (ie, conquering). It’s a doomed quest, as Kang quickly achieves his raison d’etre, ripping the fabric of the time-space continuum and creating Chronopolis, a mish-mash of worlds from different time periods and Marvel realities.

From here, it’s up to the heroes of the Marvel universe to band together and stop Kang. The gameplay here will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s played a Lego game in recent years; it’s bash bash bash on enemies and the environment using simple combat mechanics, before solving various environmental puzzles that may or may not involve bashing things some more (or alternatively using a specific character’s special abilities to progress). To its credit, the many characters in Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 do sport some interesting abilities, so much so that you can for the most part look past the cookie-cutter nature of most of them and find individual heroes with unique skills. The combat, though, remains stakes-free. There are no “lives”, and dying simply means regenerating in the same spot not even seconds later. Dark Souls this is not.

But that ease-of-use has always been the main appeal of the Lego games, especially for parents. As is usual with this series, the entire game can be played in co-op, and it’s fun to partner with a developing gamer through these relatively stress-free adventures. The puzzles here can sometimes get a little obtuse, but that’s exactly why it’s a great shared experience. Your little ones can have fun running around and mashing buttons playing as the Invincible Iron Man, while you do the legwork of figuring out how to actually progress through a level.

No Caption Provided

There’s also an impressive amount of things to do in Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2. Apart from the hundreds of available characters (most you’ll have to unlock) and the approximately dozen hours of the main campaign to work through, the “world” of Chronopolis is also expansive, functioning as an open world where your heroes can find little sidequests, missions, racing events, and other activities when you’re not chasing the main storyline.

Of course, these other activities aren’t all enormous fun, but if you’re a Marvel nut or a completionist (or both), then this game’s basic cheerful gameplay and demeanour will make all of those extra pursuits worthwhile. Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is reverential to its source material, even if the game that surrounds that adoration is starting to sag somewhat. After all these years, the Lego formula is still a winner–but only barely.

GT Sport Review

GT Sport may look and feel like Gran Turismo, but it’s a very different beast under the hood. In place of an extensive single player campaign and an exhaustive car roster, developer Polyphony Digital have established a professionally sanctioned esport-focused racing platform under the watchful eye of The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile. There’s no denying that GT Sport hits a few bumps along the way, and struggles somewhat under the weight of Gran Turismo’s legacy. But when viewed as something new, GT Sport accomplishes nearly everything it sets out to do. It offers a wonderfully detailed and responsive driving experience along with arguably the cleanest and most competitive online racing on a console to date.

The renewed focus comes at a cost, with GT Sport offering a meager 160 cars (far less if you discount variants) and 40 courses based on 17 distinct tracks. And because your progress, earnings, and reputation are linked to your competitive profile, GT Sport requires an internet connection for most of its content–single player included. The only exception are one-off races in arcade mode, but your rewards there won’t be saved unless you keep the game running until servers are back online. It’s one huge caveat, and while maintenance and outage periods have been minimal post-release, losing access to most of GT Sport isn’t unheard of.

Despite the relatively small selection of cars, each one is beautifully rendered with an incredible attention to detail. And while GT Sport’s tracks lack dynamic lighting and weather effects, each real-world track has been laser scanned to an impressive degree of accuracy. Marry these qualities with the improved tire and suspension models, beefy engine tones and screaming tire sounds, and GT Sport makes a strong impression behind the wheel.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Online races are your ultimate goal, and come in a few different forms. While you can create a private lobby to race with friends, most of the action happens in the organized daily races. Daily races occur at set times–usually every 5 to 10 minutes, though this can change–and come in three options, each with varying rules and regulations. Place well and you’ll see your Driver Rating improve, which defines the skill of the drivers you’ll be placed into future races with. If you place poorly you’ll naturally see your driver rating drop, and be forced race with less capable and confident drivers.

Ranking highly isn’t everything, and will mean nothing if you fail to race cleanly along the way. The overarching system monitoring everything you do is called the Sportsmanship Rating, which counts all incidents you’re involved in, regardless of fault. Shown as a rank of A through to F, put a wheel wrong by touching another car, leaving the track or, unfortunately, being rammed, and you’ll lose some of your sportsmanship rating. Drive a few clean laps and you’ll recover what’s lost eventually, though it’s clear the no-fault system is a sore point, causing needless annoyance at losing SR on top of having a race ruined.

On the same foot, though, it appears to be working. Although turn 1 tends to be a bit of a nightmare, once things are underway races are generally as clean as you’d hope for. Cars recovering from spins or looking like they’re going to crash will ghost, letting you drive right through them, though this can be a bit sketchy at times as you can’t really tell when a car will solidify. Thankfully there are plenty of assists like ABS and traction control to help racers who might struggle, which can also be turned off for the hardcore or those with wheel and pedal setups. These support systems are a boon beginners who may be intimidated by GT Sport’s demanding races but nonetheless want a taste of competition.

Outside of the daily events are the officially sanctioned championship events, which in practice are run similarly to daily races, but with a few core differences. Each round runs five races at pre-scheduled times roughly once a month, and like the daily races there’s a small window of time for you to sign up. The main difference is that you can only sign up and compete in a round once, so if you have a bad run in the first of the five scheduled races for that round, you don’t get another chance to improve your results. While intimidating, this also adds a palpable sense of tension to the beginning stages of each race.

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

The number of points you can earn per race is worked out using a few variables, but is mostly down to your driver rating; the higher your rating, the more potential championship points you can earn per race. Your final points tally is accumulated from your three best finishes, ensuring that a bad race or having to miss one because of other commitments won’t put you out of contention. In general, the level of competition is extremely cutthroat, making race wins–especially in the official championship races–very difficult to come by.

That said, there is plenty of satisfaction to gain from merely finishing races. Personal achievements aside, every race rewards you with in-game credits, mileage points–another in-game currency used to upgrade cars or purchase paint decals, wheel rims and the like to customize your car with–and experience points that raise your driver level. You’re given a new car for each driver level you attain, up to and including level 20, and the Daily Workout bonus also gives you a new car after driving only 40 kilometers (just under 25 miles) in a day, so it doesn’t take long to amass a personal car collection.

Where you fall on GT Sport will mirror how you feel about racing games in general. If you’re looking for a highly focused console racing sim, GT Sport is excellent, but don’t come looking for a robust “Gran Turismo” experience.

Given the focus on online races, the single-player campaign is more an elaborate training tool than any campaign from a prior GT game, geared to prepare you for the jump to racing online. Its three modes–Driving School, Mission Challenge and Circuit Experience–each cover a specific aspect of racing, be that the car handling, knowing the circuits or knowing how to race with other cars without running them off the road. In clear Gran Turismo tradition, hit the bronze target time for the exercise and you can move on. But although this is a good measure of your performance, a more detailed, visual breakdown of your runs would go a long way towards making these lessons more effective at making you a better racer. Accompanying YouTube videos give you an impression of how it’s done, but something that gives more feedback would be more welcome. Arcade mode is the closest you’ll get to the traditional style of campaign, letting you pick your car and track combo then race offline against the AI, who do a good job of racing cleanly but with a measured sense of aggression too.

Ultimately, where you fall on GT Sport will mirror how you feel about racing games in general. If you’re looking for a highly focused console racing sim, GT Sport is excellent, but don’t come looking for a robust “Gran Turismo” experience. You won’t find it. Casual fans will feel the pinch of the scaled-down offering and the intimidating push towards racing online. But for sim-racers with a competitive spirit, it’s easy to look past the smaller car and track roster and appreciate the incredibly detailed and responsive driving model, which is better than anything the series has offered before.

Hand Of Fate 2 Review

The original Hand of Fate succeeded largely on the strength of its concept. It combined the rules of a roguelike with a deck-building card game to create something unique, and the devious, ever-present Dealer made the whole thing feel like a single-player Dungeons & Dragons experience where the Dungeon Master was actively trying to stop you. It was a great idea, but had some major issues that held it back from reaching its full potential. It was a good game crying out for a great follow-up; thankfully, Hand of Fate 2 has delivered just that.

In each of the sequel’s 22 missions, you select several encounter and equipment cards from your personal deck. These are then mixed in with the Dealer’s deck to form the card base you’re playing with. The cards are scattered onto a table face-down, although the shape and structure they form changes on a mission-by-mission basis. As you move across the table turning over one card at a time (usually either looking for or moving towards a specific card), you’re issued challenges that might or might not help you achieve the mission’s goal. The outcomes of several situations are dictated by games of chance and skill–rolling dice, perfectly timing a button press to an on-screen pendulum, stopping a spinning wheel at the right time–and there are various stats you need to follow and maintain, as your character can run out of money or starve to death. There are also several cards that throw you into combat, at which point the game briefly turns into a third-person action experience until all your enemies are downed (or you die, failing the mission).

While in the first game you were constantly on the hunt for the boss card, in Hand of Fate 2 there’s far more variety in objectives, and the game is better for it. You usually still have to find and kill a boss, but each mission now has its own gimmick. These can include challenging you to work out which character of three is plotting a murder, or tasking you with escorting an innocent potato farmer. Each mission has a strong sense of identity and purpose, and many of them are clever.

However, while the game gives you plenty of opportunities to escape bad situations or reasons to rethink your deck if your current plan isn’t working, the start-over-if-you-die structure can sometimes be excessively frustrating in certain scenarios. A prime example is the Justice mission, in which you travel around the 28 cards laid out on the table, gathering resources and dodging enemies through games of chance, continually traveling back to your base card to use said resources to strengthen your fort. It’s tremendous fun, but less so when you’re killed an hour into it, right at the end of one of the many, many intense battles you’ve been made to fight. It’s hard to pull yourself back into retrying a mission when these things happen. It also took me many attempts to beat the Strength mission, which starts you at low health and takes away your ability to heal by eating food. In a typical roguelike, where heavy randomisation makes the game feel different each time you enter, this wouldn’t seem like a big deal. But the individual missions in Hand of Fate 2 often ask you to fight the same battles repeatedly, and replaying the more difficult ones over and over is a strain. Thankfully, until you reach the very end, you’ll have multiple unfinished missions unlocked at any given point; if one is giving you grief you can usually jump into another.

No Caption Provided

Hand of Fate 2’s combat has gone through an overhaul. It discards the ineffective camera, clunky controls, and unclear parry cues for a system that feels much closer to the Batman: Arkham Asylum fighting system that so clearly inspired it. It’s not a unique system, and the game lacks variety in both enemies and tactical possibilities, but it’s now much more satisfying to take on a group of enemies. Parry and dodge cues are clear, and managing the timing of your attacks and moves requires active attention.

You can equip different weapons before battle, which are divided into three classes (heavy, two-handed, and one-handed), and what to equip largely depends on your opponent. Thieves, for instance, are weak against blade attacks, which do little damage but let you attack multiple times in quick succession, while several different kinds of guard are easier to fight if you’re carrying a one-handed sword and a shield. However, the more hectic battles can still be hard to read, and the quality of the fights may vary depending on which equipment you’ve managed to source during your journey–if you aren’t able to find or buy useful weapons, it can turn into a slog. Luck plays a big part in Hand of Fate 2, and while you can manufacture better luck with a good deck, there’s always the somewhat frustrating possibility that random chance will strike you down.

No Caption Provided

In most missions you’re joined by one of four unlockable companions who provide buffs during combat and specialize in improving your odds of victory in some specific circumstances. The mighty Colbjorn, for instance, can offer an extra die for you to roll should you need it in certain scenarios. These companions also add to the already rich incidental storytelling of the game. Playing through each mission, uncovering cards, and watching as conflicts and allegiances twist and shift depending on the story you’re pursuing at any given point gives you a strong sense of the game’s world, even if it’s largely confined to text. The Dealer, who is once again voiced by Anthony Skordi, is a treasure of a character, repeatedly referencing events from the first game and hinting at the dark secrets he keeps stored somewhere within his robes. He’s not an antagonist in the same way he was in the original game, and ultimately feels like a deeper, more mysterious character.

The moments of frustration in Hand of Fate 2 are worth enduring for the sweetness of its adventures, and getting to know the different cards and learning to build a deck that is perfectly suited for the mission you’re entering is satisfying. Hand of Fate 2 is a realization of the first game’s promise, and it’s exciting to play a game that blends seemingly unrelated elements together so well.

Rocket League Switch Review

Rocket League was a phenomenon when it debuted in 2015, and two years later it shows no signs of slowing down. The unorthodox sports game is a mix of soccer and vehicular acrobatics that’s immediately engaging, but a high skill ceiling ensures that you can put hundreds of hours into Rocket League online and continue to improve your control over car and ball alike. In our original review, editor Miguel Concepcion said “the promising concept of combining two wonderful things–cars and soccer–is equally magnificent in execution.” It’s unique, it’s complex, and now that it’s on the Nintendo Switch, it’s wonderfully portable.

Rocket League makes the leap to handheld courtesy of developer Panic Button, the same team responsible for the respectable Switch port of Doom. And similar to that conversion, Rocket League’s visuals have been somewhat stripped down to maintain a steady frame rate under the Switch’s hardware limitations. The impact of the downgraded visuals can be seen in jagged edges and fluctuating texture resolutions, but unlike a game that relies on a world to set the stage for characters and narrative events, Rocket League’s Switch scars are easily overlooked. The only time they can interfere is when playing handheld, where choppy models make it difficult to differentiate between objects in the foreground and background on Switch’s small display. This, thankfully, is rarely an issue.

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

When you’re focused on a handful of other drivers and protecting your goal from a fast-moving ball, jaggies are the least of your concerns. And when subconsciously calculating your trajectory as you ramp up onto a wall and blast your rockets for a last-minute boost to slam a ball into the back of a goal from mid-air, you probably aren’t focused on a blurry texture here or there. Rocket League on Switch isn’t always a pretty game, but that doesn’t stop if from being every bit as exciting and competitive as it is on other platforms. As someone who has spent upwards of 200 hours with Rocket League on PS4, I was pleased to find that jumping into matches on Switch was just as easy as before, in terms of both matchmaking and controlling my car on the field–thanks in part to the rock-solid frame rate.

The game’s Nintendo-exclusive rides and their series-appropriate sound effects are small if charming touches that make the Switch version feel slightly more special than it otherwise would have. But the big new feature is local splitscreen play on the go. Relative to the constraints of playing on a small screen, it works as well as you’d hope, to say nothing of the surprising effectiveness of controlling your car with a mere single joycon. Small and short a few buttons, they still cover almost every input on traditional controller setups. The one notable exception is the lack of a second analog stick for camera control when you aren’t locked onto the ball.

No Caption Provided

Switch players can engage in cross-network play with Rocket League’s Xbox One and PC community. As evidenced during our pre-launch tests, this system works without a hitch, and matches are readily available. The one minor caveat when it comes to playing online with others is that creating custom messages mid-match is less convenient than usual. This is because toggling chat brings up a window that takes up the entire screen, leaving you without the usual live feed that runs in the background in other versions of the game. You do have the option of connecting a USB keyboard if you want to type out messages while your Switch is docked, which can help speed up the process.

Save for its presentation, Rocket League on Switch is every bit the game it is elsewhere, and when you factor in its newfound portability, it’s also the most versatile. That alone makes it attractive to regular Rocket League competitors.

For people new to the game, they have a lot to look forward to regardless, as it’s one of the most fascinating sports games in memory. Nevermind if you don’t like soccer or couldn’t care less about the growing esports community. Rocket League is a unique game that redefines the concept of what a sports game can be, and Psyonix continues to support it with new content on a regular basis. It’s been around for a while, but now that it’s on Switch, there’s no better time to give it a shot.

Editor’s note: for a more in-depth analysis of Rocket League, check out our original review from July, 2015.

Pokemon Ultra Sun And Ultra Moon Review

Neither sequels nor remakes, Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon take a mostly simple approach to updating 2016’s Sun and Moon. Much of the previous games has been left untouched–the story once again takes place on the tropical island region of Alola and focuses on the Island Challenge, which differs slightly from the series’ typical Gym Badge-based progression. But some key story details have changed, keeping things surprising for returning players even if the story itself is basic RPG fare. Most notably, there are small quality-of-life improvements and charming touches that make an already enjoyable Pokemon game a more endearing experience regardless of your skill level.

The original Sun and Moon brought new Pokemon, a break from the Gym formula, and a number of updates that make the seventh generation (Ultra Sun and Moon included) the most approachable and prettiest Pokemon games yet. With an overwhelming roster of monsters to catch, Sun and Moon’s UI improvements made it easier to battle without an encyclopedic knowledge of every Pokemon, as well as train your prize fighters for the competitive metagame. But if you fell somewhere between newcomer and meta player, a mediocre story and pacing issues may have been disappointing.

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

Ultra Sun and Moon immediately streamline the originals’ slow start. As a newcomer to Alola, you quickly get your first Pokemon and are initiated into the Island Challenge, a series of trials that Alolan Pokemon trainers undergo to prove themselves. Instead of meeting all the characters and going through a few cutscenes before picking your starter Pokemon, this time around you get to pick a starter right away and then go through the introductory story beats. The result is an opening that doesn’t hold your hand in the same way it did before–though it still has the obligatory Pokemon-catching tutorial, among others–and lets you wander more freely, a welcome change for both returning and new players.

Even before the first trial, you’ll have the opportunity to catch some pretty good Pokemon covering a variety of types and needs, including Pichu, Gastly, and Rockruff, meaning you can build a useful team early on without going too far out of your way. And you won’t have to spend much, if any, time grinding to make it through the Island Challenge as long as you battle any trainers you encounter on your journey.

Some of the trials are slightly different this time, like the one where you have to find a series of ingredients to make a stew, which adds a more puzzle-like element to stave off the fetch quest feel. Most notably, though, the battles against the powerful Totem Pokemon seem a little more sophisticated; the ally Pokemon that join these extra-powerful opponents in battle will sometimes use doubles support moves like Sunny Day to throw a wrench in your plans, and the added challenge is more satisfying to overcome.

Other than the trial tweaks, the next 15 or so hours–roughly the first three islands–are essentially the same as Sun and Moon, but new, small details break up the stretches of repetition. Your Rotom Pokedex asks you questions and makes adorable faces as you get to know it (though it can be a little too chatty at times). You’ll occasionally find a Pokemon in the world that just wants to play with you, and you can do things like play peek-a-boo and even walk through a meadow of playful Pikachu. There are also more side quests to take on, and though they’re rather small requests like catching a specific Pokemon or finding a few Pokemon that are hiding in a particular area, they reward thorough exploration and provide fun distractions in between trials. Talking to everyone, too, has its benefits; there are tons of new silly and cute interactions to be had that add even more personality to Alola and its inhabitants.

While all of the best parts of Sun and Moon are present and accounted for and things in general get off to a quicker start, Ultra Sun and Moon’s story remains underwhelming. And with the introduction of a new sort-of-antagonist in the robotic, mysterious Ultra Recon Squad duo, there’s almost too much going on–especially since there’s already two antagonist groups in Alola as is. By the time you’ve confronted Team Skull and are immediately thrown into a confrontation at the returning Aether Paradise, you’ll probably wish you could just get back to your Island Challenge and become the Champion already.

Though they aren’t very different from their predecessors, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon make enough changes to stand apart as the definitive version of the seventh generation games. An overly complicated story is offset by charming details that bring even more life to the most vibrant Pokemon region to date, and small fixes iron out the shakier parts of the original journey. If you make it through Alola a second (or even first) time, you’ll be rewarded with a fun-filled and uplifting Pokemon adventure with its own share of spoilery surprises in store.