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  • Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan
    Developer: Kiro'o Games
    Published by: Plug In Digital
    Release Date: April 14, 2016
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Action, Adventure
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Kiro'o Games for sending us the review code.

    Some say that your first game won't be that good and you might not want to release it. This doesn't apply to every game dev out there. Yet the newer you are the more people tell you to slow down. With Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan I am confident to say that the game released not only kept to its Kickstarter promises, but it's a fairly decent game. While it is by no means a perfect game, I can give a preview of my thoughts and say I can recommend this game with some asterisks. Let's go redeem Enzo with Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan.

    Aurion is set in a world steeped in old African culture. You play as Enzo Kori-Odan, the prince of Zama. This young man is set to marry the love of his life, Erine Evou, and take over as the ruling King and Queen. However, his vile brother in law stages a coup to take over the kingdom. You and your wife are exiled from your kingdom to a far away corner of the world. Enzo must find the secrets of the Aurion, an energy channeled by the strongest of warriors to become powerful enough to defeat those who would lay claim to his crown.

    Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A unique beat 'em up game that has very fast paced combat and a strong story. 
    Weak Points: Animations can make the game seem a bit clunky or slow in non combat parts of the game. The game will feel repetitive after awhile and the story will make or break it for some gamers.
    Moral Warnings: Standard video game violence, you have some slight sexual references as well. There are mystical and voodoo themes some may find bothersome. 

    Gameplay is the usual beat 'em up formula. You fight using combo attacks, spells and Aurion techniques to take down enemies as quickly as possible. Your abilities come in many varieties from damage spells to his ancestral Aurionic techniques. His wife Erin serves as a spell caster. She learns different mystic abilities to heal her husband, boost his power, or fight with strong spells. As they level up Enzo can learn different Aurionic forms, combat styles and spells along with his wife. Past a certain point in the game you can discover ways to fuse your Aurionic forms to create even more powerful abilities. The story kept me on the edge of my seat. The pacing of the game felt like it was tested and they knew exactly how to string the player along without holding hands or losing attention. Despite some issues that felt like they could have been better balanced the story does help carry the game.

    The soundtrack is an original African folk music style and it's quite catchy to listen to. The controls are mostly tight though the climbing mechanic can use a bit of work. When you climb there seems to be a small bit of input lag that I was able to recreate on keyboard. Other than climbing issues the controls are free flowing and simple in combat. This game's Macromedia flash style makes the animations seem like it's running at less than 60 frames even though my computer would tell me otherwise. 

    Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The game gets repetitive rather fast. Games don't necessarily need lots of variety in what you can do to make the game good. Yet when you're relying on combat alone it is going to be hit or miss with a lot of people. The Aurionic forms seem to make the game a little unbalanced. You have a skill to charge your ability points at the cost of some health, yet with plentiful healing items and Erine's healing spell, I was able to keep my Aurionic abilities active from the beginning to the end of most battles. Changing the difficulty only seemed to add more health and damage to enemies so I already knew what was coming in each fight. 

    The game has a lot of references to tribal mysticism and voodoo with specific characters. The elemental energies of the Aurion as well as the animal spirits they channel in particular moves could be seen as voodoo. Characters use the word b*tch once and some sexual references are made to a married couple sleeping together. I'd recommend this game to a teen age group.

    I want to congratulate Kiro'o Games for making a decent game for a first attempt. I hope that your own legacy will grow in the game industry just like Enzo's does in Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan. 

     

  • Ballistic Tanks (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ballistic Tanks
    Developed By: Kirk Lucas
    Published By: KL Studios
    Released: September 20, 2016
    Available On: Windows, Mac and Linux
    Genre: Arcade, Action
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1-4 offline
    Price: $4.99 (Steam)

    Do you remember the ‘80s and ‘90s video game arcades?  As a child, I only got to experience them at the amusements on holiday.  The retro graphics with bright shimmering colours, blazing out sounds as if they compete against the other arcade cabinets.  Ballistic Tanks brings back that feeling as an arcade shoot ‘em up.  When you load up the game the main menu has a mini demo of AI tanks battling each other as loud music pumps out the beats.  It’s already enticing you to play and you don’t need any quarters.

    You can play single-player, 2 player co-op or multiplayer with up to 4 players.  The premise is simple: Destroy enemy tanks and be the last tank remaining.  There is no network support, it’s couch co-op.

    In single-player and co-op you earn coins, which are dropped randomly by destroyed tanks. Pick them up before they disappear from the arena and you get to spend the coins on upgrading your tank on the next play through.

    There are also other random drops that upgrade your tank in lieu of purchasing them and include special abilities otherwise unavailable, e.g. a bubble shield that effectively gives an extra life and a laser that shoots through walls.

    Ballistic Tanks
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Bright and colourful graphics; fast paced action; multiplayer with co-op
    Weak Points: Some game breaking bugs; limited solo replayability
    Moral Warnings: Destroying other tanks that disappear in an explosion.

    Multiplayer is a 4 player affair and will automatically assign bots for any absent players.  It includes several modes to keep you interested.  Powershift is the most interesting, adding a gameplay modifier to each round that adds to the fun, e.g. small tanks, hostile environments, and modified weapons.  Juggernaut has a central capture location which will turn the capturer into a juggernaut tank.  In all modes, the winner in each round earns a gold star.  The first player to win 5 gold stars wins the match.

    There is enough gameplay and content to keep you entertained in solo player mode for the first few hours.  The novelty really lies in it becoming something you'd pick up and play for short bursts.   Multiplayer will add to its longevity if you have friends or family around to play.

    Firing at and destroying other tanks provides satisfaction to the ears, and the eyes are equally pleased with simple 2D presentation enhanced by bright colours and graphical effects.   The music and sound effects complement the ongoing action.

    Your tank can be controlled via mouse and keyboard or gamepad. For multiple players additional gamepads will be required.  I found using the mouse and keyboard to be easier as the mouse pointer can be used to gauge your shots better than with a thumbstick.

    Ballistic Tanks
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    Levels are given variety through destructible walls and conveyor belts.  There are also entryways allowing you to quickly traverse through to the opposite side of the arena.

    The AI is pretty basic, relying on numbers to increase the difficulty. The AI doesn't know how to work the entryways I mentioned earlier, which can be used to the player's advantage.  They can also get stuck behind walls and other tanks as they struggle to find the best route to the player.

    There is nothing morally concerning outside of destroying other tanks.  When playing multiplayer you will be shooting each other.  The game does not state if the tanks are occupied or if they are radio controlled and there is no indication there are people inside of the tanks.

    Ballistic Tanks is a fun game with appeal for those wanting to scratch their retro gaming itch or who like a quick shoot ‘em up.  It’s a fast-paced action game requiring twitch-like reflexes while keeping one eye on your tank and the other on all others.  There is fun for the solo player and even more fun when friends are involved.

     

  • Beyond Dimensions (Mac)

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    Game Info:

    Beyond Dimensions
    Developed by: Cool Frogs Studios
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Released: March 11, 2016
    Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux
    Genre: Action, Roguelike
    Number of players: 1 
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you, Black Shell Media, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    The world is in trouble. The universe is running dangerously low of magical energy. In order to replenish our precious stores, a brave hero needs to be sent to another dimension in order to retrieve it. And the hero they chose is... YOU!

    Or that guy. Or maybe him. Or that lady in the corner over there.

    Beyond Dimensions, the debut game from Cool Frogs Studios, takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to the whole end-of-the-universe scenario. You play a mage sent via technology into other dimensions in order to retrieve purple crystals that contain magical energy. Along the way, you'll encounter skeletons, machine gun turrets, and monocled dinosaurs who attack you for simply being there. Although your character is rendered in an 8-bit style – apparently, that's how people look in your universe – the scenes you travel through vary, including a blocky, Minecraft-style world. All the action takes place in an over-the-top, isometric style viewpoint, even if the graphics themselves vary. It's possible to unlock a first-person perspective as well.

    Beyond Dimensions
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay; whimsical approach; dinosaurs with monocles throw spells at you
    Weak Points: Randomization sometimes makes things too easy, or frustratingly difficult; bland music
    Moral Warnings: Violence; magic use

    One of the neat things about the game is the amount of customization that you can put into your game. In addition to changing the difficulty and the perspective, you also can change any of the color options of your character. Models include male and female mages, as well as a robot. You also can change the class, as well as the spells you can use in your foray into the randomly-generated dungeons. Steam Workshop integration allows you to use avatars created by other players as well. Take note that, in order to actively choose some of the class or spell options, you must complete different objectives first. These include killing a set number of creatures with certain spells, or gathering a certain number of crystals. If the options are locked, then you'll be given a random spell instead.

    Traveling through the dungeons is easily done with the keyboard and mouse, but controllers also can be used. However, a three-button mouse is highly recommended. It is possible to complete the game using just a two-button trackpad (I'm speaking from experience here), but you lose access to your second spell in the process. Weirdly enough, neither my Logitech controller nor my Xbox controller would work in the game. Although I could move through options from the menu, I could only use my melee attack with the Logitech, and no buttons responded on the Xbox. Although the store page indicated that the game had "full controller support," the failure of both came as a surprise to me.

    The randomness can also lead to the game becoming surprisingly easy. The first time I successfully completed the game, I was randomly given a lightning spell and a healing spell. The lightning spell allowed me to strike creatures anywhere on the screen... even if they were behind a wall. I managed to defeat two of the different area's main bosses simply by standing outside the room and blasting them from an adjacent corridor. The third one turned into a simple game of "keep away" while running around a single L-shaped bush. Even though some of the enemies in the other areas posed a threat, the bosses were a surprising pushover. 

    Beyond Dimensions
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 66%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The difficulty seems to lie in the earliest levels of the game. Once you are capable of obtaining a few power-ups – either through opening chests or purchasing them from the rare stores that appear on a few of the levels – the game becomes a lot easier, sometimes ridiculously so. As a result, gameplay tends to be relatively short. Either you'll die within the first 10 minutes of the game, or you'll sweep through everything in approximately half an hour. However, this isn't always the case – I had a good run going in one game and could have won easily... but as soon as I spawned in a new area, I was ambushed by the third world's mid-boss and two other spell-casting dinosaurs, with nowhere to run. A great game came to a screeching halt purely due to bad luck.

    As a result, I have had mixed feelings about this game. On one hand, I really like it, due to its fun gameplay and whimsical approach. On the other, the game comes off as frustratingly difficult that often changes to laughably easy before too long. There is a nice variety of customization to the game, but controller support is nearly nonexistent.

    There are various graphic glitches as well. At times, the screen will flicker oddly, as if trying to bring up images from my computer desktop. Some characters will continue to twitch and bounce around like they are made out of rubber upon death – and in the second world, the soldiers occasionally have their limbs stretched out for no apparent reason when they die. This makes Beyond Dimensions feel like it's not completely finished, and it could use a bit more polish.

    Although there were no language issues that I encountered, violence is a given in this game. Creatures die when you blast them with your spells, or they run over traps. There isn't any blood or gore when they die, though. There are some skeletons that appear in the first world, and occasionally bones litter the dungeon floor. Magic is used by both the player and the inhabitants of the third world. 

    Beyond Dimensions certainly doesn't break any boundaries, but it's a fun variation of the familiar roguelike. Although occasionally frustrating, it can provide a measure of fun as well. At only $4.99, it's well worth the price of admission. 

  • BladeShield (PC/HTC Vive)

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    Game Info:

    BladeShield
    Developed By: Rank17, Silicon Storm
    Publisher: Rank17
    Release Date: November 28, 2016
    Available On: Windows (HTC Vive required)
    Genre: Action
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    MSRP: $2.99

    Thank you Rank17 for sending us this game to review!

    Since the beginning of time (well, the late 1970s), it has always been a fantasy of any warm-blooded human to wield a lightsaber and smack down foes.  BladeShield is an unlicensed (no Star Wars license from Lucasfilm/Disney) Virtual Reality (VR) game that has models that look like lightsabers, but are not.  They are BladeShields.  These weapons have two modes – one that happens to look a whole lot like a lightsaber, and a shield mode.  But they do sound awfully similar.

    You hold two BladeShields, one in each hand.  The weapons can change from blade to shield mode with the press of the touchpad.  This change can be done at any time, and as often as you like.  Both the shield and blades can deflect projectile attacks, though the shield is much better at it.  If you do manage to deflect shots with your blade, you charge it up.  Once fully powered up, you can stab the blade into the ground and activate the power with the trigger to release an EMP blast that clears the screen in a moment.  It works great when you need it, though it is easy to forget that it's there.

    At its core, BladeShield is what is commonly called a 'wave shooter'.  These games are common enough in VR that they have become a genre all their own, more or less. You have various waves of enemies that, once defeated, bring on the next wave.  You rank your success both on your score, and on what wave you reached.  It's a classic system that heralds back to the earliest days of gaming (Space Invaders, anyone?) and has resurged since we are in the early days of VR.

    BladeShield
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very nice graphics; nice variety with the blades + shields; good intense fun; fantastic value for the price
    Weak Points: I had technical glitches, but it was resolved with a driver update
    Moral Warnings: Exploding robots

    What makes it different is simply that it's mostly melee based rather than via firing a gun.  Each round, a set number of enemies come at you in waves.  There are some that you have to kill by reflecting shots back at them, and with others you typically will slash at them with your blade.  It is easier to aim the shots with your shield rather than the blade, but you can use both to deflect.  It's also fun in that you can use a shot from one enemy to kill another, if you are skilled enough to do that.

    The most common enemies are the floating monocled robots that fly around you and shoot blasts your way.  They are easy to deflect and kill, and don't move too fast. Then there are ground based two legged walking types that leap at you, and the fun and fast round flying bots with a blade spinning around them.  They can be very dangerous, especially if you let them get behind you, so watch out!  There are also large turrets that shoot massive energy blasts at you that can only be defeated via shot reflection.  While it's technically possible with a blade, I hope you don't mind bringing out the shield while they are in play….

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

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    Each wave of enemies significantly changes this up, and I did not find it to get boring very quickly.  It's fun, exciting, and shooting for a high score is always a blast.  What impressed me is how polished this game is for such a low price.  I feel like they really did a great job striking the proper balance between the scale of a project, and the polishing of said project.  Any time you have a small development team, and especially a low price, you have to properly balance objectives.  Often, you have to choose between something with lots of content and variety, or a simple, highly polished experience.  This team chose the latter, and chose correctly.  Other games have made the wrong choice, and suffered for it, with a recent example being Bank Limit.

    I'm sure this is not the only game like this.  After all, there are hundreds of glorified tech demos on Steam for VR these days.  But it does a good job at it, and it's fairly polished as well.  The only problem I had is that my NVIDIA driver would regularly crash on startup, which thankfully went away with a newer driver.  I have been in contact with the developer, and they have been very responsive and helpful in dealing with this issue.  

    At the fantastic price of $2.99, BladeShield is really a no brainer.  If you have a VR kit, you should get this game at such a wonderful price.  There are almost certainly more advanced wave shooters out there, or ones with more content, but if you are looking for the simple thrill of slicing and bouncing shots back at enemy robots, with wave after wave of increasing difficulty, then this is a great place to get your fix.  And at that price, I highly recommend it.

     

  • Clustertruck (Mac)

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    Game Info:

    Clustertruck
    Developed by: Landfall Games
    Published by: tinyBuild
    Released: September 27, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, SteamOS
    Genre: Action, Platformer
    Number of players: 1 
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you, tinyBuild, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    Clustertruck is the name of a food delivery company located in Indianapolis. It also is the name of a video game from Landfall Games and tinyBuild. Somehow, I suspect this is not coincidence. 

    In the game, your job is to jump from truck to truck until you finally reach the goal. But what are the trucks carrying? Why is their driving so bad? And why are you racing along the tops, sides and bottoms of these vehicles in order to reach the goal? Maybe you're delivering food....

    But whatever the reason, this bizarre take on the sport of parkour is entertaining... for the first few levels. Then the game takes a severe difficulty spike, and becomes more frustrating than fun. 

    Clustertruck
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Difficult, challenging platformer; amusing concept; short levels
    Weak Points: Steep difficulty curve; lots of luck required in order to win
    Moral Warnings: Trucks run into each other; some Hell-themed levels

    The game is presented from a first-person perspective and consists of running along loaded semi trucks. You can jump from truck to truck as well, and in some instances off portions of the scenery. But if you touch the ground, or some areas that are considered to be taboo, you fail the level and have to start over from the beginning. Fortunately, each level is pretty short and can be completed in around a minute or less. That is, if you're lucky.

    Although the levels are the same, and the trucks always start in the same locations, this isn't a game of simple pattern memorization. The trucks will drive into each other and jockey for some sort of position or pecking order, and this changes at random every time you start the level. Just because a certain dash or jump worked one time doesn't mean it will the next. As a result, the game requires a lot of quick thinking, and quicker reflexes.

    Unfortunately, due to its nature, it also requires a significant amount of luck. There were many, many times I ended up failing a level simply because a truck I expected to be under me suddenly veered a different way. Or just wasn't there at all. Sometimes – especially after a particularly high jump – you just need to hope that there will be a truck between you and the ground when you land. Most of the time there won't be, and after hitting the ground inches from the goal line 20 times, you'll probably grow tired of the repetition. 

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

    Game Score - 60%
    Gameplay - 8/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The game can be controlled by the keyboard or a game controller. However, I found that I got more precision from using the keyboard. For some odd reason, the controller gave my unseen character a bizarre, floaty quality that ended up making the game even more difficult. This wasn't particularly enjoyable, and the frustration made me want to quit the game more that persevere through to the end. 

    The sound effects consist mainly of trucks honking and crashing into each other. Some other effects can be heard, depending on the theme of the level. The soundtrack consists of a bland rock theme that was quickly forgettable. The graphics were mediocre as well, with everything consisting of polygonal graphics, and not terribly impressive. It's simple enough to tell what's going on, but not terribly eye-catching.

    To its credit, there aren't too many things to worry about on the moral front. There are collisions between trucks, and apparently a Hell-themed region (which I didn't advance far enough into the game to discover). Sometimes trucks explode as well, but I just saw that from the trailers for the game. I didn't venture far enough to see that happen. I had enough of bouncing along trucks. Wait, scratch that – I had enough of falling off trucks and hitting the ground before I got to that point.

    So in a nutshell, I didn't really enjoy my time with Clustertruck. Some might enjoy it, but I didn't. I'd rather try to enjoy the food from Clustertruck in Indianapolis. Their menu is huge! If anyone reading this has ordered from them, you'll have to tell me what they think.

     

  • CMYW (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    CMYW
    Developed by: Shane Berezowski 
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release date: October 16, 2015
    Available on: Windows 
    Genre: Shooter
    Number of Players: Up to four
    ESRB Rating: not rated
    Price: $3.99

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us this game to review!

    The original Asteroids game was released in 1979 by Atari and it was available on the 2600 as well as a standalone arcade game.  CMYW has a similar look and feel with a simple spaceship in the shape of a triangle.  With the lack of detail, it’s hard to distinguish which side of the ship is forward until you fire at the incoming asteroids.  

    There are two different game modes and both of them involve destroying asteroids heading your way.  In the cooperative mode you have to protect your own ship and the base.   If your ship gets destroyed, you have a limited amount of time before your astronaut runs out of oxygen to make it back to the base to get a replacement ship.  Up to four players can work together in blowing away asteroids, but only one can get a replacement ship at a time.  Since there’s a slight delay in getting a new ship the chances of surviving while waiting are slim.  

    Sometimes asteroids leave behind minerals or power-ups after being obliterated.  Your ship has a limited number of inventory slots so it can only carry five mineral ores at a time.  Be sure to return the ores to the base to free up more space.  The power-ups include enhanced shields, multi-shot bullets, an axe attack, and homing missiles (my favorite!).  

    CMYW
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adding multiplayer breathes new life into a classic game!
    Weak Points:  The triangle shaped ship makes it hard to distinguish which way it’s facing; no online multiplayer
    Moral Warnings: Spaceship violence

    The longer the game lasts, the harder it gets.  The asteroids vary in size and speed, and there are other projectiles to worry about as well.  In order to keep your base safe, you cannot stray too far from it.  The concept is simple, but this game is quite challenging.  After you die you’ll see your score and vow to do better next time.

    The controls are easy, but take a little getting used to.  To accelerate your ship simply press the A button and you can use the joystick or Dpad to adjust the direction.  Firing is done by pressing the X button.  My son and I grasped the old school controls just fine, but my daughter got frustrated with them.    

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

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    Sound - 6/10
    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

     

    While CMYW is fun to play by yourself, it’s more fun with more people (provided they’re not whining about the control scheme).   In the co-operative mode the final score is broken down by contributed most to it.  The competitive mode requires more than one player (logically) to enjoy.

    If you’d rather shoot your friends out of the sky, the competitive game mode is what you’re looking for.  In this mode all of the ships are deployed in the center of the screen with an asteroid strapped to them.  Whoever survives the longest wins.  Death can be caused by having your asteroid destroyed or by running into another object or player.  

    Even though you can die and kill others in this game, it’s still pretty family friendly and safe for people of all ages to enjoy.  I look forward to enjoying more gaming sessions with my son.  The price is a reasonable $3.99 and is worth picking up if you have friends nearby who appreciate nostalgic games.  

     

  • Conan Exiles (Preview) (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Conan Exiles
    Developer:Funcom
    Published by: Funcom
    Release Date: Jan 30, 2017
    Available on: Windows, Xbox One, Playstation 4
    Genre: Action, Survival
    Players: 1-100
    ESRB Rating: Unrated (will change when ESRB decides rating.)
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Funcom for sending us a review code for this game!

    Early Access, survival, open world: these are scary warning flags for PC gamers these days. Games like Rust, DayZ, and Ark: Survival Evolved will be under extreme scrutiny the day the Early Access tag goes away. I can't blame the developers of these games. Ambitious games will take a long time to complete by even the most skilled game developers. Yet when a game is released it should be judged no matter how brutally. So let's look at brutal barbarism with Conan Exiles.

    Conan Exiles takes place in the Conan The Barbarian universe. You are sentenced to exile for a randomly generated set of crimes. Mine were debauchery, cheating at dice and breaking the fourth wall. You can choose gender and physical features you want to your hearts content. You also choose a religion to start with. Once you do, you're untied from your prison and you're tasked with surviving. You have no help, no friends, and everyone, creatures and fellow exiles, will try to kill you.

    The gameplay is the most important part of any survival game. The combat and movement feels right for a game where you play as a barbarian yet right now it's very basic. You swing whatever is in your hand with the left or right mouse buttons. Mouse movement controls the camera and WASD controls movement. While it is challenging, pushing yourself for survival is a strong part of Conan. It was quite satisfying when I finally had a base built. 

    Conan Exiles
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A quality survival game with the world working against you. It simulates natural survival instincts well.
    Weak Points: Aside from Early Access frustrations, soundtrack is boring and there is not enough done to push a unique aspect of the game yet.
    Moral Warnings: Idol worship, butchery and nudity is abound in this game. Don't expect to do a pacifist run anytime soon. Enslavement is encouraged to become a bigger threat in the world. The world itself encourages you to revel in the brutality of everything.

     

    Every survival game has its unique features. In Conan you can enslave NPCs called thralls to serve you. By torturing them on a wheel of pain, they will benefit you in various ways from blacksmithing to combat. By sacrificing enemies to a god, you can unlock special recipes from that faction. You'll eventually be able to summon avatars, destructive creatures of your chosen religion. They will unleash destruction against enemies in their way. 

    With these types of games you'll want to keep certain things in mind. Conan Exiles is not a game you can pick up and play for a few hours. Consider these games a more intense Minecraft. If it's not other players, Early Access server wipes will eventually wipe out your hoards of treasures. Despite the thrall or avatar mechanics, Conan doesn't have a lot of that early game "wow" that other survival games have. The main appeal here will be the Conan world. Fans will more than likely pick up this game compared to non fans. That isn't a problem though; if the devs can keep a confident community going then they should have a quality survival gem on their hands. The mod support the devs give also adds a lot of variation to your experiences. 

    The soundtrack to the game doesn't add much yet. The game music has intense drumbeats during battle, yet I found I would rather listen to my own music than the game's. 

    Conan Exiles
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 24%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 2/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

    With any Early Access titles expect a lot of bugs. One bug I was able to recreate is seeing menu selection highlights burned into the screen when the menu is completely off of my screen. I also experience random frame drops. Remember, with Early Access games you can be in for the long haul.

    Multiplayer will be more of the same with the added bonus of players acting as either friend or foe. You might find populated servers with hundreds of grand structures. You might find a few people hiding in the trees. Yet they will either help you, or rob you for your meat and items. The AI is competent enough for a great challenge. So consider starting your journey in a single player server first.

    Sacrifices to idols, bloody murder, and genital customization are in this game. The characters can appear nude, yet there is a option to shut it off. With any game where survival is a focus, the world will force you to do what you must to survive. You can even eat and cook human flesh. This game is designed to appeal to the most brutal of tastes. You can turn the nudity off completely or partially if you so choose. The violence comes from the gory effects alone, the combat isn't the most detailed. The genital or chest expansion seem to be just aesthethic and it wont effect the game world in any way. Its the world and context that adds to the brutality. With everyone fighting first and asking questions never, you get the feeling of that brutality. Also remember you can build a torture wheel to torture npcs to fight along side you. 

    The world can appear cruel, yet with a barbaric determination you can survive in Conan Exiles.

     

  • Dangerous Road (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Dangerous Road
    Published By: Starsign
    Developed By: Starsign, SIMS Co.
    Released: November 10, 2016
    Available On: 3DS
    Genre: Action, Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $2.99

    Thank you Rainy Frog for sending us a copy of the game to review!

    Frogger is a classic game that many have used as inspiration for their games. Dangerous Road from Starsign appears to be a modern take on the old title.

    There are 50 levels total to be played in Dangerous Road, split between two modes. The first mode is Goal Run and it is made up of 30 levels. The goal is to guide one of four animals to multiple checkpoints before reaching a flag that marks the end of the stage. Each animal has a unique ability that they can use a certain amount of times per stage. Rabby the rabbit has the ability to walk over water, Spring Chicken can leap vertically into the air to avoid vehicles, Pascal the Tanuki can slow down time for a few seconds, and lastly Kumagoro the bear can run extremely fast. These abilities aren't always necessary but are fun to play around with.

    Dangerous Road
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun action-puzzle game for kids; Cute graphics; A nice take on a retro classic.
    Weak Points: Can become stale; More skilled gamers may not see the appeal here; Needs more music; Grammar errors.
    Moral Warnings: Like Frogger before it, animals are shown being struck by vehicles.

    Gameplay feels like an expanded version of Frogger in that you move in a direction one tile at a time as everything around you tries to end your progress. You have 300 seconds to avoid traffic moving at a moderate speed, jump across logs drifting along rivers, and dodge speeding trains. There's always a chance to fail by being careless, but with the generous amount of time given, it's easy to plan out each step the first time you play a level. The environment generally stays the same throughout each of the 50 stages just with different obstacles thrown around. There is also a star that can be collected that will grant invincibility for a short while. Those looking for more of a challenge can attempt to beat each of the levels as fast and in as few steps as possible.

    The second mode that can be played is Survival Run. The goal is to survive in a road with multiple lanes for 60 seconds without being hit by traffic or trains. You simply move around until time runs out. This mode is fairly self-explanatory and is made up of 20 levels, though the gameplay of this mode doesn't really change much. At 30 seconds "Rush Hour" will activate and more vehicles will fill the screen making things tougher. This mode isn't as deep as Goal Run, but it does add some replayability to the overall game.

    Dangerous Road
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 5/10
    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

    The graphics have a style that's reminiscent of early 3D polygonal games. It's charming and does manage to stand out from other 3DS games, though they do still come off as low budget. The music is catchy but you'll hear the same track looped infinitely when playing. The minimalistic approach is almost to be expected from a game at this price, but it definitely could have used more tracks to listen to.

    At the end of the day this is an incredibly sub-par game that is worth the price if you enjoy casual games or just want something to take your mind off of more complicated games. Nothing here will blow you away but what it does, it does well. Survival Mode did manage to make me come back a few times which was enjoyable. This one would be great for kids that already enjoy smartphone games.

    -Kyuremu

  • Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (PC)

     

    System Requirements
    OS: Windows 95/98/ME varied results under Windows 2000 and XP CPU: Pentium 90Mhz RAM: 16MB VIDEO: PCI or better SOUND: 16 bit Direct X 5 compatible Age: Teen

    Introduction

    This is one game that way back in 1997 I was highly anticipating. Having played the previous title in the series, Dark Forces, and having enjoyed it immensely, I couldn\'t wait for the promise of a multiplayer Star Wars first person shooter. This seemed to be basically a multiplayer update for Dark Forces, which disappointingly did not have any type of multiplayer, along with a new engine to power it. Boy was I wrong. It was so much more.

    Graphics

    You may wonder why I\'m starting with the graphics aspect of the game. Many people have said that graphics don\'t make a game and that it\'s the game play. I wholeheartedly agree with them on this one. The reason is because the graphics in Jedi Knight are actually not one of its stronger points. The graphics work, nothing extremely spectacular. When compared with Quake II, which was released the same year, Quake II clearly wins the graphics arena hands down with its OpenGL accelerated graphics engine. If you are a graphics freak, then you probably won\'t be impressed with the engine used for Jedi Knight, which was designed in-house by Lucasarts. It definitely won?t stand up to today\'s engines like Quake 3 Arena or the Unreal engine. But if you?re looking for game play, read on. That said, let\'s move on the next area.

    Single-Player

    This is where the game really shines. The single-player adventure is one of the most exciting I have yet to play, right up there with Half-Life. The story line is pretty much the same old Star Wars storyline, you know the old: evil-guy-who-wants-ultimate-power-so-he-can-rule-the-universe scenario. But what sets this game apart is the execution of it. The story is executed with such style that one cannot help but gape in awe. One word comes to mind when playing the single player missions: huge. The levels are immense and take quite a while to get through. Even after playing a mission through once, it took me an average of 30-45 minutes to complete each mission. Compare this to the simplistic levels of Quake II and see the rift that divides the two single player scenarios. Another thing to note the rich and varied locations of the single player adventure: Nar Shadaa, Valley of the Jedi, starships, and even Katarn\'s home planet. Another important aspect of the single player game are the amazingly well done FMV cut scenes. Lucasarts has included some of the best quality FMV\'s I have ever seen in a game. The quality is not all, the cut scenes cleverly push the story along with rich characters which creates more depth and emotion that the poorly executed game-rendered cut scenes of Jedi Knight II. Rather than detract from the intensity as the cut scenes in Jedi Knight II do, the cut scenes of Jedi Knight push the story along well, keeping the missions from become routine and repetitive. Couple this with the use of a lightsaber which you get in one of the early missions and force powers which you gain along the way, and you simply got an incredible and engaging single player adventure. Another feature that I like is the ability to choose which path you will go down as you play the game. If you kill civilians and harmless druids, you will begin to go towards the Dark side of the force. If you protect them and do not harm them, then you will lean towards the Light side. There is a different ending depending on which side you choose, so be sure to play it through both ways. The nine other weapons that Katarn will collect along the way are nothing to ignore. This powerful arsenal contains such weapons as the Rail Gun, Concussion Rifle, Imperial Repeater, and more. Now, on to the multiplayer.

    Multiplayer

    Jedi Knight shines in multiplayer just like it did in single player. Though the multiplayer modes bring nothing new the genre, the ability to use a lightsaber and force powers makes it a completely different faire that your typical Quake death match. The most fun mode is the sabers only mode. In this mode only sabers can be used and whatever level of force power can be used as set by the host. The creates a game where skill is relied upon more than speed and quick reflexes. Learning to master force powers and the use of the saber is essential to being able to win a saber only match. The multiplayer levels are fun enough, the most famous level for sabers being Battleground Jedi, which is one of the standard saber proving grounds. However, the multiplayer modes lack innovation and more levels would have been appreciated. This is a minor gripe as multitudes of levels can be downloaded from The Massassi Temple (http://www.massassi.net/). The fun factor of playing Jedi Knight online kept me playing it right up until Jedi Knight II was released.

    Sound/Music

    Music is the standard John Williams soundtrack, which perfectly accents any Star Wars game because it is the essential Star War music. The sound is adequate, nothing spectacular, but doesn?t detract from game play either.

    Stability

    This game was designed to run on the Windows 9x line of operating systems. It is best that you run it on one of the three 9x OS?s; 95,98, or ME. I have had varied results on Windows 2000. On one computer it worked perfectly but on another, which had run it perfectly in Windows 98, I could not get 3D acceleration to work and it was quite choppy in software mode. So the results may vary depending on your configuration.

    Conclusion

    Overall, Jedi Knight is a solid title, though slightly lacking in the area of its graphics engine - which is definitely showing its age, the amount of multiplayer levels included in the game, and the non-innovative multiplayer modes, it shines as one of the best first person shooter of 1997 and beyond. This game will be a classic in its own right. I suggest you go and get your copy at Amazon.com for only $9.99 USD or find a used copy on Ebay.com for even less. You will not be disappointed unless you?re a graphics freak. Oh, I almost forgot, offensive content. This game has no blood, language, or sexual material included. It does have shooting of other characters though from a first person point of view, but none of the deaths are violent or explicit. It is rated T for Teen.

    Final Ratings

    Game Play: A Graphics: B- Sound: B Interface: A Stability: B Offensive Content: B
    Overall: A
  • Diluvion (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Diluvion
    Developer: Arachnid Games
    Published by: Gambitious Digital Entertainment
    Release Date: Feb 2, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Action, Open World Adventure.
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Arachnid Games for sending us a review code.

    It is always interesting to think about how the world will end. How will humans survive? Sadly some think it's going to be by zombies and we are all going to turn on each other. What if, through our own ingenuity, we survive an Ice Age instead? With Diluvion we get to go on an under the sea adventure for a great treasure at the bottom of the ocean. We have no land to get back to for the world's new Ice Age has frozen the entire world. Humanity has thrived with renewed culture, faith, and hope. However, whether it be greed, curiosity, or desire we dive deep into the dark depths of the ocean.

    In Diluvion you play as a captain you can name, and your one and only goal is to find the greatest secret of humanity buried at the bottom of the ocean. You choose from one of three submarines to begin your game with and a short tutorial will start your journey. As you progress you purchase crew to increase the power of your weapons, sonar capabilities, torpedoes and engine. Keeping crewmates in the hanger will slowly repair your ship over time; it will be faster if you keep repair kits handy. Managing resources is key as you need air tanks to keep your crew breathing and food to keep their bellies full. Scrap metal will serve as your main source of ammunition for guns. When you visit one of the sea's many sub nautical locations such as the cities and research capsules you will automatically refill on air tanks. 

    Diluvion
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A game with a great sense of adventure and exploration. Lovable crew and a lovable story. 
    Weak Points: The navigation will be a test of your patience. Keyboard controls are not equal to controller controls.
    Moral Warnings: Violent ship battles and immoral characters to be found here. People will put money over their own lives.

    Merchants will have scrap metal and other essential materials for sale if you have enough currency to trade. Less populated locations usually have various materials from fish bones to old above world items. It seems memories of life on earth have a monetary value. The ocean has plenty of foes to prevent passage from undersea monsters to enemy submarines. When you defeat enemy submarines you can choose to dock with them for great loot. Occasionally some crew members of sinking subs will offer to join your crew for the right price. Engineers can upgrade your submarine or sell you new ones as long as you have the material and the cash. In order to dive deeper you will need to move your ship past level one so don't expect to do level 1 runs with Diluvion. If you explore well you can even find a place to build your own personal base to upgrade. As you upgrade this place it will be filled with merchants and crew members to help you along. 

    The best part of the gameplay for me was the combat. Each battle felt tense and exciting and I had to make quick choices to run away or to turn and fight, charging into glorious combat. I didn't necessarily care why they were fighting me and that's a good thing. Whether they were pirates or grumpy travelers, the only reason I needed to fire back was to keep myself out of Davy Jones' Locker. Lots of survival combat games don't give me that sense of dread of when I lose because I know I'll come back one way or another. Diluvion doesn't even have a perma death system of any kind and I still fought tooth and nail to survive. I ended up caring about my crew. The lore you get is from finding story entries in different landmarks and NPCs swapping tales. It is a simple way to tell a story and nothing presented to me was complex or deeply thought provoking. Yet something about the simplicity of the characters made me all the more interested in them. Whether it was my gunner's love of explosions, my shy sonar man's personality or my older and wiser engine captain, I came to fall in love with my crew and I swore I would keep them alive. 

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

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

    The cons will manifest in your patience with the game. This game has no direct navigation system you may be used to in other games. As mentioned before you find landmarks in the game that will be marked on your map once you find a map treasure for it. Yet a compass and the discovered landmarks are all you have to guide you. By holding down your sonar button you can bounce sonar waves to find walls as well as mark enemies and places. The NPCs will not point you in any particular direction and only tell you where you need to go. To explore you're going to have to remember directions you've explored from particular landmarks. For example, to find a SOCOM base first I chose a landmark to use as my base of operations then explored each and every direction to find tunnels and locations. Golden fish trails will point you in the general direction of where you might need to go. However this won't give you the exact location of the next story events. This game can require extreme patience, and it can begin to get aggravating. That sense of exploration was lost to a burning desire to find where the next part of the story was.

    The ship turns on a dime with a controller, but keyboard controls feel awkward and stiff. The keyboard controls are not bad, but they won't give you the precise movement and control that a controller offers. Not only is constant docking with defeated enemy ships immersion breaking, it's messed up that people charge you before they join you on sinking ships. Would you charge someone to rescue you from a watery grave?

    This is a winner take all world. While you don't necessarily see any form of gore or violence in the combat. This is a world where morals have no place and the world is focused solely on survival. The characters can be very cut throat and in the world of Diluvion everyone seems to be focused on what's at the bottom of the world rather then trying to return to the top. Don't expect anyone in this world to have strong moral fibers. I'd recommend this game for anyone above the age of 14 due to way this game's story can push you to focus on survival over moral character. I said earlier that if you find a survivor on a ship you dock they will still ask for money before they join your crew. How immoral do you have to be to put money over your own life? 

    How deep will you dive with Diluvion? This game definitely is worth putting your captain’s hat on for; give it a try!

  • Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga
    Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
    Developer: Larian Studios
    Released: November 5, 2010
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood; Suggestive Themes; Violence
    Available on: Xbox 360; PC (version reviewed)
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    MSRP: $40 (Amazon affiliate link)

    Thank you to Larian Studios for sending us a copy to review!

    Sequel to the cult hit, Divine Divinity – Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga steps away from its isometric predecessor to offer a different kind of game. Now with the focus on third-person action, Larian Studios set out to correct some of the mistakes with Divinity 2\'s original release, Ego Draconis. With an updated engine, retooled gameplay, and inclusion of the Flames of Vengeance expansion, Divinity 2 sets the bar high. Let\'s see if this RPG is worth the gold.

    Divinity 2\'s yarn revolves around the exploits of a Dragon Knight, a new recruit into an order of like-minded folks who have glowing eyes and special combat training. Not only are you a superstar to lowly villagers, but you\'re also targeted early on by the main villain, Damien. Damien, who threatens to kill you at every chance that he gets, fills the archetypical role of the bad guy, both by spouting bits of monologue and looking grumpy.  The story itself takes around 30 hours to finish, depending on how many side-objectives you feel like accomplishing. Divinity 2’s story wrapped up in an abrupt fashion, which felt both disappointing and undercooked; the expansion – Flames of Vengeance – alleviates this to some extent, by continuing where the main game left off. Or, you can play the expansion straight from the menu with a new higher-level character. Either way, the extra few hours are worth it.

    Along your journey in Rivellon, you\'ll accept quests from townsfolks, bandits, ghosts, and even inanimate objects. Quests range from fetching an item such as a journal, to clearing out an enemy camp, or even sneaking a group of pigs back to their rightful owner. The quests found here have several outcomes depending on which path you choose. Should you slay some guards so the pigs can escape, or leave the pigs where they are to the dismay of their owner? The actions you choose may not evolve on the level of say, the Mass Effect series, but they do have a wide amount of effects that you can see relatively quickly.

    Quests are not all cut and dry, however, with many leading you into dungeons packed with enemies. The large number of dungeons, caves, and tombs you visit also have the occasional hidden passage or concealed switch. Finding these may lead to chests full of bounty, or in more than one situation, lock you in with enemies. With so many enemies standing in your way, you\'ll need something to fight them off with.

     

    When considering how to go about combat, you\'ll have a few options to choose from. One way is with melee combat by utilizing axes, hammers, and swords. Dual-wielding, two-handed weapons, and shields are available as well. For the spell caster classes, you can go barehanded or choose to rely on your backup sword when the mana runs dry. There\'s bows for the ranger class, though I found this to be the least thrilling. Every swing of the sword or arrow shot requires a simple click of the mouse. While this is fine for the warriors, it makes being a ranger pretty underwhelming due to the lack of mobility. Being forced to stand in one spot to fire off arrows doesn\'t work as well as I hoped when it comes to this combat system. Assigning items and skills to your number keys without needing to fumble around in the inventory screen for a potion is here as well.

    By completing quests and slaying enemies, you\'ll be rewarded with experience points. After a set amount of points, you\'ll level up. Each level grants you stat points, which go towards increasing the character\'s focus. There are several different stats and passive percentages that alter how a character will perform, so pumping strength for your warrior, or intelligence and spirit for your mage would be the right course of action. Skill points will also be awarded after each level up. These range from passive abilities such as damage increase with certain weapons and mana efficiency when casting spells, to active roles like heals, summons, and fireballs. While I would\'ve liked to see a more diverse array of skills, the ones here, while rather simplistic, get the job done.

    About a third way into the main game\'s story, the option of having your own headquarters is made available. This headquarters, or “Battle Tower” as it\'s called in-game, houses multiple NPCs who make the journey less stressful, and add a bit of depth to what would be a rather standard RPG. A necromancer handles mixing and matching of your pet, a summon who can be called into battle to fight along side you. Limbs you find during the game as loot or from quests alter the pet\'s stats and abilities depending on what parts you choose. An enchanter allows you to customize gear by removing bonuses from weaker pieces and slotting them into your better armor and weapons.

    An alchemist allows for the crafting of potions, and the skill trainer offers skill redistribution for a price. Some of these processes require ingredients. In a smart move by the developers, you\'ll have three runners: NPCs who automatically fetch these items after a set duration. By paying for better weapons and armor from the NPCs mentioned above, the runners will have higher rates of success in finding that special item you require. The whole Battle Tower concept is pretty neat, not only because it makes tedious tasks easier, but because it adds a sense of accomplishment and of influence that a great hero would normally have.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points:Solid dialogue and plenty of written lore; exceptional voice acting; graphic engine runs smooth and offers pleasant environments; subtle humor throughout

    Weak
    Points: Uneven difficulty; crude and dated menus; not very newbie friendly; uses SecuROM

    Moral Warnings:
    Sword and sorcery abound in combat; blood is seen in environments and with melee attacks; occult themes like mind-reading, communication with ghosts, and necromancy are present, as are pentagrams; innuendo in some dialogue

    Not long after the Battle Tower, the ability to transform into a dragon will open up. This is one of the better aspects of Divinity 2 alone. Though it is simplistic to an extent, there\'s plenty of cool factor because, well, you\'re a dragon. While the dragon can be customized to some degree, it\'s largely hands-off, except for the occasional dragon armor piece here or there. The arcade action as the dragon gets tiresome as the game progresses, however.

    As neat as all of this sounds, one huge drawback when playing Divinity 2 was the difficulty level. I played on normal difficulty for a large portion of my experience, but I eventually had to bump down to casual from the sheer frustration that the game can throw at a player. Early on as a warrior, enemies could take me down in only a handful of hits, and with poor weapons, I had to trick the AI by hiding behind obstacles so I can slowly regenerate my health. Only a few hours later, with my character around level 12, the game\'s challenge seemed to nose-dive, offering up weak enemies that were dispatched in one to two hits. It\'s a weird aspect of the game that comes off as bipolar. One moment you\'re chugging all the potions you have just to stay alive and the next you\'re enjoying a cakewalk through a dungeon.

    The fantastical nature of the world crafted by Larian brings with it the content that readers may find inappropriate. Generic bandits, goblins, and skeletons show up throughout the gameplay experience. Along with them are various demons, summoned beasts, dragons, ghosts, and the undead.

    Spells can and will be used by the player, whether for combat or during scripted sequences. The priest class can summon allies to aid in battle, and mages employ different types of explosive spells; enemies, too, can use the same skills and tools in battle. Combat is largely tame, even though violence is shown through the use of bows, bladed weapons, or fire magic. Blood is seen in combat, but nothing over the top.

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

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay 16/20
    Graphics 7/10
    Sound 9/10
    Stability 5/5
    Controls/Interface 4/5

    Morality Score - 46%
    Violence 3.5/10
    Language 6/10
    Sexual Content/Nudity 3.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

    Dark and decrepit environments like crypts, tombs, dungeons and caves make up the majority of where you\'ll be fighting. One dungeon had an experimentation room with bloodied corpses on tables and sharp tools nearby; another had corpses that were hanged. Some rooms are littered with the bodies of dead adventurers or with skeletal remains. A villain is pieced together with various body parts for the main purpose of serving a powerful necromancer. The pentagram symbol is visible for some spells and in books that require interaction to progress through the story. Spell invocation, mind reading, communication with ghosts for quests, and using a blood altar are present, too.

    One quest ends with an adulterous relationship between two characters, and some minor dialogue with townspeople is laden with subtle innuendo. Cleavage is present with many female characters, and some are fairly buxom or wear tight-fitting armor. I haven\'t seen anything in the way of nudity or sexual contact compared to other western RPGs on the market. Swearing is low-key: a few “b-stards” and “d-mns” are sprinkled in the dialogue, but again, nothing out of hand.

    With all that said, the fantasy elements that envelop the story are fairly dark through and through; the majority of these cannot be avoided. Please be aware of that if the themes above are not something you want to experience when purchasing a game of this type.

    Sound is one of the best aspects of Divinity 2. Character dialogue is mostly well-acted with varying degrees of accents, emotion, and a good amount of humor. I\'ve yet to run into a character that wasn\'t voiced. Even your own character\'s actions have narration, which helps to guide you in the right direction. It was quite refreshing to come from the handheld text-based RPGs I recently played to a game where everything is voiced; it sure added a lot more character to an already interesting array of characters. Several of the musical pieces that accompany new locations are crafted nicely and fit the area\'s theme, but they can be hit or miss. I did hear a few lackluster ones that either sounded out of place or were a tad convoluted to the point of muting the music until I reached a new location.

    Divinity 2 is built on the Gamebryo engine, which you may of seen in Oblivion or Fallout 3. Here though, the faces aren\'t smudged or, well, downright ugly. Much of the game is easy on the eyes and ears. Excluding enemies, character models are detailed and are different enough so villages aren\'t filled with clones. The graphics of the game can be quite lush, and offer plenty of open vistas to take in; one can easily find panoramic moments, whether it\'s standing on a waterfall, overlooking a cave filled with lava, or when traveling in forests. The third-person camera may have some issues in tight corridors or in flight, but it\'s largely fine.

    Dungeons are jam-packed with detail and appear like others have visited the location before. Aged, ruined, or forgotten, these environments feel alive despite housing all matters of beast. There\'s plenty of nice touches along the journey in environments you visit, whether it\'s a cave\'s natural blue crystal giving off a faint glow or a jail cell holding shackles, a journal, and skeletal remains.

    One big issue I had with the game\'s graphics was that they were locked at 30 frames per second (FPS). While fine on a console, this made the entire game an eyesore to play, due the choppy nature of rendering and how clunky the combat seemed. I saw that a recent hot fix allowed the game to go higher than 30 FPS. After applying the right settings, it improved the gaming experience greatly by allowing a much more fluid feel, in both combat and exploration. The video I posted with this review has the game configuration at a steady 60 FPS, so if you pick up the PC version, be sure to unlock the game from 30 FPS before starting the story.

    When it comes down to it, Divinity 2 is a well-crafted game that doesn\'t exactly transcend the genre. Plenty of heart went into the game and it\'s easy to see that. From the well-written dialogue to the large amount of quests to the nice dose of humor, there\'s plenty to enjoy. The game was, frankly, grating the first three hours or so I played. As time went on, though, I eventually warmed up to it. The world becomes less confined the longer you play, and it feels more expansive by the time you hit places like Sentinel Island and Orobas Fjords, around the eight to ten hour mark.

    For hardcore RPG fans yearning for some adventure, this game has it in spades. You\'ll easily sink dozens of hours into this game if you choose to work at it. At $40, it\'s a reasonable deal, especially with the improvements to the core game and the included expansion.

    More casual gamers, however, may want to look at other options instead. The slower story progression, difficulty of the game, and lack of hand-holding make this a hard sell to those not used to such staples of the genre.

    -- Jonathan "Keero" Harling

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition (Xbox One)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Developed by: BioWare
    Published by: Electronic Arts
    Release Date: November 18, 2014
    Available on: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC
    Genre: Action role-playing
    Number of Players: Single-player, multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Mature
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third entry into BioWare's highly regarded original fantasy role-playing world and it was met with high expectations.  The anticipation speaks to the pedigree of the series, for BioWare has few peers in the genre, much of it was fueled by curiosity as to whether Dragon Age would recover from the disappointment many felt with Dragon Age 2.  In many ways it is a rousing success, but I can't help but feel there was a cost.

    BioWare admitted it felt it needed to respond to Bethesda's smashing success The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but I have to wonder why.  And why now?  Skyrim didn't do anything substantially different than Morrowind or Oblivion and when those games were getting press BioWare was getting press at the same time doing its own thing.  They seemed, to me, content to let Bethesda play in the open world sandbox while they focused on admittedly smaller worlds with richer experiences.

    “Emotionally engaging” was the phrase BioWare used often and it wasn't something Bethesda could really respond to.  No matter how much fun Skyrim was, no one was calling it an emotionally engaging experience. It was not the kind of game that made you care at all about the NPCs you interacted with or the greater conflicts that gave context to your actions.  This was BioWare's bread and butter; if they couldn't make you care, they failed.

    For the most part I just didn't care about what was happening to Thedas or the threat the surprisingly one-dimensional baddie posed to the realm.

    Before I dive further into what I felt BioWare sacrificed to compete in a race it never needed to, let me talk about what I did enjoy.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful environments, engaging companions, challenging combat
    Weak Points: Incompetent party AI, minor bugs and occasional crashes, flat villain and story
    Moral Warnings: Strong language, violence, nudity, occult references, alternative relationships

    The game is spread across the two neighboring countries of Orlais and Ferelden.  The latter is the setting of Dragon Age: Origins, and is recovering from the ravages of the Fifth Blight.  Orlais is a France-inspired land of decadence and intrigue.  We've never seen it before and those familiar with the lore will know it occupied Ferelden in the not too distant past.

    Rather than go open world and allow you to traverse the two lands unimpeded. BioWare sprinkled large open zones across them.  According to them, the first zone you enter, the Hinterlands, is larger than the whole of the first game and that's believable.  The variety of zones you can explore as the game unfolds is a welcomed change to the reused brown bleakness of Dragon Age 2.  Verdant forests, desert plateaus, rain-drenched bogs, open plains, it's all here to explore and it's quite addictive to do so.  When you first enter a zone, your quest map only shows a sea of black pinned with quest markers.  As you trek, the map opens up and you discover a wealth of time-sucking opportunities.

    I don't use the phrase flippantly.  Much of what you can do in these zones, any zone, is designed to be a time sink.  When adopting the open world style, BioWare found itself with the task of filling that space with things you could do, most of it having little impact on your main quest.

    There's herbs to collect, ore to mine, fetch quests to fill, and Fade rifts to close.

    So many Fade rifts to close.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 30%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    For those of you who do not know, the Fade is the realm of dreams and spirits.  Also, according to Chantry doctrine (see: what might happen if the Christian church was established by Joan of Arc) it was host to the Maker's Golden City.  In short, heaven.  A long time ago, however, the city was entered by human mages using blood magic, turning it black.

    The villain of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Corypheus, is one of these mages, freed from imprisonment during the course of Dragon Age 2's DLC Legacy.  According to him, the city was already black when they arrived.  Believing there is no Maker, he now seeks to make himself a living god for humanity and enter into the Fade bodily once more.

    His actions have caused the veil between the world and the Fade to weaken, thus plaguing the lands with many, many Fade rifts that demons are using to enter Thedas.

    Remember in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion when Oblivion Gates started opening everywhere in Tamriel?  Yeah, basically the same thing only slightly less annoying to deal with because you don't have to invest nearly as much time in closing them.  So, thematically, they serve a purpose, but their larger purpose is to pad gameplay with busy work.

    Filler aside the environments are varied and beautiful.  Seriously.  They're a real treat and a promising look at what this console generation will deliver.

    Next, we move on to what you'll be spending most of your time doing other than filler quests: combat.  Intended to be more strategic than previous incarnations, Dragon Age: Inquisition finally allows console players a tactical view of the combat area that was only available to PC players.  On the fly, you can pause the combat, take an aerial view, and assign paths and actions to your party.  On casual and normal difficulties, you can forgo this mechanic for a more action-driven experience, in hard mode, it becomes a must, in part because of the sometimes flaky AI.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition

    I didn't spend too much time with the tactical view, but the number of times party members fell because of stupid AI decisions (rarely using a shield to block, never stepping out of the way of sustained breath weapon attacks from dragons...) made me long to master its intricacies.

    Gone are healing spells for mages, which took me a minute to deal with... emotionally.  However, I found that I rarely needed them in combat since my health, and my party's, was often regenerating in combat due to arcane wizardry on the part of my AI-controlled mage.  When emergencies arise, the party can share a pool of up to 12 healing potions and you can equip other potions to each companion manually.  Only healing potions are refilled automatically without a cost in camp, so you must choose wisely who gets any of the other potions, tonics, or grenades.

    As with previous games in the series, abilities are mapped to three face buttons and pressing the right shoulder button gives you access to three additional face button slots, making a total of six abilities at your disposal quickly.  I was playing a warrior and spread my accumulated points across four ability trees and found myself mining for passive abilities once the six slots were filled with go-to actions I didn't want to mess with.

    Were combat kept to a single protagonist, and not a party, I'd have little to grouse about but it's not and it all comes down to AI; it's frustratingly stupid sometimes.  Those 12 healing potions the party shares aren't for me.  Aside from when the environment occasionally conspired against me (it's swell when you're mopping up a hard fight only to have a few bears wander in), I didn't find myself having to use them nearly as often as the rest of the party.  Warrior abilities and magey stuff kept my health high most of the time.  Many was the time, though, when I'd see a party member's health take a dive and find them engaging in activities they'd no business entertaining.

    One might argue that the tactical view alleviates this problem, and they'd be right, but it misses the point as the action-driven playstyle is just as legitimate.

    Lastly there's the companions themselves.  By and large they're all pretty great with unique voices, viewpoints, and depth.  Perhaps the most one-note of the bunch was Varric, a carry-over from Dragon Age 2, but I can admit it may be my own bias.  I never cared much for him in that game and that sentiment didn't change here.  I took no small amount of glee during a particularly heated scene between Cassandra, my paramour, and him and siding with her as much as I could rationalize.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition
    I more or less ignored Vivienne, a loyalist Circle mage from Orlais because, pretty much, she was the last to join my party and I was already invested in Solas and Dorian, the other two mage companions. As the game went on, the colorful Dorian overtook dour Solas as my favored mage. As my time with the two of them progressed, Dorian proved more accessible and his relationship with his father is one I think Christians could learn a few things from.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is more of a sequel to Dragon Age 2 than Dragon Age 2 is a sequel of Dragon Age: Origins. Dragon Age: Inquisition picks up a year after the beginning of the Mage-Templar War got kicked off in Dragon Age 2 and is heavily influenced by it. The game dramatically opens up with a peace conference between the two factions literally exploding. As part of the main quest in the game, you're forced to choose one of the two factions to back. Given that I thought mages needed to be watched, backing the Templars was a no-brainer. Like Marvel's X-Men, the game tries to treat being a mage like it's a civil rights issue, but the argument falls apart on close examination.

    Are there good mages who don't want to enthrall a village to their will, or invite demonic possession for quick power? Sure. There are also gun owners who don't want to rob a bank or shoot random strangers.

    One of these groups still has to get a background check.

    It's for these reasons I didn't find the mage angle convincing, though obvious Templar excesses are inexcusable, and why I was tired of mages by the time Vivienne hitched her wagon to the Inquisition's train.

    Since the game centers around mages and Templars so much, of course the Chantry and its teachings and politics takes front stage. In fact, as you progress the Inquisition may even throw its influence behind a new Divine, a heavy decision indeed. What's most noteworthy about all of this is the discussion BioWare tries to elicit about faith.  What could have been interesting came off to me, a man of faith, as very patronizing. It's hard to explain further without delving into real spoilers, but suffice to say the message I got was, "You're free to believe whatever you want, despite the evidence, so long as it make no demands upon those around you."

    The Gospel of Jesus the Chant of Light is not.

    Like all BioWare games, romancing a companion is an option and I've already mentioned who I chose. To BioWare's credit, they eschewed making most everyone bisexual (something I've complained about in the past), keeping it limited to only two: one companion and one adviser. Some characters aren't even interested in a romance, which is a nice change.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition

    BioWare took this game as an opportunity to really lay out their politics on the matters of sexuality and sexual relations.  To anyone familiar with the company and their left-leaning attitudes, it's no surprise.  Same-sex relationships in Thedas are common and barely worth batting an eye about.  In fact, there's even a codex treatise on the topic should you wish further reading.  Additionally, this is the first game from them that I'm aware of that features a transgendered NPC.  She's a member of Iron Bull's (one of your companions) retinue and while it seems the setting does take notice at that, Iron Bull does not because she's a good soldier.

    Which is something BioWare also chooses to plant their flag on: women serve equally side-by-side by men in battle.  While this is a topic of debate today, and only possible given technological and medical advancements made within the past 100 years or so, it's absurd to cast it as feasible so far into the past, even a fantastical past.  It's clearly there to make a political point while ignoring socioeconomic realities of the medieval age it purports to take place in, and the stark biological differences between the sexes.

    This is the worst sort of storytelling and it's all the more noteworthy because BioWare is better at its craft than this.  That said, however, they've embraced one of the key techniques of normalizing otherwise objectionable content in media: don't draw attention to it.  Don't draw attention to it, treat it as innocuous, and it will be absorbed a piece at a time organically.

    This is a lesson Christian media has yet to embrace, preferring to obtusely beat non-believers about the neck and face with a message.

    Finding Cassandra's warm center – BioWare has described her like being a “crusty baguette” - was a real joy. Her embarrassment when you uncover her more 'girly' predilections is delightful.  The height of the dance between the Inquisitor and her (and the only time nudity came up), however, was unceremoniously marred by a glitch that froze the cutscene for a minute or so.  The drama, the poignancy, was gone and I was reminded that I was playing a video game.

    This particular glitch reared its head a numbers of time during my play through, tossing a damp rag on what would have been story highlights.  There's nothing quite like thinking, for a moment, a scene paused for effect when in reality it was taking a smoke break.  Thankfully the bug got squashed with a 300MB patch that came out when I was about three-quarters of the way through my game.

    But it seemed to then introduce total game crashes, an issue I never experienced before the patch.  I suppose I should thank BioWare for the new feature.  After losing several hours worth of progress, I really took stock of what I was doing and realized that I'd gotten caught up in beautiful chores.  Nothing I'd done during that time progressed the plot, mattered to anyone I cared about, or would even open up an interesting bit of side-story.

    I wrapped up my time with Skyrim when I noticed I was approaching 100 hours of playtime and it felt like a good place to deal with Alduin because he'd been so patient about my shenanigans to this point.

    I wrapped up my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition when I realized nothing I did for the majority of the game mattered.  Astute readers may see a contradiction but the thing is I didn't expect to matter in Skyrim.

    I do in a BioWare game.

    And that's what I think BioWare sacrificed in trying to compete with Bethesda.  But I have to admit that my voice may be alone.  Already the game has garnered several Game of the Year awards from various publications.  I think that if this game were The Elder Scrolls VI I'd have to agree.  Bethesda would have done an admirable job at pushing a story and characters that matter, that we might care about, to the fore.  It would have represented a step forward for them.

    While Dragon Age: Inquisition is an improvement from Dragon Age 2, and not quite a step backwards, it feels like an unnecessary sidestep.  It picked up a gauntlet I'm not sure was ever thrown.

    I enjoyed my time with the game. I really did.  I cared about most of my companions, what they thought and felt. The combat, while sometimes frustrating because of deficient AI, is a lot of fun, and seeing Skyhold grow and change as the Inquisition becomes a force to reckon with is a nice reminder of what you mean to a world that really lacks such a reflection for most of what you're doing in the game.

    My time in Thedas is now over.  I don't think I'll be revisiting this incarnation of it anytime soon.  Dragon Age: Origins, my favorite BioWare game, calls to me again.  I might take it up.

    Of course now that Green Ronin Publishing finally got Set 3 of the Dragon Age paper-and-pencil RPG out I could always get a group together for that.  Let it never be said I am not a fanboy for the setting!

     

  • Dragon's Crown (Vita)

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    Game Info:

    Dragon's Crown
    Developed by: Vanillaware
    Published by: Atlus
    Release Date: August 6th, 2013
    Available on: PS3, Vita (reviewed)
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of Players: single-player, four player multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence, alcohol and tobacco use, partial nudity and suggestive themes
    Price: $50 for PS3 version, $40 for Vita
    (Amazon affiliate link)

    Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review! 

    The Kingdom of Hydeland is in turmoil as the king has gone missing. To make matters worse, magic users have been seeking out a legendary artifact called the dragon's crown to awaken the ancient dragon.  With monster attacks on the rise, the adventurer's guild and royal family have plenty of tasks for you to complete.   Are you up to the challenge?

    When you first start the game you will have to choose your character class. Since some are easier to play than others, the game recommends starting off with a brawny class like the amazon, warrior or dwarf.  You can also choose the sorceress, mage, or ranger.  Each class has unique abilities, fighting styles and equipment.  As you fight and gain experience you will also earn skill points that can be assigned to common or class specific abilities.  

    Some of the abilities include new attack moves, more health, or inventory space.  Dragon's Crown combines the action of 2D side scrolling brawlers with the allure of finding hidden treasures deep within dungeons and towers.  While there are only ten areas, there are multiple paths with a boss waiting at the end of each of them.  I like the humor of this game as one of the boss' is from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun combination of brawler and dungeon crawler gameplay.  
    Weak Points: Multiplayer is not available until the initial single player quests are completed.
    Moral Warnings: Like many RPGs there is violence and magic use. The female characters in this game suffer from abnormally large breasts, thighs, and buttocks.  They are also dressed so provocatively that a sneeze could cause a wardrobe malfunction.  The males of course are adequately covered and are without delusional enhancements.

    As you accept quests and explore new areas you encounter many enemies including orcs, vampires, lizard men, skeletons, evil mages and of course dragons.  They often drop coins after their demise.  There are also treasure chests and bones of fallen adventurers to be looted.  You can either revive the bones to get a NPC party member or you can bury them for a random treasure.  

    The first few quests are solo as you learn the game mechanics and prove your worth to the adventurer's guild and royal family.  Once you're at the point of collecting the nine talisman to battle the ancient dragon, you can play alongside NPCs, local friends, or random people online.  The boss' hit points go up the bigger the party is.  Some of the bosses I fought solo to make it easier on myself.  Some of the adventurer's guild quests require you to fight on your own as well. To do that you must disable joining.  If you have join enabled and are on the network, online players may hop into your party at any time.  It should come as no surprise that in order to play online, your system has to have the current firmware.  

    I never had any trouble finding anyone online to play with.  There is no chat and the only way to interact is you use your hand pointer.  When there are multiple dungeon paths, the majority vote wins.   Joining a random game is always fun and if the other players are higher level you may get even better loot.  I once picked up the bones of a level 99 adventurer; I didn't have the 999,999 gold to revive them though.  

    Gold comes and goes in this game pretty fast.  After you raid a dungeon you can either appraise (for a price) or just sell an item outright.  You cannot use an item until it has been appraised though.  Fortunately each item is assigned a rank form E (worst) to S (best) so anything C or lower I typically sold without bothering to appraise it.  As your character takes damage their equipment deteriorates or breaks altogether.  If you're carrying multiple bags of items you can switch equipment at the dungeon crossroads.   Anything damaged or broken can be repaired in town for a price.

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 64%%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 2.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Magic runes play a big part of this game no matter what class you play as.  There are rune markings on many of the dungeon walls and if you combine those with the runes your purchase, you can conjure up temporary weapons, buffs, hidden treasure, healing circles or an extra life.   You start off with three lives with the option to pay and pray for an extra one at the temple.  When those lives are exhausted, you can pay again and again until you can no longer afford the increasing revival rates.  When you're out of money and lives you're taken back into town and revived by a friend.

    Violence and magic use is a given in role playing games.  What surprised me with these titles was the blatant sexualizing of females.  The Amazon warrior I played was incredibly buffed with thunder thighs and a thong suit.  I mean who would seriously fight an ancient dragon wearing a thong bikini?  The sorceress was even worse with her double J bust size and a lace dress that was extremely low cut.  It gets even worse.  In the dungeons I encountered a mermaid with a human buttocks, a wounded female monk warrior spread eagle with her chastity belt holes exposed, and lastly, a bound attractive female spirit wearing a thin semi transparent outfit.  This artwork was extremely one sided; granted the warrior and dwarf classes were muscular like the Amazon warrior, but their groin area was realistic and not jiggling as they walked. 

    It's a real shame since the 2D artwork in this game is incredibly detailed and well done.  Unfortunately, they put too much detail into the females.  I would not recommend this game to anybody who is struggling with pornography or lust.  The sound and voice acting is top notch as well.  The gameplay is solid and had it not been for the sexual fantasy art, I would recommend this game to any RPG or brawler gamer out there.  

     

     

  • Dustoff Heli Rescue (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Dustoff Heli Rescue
    Developed by: Invictus Games Ltd.
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release date: March 6, 2015
    Available on: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
    Number of players: Single-player
    Genre: Action
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $3.99

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us this game to review!

    When I was growing up I owned an Atari 2600 and one of my favorite games on it was Choplifter.  In Choplifter you had to fly a helicopter and rescue stranded soldiers in a desert battlefield.  Dustoff Heli Rescue has a similar premise but with better 3D Minecraft style graphics and a jungle backdrop.

    In total there are twenty-five missions and they range from rescuing soldiers to picking up cargo.  The soldiers are usually easy to find with their red flare smoke, but sometimes they are in cages you'll have to break beforehand.  In other missions the hostages are in an enemy convoy that you’ll have to shoot down first.  The convoy rarely travels alone so you’ll have to take out its escorts as well.

    By default, the helicopter auto-fires, but you can set it to manual if you really want a challenge.  In total there are three different helicopters and guns that you can unlock throughout the game.  Each helicopter has different attributes when it comes to capacity and maneuverability.  Carrying more soldiers is helpful, but are you willing to deal with a harder to control helicopter?

    Dustoff Heli Rescue
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute Choplifter remake with Minecraft style visuals
    Weak Points: Significant difficulty spike when the severe weather levels unlock and make the helicopters frustratingly difficult to control
    Moral Warnings: Vehicular explosions, enemy soldiers run away and don’t appear to get shot

    Whenever you land on the helipad your helicopter’s health and ammunition will refill.  Try not to let either get too low as it takes time to recharge.  Depending on your completion time, you’ll earn a gold, silver, or a bronze medal for the completing the level.  

    The levels have plenty of variety.  Some of them take place in sunny weather with plenty of open space to fly through.  Others have you steering through caverns which takes a lot of precision.  There are no checkpoints so if you crash you’ll have to restart from the beginning.  More challenging levels take place in severe weather conditions that cripple the simple control scheme.  When you’re close to half-way through the game, the difficulty ramps up significantly and can be very frustrating.

    By default, the game uses only the left and right arrow keys.  You can bind them to the shoulder buttons of a gamepad if you desire.  To lift off you simply press both buttons and then use the arrow or shoulder button for the direction you wish to go.  Sometimes you’ll have to press the opposite button to stabilize your helicopter.  Delicate landings are a must and you’ll have to tap both buttons to slow down your descent.  If you choose to manually fire your gun, you'll have to click on your mouse to do so.

    Dustoff Heli Rescue
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    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

    I’ve learned the hard way that tipping over your helicopter or landing in water will cause your helicopter to explode.  Other than accidentally killing your passengers, this game is pretty tame when it comes to violence.  Enemy vehicles still explode, but you don’t see any blood or gore.  In fact, the enemy soldiers are seen running away when your helicopter approaches their encampments.

    The soldiers in this game are blocky in nature and look very similar to the characters in Minecraft.  The graphics are decent and don’t require high end systems to run smoothly.  The audio is well done and the static laden radio chatter is a nice touch.

    Overall this is a cute game that gets a little frustrating when you’re half-way though completing it.  There is plenty of replay-ability with the option of besting your previous score and trying to find the five hidden dog tags in each of the levels.  The price is a reasonable $3.99 and is worth picking up if it goes on sale.

  • Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition
    Developer: Omega Force
    Publisher: Koei Tecmo
    Released: November 28, 2013 (JP); March 25, 2014 (NA)
    Available On: Playstation 4, PS Vita, PC
    Number of Players: Up to 2
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen (Alcohol Reference, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence)
    Price: $32.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Centuries after his death, Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms is as popular now as it has ever been. Thanks to the medium of video games, more and more people have become familiar with this historical novel set in the Three Kingdoms era following the fall of the Han Dynasty in China. Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition is the seventh ‘hack and slash’ game in this series, offering a more complete package on the Playstation 4. Are updated graphics and additional gameplay content enough to justify its purchase?

    Having spent hours playing the original release on the Playstation 3, I was pleasantly surprised at how much has been improved. In the era of rushed HD remakes, it was nice to see a game that was thoroughly upgraded. In terms of graphics, this game feels like a next generation Warriors title game. Animations are cleaner, graphics are clearer, and battlefields have proper lighting. Gameplay benefits from the next generation update as there are more enemies on the field at any time, there are fewer slowdowns in combat compared to the original release and the frame rate only dips slightly during the most chaotic sequences. Frequent slowdowns have been a problem for the series since the first ‘hack and slash’ game, Dynasty Warriors 2. It is amazing to see how well the Playstation 4 version plays, especially considering how many additional soldiers are now on screen. 

    Although the number of improvements to Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition are many, the game itself is fundamentally unchanged. As stated previously, the story for Dynasty Warriors 8 is based on Luo Guanzhong’s historical novel, chronicling the fall of the Han Empire and the rise of the Three Kingdoms, Wei, Wu and Shu, from 169 AD to 280 AD. Each kingdom has its own heroes with their own stated goals, be it the unification of China, the protection of family lands, or the continuation of Han traditions. Much is written about Luo Guanzhong’s portrayal of the Three Kingdoms and his bias towards the Shu, who feel like the quintessential good guys in this story. Even then, players don’t feel like villains when playing on behalf of the other kingdoms. Though cruel, Cao Cao makes it clear that only through strength can peace be brought to the land. The suffering of the people is always on his mind, even when he is inflicting suffering himself. Even Lu Bu, a villain of the era, is presented as more than a ruthless warlord. His motivations are split between proving his strength and fulfilling the dreams of the woman he loves, Diaochan. The criticism here is that aside from Dong Zhuo, there are no real villains to fight.  Factions are opposed to each other because of their methods more than their ultimate goal, even if they differ in what their vision of what China should be. Writers could have spent more time discussing the differences between the factions to give players more motivation to take up their weapons and go to war.

    Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The complete Dynasty Warriors 8 experience, including 99% of the DLC for the last generation version, with enhanced graphics. One of the best 'hack and slash' games available on any platform, filled with hours of single player content.
    Weak Points: Aside from a new campaign, there is little to offer in terms of game content for those who already own Dynasty Warriors 8 on the PS3 or Xbox 360.
    Moral Warnings: Some alcohol use, animated violence and a few female characters wear provocative attire.

     Despite this being a game set during the Three Kingdoms era, players shouldn’t expect to listen to classical Chinese music. Dynasty Warriors 8’s music consists mainly of electric guitars and drums.  Although this may seem out of place, it complements the intense action on screen. It also fits with the game’s overall design, which forgoes historical accuracy in character and weapon design in favor of anime-inspired style. According to Chin Soon Sun, a Koei Tecmo community manager and former Koei Warriors webmaster, characters were designed to appeal to Japanese audiences, not Western ones, as the game is a triple ‘A’ title in Japan.  One wonders how a more historically accurate Warriors title would sell, especially in the West. If players aren’t fussy about Dynasty Warriors 8’s costumes, they have the ability to change them to costumes from older games, as well as special costumes from a set available as downloadable content. Players also have the ability to change music before a battle, choosing from a large selection of music, including tracks from previous Dynasty Warriors games. Finally, there is also the option to change the spoken language from English to Japanese. There are more than enough customization options for even the pickiest players.

    Gameplay is almost the same as the previous title, Dynasty Warriors 7, which was a big improvement from simple button pressing, the series was originally known for. As stated previous, this is a ‘hack and slash’ game, a third person action-adventure game which is heavily focused on combat. Players control a character that fights his or her way across a large battlefield through hundreds of enemies. As with the previous title, each character is able to use two weapons in battle which can be switched at any time. Switching is made even more important with the addition of the ‘Heaven, Earth, Man’ elemental system. This “rock, paper, scissors” dynamic adds an additional layer of depth to the game’s simplistic battle system. Though not revolutionary by any means, it does make combat more interesting. Each battle is broken down into a series of objectives to be completed, from taking bases to protecting generals. Unlike previous Warriors games, don’t expect to mount your horse (or elephant) and charge the enemy encampment. Routes are blocked off until certain objectives are met, forcing players to stick to the script. This doesn’t, however, mean you’ll be spending half-an-hour or more playing through one battle. Despite what you may have heard from other reviewers, battles rarely last more than twenty minutes, even if players are taking their time.

    As with the original game, Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition offers a variety of gameplay modes, which can be played with one or two players, from the standard campaigns for each faction in Story Mode, to the ability to replay stages in Free Mode, and the Ambition Mode which allows players to chose a hero to fight across China. Xtreme Legends Complete Edition adds an additional faction campaign which follows Lu Bu’s rise and fall, Challenge Mode, a mode found in previous Xtreme Legends titles, and an additional Ambition Mode mission, tasking players to recruit heroes and again conquer China. Though campaigns are shorter and not as faithful to Luo Guanzhong’s historical novel as they were in Dynasty Warriors 7, they do have ‘what if’ scenarios, allowing players to change the course of history by completing certain objectives. Players are also not limited to a single character per stage like the previous title, but given a choice of three warriors to take into battle. All this adds to the replayability of each campaign. Regardless of whatever mode is picked, playing with a character levels them up. Defeating generals also rewards players with weapons to equip themselves. With a cast of eighty-three playable characters, completionists can expect to spend hundreds of hours playing the game.

    Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Although this game is filled with hours of content, it can become repetitive. Though each character has their own unique style and EX moves, there is not that much difference in play style. Certain weapons do behave differently, but the combos remain the same. The plus side to this is that players will not have to spend much time learning how to use other weapons. Each character has a specific weapon they specialize in, granting them an EX attack with it. These EX attacks vary from additional combo hits to buffs like increased armor or damage. Characters can also switch between weapons mid-combo to increase combo length. Characters also have two unique Musou Attacks, helping to further alleviate the repetitiveness. There are also additional weapons and remade stages from previous games available as downloadable content. There is no shortage of content in Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition, but how much mileage players get out of it will vary.

    Given that Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition is based on Chinese history, there are no references to Christ or Christianity. Spirituality is replaced by superstition, but references to these beliefs are few and far between. The only reference to spirituality that comes to mind is Zhuge Liang’s prayer ceremony to call the winds at Chibi (Red Cliff). Despite the virtual absence of any spiritual references, the game has a family friendly feel to it. Alcohol is consumed only at celebrations (with some characters partaking more than others), battlefield kills are counted as “KOs” (knock outs), there aren’t any graphic depictions of blood, and when characters do die, it either happens off screen or players are given a Disney-like death scene, where the character spouts meaningful dialogue and slowly slips away. As for the sexual content in the game, aside from attire of a few of the female characters (which can be changed), it is nonexistent. This isn’t a game parents should worry about their teenage children playing, especially considering its educational value. While there are numerous inaccuracies, players learn a lot about historical figures and battles while waging war across China. There is also a strong emphasis placed on loyalty, be it loyalty to one’s principles, family or friends. This is further reinforced by the vilification of characters that are disloyal and act out of self-interest. It is hard to find moral fault with a game which goes to such lengths to promote values such as loyalty. 

    As a long-time fan of the series, I thoroughly enjoyed Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition. It is hard not to recommend this game to fans of the ‘hack and slash’ genre, as well as those who love Japanese developed games. There is a lot of content to enjoy already on disc, and there is a lot of additional downloadable content for those who can’t put the game down. It isn’t perfect, but it is by far the best game in the series to date. Unless players or parents find any depiction of violence, even the toned down animated violence in this game, unacceptable, there should not be any reason to avoid this game, especially now that it’s available at half its initial release price.

    -Christopher Lancop

     

  • Eagle Flight (VR)

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    Game Info:

    Eagle Flight
    Developed by: Ubisoft Montreal
    Published by: Ubisoft
    Release date: October 18, 2016
    Available on: Oculus Rift,
    PlayStation VR, HTC Vive
    Genre: Simulation
    Number of Players: Up to six players online
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for mild violence
    Price: $39.99

    Thank you Ubisoft for sending us this game to review!

    Many people have dreamed of flying like a bird and now it’s possible on the virtual reality platform of your choice.  The life of an eagle is not carefree as there are many dangers including vultures, bats, and ravens that will attack your mate and nest.  Besides dodging their traps and attacks you’ll have to narrowly fly through many caverns, abandoned tunnels and buildings to beat the scores of people around the world.  

    Though there is a three on three multiplayer mode, I wasn’t able to find anyone to play against.  Thankfully, there is still a free flight and story mode to enjoy.  The free flight mode is great for showing off your VR headset to family and friends.  The controls are relatively simple with tilting your heard to turn and using the right trigger on the controller to speed up and the left one to slow down.  

    The controls get slightly more complicated in the story mode, but not by much.  At first the story introduces you to the basics of flying, collecting feathers for your nest, and catching fish.  Once you meet your mate you’ll have to escort and protect her from vultures, bats, and ravens.  You’ll be able to attack them with your screech which needs a couple of seconds to recharge before you can use it again.  Later in the game you'll unlock a temporary shield.  When you complete the single-player campaign you’ll unlock the ability to look around without changing your flight trajectory.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful scenery and smooth flying experience without motion sickness 
    Weak Points: Nobody  online to play against; crashed upon launching and exiting the game; Uplay login required
    Moral Warnings: You can fly into things and attack other birds

    The head controls are very responsive and easy to grasp, but breaking the habit of tilting my head instead of turning it took some getting used to.  The game will remind you to tilt instead of turning your head if it detects too much movement from the VR headset.  Heed the warnings because ignoring them will result in a stiff neck!

    There’s a decent amount of variety in the levels.  Some of the them have you flying through rings while others require fending off enemies while escorting your partner to safety.  Last but not least are the tunnel racing levels where you have to narrowly avoid spinning fans and soar through thin openings.  Depending on how quickly you reach the end, you’ll be awarded between one and three stars.  The next level will unlock with one star, but other side quests will require a certain number of stars before becoming available.  In total there are one hundred and twenty-nine stars to earn.  I completed the game with forty-eight so there’s plenty of replay value for me if I want to improve my scores and unlock more content.  

    The story campaign has five chapters that unfold as you claim territory and build nests in Notre-Dame, Louvre, Basilica, the Pantheon, and the Eiffel tower.   With each claimed territory you’ll get to do a victory fly-through around your new stomping grounds.  The levels increase in difficulty as the story progresses: they begin at easy and end at the expert difficulty.  After fending off swarms of enemies it feels good to fly around and enjoy the new scenery.

    Eagle Flight takes place in an abandoned France with no traces of humans other than the architecture they left behind.  The buildings are covered with foliage and many of them have trees growing though them.  All sorts of wildlife including elephants, giraffes, zebras, and wolves are inhabiting the vacant landscape.  Some of the levels take place on sunny days while others are rainy or in the evening. 

    Eagle Flight
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 1/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 95%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    The audio is just as well polished as the graphics.  The levels are nicely narrated and the bird screeches are spot on.  The other sound effects, especially the crashing noise are well done.  The background music is pleasant and takes a back seat to the other sound effects until enemies approach.    Then it sets the grim mood nicely.

    Although there is violence in this game it’s not very bloody at all.  When you hit a bird with your screech they simply disappear.  When you collide with an object there is just a thud noise and no blood stains or any mess to worry about.  

    Other than the lack of people online to play against, my biggest complaint with this title is its stability.  Half of the time this game failed to launch or exit properly.  After seeing the loading bar fill up, I would be greeted with a blank black screen that I would have to end task to make it close and try again.  Updating my AMD drivers to the latest version did not fix this issue either.  Sometimes I could get in on the second try, other times it took me four tries before it launched properly.   It rarely worked on the first try.    

    As frustrating as the launch process was, the negative feelings went away quickly as I took to the skies and raced around as an eagle.  I hope that the bugs are fixed quickly and that more people play this game online to enjoy this game as it’s intended.  If you have a VR headset, be sure to keep an eye on this one if it goes on sale.  

     

  • Exile's End (PS Vita/PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Exile's End
    Developed By: Magnetic Realms
    Published By: XSEED Games/Marvelous
    Release Date: October 25, 2016 (PS platforms), August 31, 2015 (Steam)
    Available On: PS4, PS Vita (PS TV Compatible), Wii U, Windows, macOS, Linux/SteamOS
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Violence, Blood
    Genre: Action Adventure
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $9.99

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us both the PS4 and PS Vita games for review!

    Exile's End was programmed entirely by one man, Matt Fielding, with some art and music assistance by Japanese veterans, including creators from games like Ninja Gaiden NES, Secret of Mana, and other early greats.  It was his intention to make this game as an homage to early 1990s classics like Flashback and Another World.  When launching this game for the first time, it is immediately obvious that it could have easily lived among games from that era.

    This classic look and feel begins right from the title screen.  From the pixel art logo to the fonts used, it screams '90s.  Only the "Online" menu, which contains the cloud save feature (PlayStation versions only) and the online leaderboards give it away.  There is otherwise only one save slot, so "Continue", "New Game", "Survival", and "Settings" are also available.

    For most players, the bulk of your time will be spent in the normal game mode represented by "New Game" and/or "Continue".  Despite some rather odd marketing to the contrary, this mode strongly represents the Metroidvania genre fairly well. For those not initiated, 'Metriodvania' is a term of endearment used by fans of the classic 2D Metroid series, and later Castlevania games, which used similar mechanics.  The main features are non-linear maps that encourage exploring, and often include platforming, and various hidden permanent powerups found throughout the map.  These allow the player to access new passages that were formerly locked to them, often via the skills or attributes of their new items.  Backtracking is usually also involved, as those locked areas can often be found earlier in the game than the weapons that unlock them.  This describes Exile's End very accurately.

    Exile's End
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Dark, lonely environment; successful throwback to classic 1990s games; second half of the game is really good; definitely a Metroidvania despite trying to convince to the contrary
    Weak Points: Starts off slowly, and somewhat of a chore at first; music is disappointing; pixel art is blurry on Vita or PS TV without old TV filters applied; not sure it excels past its peers in any way; cross save bugs
    Moral Warnings: Both aliens and enemy humans die, and sometimes shows blood; lore speaks of a messiah-like figure, with various statues and such; curse words 'd*mn', 'hell', and 'b*tch' used

    Exile's End is a 2D side scrolling entrance into the genre, as most of them are. You start off finding yourself exiled (see what I did there?) on a planet, after being sent on a search and rescue mission to find the son of Ravenwood corporation's president.  Once you arrive, your ship suddenly crashes, as well as those of the rest of your team.  Unlike them, you survive, and set out to not only complete the mission, but to get both of you off of the mysterious mining planet you find yourself on.

    The plot seemed rather far from surprising, with the game following several common tropes.  There's the alien planet, the aliens on the planet, the ancient religion, and the mysterious powers and such being sought by your enemies.  I would mark that last part as a spoiler, except it's so predictable that you probably would have figured out it was coming as soon as you saw your first hooded statue.

    While certainly derivative, it's not a bad game by any means.  It's just not unique in any way.  If you have played a 2D Metroid game, then you more or less know what to expect – minus the morph ball.  Not that this is a bad thing – the Metroid series is one of my favorite of all time.  Just don't expect anything radically different.

    The first part of the game is pretty difficult, with the only weapon or tool available to you being a rock.  Yes, a rock.  That is actually pretty unique, in that in most games you have a means of attack even right away.  Rocks can be used to defeat simple enemies like snakes, distract some enemies, or set off land mines. All in all, more useful than expected.  Once you get your handgun, the game really opens up and it becomes a lot more manageable.  But a few too many mistakes can really take a long time to recover from, which is unfortunate, since it ends up encouraging majorly cheesing the save system.

    You see, the game automatically saves after entering or exiting each and every room.  There are no save slots either – there's one save and that's it.  Since you have no means of backing out of a choice except for immediately reloading, that's what you end up doing.  If you get hit?  Press start, choose exit, and then continue.  With a five second delay, you have now just re-entered the room, with whatever bad hit you took before having never happened.  It's so easy to abuse, it's… laughable.  While I found a few boss fights difficult, it took an otherwise challenging game and made it almost too easy for much of it.  At least you do have to learn your enemies' patterns, otherwise the reload-continue process wouldn't work too well.

    Exile's End
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    The cross save feature worked perfectly between the PS Vita and my PS TV, but would crash my game when bringing the save over to the PS4 version.  The developer has been made aware of this issue and it will hopefully be addressed in a patch.

    Survival mode is a bit different, and unique.  There are many previously generated levels, along with various goals you have to complete in each one.  There is also a time attack element to it, as you have a rather limited time on the clock, and in order to extend it, you have to kill enemies on the screen.  There are online leaderboards to complete with other players worldwide.  It's an interesting mode that seems disconnected from the meat of the main game.  However, if you are looking for a way to be competitive in a game like this, it's a great opportunity for that.

    The graphics are almost directly out of the 1990s.  Not that this is bad, but I believe you could seriously convince someone who played games from that era that this game was made back then.  The sound effects do their job, but the music is unfortunately forgettable.  Not terrible, nor great.  As I have heard some of the works of the Japanese artists mentioned, all I have to say is that they have done better work in other games.

    On the flipside, the controls are basically perfect.  I have played classic games with intentionally limited jump or weapon mechanics, and that can often be a large source of frustration.  Exile's End has perfect jump and shoot physics.  The character behaves exactly as you expect him to, and when you kneel to shoot lower creatures, you can still execute careful jump dodges as you desire right after getting in that perfect jump shot.  This is definitely an area where the game excels, and it's very important to get that right.  I'm glad it did.

    From an appropriateness standpoint, it's fairly typical of a game of that era, with a bit more language used than a typical SNES title.  There is the 'd*mn' word used, along with 'hell' and 'b*tch'.  They are used very rarely.  Since I only completed about 45% of the game, I may have missed other things, but that is what I saw in my playthrough of under seven hours.  There is blood and violence; you shoot enemies who would otherwise kill you.  Both aliens and humans die from your shots or other weapons.  Some enemies splatter a bit of blood, but not all.  There are aliens, and some characters have a bit of an existential crisis in the story.

    Exile's End is fun, if a bit uninspired.  If you stick with it, it does eventually get a good hook that encourages you to complete it, but you could easily give up early on and not get far enough to start to enjoy it.  So if you do get this game, commit to sticking with it to get the most out of it.  There are probably better Metroidvania games out there, but there are also much worse ones. It's not a bad game once you get far enough in.  It's just a shame that there had to be at least one lava room escape.  That's one classic game mechanic that I definitely could have done without.

  • Furi (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Furi
    Developed by: The Game Bakers
    Published by: The Game Bakers
    Released: June 5, 2016
    Available on: PS4 (PSN), Windows
    Genre: Action
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for violence and strong language
    Price: $24.99 (Steam, PS4)

    Furi is, I believe, the first non-IOS game made by the company The Game Bakers, and I would say they did a very good job. Without spoiling too much, the main character is a prisoner with the goal of breaking out, and he is assisted by a man in purple with an oversized rabbit hat covering the top half of his head. At the start of the game the player is in the dark as to why the main character is imprisoned and you really don’t find out his name (or what amounts to one) until the very last boss.  Over the course of the game, though, you do find out why he was imprisoned. Now, to break out of the prison, the main character is killing his jailers and a few other prisoners. Some of them are amoral, some are mentally damaged, and others sincerely believe that letting the main character out will doom the world. The main character is not a remorseless killing machine as, in cutscenes, he does show remorse for killing the more moral enemies.

    Now to the meat of the game: the bosses. They really are the focus of the game, and they are very challenging. While fundamentally the same, each boss has its own set of unique mechanics and toolsets that sets them apart from each other. In short they feel completely different from each other. To emphasize this each boss also has its own personality and backstory that further cements their differences. Going back to the gameplay component of boss fights, every boss has multiple phases that you, the player, have to go through in order to kill them. In each new phase, a boss will either add new abilities or, in a few cases, completely change up the fight. To add to this, for multiple bosses, each phase is composed of 2 sub-phases: a “free-form” phase (which is top down) and a “melee” phase (which traps both characters in a circle and the perspective shifts to the side). The last phase for each boss is almost always the same. It starts out as a free-form phase, the boss becomes invincible and the boss goes into bullet-heck mode, and the melee phase after it is slightly easier than the prior melee phases. Again though there are exceptions.

    Furi
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: This game is very challenging; The bosses are diverse in movesets and personality: Story is pretty good; Catchy music; The ability to fight bosses from the main menu in any order
    Weak Points: This game is very challenging; Too short if played on easy mode; Somewhat short regardless of mode
    Moral Warnings: Cursing is used; Violence; You cut down moral characters

    In regards to stability, I never had a crash or, more importantly for this kind of game, framerate drops. All of this is on the PS4. The music is very catchy and fits the atmosphere. You can tell that for each boss a lot of effort was put into their respective soundtrack. Each sounds like they are a level of quality one would expect from the last or penultimate boss. The music between the bosses is gentler and more relaxing. I think some of the lyrics had cursing in it. I am not sure though. When it comes to graphics, they complement the art style and the atmosphere quite nicely. The game is very enjoyable to look at and there is a clear anime inspiration. I have heard some compare the style to the anime ‘Afro Samurai’. The general feel of the game also seems to have taken cues from that anime as well.

    When it comes to the moral elements of this game, there are some faults. You are a prisoner hacking his way through jailers and other prisoners. While some are easily under the realm of self-defense, a decent number are not. There are also three endings in this game. Without going into too much detail, all three are based on the rare morality decisions. Naturally, this can lead to pretty negative consequences. That said the game flat-out tells what will happen before you make a decision. As stated earlier, there is swearing. There is a lot of hacking and shooting in the game, but no blood. There is no nudity, and most bosses are fully clothed. There is one male boss that is wearing nothing but a loincloth, and one female that is wearing a suit that emphasizes some of her female characteristics. 

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

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    Can I recommend the game to gamers? To an extent, yes. I heard a rumor that the creators of this game enjoyed games like Dark Souls and bullet heck games, and that they wanted to incorporate those elements into this game along with the challenge. If that rumor is true they succeeded. Due to this, though, I can only recommend this game to gamers that enjoy or moderately enjoy very difficult but fair games. Gamers like me. If you are like me in that regard I do highly recommend it. You will have a fun time. If you are not, I can’t recommend it. There is an easy mode, but that in of itself is not worth the price given just how easy that mode actually is. In short, if you love challenging but fair games, you may want to consider this.

    Now can I recommend this game as a Christian? I could recommend it to a decent portion. As can be expected there is violence in this game, but no blood. I don’t even think there was any amount of gore. The cursing is there, but aside from one instance of using the F-word there was not many to my recollection. I am still uncertain if one music track had cursing in it as it was hard to make out. The sparse amount of clothing that could be considered “sexual” do not seem to be designed for that purpose. Naturally, though, you are a prisoner that is breaking out, and and few of the jailers that you kill have a high level of morality. Again, I feel I could recommend this to other Christians with a reasonable level of comfort. 

     

  • Grand Class Melee 2 (PC) (Preview)

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    Game Info:

    Grand Class Melee 2
    Developed By: Gigatross Games
    Published By: Gigatross Games
    Released: February 2, 2015
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Action
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1-4
    Price: $9.99

    Thanks to Gigatross Games for the review key!

    With the advent of the Internet, multiplayer-focused games have steadily shifted from being planned-out local affairs to quick online matches. An increasing number of these games have dropped local multiplayer entirely, limiting you to Internet multiplayer or single player only. Still, couch multiplayer is a tried and true video game experience; sitting down with some buddies and virtually beating each other up can be a much more rewarding experience than doing so over the Internet. For those that want to relieve the days of multiplayer yore, there’s always Grand Class Melee 2.

    Grand Class Melee 2 is a 2D, top-down tournament brawler based around a wide variety of character classes and abilities. Four players or AI opponents square off, either in teams or a free-for-all format, in an eight-round competition. Points are earned for surviving, defeating other players, and doing the most damage; dying in a round loses you a point. Every character grows in power with each round, gaining increased health and new abilities depending on the class chosen. At the end, the points are tallied, bonuses for the top survivor and damage dealer are dealt, and the overall winner is chosen.

    The meat of the game, as its name would suggest, lies in its character class system. To start, you pick one of four basic classes: the defensive squire, the speedy apprentice, the ranged bowyer, and the mage savant. From there, you advance up the class tree with each round, further specializing in your chosen area – the savant, for instance, can choose between gaining a stronger fireball down the mage tree or go down the priest tree to acquire a shield ability. Each round offers you a choice between two classes, generally locking you into a certain specialization – warriors can’t cross over to mage classes, for example. At the end, the classes coalesce into the final six, with strong abilities befitting their station. In total, there are sixty-six classes to try out, each with their own unique skills.

    Grand Class Melee 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lots of character classes; plenty of gameplay options
    Weak Points: Local multiplayer only; easy to game the AI
    Moral Warnings: Violence; magic; angel-themed classes; characters turn into skeletons when defeated

    As far as the combat goes, it’s reminiscent of other top-down action games. Each class has a narrow, lunging thrust and a wide, short-ranged slash with a class-specific melee weapon, as well as two active or passive abilities of their choice. These abilities keep combat fresh, especially considering their selection: you have access to the talents of any of your previous classes, though you can only choose one alongside your current job’s ability. This mix-and-matching creates loads of opportunities and strategies in tailoring your playstyle: you can load up on defensive abilities, keep a quick-firing arrow to cover a destructive spell’s lengthy downtime, or stack passives to increase your basic melee abilities.

    There is a wealth of options outside of the active gameplay as well. You can change the rules of the tournament, from the number of rounds to how points are calculated to the health and speed of the contestants to the layout of the terrain. The controls, whether keyboard or controller, are fully configurable. There are four AI difficulties to fight against, and the higher two are a decent challenge – though the hardest one is prone to displaying impossibly quick reflexes, and they’re all very easy to exploit with the right techniques. There’s even Steam Workshop integration, allowing users to create and share custom classes. In short, Grand Class Melee 2 is rife with player choice in nearly every aspect.

    Unfortunately, you’re quite limited in who you play against. There’s no online multiplayer, so you’ll have to gather three friends around your computer – or get them to drag their own computers over – to play against anyone but the AI. An online mode is on the table, as well as possible console ports, but the developers have stated that both projects had to be shelved for the time being. This game is still in Early Access, and the options remain for the future, but don’t expect either anytime soon.

    Grand Class Melee 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The presentation is about what you’d expect for a tiny indie game of this type: nothing spectacular, but not off-putting. Graphically, the 16-bit environments and characters are of decent quality, and resemble a certain SNES-era Zelda game rather closely. The music does its job and isn’t annoying, which is all you can ask – and if you enjoy it, the soundtrack comes with the game at no extra cost. The sound effects perform similarly, though with added marks for the big, heavy thrumming the powerful laser attacks have.

    As Grand Class Melee 2 is entirely an arena fighter, moral-minded individuals will find a game centered on violence. The magic classes in this game stick to mainly fire spells, but some generic light and dark attacks are available as well. Though there’s no blood to be seen, characters turn into skeletons and collapse after dying, and the fourth-place contestant has their portrait replaced with a skull at the end of the game. A few classes have an angel motif in their names and sprites, and one ability creates a halo over the caster’s head and resurrects him on death. There’s also an “evil nun” class in the Workshop, but as that is third-party content, it won’t be held against the game proper.

    As far as Early Access games go, Grand Class Melee 2 is about as feature-complete as it gets. With tons of options available, every round is a different experience. The lack of online makes this game not have the longevity it could, but it’s still good for a quick match or two when you feel up to it – and if you have some other people to play with, all the better. There’s a free demo available on both Steam and Gigatross Games’ website, so if you’re hesitant to pay the full $9.99, that’s a good place to start. Regardless, if you have friends who enjoy this type of game, the asking price is more than fair.

    -Cadogan

  • Grand Theft Auto V (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Grand Theft Auto V
    Developed By: Rockstar North
    Published By: Take-Two Interactive Software
    Released: September 17, 2013 Available On: PS3, PS4, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Genre: Action-Adventure
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Intense Violence, Blood, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Partial Nudity, Use of Drugs and Alcohol
    Number of Players: 1 offline, 32 online
    Price: $59.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    If you have even a passing interest in video games, chances are you’ve heard of Grand Theft Auto 5. It’s very likely that you’ve played it, or know someone that has, considering the number of copies this title has moved since initial launch. Take-Two Interactive, the game’s publisher, recently (as of April 4, 2017) reported that the game shipped more than 75 million copies. Knowing all that, chances are you don’t really need an introduction to this game.

    However, the ever-increasing sales figures indicate that new players are drawn to GTA 5 despite its age, meaning plenty of new potential customers would like to read up on the game before taking the plunge. However, most reviews don’t really discuss the subject of morality.

    Before we get to that though, let’s look at the game itself. Grand Theft Auto 5 is a sandbox action-adventure title with an emphasis on player freedom. While the single player campaign does feature a mostly linear main storyline with standard plot progression for a set of recurring characters, players are let loose in a vast and vibrant open world with a host of features to play with, and given the freedom to explore it at their own pace, in their own way.

    The first thing any player will notice about the game, even before the gameplay itself, is the stunning level of graphical fidelity on display, regardless of platform. Comparatively, this is one of the best looking games to grace the 7th generation consoles, while it also makes great use of the upgraded capabilities of the 8th gen systems. Players with high-end PCs will get the best experience though, but be warned – at the time of this writing there literally does not exist a consumer system capable of outputting a stable 60 FPS at 4K ultra settings. 

    GTA 5 sidesteps many of the inherently negative trends seen in AAA games regarding visual language. Instead of dulling colors and using a muted palette, the world of GTA 5 is lively and powerful. We’ve used the word vibrant before, but it really is the best descriptor of Rockstar Games’ rendition of fictional California. The browns and grey prevalent in some other highly popular game franchises take a backseat in this title, which won’t ever come across as bleak or dreary.

    When it comes to actually playing the thing, those last two descriptors still don’t hold up. The majority of GTA 5’s gameplay is divided between playing on foot and sitting behind the wheel, though the game offers a staggering measure of variety regarding what manner of vehicle it is you’re driving. In fact, “staggering variety” was probably emblazoned on the wallpaper of every workstation in Rockstar North’s offices, since GTA 5 offers everything in bulk. There is an immense amount of varied and diverse side-missions to complete, NPCs to meet, collectibles to hunt down, Easter eggs to discover, activities to partake in and locations to explore.

    Grand Theft Auto V
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Extremely polished gaming experience that can last hundreds of hours
    Weak Points: Hackers and loading times can ruin the online experience; no new single player DLC has been released
    Moral Warnings: Lots of intense violence; strong language including every word and blaspheming; explicit sex scenes and nudity; aliens; mystic religions/yoga; drug, tobacco, and alcohol use  

    When it comes down to value-to-cost, GTA 5 is one of the best bets you have. This isn’t a cookie cutter military shooter with a campaign that barely lasts six hours. In fact, you’ll likely go well over 100 hours of playtime before you finish half of what the game has to offer. And even if you do somehow make it to 100% completion, you can always augment your gameplay with the vast array of cheats available in GTA 5, or the community made mods (provided you’re on PC).

    The production quality doesn’t lapse with the audio either. The game offers a wealthy soundtrack full of songs from many different genre archetypes on the radio stations, and the OST tracks are filled with personality as well. The voice acting is superb in terms of quality, and it’s clear the actors really put their heart and soul into these performances. One weak aspect, however, is the sound of the weapons. Audio feedback is crucial in this sort of thing, but each gun in the game feels like a peashooter. Instead of delivering thundering bangs, they sort of just "poot poot" while the enemy’s health bar decreases.

    Now, there might be a ton of things to do in this grand, lively, open world, but the nature of these things, plus that of the story Rockstar wanted to tell, is where it might get a bit uncomfortable for some folk.

    If the name wasn’t a dead giveaway, Grand Theft Auto is about crime, and lots of it. Combat is a major aspect of the game, and you’ll be gunning down a lot of virtual people on your road to 100% completion. Violence is an absolute must when playing this game, as the progression criteria for most missions in the game requires that you kill a number of opponents.

    While there are some tame activities – like yoga, for example – to ones which are significantly less objectionable – racing, hunting and solving a murder – usually anything you’ll be doing will involve using various projectile or melee weapons to snuff out the life of your fellow man. Gameplay also involves an obligatory, interactive torture scene in a single mission of the game, where players must use waterboarding, electrocution, or the forcible removal of teeth to compel an NPC to divulge sensitive information. The player is fully in control during these sections, and every method is shown without censorship. Players may also visit strip clubs with fully modeled nude characters present. What’s more, the game offers a toggle-able first person view, which coupled with the interactive lap dances given by nude NPCs is responsible for highly explicit content.

    Grand Theft Auto V
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 17%
    Violence - 1.5/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

    The storyline of the game reflects these aspects as well. The vast majority of the characters are amoral, dysfunctional, drug using, adulterous, sociopathic, selfish, greedy, mass-murdering criminals, and the plot expects us to identify or even sympathize with them and their issues.

    The plot itself revolves around a trio of criminals whose lives are in different stages of disarray banding together to pull off a string of heists while navigating the intricacies of a corrupt federal agency and their own personal agendas at the same time. While undoubtedly an interesting topic, it would be impossible to explore without treading upon controversial themes – not that Rockstar particularly has a care for tact. 

    The developers have a track record of reveling in controversy and purposefully seeding their games with offensive content which acts both as a challenge to those they consider too stuck-up, and a way to pander to their sizable audience which would consider holding back to be ‘selling out’ at this point in the franchise’s history.

    In terms of immoral content, this game has it all. Violence in droves, inappropriate language, explicit sexual content, gore, the promotion of drug use, criminal activity, and crass humor. Pretty much the only field into which GTA 5 doesn’t tread is the occult, but even this is questionable. The game features a fictional cult built around some made-up religion which on its own might be problematic. However, the game paints this cult as entirely deplorable and evil, with its members only ever appearing as enemies in the game. There is another church in GTA V, but you cannot enter nor do you ever see a priest or anyone going in or out.

    That said, the game’s multiplayer mode, GTA Online, features a scene upon the player’s first death showing a stylized afterlife wherein the leader of the game’s fictional cult resurrects the player. On the one hand, this is explanation for the respawning game mechanic, however it also indicates that the cult’s beliefs are true within the continuity of the game, presenting a troubling scenario. 

    At the end of the day, GTA 5 is a technically impressive and marvelous game into which immense amount of effort was put by the developers. This is an extremely polished gaming experience which doesn’t cease to awe on the practical front. However, a deeply rooted and inherent immorality that permeates the very fabric of Grand Theft Auto 5 could make it inaccessible to those potential players to whom this sort of thing is a deal breaker. 

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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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