enfrdeitptrues

Shooting

  • It came from space and ate our brains (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    It came from space and ate our brains
    Developed By: Triangle Studios
    Published By: All in! Games
    Released: March 19, 2015
    Available On: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
    Genre: Top-down Arcade Shooter
    ESRB Rating: E10+ (Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood)
    Number of Players: Singleplayer, Cooperative Multiplayer
    Price: $14.99

    I'd like to thank All in! Games for the review key for this game.

    Neo-retro games have a high wire act to follow if they want to be successful. They need to have a retro look and feel without coming off as lazy, cheap, and dated. At the same time, they need to be fun to play. "It came from space and ate our brains," attempts to achieve both goals, more than admirably if you ask me.

    The basic premise is very simple. It's a top-down, 3D arcade-style shooter where you blast aliens as you make your way through various levels, destroying the "alien egg" that keeps producing them. Wash, rinse, repeat until you've beaten all the levels. Aside from doing that and survival (the Survival Mode revolves entirely around the latter), it's not all that complicated.

    You start with a basic laser pistol, and after collecting a set amount of points, you can either upgrade it to be more powerful, or you can switch to another weapon and keep upgrading from that. You have a variety of different weapons you can pick from, including a shotgun (good spread, short-range), machine gun (high fire rate, narrow spread), laser gun (fast, poor spread), plasma gun (all-around good, expensive to invest in), and a rocket launcher (high splash damage, very slow).

    It came from space and ate our brains
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good atmospheric graphics and music; simple concept yet addictive in practice
    Weak Points: Stiff movement controls; no in-game save and resume feature for long levels
    Moral Warnings: Cartoony shooter violence against blocky looking aliens; Neon spark looking "blood" when aliens die that quickly vanishes

    There are some other powerups you can collect, but you can hold only one at a time, so some strategy is required for when and how they are used. Examples include temporary fully upgraded weapons of a different type than your default (which can be useful for certain situations), turrets (which can prevent getting overwhelmed while they last), medkits (which restore your hearts in your life bar), and shields (which negate damage briefly), among others. The player also has a limited dash meter for running that recharges for situational use.

    The aliens are generally lemming-like, at least early on most stages, but they gradually get smarter and more tenacious, adopting dodging tactics and appearing in greater swarms. At the end of levels, you often have to fend off hordes of them while attempting to destroy the alien egg to end the level, so adapting to their increasing intelligence is essential to beating the levels.

    Graphically, the game is a clever mix of minimalistic, simplistic graphics and impressively detailed scenery. The player and enemies are blocky and simple, looking quite cartoony. By contrast, the levels are generally dark, your vision limited by the darkness that is only reduced in the range of your handheld flashlight. The lights use a lot of neon shades coupled with an almost film noir look, and the result is a spooky atmosphere that fits the alien invasion/survival theme well. Overall setting details tend to be somewhat monochrome, but this fits given the darkness mechanic and heightens the difference between the colorful characters and the haunting, shadowy buildings and objects.

    The music and sound effects work in tandem with the graphics to heighten the feeling of alien survival horror. The music utilizes a lot of "ambient scare tracks" much like a sci-fi horror movie. While the aliens are cartoony by contrast, it still succeeds in keeping the tension at a high level, especially as the aliens get more aggressive. Sound effects are mostly limited to the sounds of your various weapons, which are distinct and crisp.

    It came from space and ate our brains
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Controls can be either the standard keyboard/mouse type or a PC gamepad, and with both the game uses a slightly stiff turning animation, but this is a stylistic decision to imitate retro arcade controls. Since your flashlight direction is tied to what direction you turned and not paying attention can allow aliens to sneak up on you, choosing to turn to meet different threats before they get too close is essential to survival. There is a fairly intuitive in-game tutorial to get yourself acquainted with movement and control included as well.

    Stability is excellent, and while this is not a super demanding title, be advised this can stress out weak computers and it's very inadvisable to use a PC that does not have dedicated graphics. Load times are acceptable and I had no crashes no matter how long I played. My only complaints are a lack of a mid-level save feature at the various level checkpoints (called "safe houses"), as some levels can be a bit long.

    Morally, there isn't much to be alarmed over. Violence is limited strictly to cartoony aliens who explode in a shower of neon sparks (implied to be blood but looks like sparks) that quickly vanish, and there are no displays of strong blood and gore. Strong language, sexual content, and other crude material are not present. The setting is a soft sci-fi one, with laser guns and cartoony aliens. Morally speaking, you are presumably one of the survivors of an alien invasion, seeking simply to survive and defeat the relentless alien menace.

    For the price tag, I definitely feel this is worth the money asked for it, and it can be quite fun if arcade shooters are your thing. Morally, aside from the aforementioned cartoony looking violence, there is nothing here a preteen or older couldn't handle.

  • JASEM – Just Another Shooter with Electronic Music (PC)

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    Game Info:

    JASEM – Just Another Shooter with Electronic Music
    Developed by: Stas Shostak
    Published by: Stas Shostak
    Release date: October 19, 2017
    Available on: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Twin-stick Shooter
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating; Not rated
    Price: $6.99

    Thank you Stas Shostak for sending us this game to review!

    As the title suggests, JASEM is a 3D twin-stick shooter with electronic music. However, I don’t find it a run of the mill game, but fun and challenging. This title claims that it’s hard and I have to agree. Despite not being good at it, I still have fun playing it and take ownership of each and every one of my deaths and don’t find any of them cheap or undeserved.

    Upon beginning one of the five levels (plus a tutorial) your tank will spawn with a randomized loadout. One standard feature is the boost ability, which is required for out running deadly laser beams. Your tank will either have a primary and secondary weapon or have a deployable shield as an option. Some of the weapons at your disposal include bullets, homing missiles, exploding barrels, and a flamethrower.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay and lots of variety in weaponry and randomized enemy placement upon death
    Weak Points: Only six levels, but they’re challenging; confusing exit menu
    Moral Warnings: Robotic violence

    There are plenty of enemies to take aim at and the laser-aiming device helps out in that department. Each area has a counter indicating how many robotic foes remain before the next section is unlocked. Sometimes there is a barrier in place to continue onward and if there isn't one, you may have to push levers to lower road sections in order to traverse across them.

    The enemies provide a proper challenge with ones that hone in on you as you get nearby while others blast you into oblivion from a distance. If you can survive the onslaught of hostile robots, you’ll get to go toe to toe with a boss at the end of each level. There are Steam achievements available for clearing out all of the enemies in each level, conquering the bosses, and lastly doing so without dying. I easily earned the achievements for dying in the tutorial and menu areas.

    JASEM – Just Another Shooter with Electronic Music
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Visually this game is simple but adequate. The explosions look good and are quite deadly when you don’t escape from their blast radius fast enough. With that said, it’s still beneficial to take advantage of exploding barrels when available. Getting multiple enemies with one shot is worthwhile.

    The electronic music is nice but not memorable to me. The music is available via DLC for $2.99, but you can buy the game plus soundtrack for a dollar cheaper when combined rather than separate.

    If you enjoy twin-stick shooters, JASEM will definitely fit the bill. The asking price is $6.99 and is very reasonable if you like a challenge. If you’re not a fan of tough games then you’ll want to consider other options.

  • John Wick Chronicles (HTC Vive)

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    Game Info:

    John Wick Chronicles
    Developed By: Starbreeze Studios, Grab Games, GamecoStudios, Big Red Button
    Publisher: Starbreeze Studios
    Release Date: February 9, 2017
    Available On: Windows (HTC Vive required)
    Genre: Action/Wave shooter
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: M for Violence, blood
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you Starbreeze Studios for sending us this game to review!

    John Wick is a rather popular new movie series starring Keanu Reeves that is celebrating its second chapter in 2017. In many ways it is a violent, bloody revenge flick that wears its over the top gun play on its sleeve. Despite this, it does have enough of a plot to keep many viewers interested, and high enough quality cinematography to become a very popular movie series for the many who enjoy intense action. Capitalizing on this popularity, they produced John Wick Chronicles to coincide with the release of John Wick Chapter 2 the day after.

    In John Wick Chronicles, you get to hear the comforting voice of Charon (Lance Reddick) welcome you back to the hotel and offer his concierge services for you. He also accompanies you to your room, as well as the four levels available for you to play in. There is one training room, as well as three other levels that take place on John Wick set pieces. There is the parking garage, the rooftop, and a yacht.

    John Wick Chronicles
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent voice acting; really brings you into the world of John Wick; fun shooting action
    Weak Points: Occasional performance drops; short
    Moral Warnings: Violence, as you shoot many enemy humans trying to kill you; blood in some places; foul language like '*ss', 'd*mn', and God's name in vain (Jesus Christ)

    Charon's voice lets you know when enemies are outside of your field of view, if you run out of ammo, and various other things, like congratulating a good shot. Taking place in first person virtual reality (VR), you have enemies that can appear anywhere around you, though thankfully you get a hint when they are elsewhere based on not only Charon's voice, but also hit directional markers that flash when you are shot.

    Enemies drop health, armor, or weapon upgrades when killed. You can also unlock additional weapons in training mode, which can allow others to show up in the levels you are playing. I really enjoyed it when I had dual machine guns, and was lucky enough to get laser sights for both of them. It does seem like if you put down a gun the upgrades are lost though, so you may want to stick with whatever you like best for the level you are on. On the rooftop level, I would typically grab a sniper rifle in one hand (yes, you need two hands for one of these in real life, but not here) and a machine gun in the other. Once the distant roof was clear, it was dual machine guns all the way. Though I did enjoy the infrared upgrade for the sniper scope; you can peek through that scope, and it makes shots a lot easier with the higher contrast of infrared sights.

    The gunplay is very accurate and works well. It's definitely fun to shoot the many bad guys in a kill or be killed environment. It can be tricky to know how damaged you are, but once the screen starts getting dimly red, you better be careful or grab a health or armor pack, or you will be in big trouble shortly.

    John Wick Chronicles
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As you can probably imagine, this game has a ton of violence against human subjects. You basically shoot everything that moves, or they will shoot you first. Enemies can take several bullets to take down, but nothing too obnoxious like bullet sponges. Most enemies don't bleed, but there are exceptions, like boss battles. I noted Charon saying '*ss', 'd*mn', and the Lord's name in vain, in the form of 'Jesus Christ'.

    I have tried this game on two computers, one with an AMD 290X, and another with a NVIDIA 1070. It definitely performed better on the latter, which is not too surprising. Even still, it did have major frame rate drops in places, though nothing that made it unplayable. Otherwise the graphics do look pretty nice, with the enemies easy to spot in the detailed backgrounds. The voice acting is excellent, and the sound effects kept things intense. One complaint is a common one; the game may choose to flip your left and right hands. It's not too difficult to switch them out, but you may need to switch back before playing another VR game.

    John Wick Chronicles is a violent but entertaining shooter, mostly meant for fans of the movies. If you are a fan, then I would look for this game during a sale; I am not sure it is worth full price for something that can be completed in under an hour. I would honor the M rating and keep this from children. If you are an adult and already watch the movies, then the content should not be a surprise at all. I would say that the content here is much less bloody and gory than the way over the top movies that it is based on.

  • Kite (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Kite
    Developed by: Lab Cat Games
    Published by: Lab Cat Games
    Release date: March 7, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Action, RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: not rated
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Lab Cat Games for sending us this game to review!

    Kite is Lab Cat Games' first published title. In 2016, it was released as an Early Access game and the full version came out in 2018. The final version added controller support and five additional levels totaling thirteen.

    The story takes place after a revolution and in a time of peace between nature and technology. Mankind has learned from their mistakes and have banned manufacturing of weapons. However, not everyone is obeying the worldwide ban. Arch City is where most weapons are still being manufactured and it’s up to you to infiltrate it and rescue the scientists trapped within its walls.

    It’s a difficult task, but with your Human Operated Remote Droid (H.O.R.D.) you have a chance with powerful weapons, shields, and turbo speed at your disposal. With all of the technological advances, there are always drawbacks including energy limitations and reload rates. The good news is that the scientists you rescue will help unlock blueprints for more powerful weapons. Tech scraps that you collect in the levels will enable you to craft the newly available weapons. Skill points are earned by completing the levels in a reasonable amount of time and will allow you to further enhance your H.O.R.D. by unlocking various upgrades. For example, you can enhance attributes like energy, stamina, and speed, or increase the chance of a critical hit.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice pixel art reminiscent of 90s games; good retro music!
    Weak Points: Graphical glitches when running at 4K; repetitive levels; cheap difficulty mechanics on the final boss; confusing level design
    Moral Warnings: Bloodless violence; language (d*mn)

    To clear each level, you’ll have to complete the objectives in a specific order, with the exception of rescuing scientists which can be done at any time. Enemy spawners and turrets will keep coming back until you take out the power supplies keeping them online. Later levels have these components protected by shields and you have to take out the shield generators and servers keeping those online before you can destroy the protected devices.

    Along with turrets, you’ll have to contend with mines and spiked areas that hurt you if you stand on them too long. Running across these with your turbo ability is your best course of action. The enemies are mostly robotic but there are some humanoid ones. I don’t recall seeing any blood, just explosions.

    A couple of levels have a boss at the end of them. You can constantly respawn and most of the time the enemies slowly regenerate. The final level shows no mercy and in my opinion implements cheap tactics to inflate the difficulty. The final boss room is filled with spikes and the boss fully regains its health when you go back to fight it. It constantly fires missiles and spawns out a bunch of enemies without giving you much of a chance to attack it.

    Kite
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay: 12/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 7/10
    Stability: 5/5
    Controls: 4/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence: 6/10
    Language: 7/10
    Sexual Content: 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10

    Though a bit repetitive, the gameplay is fun in small bursts. This game was designed with a keyboard and mouse to play it so that’s what I used. The controls work quite well, though after a while my wrist started to hurt.

    I appreciate the retro look and feel. The pixel art is nicely done though the level design can be a bit confusing at times. It’s hard to tell what your character can and cannot walk on at times. I used the destructible environments as a reference for where I’ve been before. When running this game in 4K the screen turning red as your character takes damage only covers a portion of the game window.

    The electronic synthesized music and sound effects are fitting for this game. I like the sounds of the ammo falling to the ground and the various robotic noises. There is no voice acting, just text dialogue. Some mild language (d*mn) can be seen.

    Though Kite is a little rough around the edges, it can still be fun in small spurts. The final boss has annoyed me so I haven’t beaten the game. If you do enjoy retro action games it’s worth checking out when it goes on sale.

  • Kitten Squad (Switch)

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    Game Info:

    Kitten Squad 
    Developed By: Sagency
    Published By: PETA, Arcade Distillery
    Released: September 15, 2015
    Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Android, Microsoft Windows, iOS, macOS
    Number of Players: 1-4
    Genre: Twin-Stick Shooter
    ESBR Rating: T for Teen- Blood, violence
    Price: FREE

    When my two impressionable children crowd around and attempt to coerce me into downloading a game onto our Nintendo Switch, I usually hold fast and refuse. After all, games that are worth playing cost money, and dog-gone-it, we are on a budget! My kids have gotten wise, however, and only pull me into their snare when they have searched for FREE games that they find interesting. FREE is a lovely word that hits all the right notes with me, so who am I to deprive my lovely little cherubim a game that they can enjoy? One such title is Kitten Squad, a free twin-stick shooter that has been on the market since 2018. The download thumbnail has no title attached to it, just a picture of a cat wearing a hoodie and holding some sort of laser gun. Well, it's got cute cartoon cats wearing people clothes, so how bad can it be?

    Before I critique this…interesting game, I want to point out that my kids love it. For all the shredding that will be going on in this review, I can’t deny the fact that my children enjoy Kitten Squad, and that means the world to me. There are other games that I would keep far away from my children, but I have no problem letting them play this goofy and weird title. With that said, the adult in the room must now get to work and unravel this unusual game.

    To understand why Kitten Squad just seems “off” in the gaming world, one must first acknowledge where the game came from. It was produced and developed by an investment firm called Sagency, which owns a game development company called the Arcade Distillery. In 2015 Jan Roessner, the CEO of both companies, was approached by the activist group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a.k.a. PETA. The group wanted to create a video game that taught children about the abuse of animals in the world. The game would feature a ragtag group of kittens who have been tasked to free abused animals from the clutches of industrialized robots, like dangerous milking machines and automated sheep-shearers. Roessner agreed to this, and the game was put together quickly. Kitten Squad went on to become one of the most downloaded titles on Android and iOS in 2016.

    Kitten Squad
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great weapon selection, customizable characters, and excellent multiplayer. A good message about treating animals with dignity and kindness
    Weak Points: Simple graphics with repetitive gameplay, rigid controls, and stiff difficulty spike. The PETA message may also be too explicit for some younger players
    Moral Warnings: There are some depictions of blood on meat hooks and other devices used to hurt animals. The kittens destroy robots that resemble machines and people that abuse animals. This message borders on propaganda disguised as a children’s game

    At its core, Kitten Squad is a twin-stick shooter, much like Smash TV or Enter the Gungeon. The animal “elders” at the opening hub task the kittens with saving any number of animals that are being held captive by the robots. Before each mission begins, a scrolling dialogue describing the torment that the animals are going through slowly moves across the screen with an option to skip the scene. The kittens then go from room to room in a linear fashion dispatching robots with a plethora of powerful weapons. After about a dozen rooms or so, the kittens rescue the helpless animals and then return to the hub to start a new mission and learn about another tortured soul. Rinse and repeat.

    Of the few redeeming qualities that this game has, the weapons, character customization, and multiplayer mode are probably the best parts. The weapons range from powerful rocket launchers to tomato cannons; each one dishing out a heaping helping of pain to robotic foes. I personally like the carrot launcher, because nothing says “leave the meat alone” like a carrot to the face. The kittens can be customized by purchasing different accessories and skins using coins that are dropped by enemies. Players can earn more coins by completing bounties and quests that are handed out by their fellow animals. This game actually allows for a great deal of customization, which is nice, especially when playing with some friends.

    Speaking of friends, the multiplayer mode in Kitten Squad is fantastic. Up to four players (locally) can join in with each other to blast baddies together. A wonderful part of all this is when a player dies; they just need to wait until they are resurrected automatically. All this requires is for the remaining players to survive until the others resurrect. With the harsh spike in the difficulty of this game, you will soon learn that it is best not to fight animal-abusing robots alone.

    Despite the cute and cuddly features of the kittens, this game is not very pretty. Though I wouldn’t go as far as to call it “ugly,” the animation style looks like something that was rendered using Flash. The character models and sprites are very rigid and show little movement when running and dodging plasma blasts. The hitboxes are very inconsistent, and that proves to be the death of many kittens who were clearly a safe distance from their pursuers. Most enemies simply lunge themselves at the players; there are very few variations of attack patterns and techniques. Regardless, this game can get pretty tough, and the action can get difficult to follow when four players are blowing up robots left and right. The controls are not very forgiving, providing no variations of speeds for players who dig into their analog stick. Some attacks, like from the bosses, can’t even be dodged. This frustration is compounded when you find out that you have to start all the way over at the beginning when you die. Bummer, man.

    Kitten Squad
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 62%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    With all of these weak links in the chain, most people still believe that the worst part of this game is the message. I will admit to having read all of the mission descriptions in the game, and yes, they are very explicit. Some describe how sheep are castrated without anesthetics and seals are beaten with clubs. I have an 8-year-old daughter who plays this game, do I really want her reading this? Well, why not? What PETA is saying in this game is true, and it is your job as the Kitten Squad to save these animals from this terrible fate. Allowing my children to read these descriptions encouraged dialogue among my family about tending and caring for God’s creations (Gen. 1:26, Prov. 12:10). If anything, this game helped to bring to light to an issue that my family has not talked about much; taking care of that which God gave us to enjoy.

    I understand that Kitten Squad is basically PETA propaganda wrapped in a child-friendly sleeve, however, the truth is that my kids love the game and its message resonates with them. Sure, the animations are crude and the action is very buggy, but the overall theme of protecting helpless animals from a cruel industry of abuse is, at least, endearing. Christians have tried to produce games in the past to promote their views with little effect, yet PETA seems to have pulled it off quite well. Perhaps the Christian video game industry can learn a thing or two from this.

    Good or bad, this game is free with few ads and provides great co-op play. The price is most certainly right, so why not try out Kitten Squad for yourself? You might even learn something along the way.

  • Lethal VR (HTC Vive)

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    Game Info:

    Lethal VR
    Developed By: Three Fields Entertainment
    Publisher: Team17 Digital Ltd.
    Release Date: November 8, 2016
    Available On: Windows (VR Headset HTC Vive required)
    Genre: Shooting gallery
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $14.99

    Thank you Team17 for sending us this game to review!

    I have fond memories of playing various light gun games for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) when I was (much) younger.  While I got to enjoy several (who didn't love Duck Hunt?), I also fondly recall Hogan's Alley.  This was a game where you play as a police officer who trains to fire upon gangsters, while avoiding all civilians.  This VR game, Lethal VR, is based on this concept.

    Lethal VR also puts you in the role of a police recruit, where you must improve your sharpshooting and knife throwing skills.  You have to hit the various kinds of enemies, while avoiding all civilians.  There are also other skill tests where you hit non-human targets of several kinds.  A few levels even have you using multiple weapon types, where you have to hit each target with its matching weapon.

    Rather than take place in a simple room with a few targets in front of you, or conversely, a large FBI compound with multiple rooms and hallways, this version of Hogan's Alley has the room adjust itself around you before your eyes. Unfortunately, this is not as neat as it sounds; during each mission the level design is more or less static, but you do get to watch each level set itself up while waiting to get started.

    Lethal VR
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great gun-toting action; nice weapon and target variety; lots of polish
    Weak Points: Fairly short as is, since I saw all of the content in under two hours
    Moral Warnings: Male and female frontal nudity in the form of the statues David and Venus de Milo; you can hit civilian cutouts with your shots/knives accidentally

    Each of the HTC Vive controllers holds a weapon, though sometimes you only get one. A small annoyance I found is that sometimes it would choose my left hand, while other times my right, when I have a clear preference.  A way to switch this would be great, as I ended up switching controllers to get it right.

    I found the gun play to be quite excellent.  The gun looks very realistic in your hand, and feels and sounds really great when you fire.  The Vive controllers have a different angle than real guns, but the in-game ones have you hold it like a real firearm, rather than how the controller might appear without the headset on. Shooting targets feels very accurate, and I never felt like a shot was missed because of anything other than my aiming skill.  As I got used to shooting, my firing and accuracy rate went up dramatically; getting quickdraw bonuses, and seeing the targets shatter quickly, is very satisfying.

    Each level has a point requirement that you need to hit in order to unlock the next level.  There are many factors that influence the score, including shot accuracy, time between shots, time to complete the challenge, and more.  If you hit the wrong targets, or take too long to hit someone who is pointing a gun at you, you lose the mission.

    I am not sure of all of the factors that relate to your score, because the game doesn’t tell you.  But there is a leaderboard, and you can always change your initials so that you can compete with your friends as you switch off with them.  The developers have responded to player feedback, and are going to implement a global leaderboard, which I really look forward to.  Competing to be the best recruit in the world should definitely extend the playtime significantly.  While I’m dreaming a bit, having some way to allow player created levels would be fantastic, and would dramatically improve replayability.  Team17, please make it so!

    Lethal VR
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The game has about thirty levels, and I certainly enjoyed it.  Each difficulty has six levels, and there are five difficulties.  Each one gets more interesting, and seems to follow a theme.  I really liked the levels that had buildings and moving targets; the building called Hogan’s was a nice touch.  I admit I am not a huge fan of the knife throwing; it does work, but made my arms tired, and my accuracy left a lot to be desired.  But it never felt unfair; it’s just the nature of knife throwing I guess.  I love the gunplay though.

    Lethal VR takes full advantage of the Vive’s room scale capabilities.  There is nothing to dodge, as cardboard cutouts of gangsters don’t shoot back at you, but targets can appear in any direction around you in the full 360 degree cylindrical environment.  As a result, many levels can be completed by just standing still and rotating your body, but not all.  Several have objects or barricades that stand in your way, where moving, leaning, or kneeling can help you hit your target, which is sometimes obstructed from view.

    Given the high resource requirements in general for VR gaming, no VR games I have seen look nearly as photo-realistic as our existing 2D games.  This one is no exception.  Even still, everything looks very clean, clear, and well optimized. Having a high frame rate is king, and Lethal VR had no trouble keeping a steady frame rate on my AMD 290X.  Sound effects, while simple, also sound great as each gunshot has appropriate impact.  The developers also did a great job with spacial awareness for the sound effects.  Sometimes things will appear behind you, and the only way I knew it was because it sounded behind you.  I was very pleased that I could completely rely on audio cues to know where to turn next.  And on top of that, I don’t have to worry about hearing damage (or stray shots!), unlike when handling a real firearm.

    From a moral standpoint, Lethal VR is actually really clean, with a few exceptions. All humans that you may fire upon (or not) are cutouts, very similar to the classic Hogan’s Alley that I mentioned earlier.  If you are not familiar with this, think a top half picture attached to a board that moves around.  It’s simple, but it works.  If you accidentally hit a civilian, you lose the mission, so there is no violent motive there.  I don’t consider shooting a gun to be really very violent in and of itself.  There is one bonus level that has you throwing a secret weapon at statues.  These statues are Michelangelo’s David and the classic Venus de Milo.  They are both nude statues, and are represented as such here as well.  The rest of the game is safe for children, if you don’t mind them shooting a realistic gun or throwing knives at various targets.

    Lethal VR is a somewhat simple and short game, but I really enjoyed my time with it.  Sometimes, you don’t need complex plots or any other excuse to to just have fun and shoot things, especially in VR.  This style of game has been very popular on the HTC Vive for good reason – it’s simple, and a blast to play.  This game is certainly no exception.  It’s really well polished, and does what it sets out to do flawlessly, which is not always a given in the young VR market.  If the developers continue to listen to feedback and implement players' suggestions, I really believe this game can go from very good to great.  I look forward to seeing more improvements in the future!

  • Lifeless Vanguard (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Lifeless Vanguard
    Developed By: Vibrant Allegory
    Published By: Vibrant Allegory
    Released: April 4, 2019
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Arcade
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $5

    Thanks to Vibrant Allegory for the Steam key for review!

    Lifeless Vanguard is a twin-stick shooter arcade game that focuses on tough bullet patterns and careful movement rather than shiny graphics. The goal of the game is to simply get through 9 levels without dying. I was surprised by how polished the game felt and played for the cheap price and mediocre art.

    A core issue with the twin-stick arcade genre is that in most of them all you need to do to succeed is move in large circles around the map holding down the shoot button. Geometry Wars did this while remaining fun to an extent, but the lack of required movement was disappointing. Polychromatic, Waves, Galaxy Champions TV, and several others have the exact same problem. So when an arcade game breaks the formula of nearly mindless movement, to me it’s a huge bonus and boosts my enjoyment of the game significantly. You cannot get away with mindless movement in Lifeless Vanguard. The enemy design and overall game design are done in a way that prevents that.

    Enemy variety is strong and each brings a different threat. Some enemies shoot homing missiles that chase after you for a while. Most enemies shoot bullet patterns that are simple to dodge on their own, but becomes incredibly complex when there are several enemies on screen. When the store page of this game mentions an emphasis on dodging, they aren’t joking. There are boss fights that are surprisingly difficult with tight bullet patterns and large health bars. The final boss caught me off guard with how difficult its patterns were. Luckily, Lifeless Vanguard is designed in a way where everything is easily visible and recognizable. Enemies all look different enough from each other to immediately understand what you’re up against. Bullets are the standard colorful circles, but they never blended into the background. The only thing stopping you here is your own skill level, not some glowing nonsense blocking your view.

    Lifeless Vanguard
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Difficult; tight controls; replayable
    Weak Points: Visually unappealing
    Moral Warnings: Spaceship violence

    There are a couple ways to get better guns. The first way is through rare “superweapon” drops. These are weapons with limited ammo that do significantly more damage than your standard gun. You typically see about one or two superweapon drops per stage. I wish there was a bit more variety in the superweapons though, since there are only 3 types. Secondly, you gain experience points through pickups that drop sometimes when an enemy dies. With each level, your main gun gains more and more of a spread and shoots more bullets, up to 10 levels. Gaining experience is essential to your success and is another mechanic that forces you to think more about your movement.

    Lifeless Vanguard is difficult. Usually arcade games seem to be on the easier side of things, but this game is willing to throw everything it's got at you. It’s not the most casual arcade game out there, and I think for the most part I would only recommend it to those that want a legitimate challenge. That being said, the difficulty is completely fair and the game never cheats against you. I never encountered an impossible situation.

    Visually, Lifeless Vanguard is boring and unappealing. It hinders the overall quality of the game because it looks unpolished and poorly made due to the art. I understand that in some ways this is intentional, (they wanted to make things as visually distinct as possible), but there has to be ways to make the game more interesting to look at without trashing the idea of visibility.

    Lifeless Vanguard
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The music and sounds have the same issues. They’re standard and boring. They aren’t anything to be in awe over. Mechanically, Lifeless Vanguard is well polished and great fun, but the package it’s wrapped in is unfortunately downright ugly.

    Controls are fantastic. I played on an XBOX One controller for the most part, but I can gladly say that it also played very well on keyboard and mouse. All controls can be rebound to whatever you want. The ship could be a little bit faster, but the game was designed around a slower ship, so it’s fine. I only ever ran into one simple UI bug at the end of a session, but it seems inconsistent and didn’t affect the gameplay itself.

    Morally, I found next to nothing that could cause problems. All you have here is spaceships shooting other spaceships. No gore to be found, no dialogue is spoken at all, and there are no bodies that drop. Just colorful glowing bullets that make ships explode into bits. There is an online leaderboard, so you could come across somebody with a nasty username, but you never have to directly interact with that person.

    Overall, Lifeless Vanguard surprised me. The graphics and music made the game look poorly made and unpolished, but once I played some it ended up being a solid and cheap arcade shooter. I sort of wish there was an endless mode or something after the final boss, but otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game. Recommended at full price to those that want a challenge!

  • Mustache in Hell (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Mustache in Hell
    Developed By: IdunaSoft
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: July 28, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Twin-stick shooter
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $4.99

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media was a former advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

    Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review key!

    Officer John Mustache wakes up one morning to a few strange, out-of-place occurrences. Everything’s wobbling – well, that’s happened plenty of times before, including the previous night. The stairs directly in front of his bed – that’s definitely new. The Grim Reaper at the bottom of said stairs - looks kind of like his old boss, but novel aside from that. The Reaper announces that John’s almost dead but not quite alive, and thus the perfect candidate to lead a one-man attack on Charon, the former Styx boatman who stole five cubes of power and took over Hell. It's a step up from the mean streets, but let’s just say Officer Mustache is a good enough cop and a bad enough dude to storm the underworld alone.

    Mustache in Hell is a fairly standard twin-stick shooter: you fend off hordes of enemies at first with a nigh-useless pistol, with more effective but temporary weapons spawning in at semi-regular intervals. Officer Mustache has access to primary and secondary weapons: the former includes Uzis, shotguns, flamethrowers and machine guns; the latter alternates between grenades and proximity mines. There is a decent variety of enemies, though most charge you and take swings in melee range – a few bigger enemies can dash, a select few spit slow-moving bullets, and mini- and full-fledged bosses have a wider variety of deadlier attacks.

    Mustache in Hell
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Smooth controls and framerate; good music
    Weak Points: Iffy game design; questionable graphics
    Moral Warnings: Demons galore to shoot; enemies leave skeletons and bloodstains on death; language (hell, *ss, d*mn); beer as a recovery item

    Structurally, the game is sound. The controls, though unbindable, are simple and easy to pick up – the only real hiccup is binding Mustache’s quick, short-ranged dodge move to double-clicking on mouse and keyboard controls, but it works naturally once you get used to it. The framerate is a constant sixty frames per second, even with dozens of enemies and bullets on-screen. The controls, both keyboard and gamepad, respond instantly. The levels form somewhat of a maze interspersed with locked doors, with keys, health items, extra lives, and the odd secret area hidden in between combat rooms. This adds a nice pacing to the intense action that makes up the majority of the game, and lets you restock and get your bearings freely.

    Gameplay-wise, however, it’s a mixed bag. The aforementioned weapons and dashing are all you get for the entire game, with the flamethrower and machine gun limited to later levels. The enemies stay mostly the same, but the big demons can charge at you from across the screen and almost always catch you, even if you dash away. Minibosses are equally quick and nasty, especially when paired with the relentless hordes of normal enemies – most rooms have a set number of demons in them, but a few will continuously spawn them until you beat the boss. The end bosses actually have some good design to them, with tricky but avoidable attacks and more limited monster spawns than the minibosses. With Mustache’s dash being rather short and with a second or so of downtime, and with the weapon crates having oddly strict hitboxes, you often do not have the tools necessary to defend yourself. Once the environmental hazards start appearing – retractable spike floors, sawblades, falling rocks, etc. – you’ll find your life bar diminishing rapidly with little you can do.

    What exacerbates the issue is that the game seems to recognize its occasionally-unfair difficulty by throwing extra lives at you – you start each of the five levels with five lives, and can hold up to ten. It’s enough to keep you from facing a game over with competent play, but it’s a shortcut approach to game design: rather than ease up on the enemies or give you more defensive tools, they just toss enough lives at you to finish the game. The biggest example of cut gameplay corners lies at the end of every enemy room, where control is taken from you to display some sort of generic one-liner on-screen for a few moments. When it does give you control back, you could very well find yourself standing inside a trap, which can and will kill you after the fight is over. Traps don’t deactivate until you get the key that spawns after every fight, and even then only when they’re scrolled off-screen. It’s more than a little annoying to survive a fight with next to no health, only for a roaming sawblade to finish you off while you’re stuck in place.

    Mustache in Hell
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 66%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 72%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The overall presentation is mixed, as well. Mustache himself looks decent, the environments are nice enough, and there’s this subtle but noticeable swaying of the screen that adds atmosphere but doesn’t distract from the game itself. The music is surprisingly good – there’s not much of it, but its tense yet energetic exploration themes and high-energy combat rock are pleasing to listen to. The sound effects do their job, with the weapons having appropriate punch, though the standard irritating warning beep when you’re below half health rears its ugly head here. Most of the art, however, looks iffy, both in the in-game sprites and in the close-up text boxes. The dialogue is written likely by someone for whom English is a second language, but it’s understandable and ultimately unimportant – the broken English and questionable art almost give off a kind of deranged charm. Considering Mustache in Hell was made by one person, outside of the music and promotional art, it deserves some leeway.

    As if the name of the game wasn’t enough of a clue, Mustache in Hell has some moral issues to talk about. There’s demons aplenty to shoot, and they leave behind blood and bones on death – Officer Mustache just sort of dissipates and floats upward as a ghostly angel when he’s killed. Despite being in Hell, there are no occult symbols to find. You’re technically working with the Grim Reaper to get your life back, but it’s stated that Charon would take the fight to Earth and Heaven. There are your stereotypical 1980s police movie quips, containing semi-uncommon PG-13 language, but none of the heavier words. Finally, one of the health items is a mug of beer, and Mustache is a rather heavy smoker and drinker – though the Reaper mentions it’s why he’s in this half-dead state to begin with.

    Mustache in Hell is, ultimately, rather average; while its code is solid, its game design leaves something to be desired. It’s rather short as well: you’ll be able to tour the whole game in just over two hours, though some of the optional achievements – beating levels without dying and defeating bosses without getting hit – will certainly take some time if you’re up for it. The $4.99 asking price is rather steep for what you get, however; outside of a sale or price drop, your twin-stick shooter itch would be better scratched elsewhere.

    -Cadogan

  • Overkill VR (HTC Vive)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Overkill VR
    Developed By: Starloop Studios
    Published By: Game Troopers
    Release Date: November 16, 2016
    Available On: Windows (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or Windows Mixed Reality VR Headset required)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Action/Wave shooter
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you Game Troopers for sending us this game to review!

    Overkill VR is a virtual reality wave shooter where you are in various typically desert-like environments and you have to keep the many enemies that shoot at you from killing you. Unlike many wave shooters, there is a fair amount of cover available, and what is there changes depending on the level. Some parts have a wall, with others a low obstacle you can use for defense. And there are guns. Lots of guns.

    In between the action, you can equip guns, purchase modifications to weapons, upgrade your armor, and more. Much of the game is spent improving yourself; you can choose to replay levels to earn more money to buy better weapons, or add upgrades like laser sights (which definitely come in handy). You can have two guns equipped at any time, and the secondary gun can often be a pistol, which usually has unlimited ammo. This can be really useful, especially when you want to conserve the main weapon’s ammo for times when there are more or stronger enemies around.

    Overkill VR
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice looking, detailed environments; good weapon mechanics and variety; weapon and armor customization; lots of levels
    Weak Points: Difficulty ramps up quickly; it’s hard to tell when you are hit; aiming is very picky
    Moral Warnings: Enemies die when shot; red slashes of blood appear when enemies are shot

    There are twenty-two levels to play, and quite a lot of variety. In order to unlock some weapons, you not only have to have the cash, but also you need to have completed certain levels. This is great, and an encouragement to keep going – but it also means that if you are like me, you may hit a difficulty wall and are stuck at around level 4-5 and need either more skill or upgraded weapons to move on. I hit that wall, and I rarely feel comfortable playing VR games for more than an hour or so and a time; I hope that explains why it took me over a year to write this review…

    Despite this, it’s easy to see that Overkill VR is a quality game. The mechanics are good, and the content is much more than many VR games (I have played many where there are only a handful of levels - if you are lucky). Graphically, it’s very well done, and the sound effects are quite convincing. There can be many enemies on screen at once, and the action is always intense. This game is like many where some enemies need several shots to go down; I would prefer it if a VR game would begin to disable enemies after a shot connects so that you know if your shots connected (other than life meter movement), but this is not that game.

    Overkill VR
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    And while this game is far from the only VR wave shooter with this problem, it’s tricky to know if you have been shot, or from where. I prefer games that give you a visual cue, since current technology prevents you from ‘feeling’ the impact of a virtual bullet. There is a life meter on one of your hands, but you don’t know if you are going to die until you are almost dead.

    Morally, there are gunshots, and lots of them. If you don’t kill your opponents, they will kill you. I don’t recall any foul language, though to be fair it is difficult to take notes on a VR game (and I have only seen the first part of the game because of the difficulty wall).

    Overkill VR is a high quality VR wave shooter that is in many ways better than most of the others that I have reviewed. It has more gameplay depth, much better and more realistic graphics, and tons more content than most VR games. It is not easy, so if you are going to take the plunge, be aware of that and budget your time appropriately. Recommended for fans of VR wave shooters.

  • Overload (HTC Vive/PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Overload
    Developed By: Revival Productions, LLC
    Published By: Revival Productions, LLC
    Release Date: May 31, 2018
    Available On: Windows (HTC Vive/Oculus Rift support available!), macOS, Linux/SteamOS, PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Action/six degrees of freedom shooter
    Number of Players: 1 (local), up to 8 online
    ESRB Rating: T for Violence, Mild Language
    MSRP: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you UberTri for donating the game to us so we can review it!

    Having been fortunate enough to grow up with the evolution of video games as I have, I got to see many of the more unique experiments hit gaming in context. For example, I remember playing DOOM when it was new, and being blown away by it along with everyone else in the pre-internet era. Another huge genre of the time was space combat, with stalwarts like Wing Commander. Someone at Parallax must have had the brilliant idea of putting the two together: full, six degrees of freedom (6DoF) movement, along with fully three-dimensional corridor-style stages, somewhat reminiscent of DOOM in three dimensions, all from the first-person perspective. The result was brilliant, in a game called Descent.

    Almost anyone who played Descent in the late 1990s has positive memories from it. It was brilliantly designed, with great-feeling movement, engaging combat, and good graphics for the time. The controls were something else, in that you had more axes of control than almost any other game. You had tilting up/down, turning left/right, sliding up/down, sliding left/right, rotation (also known as rolling), and, of course, moving forward/backwards. This meant that you needed a full six axes in order to be able to control all movements. Suffice it to say, you needed a seriously fancy control setup if you wanted to be able to do all of these, using precise, analog controls. Despite this, it was still quite fun even on modest setups, and was popular enough to spawn two sequels.

    One neat thing about Descent is that the community has managed to stay alive because the engine itself was released as open source quite a few years ago. If you would like to see what all the fuss is about over Descent, you can actually try the original demo for free, with a few choices for an updated game engine. The source code was released for Descent 1 and 2 (never for 3) and so several source projects are available for those two games.

    Overload
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent unofficial sequel to the 1990s classic, Descent; made by some of the original Descent developers, so it feels absolutely perfect for veterans; good graphics, sound effects, and music; free level editor; interesting revenue share system for community-made levels; VR looks amazing; great Discord community; PC and console cross-play
    Weak Points: VR mode looks great, but is likely to be difficult for those prone to motion sickness; because of Sony/Microsoft limitations, there is PC and console cross-play, but the consoles cannot be on a server together
    Moral Warnings: Violence against other AI machinery; minor curse words like 'h*ll' and 'b*st*rd'

    Overload is the result of two of the original designers deciding that it was time to make another one. While they were unable to secure the Descent name license (another team got it first), they made what is often called a spiritual sequel to Descent 2. Overload, after having played it for a while, is exactly what I had hoped a Descent sequel would look like: Descent, only newer and better.

    Overload takes place in our solar system, in a future where we are harvesting resources from asteroids, moons, and so on, using mostly AI-controlled robotic machinery to do the hard work. At some point, the AI controlling them goes haywire, and it's up to you to destroy the robots to make each mine safe again. The story is told through a combination of story explanations in between levels, and pickups that tell a pre-recorded story sequence about what happened there in the past. Sometimes, it's hard to hear these stories, because combat is happening while you are trying to hear them. What I paid attention to seemed mildly interesting, but I don't consider the story the focus of Overload.

    What Overload is all about, is being a modern reinterpretation of the Descent formula. And it's got it where it counts. It moves and turns a bit faster than Descent did, which is probably for the best, and there is a limit to turn speed, so if it was too much slower, mouse control would not feel right. Thankfully, it's pretty quick, so I never felt like the mouse was being held back much at all. I also tried it with my classic Microsoft Force Feedback 2 joystick, and it plays great, but I am more accurate with the mouse, so I stuck with that for the most part. I did use a PlayStation Move Navigation controller for my left hand, which is a little-known handy device that lets you use a one-handed gamepad for your left hand rather than being forced to use the keyboard. Overload supports extensive controller and button remapping, so getting a good control config with any combination of controllers or keypresses is very easy to accomplish. I even used joystick and Steam Controller together for a bit just to try it, and it worked just fine.

    When it comes to content, there is a decent-length campaign, of sixteen levels. Each level can take anywhere from a few minutes to twenty or more, depending on how much you end up backtracking and exploring every nook and cranny. The levels themselves are somewhat static, with only secret rooms/doors presenting the challenge during exploration, and of course the enemies livening things up otherwise. Despite that, the levels are quite labyrinthine, and interesting to explore. It helps a lot to have a great spatial memory, especially since you can find yourself upside-down and confused if you don't pay attention to your surroundings. Thankfully, there is a high-quality map available at any time by pressing a button, and a guide bot also available to help you find your next objective if you so choose.

    There are twelve multiplayer maps, as well as a community level pack, with at least one more such level pack planned. The developers cooked up an interesting system here; if you create a level and share it with the developers, if they like it, they can put the level in a level pack, and they will split the revenue with the creator 50/50 for that level. It's a nice incentive for creators to make the best levels possible.

    Other than the main mission mode (where the story is), there is also challenge mode, and online multiplayer. Challenge mode has twelve levels available in it, and in this mode you basically keep playing until you die, taking as many enemy AI bots as possible with you. There are two variants: infinite and countdown, where you have as much time as you can survive, or are given a five-minute timer. There are online leaderboards to compete against to show off your success.

    Overload
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content -10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Online multiplayer is a blast, with the excellent Discord community of friendly and helpful people who are really fun to play with. Searching for a random game using the in-game interface didn't work out to well, but any time that I had free time to play, there was almost always a private game to connect to via the Discord community. I would highly encourage anyone looking to play this game online to try hitting them up - they are very nice people and the chaos of eight-player Overload is a sight to behold. You are doing well to survive for more than five seconds, but with a two second respawn time, it's great fun!

    This game performs quite well, no doubt in part to the relatively simple (but certainly not ugly) graphics. I played at 4k@60Hz on my desktop without issue (though to be fair, I am running a 2080 Ti). The better test was how it would play on my low-powered GPD Win 2, and if you run the game on all low at 960x544, it looks and runs very well. There are occasional frame drops, sure, but it's quite playable. The music is quite catchy, with electronic beats and synth instruments. The music was created by original Descent musicians also, so it sounds very authentic and lots of fun.

    From an appropriateness standpoint, I found Overload to be quite clean, compared to most modern gaming media. There is killing of AI bots. The main issue is that there are very minor curse words found in the story mode, including 'h*ll' and 'b*st*rd'. A kind modder from the Discord community went so far as to grab the game's text for me and sent it so I could search the entire campaign for curse words, so I am quite confident that those are the only common ones present. Didn't I tell you that the Discord community is awesome there?

    Overload is a game that hits all of the right buttons for this older gamer. The 1990s were arguably the first major golden age of PC gaming, and many incredible gems came out of that period, including Descent, which this game honors with aplomb. If you aren't sure if you'll like a shooter as crazy as this, why don't you give Descent a try? There is free demo data, and with the several source ports available, you should have no trouble running it on virtually any modern (or not so modern) PC. And if you like it, Overload is very similar, but faster and more modern. I really enjoyed my time with it, and I wish I had more time to play it even more. Overload gets an easy recommendation from me.

     

     

     

     

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  • Pixel Gear (PSVR)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pixel Gear
    Developed by: Oasis games
    Published by: Oasis Games
    Release date: October 20, 2016
    Available on: PSVR
    Genre: Shooter
    Number of players: Up to four locally
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $10.99

    Thank you Oasis Games Ltd. for sending us this game to review!

    After not being impressed with the PSVR controls in Ace Banana, I was dreading how it would do in a 3D shooter like Pixel Gear.  Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised at how much better the Move controls work in this title.  Precision is key, as you often have to shoot off the helmets of the zombie knights before you can re-send them to their digital graves.

    There’s no story in Pixel Gear, you just need to shoot every monster you can before they reach you and drain your health.  Unlike many shooter games, you can’t just shoot everything that moves.  At the end of a level and sometimes during it, ghosts and angels may rise up from the ground.  The ghosts are often carrying helpful items like coins, health, bombs, and ammunition.  You definitely want to shoot the ghosts for points and other goodies.  However, if you shoot an angel you’ll get a couple thousand points deducted from your score.

    Pixel Gear
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Reasonably priced; accurate controls
    Weak Points: Only a handful of levels; repetitive gameplay
    Moral Warnings: Violence and Halloween themed enemies

    Six levels unlock as you complete the previous ones.  In order to complete a level you must survive several waves of enemies and defeat the boss in the final wave.  You’ll be shooting down bats, ghosts, skeletons, chaingun wielding Frankenstein momsters, witches, and zombies.  The bosses are several times the size of the typical foes.  They also have much more health that takes dodging several attacks and breaking down defenses before you have a chance to deplete it.  Instead of a standard health bar, they have a constellation that loses stars as you do damage to them.

    Regular enemies typically go down in a couple of hits when using the standard issue pistol with unlimited ammunition.  Even though the ammunition is unlimited, the gun can only hold a set amount before needing to be reloaded.  Every other unlockable weapon requires buying more ammo with coins collected from ghosts.  You can spend coins on weapons like grenade launchers, more health, increased ammunition capacity, and the ability to see ghosts with neat abilities.  I like the ghosts that drop bombs when you shoot them.  

    The single-player levels change the scenery and add new enemies with each new level.  The multiplayer modes allow three non-VR players to join in and try to collect coins while the VR player tries to prevent them from doing so.  Multiplayer was added a couple of month after the game’s release and currently supports local gameplay only.

    Pixel Gear
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Pixel Gear is relatively short and besides playing with friends, you can add replay value by trying a harder difficulty level.  There are four difficulty modes to choose from.  Other goals could include increasing your score or just your accuracy.  At the end of each level, your stats are shown and my 60 something percent accuracy can use some improvement.

    While Pixel Gear won’t entertain you for hours on end with an epic story and fresh gameplay, it’s still a great pick up and play game that lets you shoot stuff.  The blocky pixel style graphics reminds me of Minecraft and the sound effects are fitting.  

    Overall, this is a cute game that sells for $10.99 and it runs surprisingly well on the PSVR.  The only issue I ran into was that I had a frozen title screen if the camera was not properly configured.  Once it was, this game ran great and I highly recommend checking it out if it goes on sale.

  • Qubit’s Quest (PS4)

     

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    Game Info:

    Qubit’s Quest
    Developed by: Two Oaks Entertainment Ltd.
    Published by: Performance Designed Products LLC
    Release Date: November 1, 2019
    Available on: PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Arcade
    Number of Players: Up to four (additional LIGHTCONs required)
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $19.99 for the game only, $99.99 for the MARS base station and LIGHTCON bundle
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you PDP for sending us 3 LIGHTCONs, a MARS base station, and this title to review!

    Like many kids growing up in the 80s I had the NES system with a light gun and enjoyed shooting down virtual ducks (and dog that laughed at me for missing) in Duck Hunt. Other video game gun accessories have come and gone, but nothing has dethroned that setup yet.

    PDP makes some awesome gaming gear and I was excited to see this MARS system in action. It’s available for both the PS4 and Xbox One. As of this review, there are three games available for it and this is the first one I’ve played so far. I must admit that so far I’m not impressed.

    We’re blessed to have a projector and a 125” game screen to work with. I’m not sure if that complicates the IR base’s calibration process, but it shouldn’t take over thirty minutes to calibrate every time we want to launch the game. More often than not, we spent more time calibrating (before and mid-game) than playing! The IR base’s ten-foot cable wasn’t long enough to do the calibration so we connected a USB extension cable to make it reach.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun collection of arcade games to be enjoyed with up to four players
    Weak Points: Camera calibration can take a half an hour or more to setup and then lose calibration several times during gameplay; unpredictable physics; annoying levels in the story mode
    Moral Warnings: Robotic violence

    The next hurdle was getting all of the guns recognized. After going through the hassle of calibrating the camera, it was a slap in the face to only have one of the three LIGHTCONs recognized in the game. The other guns were paired by holding down the trigger and pressing in the back button simultaneously, and then pressing the power button. If all goes well, the power button should change to a color other than white. You can change the gun’s color in the game menu if desired.

    One the IR Base is calibrated and the LIGHTCONs are paired, it’s time to play Quibit’s Quest. In the adventure mode, Qubit is a rover blaster tactical robot that has to safely deliver information back to the Resistance. Their goal is to stop Kwantum from taking over the world with their tactical military AI robots. The story is broken down into missions that have main and secondary objectives to complete. Some of the optional goals could be destroying a certain number of drones, trees, waste cans, etc. Most of the environment is destructible so have fun shooting at anything your heart desires.
    You’ll get points for destroying stuff and completing the objectives. Many of the levels end with a boss battle so be prepared for anything!

    Many of the levels are in a third-person platformer style where you have to have Qubit jump by pressing the back button on the LIGHTCON while shooting down malicious robots. There is a space level where Qubit is inside of a giant bubble and you have to shoot the bubble in the desired direction while avoiding drones and mines. After that challenge, Qubit has to hop between asteroids by landing into their gravitational pull. The physics for this section is horrible and I’m thankful that there are checkpoints in the level so we didn’t have to do the bubble portion all over again.

    Qubit’s Quest
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    If the adventure mode gets on your nerves, the arcade mode has ten decent mini-games to choose from. In most modes, you have three lives/mistakes before it’s game over. Here’s a breakdown of them:

    Dog Gun-it – Destroy flying drones before they fly away. It’s similar to clay shooting, but the flight patterns of the drones are unpredictable.
    Ruff Alley – In this shooting gallery styled game, you have to quickly shoot the enemy targets and not the ones with Qubit on them.
    Quibitron – Qubit is in a bubble which you can move around by shooting at it. You have to try and collect dog bones while avoiding enemy contact.
    Floppy Dog – Those who have played Flappy Bird will know what to do. You must keep Qubit airborne by constantly jumping and avoiding barriers and mines. If you collect bones along the way you’ll score points.
    Whistle Command – Atari owners will enjoy this homage to the classic Missile Command game where you have to protect the dog houses by shooting down missiles heading for them. When the last dog house falls, it’s game over.
    Robot Invasion – Troopers are coming down Galaga-style and you have to prevent them from reaching the surface.
    Spaced Out – You have to shoot down mines launched into outer space. But not when they’re red!
    Quick Draw – In this carting mini-game you have to shoot the green area of the targets in order to add 3-5 seconds into your run. How long will your ride be?
    Jet pack – Safely guide Qubit through the firewalls by shooting the green boxes. Avoid the red ones!
    Juggle Jumble – You must keep the ball in the air by shooting it and avoid the mines and other obstacles floating around.

    As you can see, there are lots of mini-games to enjoy and they’re all family-friendly. It’s just a pain to setup the calibration and then having to re-calibrate it mid-game as well. Though the adventure mode is hit and miss, I enjoyed the arcade collection quite a bit more. I just wish that the hardware was easier to work with. I would wait for a sale before buying this bundle. If you already have the system up and running with no issues, it’s definitely worth adding to your collection.

  • R-Type Dimensions EX (PC)

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    Game Info:

    R-Type Dimensions EX
    Developed By: Irem Software Engineering/Tozai Games, Inc./ESQUANDRA, Inc.
    Published By: Tozai Games, Inc.
    Release Date: July 1, 1987 (Arcade)/February 4, 2009 (Xbox 360)/May 20, 2014 (PS3)/November 28, 2018 (Windows, Nintendo Switch)
    Available On: Windows, Switch, PS3, Xbox 360
    Genre: Arcade Shoot 'em up
    Number of Players: 1-2
    ESRB Rating: E for Mild Fantasy Violence
    MSRP: $9.99 (Xbox 360, PS3), $14.99 (Windows, Switch)

     

    Thank you Tozai Games for sending us this game to review!

    R-Type Dimensions is a modern collection of the first two classic R-Type games from the late 1980s. As an emulation of those games, it works well. There is also a welcome addition of an HD graphics mode that is a nice touch. But what surprised me was the realization that the classic R-Type games that I played as a kid were not these arcade games – those were the significantly rebalanced console editions. These arcade classics were designed to eat quarters – and they no doubt did that with aplomb.

    While I consider my skill at shoot 'em ups to be above average (but by no means high end), it quickly became apparent after about the second level that this game means business. It didn't take long before I started racking up double and then triple-digit deaths on each level.

    You see, this game has two modes: a Classic mode where you have 3 lives and can continue after certain checkpoints, and Infinite where you have unlimited lives, and your score can be sent to leaderboards if you do well enough. Suffice it to say that while I did get to complete each game after a few short hours in one sitting, my scores were laughably bad.

    R-Type Dimensions EX
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Two arcade classics rolled into one package; various video options to suit your preferences; a few extra options compared to the Xbox and PS3 ports; will work perfectly on any modern PC; the game is faithful to the source material
    Weak Points: The resolution options top out at 1080p; the game is faithful to the source material
    Moral Warnings: Arcade violence; a few enemies look like fetuses

    For those who have never played R-Type, you are trying to save humanity from the Bydo threat. It is a 2D horizontal side-scrolling shoot 'em up. Your ship is equipped with a unique Force Pod, which can take various power-ups. You can also blast it forward in front of you, behind you, or attach it in either place as well. You can also prepare a charged shot for a more powerful blast. R-Type II has a super charged shot, but I find the release window required to be frustrating to pull off consistently.

    Most of the time I was playing, I used the new HD mode. The graphics look pretty good here. But there is a button that is all too easy to hit, that switches you between modern and classic on the fly. While that may sound neat, and it was, it can be distracting if you hit it on accident. On PS3, I noticed that the HD graphics mode felt a bit laggy. I did not notice that on the PC version, which was a big complaint I had on the PS3 version. Not that I expected issues, but this game ran just as well on an Intel iGPU on my GPD Win 2 as it did on my higher-end gaming desktop. There are also nice sounding musical upgrades to go along with the graphical improvements. When you press the button to switch between 3D rendered and pixel graphics, the music and sound effects also switch between remixed and classic chiptunes. I like the new music much better.

    R-Type Dimensions EX
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    The new PC/Switch version also adds a few more subtle features to what is otherwise the same game as the PS3 version I reviewed those years ago. The first, and perhaps simplest, is that the game now renders at 1080p rather than 720p. It’s a notable improvement, though why it doesn’t support 4K (or even better, simply scale to your screen resolution) is a mystery. Also, they made Infinite mode easier by offering the player the choice to press a button to automatically and instantly max out their power-ups. Given how difficult the game is, and how certain bosses are quite difficult to hit without some power-ups, it can help quite a lot. They also added fast-forward and rewind buttons. Finally, you can choose whether or not your co-op partner can be damaged by you in two-player mode or not.

    I would say that if you like classic shoot 'em ups, especially ones as important to the genre as R-Type, you really can't go too wrong with this collection. There is also a co-op mode, which is a nice touch. Other than the odd fetus enemies, and blasting aliens to bits, there is not much to complain about morally. Just don't be surprised if you die a whole lot because you did not fly the level in the perfectly prescribed method that you are expected to find by countless repetition. No matter how perfect the port is, nothing can save you from the pitfalls of classic game design.

  • Redeemer (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Redeemer
    Developer: Sobaka Studio
    Published by: Gambitious Digital Entertainment
    Release Date: August 1, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Top-Down Action
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: unrated
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Sobaka Studios for the review code.

    Have you ever been to a restaurant that looks ugly but has a great meal? That can apply to video games in a way as well. When a game tries to sell itself on sexy ladies, a dark edgy story, or brutal violence alone you might assume it's not going to be that good. Yet when you dive in, it might keep you pleasantly surprised depending on your tastes. Today's game, Redeemer, is a brutal top down combat game that sells itself on violent old school combat. A lot of its descriptions on the store page are very overexaggerated including calling its kill system and disarm system unique. Let's see if this game may have a bad presentation but a great taste.

    In Redeemer you play as the soldier for hire turned monk, Vasily. He was once one of their best assassins, yet when they tried to force cybernetic enhancements on their soldiers, he escaped to a remote Buddhist temple to try and find peace. This peace is short-lived when the same company invades his new home, seeking a secret even Vasily didn't know about. His life is once again in ruins and he must now destroy these invasive soldiers by any means necessary to put a stop to their true intentions.

    Redeemer
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: It is a well built game in the combat aspect, if you're looking for simple combat with a brutal feel you will get it in this game.
    Weak Points: This game is average on the most bare bone terms. Its combat is repetitive, the sound, music and graphics are just there. Aside from progressing the story, you have nothing else to work toward except harder difficulties. Nothings bad, just average and forgettable.
    Moral Warnings: The game is extremely violent even for a top down game. They at least captured the one man army trope well!

    The combat is basic - think Diablo 3 without skills or passives. You control Vasily from a top-down perspective, exploring areas and slaying every enemy in your way. You have a punch and a kick with the left and right mouse buttons. You have the ability to disarm opponents of weapons, and environmental hazards can be used for instant kills. You can use any gun or melee weapon available to you from around the level or from a slain enemy. You also have a parry and block button. Stealth kills are an option if you so wish but most people won't want to do that. The game is definitly most rewarding when it comes to its brutal in your face combat.

    For those that seek a violent rush, you'll get it but don't expect this game to be the next Postal or Doom. That is why it was strange to me that they called their combat system unique on the store page. We've had plenty of games with environmental kills, disarming opponents, stealth kills and all of what they offer. It doesn't mean it's bad or that they are copying a more successful game. I've played many platformers, shooters, and RPGs. This doesn't mean all other games of these genres are copying Mario, Call Of Duty and Final Fantasy. Yet if there's a better version of the same experience, I am going to go with the better version.

    The story, graphics, and sound don't help much in the experience either. I understand why a lot of people say they aren't in it for the story. I respect that, but it doesn't mean that I am just going to ignore that part of the game. It's like something from an '80s action movie: a character with a dark past tries to hide from it only for it to catch up with him. You can tie dark and brutal stories to your gameplay to enhance the experience; it shouldn't be a throw away element to your design. The voice acting is corny and cheap, but the actors did the jobs asked of them so I can't fault them for it. The music and sound effects are basic loops and stock soundtracks that are just kind of there. They don't help nor hinder the experience. You won't have much time to enjoy the stages with all the fast combat, yet when I did slow down it was mostly walls and random temple set pieces from a top down view. Nothing was ugly, yet nothing was unique or memorable either.

    Redeemer
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 68%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    Personally I am glad the game didn't have random skill trees or abilities and kept the combat pure, yet this comes with a negative as well. When you don't have anything for the player to progress towards besides a silly story, repetitive and linear combat will get boring much more quickly. Even popular linear games always have something for a player to grind towards.

    For certain users, myself included, there's random frame drops at certain levels. Though I haven't experienced anything debilitating as of yet there are some who say that the frame drops affect gameplay to unplayable levels. Most likely this will vary PC to PC.

    Redeemer is definitely a game to file as 17 and up. Vasily is gory, rough, and violent as is expected of any one man army character trope. Only thing it doesn't really have is any sexual moments or particularly rough language. Vasily mostly talks about all the murder he's going to commit since his old company killed his fellow monks like dogs.

    Redeemer is neither bad or great food; It's the fast food version of your favorite meal. You didn't have the time to cook your favorite today nor the desire to go get it at a sit down restaurant, so you just went through the drive-thru to pick it up. Sure you could have had better quality food but it's not bad; it filled you up and you may even pick up the fast food that is Redeemer for a few bites every now and then.

  • RocketsRocketsRockets (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    RocketsRocketsRockets
    Developed By: Radial Games
    Published By: Radial Games
    Released: November 15, 2018
    Available On: Linux, macOS, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
    Genre: Action game, sports, shooter
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone.
    Number of Players: 1 to 4
    Price: 4.99 to 9.99 for a Deluxe Edition which includes a soundtrack and exclusive bonuses

    First of all, thanks to Radial Games for the code to review this fine game!

    RocketsRocketsRockets is a basic 2-D shooter game developed by Radial Games. The object of the game is to fly rockets at other rockets and emerge as the winner. You can either play alone against the computer(the resident AI Stanley) or with up to 3 other players. You can choose from a variety of options of gameplay. Rockets is easy enough to figure out, but it is kind enough to include a tutorial on the start screen. Depending on which version you are playing, one button controls the missiles, one the mines, one for the shield and one for the bombs, and you use the control pad to fly the rocket.

    When playing, you take the rocket against a team. You are allowed to choose which background you want to use. For beginners, you can use 'Close Quarters' which is described as 'just you and your skill.' Asteroid Field is a bit more difficult and has asteroids flying around which you must dodge. Tower is a mode in which you must beware of falling objects that would impede your progress. Battle field is, in my opinion, the hardest as you must constantly dodge objects and lasers being shot at you.

    RocketsRocketsRockets
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Colorful graphics, fun to play, great music
    Weak Points: Not a lot of story-line and gets boring quickly
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence (minimal)

    There are 2 modes you can play in Rockets —the first is Zen, which is by yourself and is basically just a cut down version of the main mode. It gets old quickly. The Tournament version is more fun, especially with more than 2 players. As someone who didn't have anyone to play with, both modes got boring.

    On a positive note, the soundtrack and sound effects are really awesome. I could easily see myself downloading the soundtrack to my phone for working out as it is very upbeat and continues to draw you in and adds to the charm. The sound effects are appropriate for a game set in space-- a lot of
    alien- like sounds and sound effects and the appropriate sound when you are hit by another rocket, such as clunking, or lasers go off.

    RocketsRocketsRockets
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As for the morality score, there isn't really a lot to complain about here. If you are concerned about nudity, language, or occult/supernatural, there is none of it in this game. NONE. The only thing I guess that I could complain about is that there is cartoon violence, such as your rocket shaking when you get hit by another person, but even that is being too picky. Really, this game is totally harmless.

    All in all, this is a good game and it's certainly worth shelling out 5 dollars for. If you really want the deluxe edition, 10 dollars isn't too much to sacrifice either. However, as someone who prefers more adventure and RPG games, this wasn't my cup of tea. But that's really just my opinion. If you are into shooters and like multi-players, this one's a winner! Bonus points for the awesome soundtrack!

  • ROM: Extraction (HTC Vive)

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    Game Info:

    ROM: Extraction
    Developed By: First Contact Entertainment
    Publisher: First Contact Entertainment
    Release Date: December 7, 2016
    Available On: Windows (HTC Vive or Oculus & Touch required)
    Genre: Action/Wave shooter
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $19.99

    Thank you First Contact Entertainment for sending us this game to review!

    The early VR games market is, in many ways, at a point in time where developers are doing their best to figure out what is fun within the limitations of current VR, and one of the early discoveries is that wave shooters are fun.

    What is a wave shooter?  Well, usually you have a weapon or two, and waves upon waves of enemies come by, and it's your job to eliminate them.  Some have weapon variety, enemy variety, or (rarely) level variety, but they all have you shooting at various still or moving targets.  Gunplay is very well suited to the Vive's controller, so it's not totally surprising that this would happen.

    ROM: Extraction is, despite marketing material saying otherwise, a simple variation on the wave shooter.  However, rather than endless waves of enemies that only stop when you are killed, each level has a time limit, during which you have to take out as many alien invaders as possible, while surviving in time for your extraction.  Based on your success and difficulty level, you tally up a score, which is submitted to online leaderboards, so you can see how well you do compared to everyone else.  It's a classic system that works well.

    ROM: Extraction
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good graphics and polish; interesting slow down mechanic and power-ups
    Weak Points: Very little content; all dark scenes makes it seem blurrier than it should be; marketing tries to avoid calling it a wave shooter as much as possible despite it basically being one
    Moral Warnings: Animated violence against invading robotic aliens

    A typical game session starts with alarms going off, and a communication from your rescuers saying to hang in there while they prepare for extraction.  They also alert you when there are fresh baddies incoming.  Then starts up the dubstep music, and if you want to win, you start your counterattacks.  In addition to the typical 'shoot at everything' gameplay, there is your off hand where you get to throw all kinds of fancy grenades, and they explode if you shoot them.  If needed, you can slow down your environment, which makes those grenade shots much easier.

    Your laser pistol is frankly really weak.  It takes close to ten shots to take down an enemy, and your trigger finger gets tired pretty fast.  If you mostly rely on it, you will likely get very frustrated with this game, as I was at first also. You will not succeed if you do not learn to throw those grenades well.  

    Your off hand throws a default grenade that explodes on impact or when shot.  If you time it right (slow motion helps a lot, but is not required), it can take out multiple enemies at once, which is good fun.  Sometimes enemies drop grenade upgrades, which only last one use, but are often much more powerful.  These include things like bouncy grenades, chain attacks, and more.  Thankfully, healing is also something that can be dropped.  

    ROM: Extraction
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I have a few complaints that I have to air, though.  One is fairly basic: grenade throwing doesn't feel right.  When I lob, it doesn't go where I think it should.  I am not the only person to say this based on a YouTube video I saw, but you do get used to it.  I think the gravity and angle of throwing is off a bit or something (gravity makes sense since you are on a space station).  The gun is so weak that it's almost useless.  You have to pump that trigger a bunch of times to do any real damage to anything.  It's also hard to tell what the damage status of the enemies or yourself is in the heat of battle.  Maybe I just missed the health meter, but the screen does turn red as you get low on health.

    And of course, there is the obvious issue: the massive lack of content.  I do know that the developers have promised several free expansions/DLCs, so this issue may resolve itself, but on release (not early access), there was only a singular level to play, for approximately three minutes.  That's it.  The first time I went to play this to review it I though I must have missed something, so I went back some time later. No... there really was nothing else.  If this game was $3 like BladeShield, then that would be just fine.  But at the launch prices, it was too much.  Thankfully, they seem to be keeping their promise, as the first expansion pack was just released.  Honestly, this second level is much more enjoyable than the first, and if it's a sign of more good things to come, will be something to look forward to.  I certainly hope that the developers keep their promise to continue to provide additional free content well into the future.  To be fair, not only did they release the first content pack, they are also staying in touch with the community via the Steam discussion forums.

    The graphics are very good, but I thought that the dark color palette doesn't play to the VR headset's strengths.  It makes the game appear blurrier than it is because clarity is sacrificed when there is low contrast.  This is more of a fault with the Vive (which tends to have better colors than the Rift as it is) than anything else; I expect that future headsets will resolve this issue quite well.  For reference, I ran this game on mostly maximum settings (except for supersampling) on my i7 laptop with a Nvidia 1070.

    ROM: Extraction is the beginning of a potentially very good VR game.  Its 'throw and slow' mechanic can be fun and interesting.  Morally, there is nothing other than animated alien violence to worry about.  If you enjoy competitive leaderboards, and are looking for something to share with friends in short bursts, this can be a perfect candidate.  I hope that the content continues to grow, or the price is adjusted to make this game a great value.  If it does, it will be easy to recommend.

     

  • Shoot Mania VR Fun Zombies (Oculus Rift)

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    Game Info:

    Shoot Mania VR Fun Zombies
    Developed by: Funny Twins
    Published by: Funny Twins
    Release date: February 17, 2017
    Available on: Windows (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift)
    Genre: Shooter
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating:
    Price: $7.77

    Thank you Funny Twins for sending us this game to review!

    Shooting games are great for virtual reality. Just like other gaming platforms, VR has its fair share of zombie games and Shoot Mania VR Fun Zombies has you blasting away at zombies that are after your pumpkins, grills, or brain. There are three game modes (defense, wave, survival) and difficulty levels (easy, medium, hard) to choose from. In all honesty, I didn't see much difference between the wave and defense modes since both of them felt like 3D wave shooters.

    When you first start the game you’ll be armed with a pistol that holds eight rounds at a time. Reloading takes precious time, which can be a big deal if you don't ration ammunition properly, since the zombies don't stop and wait for you. Better guns like shotguns, rifles, AK-47s, and chain guns are unlockable from 1,000-20,000 credits. There are even options to duel wield them if you have enough credits to spare.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Inexpensive and fun VR game
    Weak Points: Inaccurate aiming/controls; only two levels; you can buy the guns via micro-transactions if you don’t want to earn them
    Moral Warnings: You’re shooting zombies and their blood is green; when a zombie destroys something that you’re supposed to be protecting, they may flip you off as a taunt

    Credits are only earned when you win a game. There’s no such thing as partial credit here. Points and credits are awarded for each zombie killed and other factors like the level and difficulty are taken into consideration as well. There are two levels to choose from and the city one is easier since cars driving by occasionally run over zombies that are in their way. The farm level is a little more challenging since you’re on your own. Both levels have birds flying overhead that you can get points for shooting down if you have time or ammo to spare.

    Unlocking guns will take a while since you’ll earn about fifty credits a game on easy mode. If you’re in a hurry, you can unlock the guns via DLC purchases for $1 per 1,000 credits. For each unlocked gun, you’ll earn a Steam achievement. My favorite gun is the AK-47 since it holds thirty rounds and is quick to reload. Dual wielding them makes you pretty much invincible.

    Shoot Mania VR Fun Zombies
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 8.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    If you do lose an item you were supposed to protect, the zombies will taunt you. Sadly, one of those taunts include them flipping you off. Violence is a given in this shooting game and the zombies' blood is green in case you were wondering.

    The levels are colorful and there are a few different types of zombies that you’ll be encountering. Some palette swapping takes place as the bigger ones come in different shades. The bigger the zombie, the more bullets they’ll need to take down. The skinnier ones only need a few rounds to defeat them.

    In the end, this is a simple game that is fun to play in short spurts. There’s not a ton of variety, but the price tag takes that into consideration. The gun buyout is a bit annoying, but it’s not necessary. The controls are not very accurate and a laser pointer would be a nice addition to any of the available guns. Despite its flaws, Shoot Mania VR Fun Zombies is worth adding to your VR library if you’re a fan of shooting and zombie games.

  • Subterrain (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Subterrain
    Developed By: Pixellore
    Published By: Pixellore
    Released: January 21, 2016
    Available On: Playstation 4, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Top-down shooter/survival
    ESRB Rating: M for Mature – Violence, Blood and Gore, Language
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $16.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media was a former advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

    Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review key!

    Though entertainment is and should be the primary goal of all video games, they can be educational as well. Most run the gamut from transparent Sesame Street shovelware to irreverent Typing of the Dead-esque romps, but a few can teach you practical life lessons as well. In Subterrain’s case, it reinforces a message learned from Doom: don’t build a research base on Mars, lest you get overrun by monsters.

    Subterrain puts you in the shoes of Dr. Albert West, who comes to the Mars colony MPO to develop a cure for his wife’s Alzheimer’s disease. After a lab accident results in the death of a test subject, West is thrown in jail for murder, where he stays until a prisoner transfer gets cut short by a sudden loss of power. As food, water, and emergency power wanes, West escapes his cell from the air duct to find that, while he may be the only one living on MPO, he’s certainly not the only one that’s ambulatory.

    As a top-down shooter, Subterrain has you wandering the various sections of MPO in search of supplies to escape Mars; as a survival game, you’ll have to take West’s hunger, thirst, fatigue, bodily injuries, infection level, and bowel movements under consideration while you do so. MPO is littered with random objects that can be repurposed for raw materials, which are then used to create items to keep West alive and the station’s reactor powered up. Nearly everything is researchable and upgradable using MPO’s built-in facilities and 3D printers, and you’ll get better backpacks, guns, reactor cores, health kits, and more as you progress. Your capacity for creation is limited by your materials and your machines’ software – this becomes the basis for leaving your safe zone at Central Control and prowling the infected halls.

    Subterrain
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Many gameplay features that work well together; lots of helpful details and quality-of-life additions
    Weak Points: Repetitive and overstays its welcome; mediocre music; some framerate drops, vanishing items, and audio glitches
    Moral Warnings: Violence, blood, gore, and disturbing imagery; drug and alcohol use; some mild swearing

    It’s certainly a lot to juggle, but to its credit, Subterrain pulls it off. At first, your progress is hampered by the small size of your backpack – each type of pack has both quantity and weight limits – as well as your oxygen, thermal, and power packs – every zone outside of Central Control has broken filters you need to find and replace, and your flashlight and ranged weapons stop working when your power pack runs out of juice. As you fill up on items and run low on air, you’ll have to head back home, where you can dump your goodies, make new items, and set out again for longer periods of time. As time passes, however, the various sections of MPO become more and more contaminated, resulting in ever-increasing strength and numbers of virus-spawned enemies, who can and will mount attacks on your home base. It all results in a steady power progression for both West and the infection – you’re always getting stronger, but the challenge still progressively rises. If that challenge proves too much or too little, there are four well-documented difficulty options as well as an optional permadeath setting, though you can’t change these in-game.

    Even so, there’s not much variation to the overall gameplay once you settle in. There are fifteen zones outside of Central Control, and all follow the same script: find a data chip or two for your software upgrades, replace the filters, scavenge items, kill mutants, repeat. You’ll have a general knowledge of where to go through journal entries you find laying around, but outside of that you’ll comb the procedurally generated, similar-looking halls for the same objects in every location. The later locations have eleven floors each, with the thermal regulator always located on the final level, so you’ll have to visit each and every area of each and every zone before you’re done. It’s repetitive, lengthy, and nearly soul-crushing near the end, as you’re treated to a fake-out ending and given a new goal to upgrade the filters in every area, now with even stronger and more numerous enemies in your path. If you still have unexplored floors at that point, you’re in for a rough time.

    It’s not all doom and gloom, however; Subterrain is well detailed and full of little quality-of-life additions to help out. The journal entries, while worth reading for the main plot and interesting side stories they convey, have important text highlighted in yellow. West will announce when he’s getting tired, hungry, low on oxygen, and whatnot; though it might seem silly to state that he needs a drink when he’s neck-deep in monsters, it’s certainly helpful. Each of the four general types of creatures have their own sound effects you can hear through doors, and the background music changes dynamically depending on how infected the floor you’re on currently is. Areas of high infection will also take on a grimy bluish filter that will dissipate as you eliminate monsters. All this helps temper the amount of menu-checking busywork you have to do, and makes the ride at least relatively smooth throughout.

    Subterrain
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 7.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Subterrain’s graphics and art style play well together, even with its rather muted color scheme. Most everything is recognizable at a glance, though it’s occasionally hard to tell drawers and chairs apart. Weapons and armor change appearance with each upgrade, and the aforementioned corruption effect is a nice touch. The sound effects are equally well done: guns of varying levels sound appropriately powerful, and the hum of machinery and the strange noises of the monsters set a fitting tone. West has a few voiceovers, and his acting is a bit disinterested but of decent quality nonetheless. The music, however, is less effective: as it’s tied to the number of creatures in the area, you’ll hear the same generic bass-filled ambient song for a large portion of the first half of the game. It’ll soon get replaced by the “highly infected” tune, which is loud and chaotic to the point of annoyance. With the number of hours you’ll need to put into this game to finish it, you’ll quickly grow tired of the game’s limited soundtrack.

    While generally rare, Subterrain has a few bugs that need pointing out. Perhaps due to the scope of the game, little framerate hiccups can occur, but never for more than a second. The audio has a tendency to glitch out in the final areas and boss fights, likely caused by reloading after death. The most egregious bug, however, has to do with your item shortcuts: each type of armor gives you one to six item slots you can activate with the relevant number keys, but sometimes replacing a slotted item with another will cause the former to vanish entirely. It only happened three or four times through the game, but it’s still annoying to have your supply of health kits vanish into thin air deep in infected territory.

    As expected from a shooter, violence is plentiful. Your enemies disintegrate on death, but shotguns and grenades will blow them apart beforehand. The ground will usually be bloody, and there is no shortage of mutilated human corpses to find. The monsters aren’t technically undead but do have a lot of zombie-like characteristics, and the infection in general makes for some grotesque imagery. While it's for survival rather than recreation, West can drink beer to quench his thirst, and use three different drugs to enhance his abilities for a short time; these are optional for the most part, though the final bosses might be impossible without the use of the speed-increasing drug. There is some swearing, though surprisingly light considering the setting – it’s limited to uncommon uses of “hell” and God’s name in vain. West does use some crude, though not particularly vulgar, language to indicate when he needs to go to the bathroom, but as a cultured man of science, he won't relieve himself anywhere but a toilet even as the last man standing in an apocalypse. The game also blurs West out when he's doing his duty, but he pretty clearly keeps his armor on. Subterrain’s ESRB rating started as Teen but was increased to Mature shortly after launch; the latter designation is much more fitting.

    In the end, Subterrain is a well-crafted game that happens to overstay its welcome. The various parts fit together well, but it’s ultimately a game with little variety. Fans of the survival genre, however, will likely find a large, satisfying experience with a more than fair price tag; there’s no denying the game is good at what it does. He may not be Doomguy, but Dr. West can rip and tear with the best of them.

    -Cadogan

  • Voyage of the Dead (PS4)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Voyage of the Dead
    Developed by: Gaming Corps
    Published by: Electro Source
    Release date: November 1, 2019
    Available on : PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Shooter
    Number of players: Up to four
    ESRB Rating: Mature for strong language, blood, gore, intense violence
    Price: $19.99 for the game only, $99.99 for the MARS base station and LIGHTCON bundle
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you PDP for sending us the MARS base station and two additional LIGHTCONs to review!

    Voyage of the Dead provides a story mode along with several arcade games that utilize PDP’s MARS LIGHTCON guns and base station. This title is available in a $99 bundle or digitally for $19.99 if you already have the hardware.

    Before you embark on your nightmare cruise, you’ll need to calibrate the IR base and pair the LIGHTCON(s) with it. Since this is the second title I’ve played, I knew what to expect in regards to getting everything recognized. However, the process still takes every bit of fifteen minutes or more, even if you have it taped down to where it was working the last time you used it! Just in case setting up the system is not stressful enough, you get to do it with horror music in the background to keep you on edge.

    Unlike Qubit’ Quest, this game managed to keep the calibration settings without interruptions. Well, except for the time that my dog caused the IR base to move by bumping into the dangling USB cable. If you have multiple LIGHTCONs you’ll want to make sure that they are paired by holding down the trigger and pressing in the back button simultaneously, and then pressing the power button. In Qubit’s Quest the additional guns changed their color, but in this game the second player’s gun color remained white.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Decent amount of arcade games for one to four players to enjoy
    Weak Points: Hardware is a pain to calibrate; aiming is off 
    Moral Warnings: Blood and gore; undead zombies with some of them wearing bikinis; sexual references; language (b*stard, sh*t); blaspheming; alcohol references

    The story mode supports up to four players and is an on-rails shooter. Your goal is to shoot down as many zombies as possible while protecting the innocents on the ill-fated cruise ship. You’ll get to change out your weapon to pistols, machine guns, and shot guns. Be sure to keep an eye on your ammo levels and reload early and often! There are many different types of zombies and some have the ability to hurl projectiles at you so be sure to take those ones out first. At the end of each level, you’ll be shown your stats and can compare against other players (if available).

    Along with the story mode are several arcade mini-games and most of them are single-player experiences. Here’s a breakdown of each one:

    Mad Science – This is a pinball-styled game where you have to keep a few balls in play by shooting at them. Once all of the balls disappear, it’s game over. Despite being a pinball fan, I found this mini-game to be rather disappointing.

    Crash Site – Skeet shooting with UFOs!

    Old Man of the Tee – Charge up your throw and try to skip zombie heads across the water as if they were flat and smooth pebbles. The more bounces you get on a single throw, the more points you’ll earn! Up to four players can compete in this mini-game.

    Law and Slaughter – Shoot down zombies that match specific objectives like the odd one out, the twins, one that matches a picture, or all of them.

    Shark Attack – There are three rafts with people on them. You have to keep them safe by shooting the sharks that are swimming around them. Bonus points are awarded for taking out the flying seagulls as well.

    The Horde – How long can you survive an endless wave of zombies coming your way?

    Voyage of the Dead
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 50%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 4.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Many of these games have the common theme of killing zombies. Blood is shown and undead creatures are not too pleasant to look at. The story mode has more moral issues including blaspheming, foul language (b*stard, sh*t), and sexual references. It begins with the main character (an older fisherman) commenting on the yacht stating that the bigger the boat, the smaller the fishing rod. To further emphasize his point, he mentions that the boat’s owner must be hung like a raisin.

    Voyage of the Dead certainly earns its Mature rating. The gameplay is all right and the selection of arcade games is decent. I wasn’t impressed with the accuracy of the hardware and its ease of use. In fact, it’s more of a hassle to setup than enjoy. If you already have the hardware from a different bundle, this title is worth looking into as long as you don’t mind the mature content.

  • Weapons Genius (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Weapons Genius
    Developed By: JDM4iK, Droid Riot
    Published By: Trinity Project
    Released: Jul 7, 2015
    Available On: PC
    Genre: Action, Casual, Indie, Simulation
    ESRB Rating: None specified
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $6.99

    Thank you Trinity Project for sending us this game to review!

    When it comes to shooting games, many first-person shooters are realistic to some degree, but Weapons Genius is all about the real aspects of shooting, including the making of the guns and their ballistics testing. However, the attempt it makes at being a gunsmithing simulator is a mixed bag of below-average effort at best.

    Weapons Genius starts you off in a weapons smithing area of a gun range. After ordering parts for your weapon off a nearby computer, you then take them to a nearby workbench. After welding the stampings and other parts into a usable firearm, you then paint it a different color if you so desire. You can then take the gun for a test run in a nearby shooting range to test its ballistics performance.

    The shooting range is a timed arena where you shoot various pop-up targets at various ranges from the shooting platform. Depending on how well you hit the targets in the allotted time, you are awarded money for your performance to buy better parts for making new weapons. Wash, rinse, and repeat until you have made the perfect firearm for your armory.

    Weapons Genius
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique concept
    Weak Points: Poorly constructed and has some serious need of game feature polish
    Moral Warnings: Firing of weapons in a shooting range

    It's a simple concept and a fairly unique one for a simulation game. The overall presentation doesn't offer more at the moment, though the developer has announced plans they intend to make a DLC with far more gun crafting options, as you are generally limited to various forms of assault rifles for crafting at the time of this writing.

    Graphically, it's a Unity-based game and has a notable feeling of using stock assets purchased from the Unity store. Weapon models are acceptably realistic and there are some nice touches like the welder animations for fitting the gun stampings together on the workbench, but the graphics look like a slightly blocky Playstation 2 game otherwise. Graphical effects for firing guns are also quite minimalist, which is quite disappointing if you were expecting actual real touches like muzzle flashes, detailed recoil, or expelled bullet casings and magazine changing.

    The sound is also rather basic. Aside from one looping musical soundtrack that is rather annoying after the first few repeats, the shooting range has some stock gunfire noises and that's it. Given this is a game based on realism and no one gun model will sound identical due to differences in the barrel, receiver, and any equipped accessories like silencers, it's a disappointment these subtle differences are not included for immersion.

    Weapons Genius
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 54%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Controls aren't too hard to figure out and while the gun-making area labels what buttons to use nicely and the target range is quite easy to master if you are familiar with first-person shooters (at least with a keyboard and mouse setup), it is otherwise completely unhelpful in explaining what to do. There is no guide telling you to manually pick up the welding tool (which is not labeled as such for those who never saw one before) to weld certain parts onto a gun, just to give a good example. Other issues stem from the UI, which is only partially in English (and still has some Cyrillic characters despite offering both English and Russian), and this makes figuring out the controls even harder.

    Stability is the one high note. Aside from some technical bugs with the actual gameplay, the game experience itself loads fast and runs on a very modest PC setup.

    Morally, there is very little to complain about. There is the usage of guns on a target range, but it remains devoid of offensive details. The targets are the basic popup targets found in any real-world shooting range. That aside, there is nothing else of any note.

    Overall, this was a disappointing execution of a great concept. It has the potential to be a great edutainment game on firearms, and the latest from the game developer announced plans to have another developer further refine the game code. Until that happens though, I can't recommend this to anyone of any age due to its bad design and poor gameplay.

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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