Categories
Review

Gears Tactics Review – Impressive Battles In A Quagmire War

With its cover-based shooting, varied enemy types, and bombastic tone, the Gears franchise is a great fit for the tactics genre. The world and the feel of combat both remain intact in this transition to turn-based warfare.

With a focus on characters and story, plus a sense of speed and flexibility in battle, Gears Tactics manage to outstrip most competitors in the genre. Despite some pacing issues that leave the content feeling stretched thin over too many hours, this is a challenging and rewarding experience.

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Gears Tactics jumps its storyline back to the beginning of the conflict between humans and the Locust Horde. The plot remains thankfully manageable and contained, following a ragtag team of soldiers and their quest to take down one particularly nasty baddie.

Within that framework, the slightly cliched characters and events are given life through attractive cinematics and emotionally engaged vocal leads. The narrative feels self-contained for newcomers but adds important new wrinkles to the lore for longtime fans.

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Battles play out as objective-focused affairs, in which one to four squadmates square off against a frequently overwhelming number of monstrous enemies, while also aiming to meet one or more goals. In many ways, this new twist on Gears takes its cues from the modern-day XCOM games, but with some meaningful twists.

With three actions, characters can flexibly move, attack, and use abilities in any combination, all in one turn, giving anyone soldier tremendous utility. Overwatch, where a character can set remaining actions to guard a line-of-sight area, plays a huge role in success, encouraging the focus on a defensive cover play that characterizes the broader franchise.

It also results in satisfying moments, like setting up devastating kill-boxes as the hordes charge into the grinder. In addition, an engaging mechanic allows players to execute downed enemies to give everyone on the team an extra action, which becomes an enormously fun risk/reward dynamic.

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The fully rotating 3D battlefields are intelligently designed, demanding careful observation and positioning. Verticality and degrading cover add more complexity and depth.

Even in this new isometric view, the characters and backgrounds maintain much of the detail and “ruined beauty” aesthetic of the franchise, and that visual crispness helps aid tactical decision-making. I only rarely encountered skewed views or perspectives that resulted in a deployment mistake.

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Between missions, the gradual squad leveling, cosmetic customization, and equipment modding lend an almost RPG quality to progression. I enjoyed the class variety, and how even within familiar roles like sniper or support, I had plenty of room to make each hero stand apart.

I also like the weapon and armor modding, but the task of managing all the acquired pieces eventually starts to feel like a chore.

In the early hours, I consistently enjoyed the mix of deadly combat and character improvement. However, the lengthy campaign increasingly rubbed me the wrong way. The introduction of required side missions needlessly extends the game’s length and ultimately halts any sense of momentum or pacing within the story.

These side missions, which are drawn from just a few different objective pools, feel repetitive and stale. And strangely, several of them offer dramatic bumps in difficulty, far outstripping the story missions in the same section.

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That sense of unnecessary time dilation begins to present itself in all the missions, with drawn-out battles that slip away from the series’ trademark burst of adrenaline. Nowhere is that truer than the three act-ending boss fights.

While each offers initially fearsome encounters against mammoth creatures, the high hit-point totals and endless waves of spawning minions are exhausting. That’s especially true in a gruelingly long final boss fight, which is a tiring endurance bout rather than a satisfying challenge that puts your skills to the test.

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Stilted pacing blunts some of the aggressive joy in Gears Tactics, but I still walked away impressed. At the heart of any engaging tactics games is the sense of emergent moments, where careful skill usage and planning leads to clutch wins.

Taking control of a squad of COG soldiers in this adventure, I repeatedly encountered those moments, along with the thrill of a narrow victory. This is a solid new front in the Gears theater of war, and one worthy of additional opportunities to grow.

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News

All The News From Today’s Series X Episode Of Inside Xbox

While Inside Xbox, Microsoft’s in-house streaming show hosted by some of Xbox’s most well-known developers and community-facing employees, always brings with it new looks at games coming to Xbox consoles, today’s was perhaps the biggest episode yet.

With Xbox Series X on the horizon and set to launch later this year, Microsoft gave Xbox fans their first look at several third-party games coming to Xbox Series X.

In addition to game announcements and new trailers, the Xbox team also announced more titles that will support the Smart Delivery initiative that lets players buy one game and have it follow them if they upgrade.

In addition, Xbox players can look forward to Xbox 20/20 throughout the rest of the year to give additional looks at Xbox Series X and its games in the lead up to launch.

Check out all the news and notes from this special episode of Inside Xbox.

Categories
Tech Review

HyperX Cloud Mix Review – On Cloud 9

There’s something so nice about putting on a pair of headphones and getting that feeling of the world fading away, leaving only music or the chatter of a podcast or the ambient noises of some fantasy world. It’s comforting, like being swaddled in a blanket while you shoot stuff in the face. What I’m getting at here is that I have the HyperX Cloud Mix headset to review, so let’s talk sound.

Compared to the HyperX Cloud headphones the Cloud Mix goes for a more subdued style that fits in with the idea that it’s good for both gaming and listening to music on the go. There are no bright LEDs threatening to blind anyone who looks in your general direction, and no random colored accents. Overall, I really like Cloud Mix’s slightly chunky look.

It’s something I can play games with, but wouldn’t feel like an idiotic for wearing out and about. It’s only blemished is the overly large HyperX logos plastered on the earcups which I would like to have done in a glossy black or something so that it blended in more with the rest of the headset.

It’s reasonably comfortable on the old noggin, too. A generous amount of headband padding, the lightweight (265g), and a nicely judged amount of pinch meant that even after a few hours the headset still felt good on my head. There’s plenty of padding on the earcups, too, although personally I did feel that the earcups were a bit small.

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For a headset that is designed to be taken out into the wildlands known as civilization, it’s a little odd that the earcups don’t rotate around to rest flat on your collarbone. Instead, they sort of strangling you gently, like someone with a fetish who doesn’t want to scare away the person in bed with them.

Ahem. Having the Cloud Mix resting around my neck was uncomfortable, is what I’m attempting to say, and turning your head becomes nearly impossible.

The build quality is definitely a positive here. The headset is flexible yet shows no sign of weakness, nor will it creak and moan when stretched out. The HyperX Cloud Mix feels like a premium product, exactly what you want from something that boasts such a big price tag.

All the cables are of the braided variety, but they aren’t too thick with plenty of flexible, so they don’t tend to bunch up awkwardly as other braided cables can. However, there is a problem with reverberation through the ear cubs when the cable slides along something. For example, when gaming I’d frequently hear the cable shifting on my hoodie’s zip, sending an irritating noise up the cable and straight into my ear.

Moving onwards first up is the Bluetooth connection using version 4.2. Powering up the headset is as easy as holding down the power button, whereupon a pleasant voice tells you how much battery life is left. HyperX claims that the Cloud Mix will last 20-hours on a full charge and so far I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Not too shabby. And it can be recharged using the included USB cable, although sadly it isn’t USB type-C.

Once paired you can use the controls located on the right earcup to adjust volume, answer calls, and control your media. These buttons are easy to find and use despite being reasonably small and innocuous, and my only disappointment with them is that they don’t work when the headset is wired. Instead, you have to swap over to a little control module on the wire made of cheap-feeling plastic.

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Since the Cloud Mix does support Bluetooth you can hook it up to a PC if you want. Of course, your PC or laptop does need to have inbuilt Bluetooth for this to work. Considering the hefty price tag on the Cloud Mix I feel like HyperX missed a beat by not including a Bluetooth adapter in the box for even more flexibility.

When using the Bluetooth mode the included boom mic doesn’t work so you have to rely on a second, built-in microphone which is considerably worse. While it is usable, the voice quality over the built-in mic is crackly and lacking in definition. If you’re in a noisy environment, such as out on a windy day, then things become worse.

Annoyingly, the Cloud Mix will also only pair with a single device, so if you want to swap from your tablet to your phone or anything like that you need to pair it once again. Of course, this doesn’t take long but it’s still frustrating and not really what you expect from a premium headset.

For the wired connection, you get a 5ft (1.52 m) long male to male cable, and a second 5ft (1.52 m) cable but this time with male to female connections and the inline control module. As you would imagine wired mode is compatible with anything that has a standard 3.5 mm audio connection, letting you plug the Cloud Mix into phones, tablets, PCs, and consoles.

Basically, anything with a hole is fair game. Except that. Get your freaking mind out of the gutter. Jeez.

So let’s get down to that all-important sound quality. The Cloud Mix proudly boasts a Hi-Res audio sticker on the front of the box which means the headset is capable of handling audio up to 40,000Hz, meaning you can really do justice to your 24-bit/96KHz lossless music collection. Right?

Yeah, even as a music-loving drummer I don’t have a hi-res music collection, and most streaming services that people use don’t offer that option. Nor do games typically support the format, either. In other words, for the vast, vast majority of people out there, this Hi-Res official certification means absolutely nothing.

Worse, it seems to be a thing headphone developers are using to bump up the asking price.

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The Cloud Mix uses HyperX’s dual-chamber design that apparently allows the headset to separate the low-end bass from the mids and highs. According to HyperX, this should allow for much less distortion.

Starting with the bass there’s a bit of enhancement at play adding some extra oomph in explosions, which naturally fits with gaming and action movies where big bangs are aplenty. These certainly aren’t the most bass-heavy of headsets which could potentially be a deal-breaker for people who love their low-down thump, though.

The lows and mids feel warm with plenty of detail, while the highs sound reasonably crisp, especially listening to some tasty cymbals whose metallic song shimmers just like it should.

I felt like I was picking up a slight dip in the highs, though, which gives the Cloud Mix a modern feel, and they didn’t have the richness of sound that I look for in an expensive headset. That’s fine for the most part in games and movies but it was most noticeable in those layered songs where the sound really needs depth.

Basically, I’d describe the Cloud Mix as having good sound overall with a reasonably open sound-stage, especially for being closed-back. I had no trouble picking out footsteps or the distinct chatter of a machine gun even if the positional audio wasn’t able to match other headsets I’ve tested, while the low down booms of explosions, thunder and shotguns packed a pleasant punch.

During testing, I played a lot of Division 2 which features some superb sound design when it comes to gunfire and just general ambient audio. Hooked up to my Sennheiser external AMP and DAC (you can read my review of that here) the headset sounded great, but even without that bit of kit helping them along the Cloud Mix’s performed well.

The Bluetooth audio fares well, the 4.2 connection managing to retain an impressive amount of the sound quality. Sure, there’s a drop because ultimately wireless can’t fully compete with wireless yet, but for some casual music or podcast listening to the Cloud Mix was great.

As for the detachable boom mic, it also left me quite impressed. My voice came through clear and unlike a lot of other headsets it didn’t sound like a chunk of my voice at the low or high end was missing. It does a good job of canceling outside noises, too, so none of my friends noticed my mechanical keyboard or even my crazy German Shepard doing important dog stuff.

The only disappointment is that HyperX still isn’t going with the retractable mic design that other companies have switched over to, so losing the mic is a possibility if you’re a forgetful twit like I am.

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Weirdly it feels like HyperX is trying to compete with themselves as they also sell the Cloud S, a wired and wireless headset that connects to PC via an included USB adapter. Now, it doesn’t offer Bluetooth support, but the Cloud Mix doesn’t offer wireless to a PC out of the box, either.

Offering the Cloud Mix at roughly the same price would have been a smart choice because customers could pick whichever headset suited them more.

Ultimately the Cloud Mix is a good all-round headset that boasts nice connectivity, a stylish aesthetic, and feel comfortable to wear. However, with a £200 price tag that would send many people screaming for the hills, I’m not sure being good or even really good is enough.

With an included Bluetooth adapter and a £125-150 RRP the Cloud Mix would have hit the sweet spot, I reckon. Still, if you’re looking for something you can listen to music with on the bus then plugin for some gaming time at home that sounds good then the Cloud Mix might be for you. Even if it does stop you from being able to turn your neck.

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Board Game Review

Noria Review – You Spin Me Right Round, Baby, Right Round

Noria is a deceptive game, its lovely artwork which features a massive floating mountain hanging high in the sky producing a myriad of thoughts about what its theme could be, but a wheel-building game of politics wasn’t quite what sprung to mind when I first saw it, I have to admit. But that’s what we’ve got.

So, the game’s big selling point is the sizable, plastic three-tiered wheel on which three cardboard rings sit and can be rotated. Into these rings, you’ll be inserting little cardboard discs that control the various actions you can take throughout the game, with each ring being spun around to the next segment at the end of your turn and thus changing what you’ll be able to do on the next turn.

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The rules, though, do not adequately explain how activating your actions works. The general concept is that you get to activate three discs per turn, only one from each ring can be used, that they must all be in the active bottom half of the wheel and…uh, well I played it as there is a left segment and a right segment, and actions within one or the other could be used with anything falling in the middle being applicable to either.

The problem is that on Youtube some people have interpreted it differently while others are playing the same way I do, and nobody seems entirely sure about who is right. The confusion stems from the adjacency rule which states activated discs must be adjacent to each other, which according to the rulebook is when you are able to freely draw a line between them without crossing over another potential line or an empty space.

The examples given, though, are poor and even the official tutorial video glosses over this subject. The point is I’m still not sure if I’m actually playing the game right, and the fact that the rulebook makes this an issue is insane. It’s a surprisingly dense tome of rules considering the actual game isn’t that challenging to learn once you’ve got it all figured out.

Everything revolves (hehehehe, crappy puns) around this wheel and how good you are at looking ahead to see what you’ll be able to do in the coming turns and whether you perhaps need to adjust things in your favor.

By paying Knowledge tokens you can do two things before taking any of the actions; move either the largest wheel or middle wheel one notch clockwise, or move one action token to another open slot or swap two actions around.

Cleverly, though, these Knowledge tokens are the key to earning more points, but we’ll come back to that later as well as how you actually get more Knowledge tokens.

There’s a lot of chunky, thoughtful goodness going on in Noria, all thanks to this triple-tiered wheel of brain-bendiness. No other player can ever screw with your wheel, either, which means you can concoct long-term plans. It also helps alleviate boredom between turns because while other players are busy taking their turn you can be planning your next couple of moves.

Should you activate the resource gathering disc first? Since it’s on the outside ring it’ll be around for another couple of turns, so maybe you should use the City action now before it disappears for a little while? But then again a little use of Knowledge could shift things around.

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I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let’s talk about how you win, first, and then get into the nitty-gritty of doing just that. The goal of the game is to acquire resources and then invest them into one of the four Great Projects, as represented by the four tracks sitting at the top of the board.

For every level you advance you’ll score points, but only if you’ve also gone and influenced the politicians in the chamber below the track. On top of that from left to right the projects take harder to acquire/make resources, so early on you want to choose where you’re going to focus your attention. The game gives you the chance to get on the first level of any track right at the very start, though.

Let’s kick off with the most basic types of action you can take, which is gathering up the low-level resources. There are three of these resources and whenever you take the action needed to gather one of them you consult your player-board and for each matching type of flying ship, you get one of that resource. Simples. You start with one of each ship, so in your first turn or two you’ll only be picking up a single resource at a time.

Okay, so how do you get more of these handy-dandy resource grabbing ships? Well, you need to go exploring using the Explore action which lets you either flip an Island tile from the pile and place one of your ambassador tokens on it or travel to an already discovered island, although if there are already other players on the island you wish to travel to then you have to pay a resource for each of them. Each island will have a stack of two different ships and you can take one of them to add to your private fleet. Simple as that.

Islands do have another thing you can do, too, which is to construct a factory on them. On your player-board, you have eight factories, and for every two you construct on an island, it reveals a Knowledge token symbol that will increase your Knowledge Token generation which occurs at the end of your turn. Since these tokens are so useful it’s a very tough choice to make between taking a ship or building a new factory.

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When you do build a factory you’ll cover one of four slots on the island that provide you with either one or two tokens for the more advanced goods in the game.

These tokens get added to the side of your player board, but the goods they show aren’t yours just yet as you’ll first need to use action disc with the hammer symbol to spend resources to actually construct the item, as indicated on the token. For example, a set of wings need two pink resources and one green.

That hammer symbol can also be used to upgrade other actions, flipping their discover to the golden side which indicates that you can use that action twice when selecting it. There is a small limitation in place that means you can’t do more than four actions in a single turn, meaning you can either use one upgraded action and a regular one, or two upgraded action discs.

There’s also the Bonus disc which when used will let you select a different disc and use it twice. If you select an upgraded disc you’ll get to use that one action a whopping three times.

The final action is the City action which lets you do one of two things; either pay resources to advance up to one of the project tracks or purchase a new action disc from the store. All three of the basic resource gathering discs are free, but if you fancy the more advanced actions such as Exploring then you need to pay in the form of resources.

Placing these new actions presents a fantastic decision because the innermost ring contains just two slots that alternate between turns, but a bigger ring provides more space yet fewer opportunities for that disc to come around. Anything placed on the large outer ring will only appear a few times, barring any tweaks made using Knowledge tokens.

Simply moving up the four project tracks isn’t enough, though, as you also need to influence the politicians in order to increase the value of each step on those tracks. To do this you get a chance near the end of your turn to spend Knowledge tokens, and what that lets you do is twofold; firstly, you select one of the small tracks underneath the project you want to influence and then you move the leftmost grey cube from the top slot to the bottom.

At the end of the game, you’ll take the uncovered number to the right of the leftmost cube and use it as a multiplier for the level of the project your ambassador is on, thus if you’re on level four and have a multiplier of five you’d score twenty points, bearing in mind, however, that ALL players on that project track will benefit.

The second part of this action lets you remove the rightmost, top politician cube from any track you want, which obviously means you get to limit the scoring potential of other players.

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It’s an intriguing system but one that only really works with three or four players. With two players vying for political influence isn’t varied enough since of course, you’re going to increase your scoring potential and slap down the other player, but with extra people around the table, there’s a lot more fun in deciding how to shift the cubes, especially as players begin to invest time in other projects as well, deliberately leaping onto the same track as you in order to benefit from your hard work.

In fact, there’s a small penalty for doing just that; every time you want to advance up a project that has other players on it you must pay one basic resource per player provided you’re behind them on the project track.

So, do you maybe just leap onto the first level or two of a project just to score some bonus points? Or do you really invest in progressing up it in order to capitalize on the work your opponent has already done and accepted the fact that you’re going to have to pay extra resources?

There are also two extra political tracks that provide points for your lowest and highest ambassadors on the projects, again something every other player can benefit from so before influencing any of the politicians on these two tracks you’ll need to do some mental math.

It’s a little bit of a shame that influencing the politicians doesn’t feel a bit more thematically fitting. I can’t help but feel that my Knowledge tokens are basically me blackmailing people into supporting me. Then again, despite the beautiful artwork depicting floating islands and resource-transporting airships Noria is pretty light on theme, which is a shame because it feels like a lot of love went into the aesthetic.

There’s also an occasional problem where the political maneuvering clashes with the engine-building of player’s rings. If one or two players suddenly decide to start removing cubes from the politician chamber under the project you’re focusing on trying to rework your whole engine can be a slog.

Noria is a slow game in the sense that it takes a while to build up your rings in order to gather all the resources you need and then convert them into more complex stuff like wings, but despite that, it’s very easy to get shafted and wind up trying to rework everything.

Y’know, going into Noria I really wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be, but to my pleasure, it wound up being a satisfyingly meaty game with an intriguing gimmick. And yet….Oh, man, I feel bad for saying this but it didn’t connect with me personally.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe it’s a rather excellent game, but I never managed to click with Noria, unlike many of my gaming chums who had a blast with it. The wheel mechanic proved to be a hit with them as they enjoyed the tactile nature of it and how they could visualize future moves.

So, despite how it didn’t quite manage to click with me I believe Noria to be fully deserving of a recommendation.

Categories
video game

Alder’s Blood Review – God Is Dead

Alder’s Blood certainly has an awesome setup: humankind has killed God, and now His corpse is corrupting the world, unleashing unrelenting horrors in the form of savage beasts. As the game open’s you control Duke, a Hunter seeking the body of God in order to hopefully end the torment.

But Duke’s reward is instead a haunting vision of horror that leaves him blind. You then swap over to Chief and his band of Hunter’s as they find Duke and set off on a mission to find the body of God, deal with the monsters, and hopefully survive this bleak world through turn-based stealth and monster slaying.

As for the Hunters themselves, they are a form of super-human. They are empowered with heightened senses to help them hunt the beasts that roam the lands. Indeed, they’re sort of like Witchers. However, they are also vulnerable to the Corruption themselves, and so while they are compelled to hunt the beasts down that very goal drives them towards madness.

The world and story of Alder’s Blood are an unrelentingly depressing one, and that means there’s little in the way of memorable characters. However, the writing is actually quite strong, leaning heavily into its mixture of supernatural and western, a tone that will be familiar if you’ve played Hunt: Showdown.

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The basic premise of how the turn-based action works is familiar stuff, with each of your three Hunters having a set amount of stamina to spend. Moving, reloading, shooting, attack, and using gear all use stamina. Unlike XCOM you’re free to mix these actions as you like, which I appreciate.

It allows for more flexibility. Something else I appreciate is that if you completely use up Hunter’s stamina they’ll fall to their knees, exhausted, and have to skip their next turn. Another thing that makes stamina management vital is how enemy attacks also drain stamina, potentially exhausting a Hunter as well as slicing them up into little bits.

The emphasis is most firmly on staying hidden and keeping combat to a minimum where you can. There are just four basic mission types, and only one of those specifically requires you to kill some monsters. To stay hidden you can use patches of grass, large objects and an infinite supply of stones to distract potential beasties.

The real trick is understanding the smell system. You see, the beasts you hunt have keen senses and your Hunters probably aren’t the cleanest bunch. The stench they give off is shown as hazy lines, while the wind direction dictates where it floats.

If a beast catches a whiff they instantly go on alert, which is terrible if you were going in for a cheeky backstab. Carrying a gun makes the smell travel further, too, so taking that shotgun along on a stealth mission might not be the best plan.

In fact, I love that actually taking just one Hunter is sometimes a better plan. Alder’s Blood never mentions it, and of course, it’s tempting to take as many bodies as you can, but with three Hunters running around it’s a lot harder to stay hidden.

If you do need to slay some monsters then there are some things to consider. Guns, for instance, make noise, so you need to be careful about what’s nearby. If you can sneak up behind a beast with a small weapon you can knock them down.

A lot of time it’s best to leave them there while you make a hasty retreat to safety. Another option would be to Banish the fallen foe, a trick that costs a chunk of stamina but in return instantly gets rid of the threat, though the Hunter who did it takes a hefty doss of Corruption for invoking such a ghastly power.

The trick to the way fights play out is that you want to isolate the enemy. It’s incredibly easy to get swamped and ripped to pieces, so fights need to be picked smartly. I like that. I like that just killing everything is the dumb choice.

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You get a fair variety of gear to help you out, too. Stuff like a net can immobilize an enemy for a turn or two. There are decoys, traps that drain stamina and health, throwing knives, and more. Between these and the pebbles, you can fling there’s a good range of options for distracting, trapping, or destroying enemies.

As for the beasts you battle, there isn’t a huge variety in them, but they are interesting nonetheless. The small Shrieker can send out a piercing scream when it spots you, alerting everything nearby to your presence, for example.

There are even beasts capable of remaining hidden from your special Sixth Sense vision mode which highlights enemies that are out of your sight. Most of all, I like that even the smallest beasts can still be deadly if you don’t pay attention to them.

Something I like a fair bit less is how the encroaching darkness can literally summon up enemies. I think the idea is to push players to make rash moves and not just hide in one spot for too long. As a game progresses the A.I. will spawn more foes, including on occasion right beside one of your Hunters, potentially messing everything up in the most annoying way possible outside of literally slapping you.

It feels at odds with the stealthy nature of Alder’s Blood, though – here you are being rewarded for your carefully timing your movements with even more enemies.

Sometimes it’s possible to get your ass kicked through sheer bad luck, too. An enemy might come stomping out of nowhere and immediately pick up the horrid stench of Hunter’s armpits. There’s no real reason or rhyme to how the beasts move about, which gives you a constant sense of danger but can also be very, very annoying in a stealth game.

Even when you throw a stone they might investigate the spot then come right back again. Finally, it’s possible for the game to suddenly change the wind direction, meaning suddenly your upwind of something that would really, really like to stick a claw in your eyeballs.

Repetition can become a bit of an issue, too. Four basic mission types and a fairly small selection of enemy types don’t help, but the main problem is most missions play out exactly the same. Because of that, there were almost no memorable moments. Thinking back, I couldn’t tell you one mission from another – you move from bush to bush, tossing pebbles as you go. Occasionally, you kill some stuff.

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In the likes of XCOM 2 or the more recent Phoenix Point, you could become attached to your little virtual soldiers. Their heroic, seemingly impossible shots and crazy escapes gave them personalities. And the fact that they could die at any time only served to increase your attachment.

But importantly there was also a chance you could keep them alive, if you played smartly and luck was on your side. That was the key to ensuring they didn’t feel like faceless assets. In Alder’s Blood, though, your Hunters are nothing more than walking numbers because their fate is inevitable thanks to the creeping decay of Corruption.

Every mission a Hunter undertakes increases their Corruption, which in turn gives them negative traits. Eventually the Corruption will result in them going mad and potentially hurting other Hunters. Before that happens you’re expected to sacrifice them in a special ritual.

This transfers a chunk of their experience to another Hunter, typically one you’ve just spent some coin on recruiting.

It’s a fascinating idea and one that is doubtless divisive. The Steam forums are filled with discussions about it, with some loving the idea and others hating that their Hunters are purely disposable. It’s true, too: knowing that your Hunters have to die stops you ever giving a damn about them.

And Alder’s Blood doesn’t even try to let you form a connection with them. There are just two basic character models, and customization is limited to a few colors. The only thing that differentiates them is the gear they carry, the perks you assign them, and the bad traits they get from the Corruption.

None of those things give them a personality. On paper I like this concept of a veteran Hunter choosing to sacrifice themselves before madness can consume them, passing their knowledge to a younger Hunter so that their legacy may live on.

However, what I don’t like is that when you use that experience or XP gained during a mission, to level up a Hunter there are only ever perks that take effect outside the main missions. So my level 10 veteran Hunter kills himself and passes on…being able to scavenge food a bit better? Really? It makes the sacrifice feel a lot less impactful.

The camp is where you do the general bookkeeping of running a band of monster hunters. From here you can assign jobs to your Hunters, like crafting items you need, resting up to regain health and standing guard to decrease the risk of being ambushed. You can also scavenge, hopefully resulting in some useful cash, food, or crafting items.

These camp tasks are where those perks I mentioned in the previous paragraph come into play. What perks are available to choose are randomly chosen, but if Lady Luck allows it you can sometimes focus a Hunter toward doing one thing exceptionally well.

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From the world map, you get to choose where you travel next, at the cost of some of your food. There are primary story missions, but there are also some side-missions as well which can help improve relations with the four factions or just provide some helpful resources.

Of course, you have to weigh up the reward against the surge of Corruption your Hunters will have to endure for their efforts. Getting from point to point costs your food, so combined with the constant crafting of items there’s a very light management element to Alder’s Blood.

All this yacking and I’ve not even mentioned just how good Alder’s Blood actually looks. Take a gander at the screenshots and you’ll see that dripping so much atmosphere that it’s damn near leaking out the screen. For all of its faults, one thing is absolutely not up for debate: that is one hell of an art style.

Alder’s Blood is a gorgeous looking game with a bleak, depressingly dark world that stands out as something different. The story it tells is surprisingly good, too. It’s the gameplay where I find myself questioning the game’s design.

The focus on stealth is great, and I like the idea of taking smell into consideration since you’re hunting beasts. But the Corruption system just doesn’t feel right, the missions get repetitive and as often as Alder’s Blood excited me, it also annoyed me. This one is probably for the real die-hard turn-based lovers who like a bit of grim fantasy.

Categories
Tech Review

Logitech G560 Speakers Review – Amazing Sound, But Massive Problems

A Quick Note: you might have noticed that this review doesn’t contain photos taken by myself as per normal, rather it’s full of Logitech’s very own images. There’s a couple of reasons for that, starting with the fact that I was busy traveling then came down with the flu, and also because I didn’t manage to get photos I was completely happy with that showed off the lighting in a decent manner. Sorry folks!

Ah, speakers. They are so easy to ignore despite typically sitting on your desk, looking a little forlorn because you spend on your time looking at that slutty screen rather than admiring your speakers and reminding them how important they are to you. Because you’re a horrible person AND WHY WON’T YOU LOOK AT ME WHEN WE MAKE LOVE ANYMORE!?

Ahem.

These new offerings from the boffins over at Logitech have a hell of a lot to live up to, though, as I gave up my beloved Corsair SP2500 speakers to get Logitech’s shiny new G560s. For example, the Corsair SP500 came with a chunky remote that would sit on your desk, letting you very quickly adjust volume or tinker with the bass settings. The g560, though, has its controls built into the rightmost speaker, a potential problem depending on where you choose to place said speaker. However, the G560 also takes over the Windows volume completely, so you can always adjust the volume straight from the desktop. Of course, that’s not very helpful if you happen to be in a game or something. Considering the £200+ price tag of the G560 I would have liked to have seen a little desk unit for controlling the volume.

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The point is the Corsair SP2500 setup I was using consumed huge amounts of space but the tradeoff was brilliant sound and a handy remote unit. I loved them, yet I really wanted to review Logitech’s new speakers and since I couldn’t get my grubby little mitts on a loan set for review I did the unthinkable and decided to sell my SP2500s to fund picking up the G560s. The reviews from several of the big tech sites were really favorable, after all, so hopefully, I’d get to write about some cool tech and pick up an upgrade for my setup in the process.

Oh boy.

The G560 speakers are rounded with a simple black mesh over the front. On their inside edge, there’s a curved stand that looks sleek and elegant. Overall they look understated and rather lovely. But this isn’t enough because this is 2018 and we absolutely 100% have to have RGB lighting options, which is why inside those luscious curves are customizable LED lights. And then on the back of each speaker, there are much larger lights designed to illuminate the wall behind them, assuming you have your desk in front of a wall. Naturally, the brightness of these lights can be turned down or even off entirely if you don’t want your room looking like a disco in the 90s, but personally I loved having the soft glow they created. Then again, I’m also one of those people that likes having lots of RGB stuff so that it can all match.

What I’m saying is that I found the G560 speakers to be very, very sexy, like a beautiful woman wearing lacy lingerie that has in-built RGB lighting in the straps. They catch the eye, yet the lighting can always be turned off if you fancy something a little less brash and more subtle. I’m talking about the lights on the speakers here, not the imaginary woman. Keep up.

All this lighting is controlled via Logitech’s very own software that must be downloaded from their site. From here choose the brightness and colors are a doddle, as is deciding whether you want some fancy color cycling. I’ve really got no complaints here; it’s an easy piece of software to use, even down to the fact that you can reprogram the G key that handles lighting brightness if you really want to. I have no idea why you would, but you can.

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You can also activate one of the more intriguing features in the form of screen sampling. Essentially the speakers use four areas of the screen that you can select to base their lighting on. By default, it’s the very edges of your screen that are selected. It’s an interesting idea that’s intended to help with immersion by creating the impression that your screen is bigger than it actually is, a sort of trick that fools your peripheral vision. In practice, though, the system is too aggressive for my tastes and in games or games it can often wind up looking more like a disco as it switches between colors and intensity. I feel like it works far better on something slow-paced or with a relatively limited color palette.

But enough of the looks! How do the damn things sound? Via the USB connection, you get 16-bit 4800hz sound resolution, and boy does the speakers and chunky downward-firing bass unit pack some impressive sound quality. Some tweaks really need to be made before you get to properly enjoy them thanks to the bass being massively overpowering on the default settings and the rest of the preset profiles just being okay. Once you do a little bit of playing around you get something really special. The bass packs a nice punch where it’s needed, there’s plenty of detail across the lows, mids, and highs and a slightly warm signature that I personally liked very much.

So, the speakers look great and they sound brilliant. Surely everything is okay, then? Well, not quite. As it transpires the G560s have a couple of big issues holding them back from true greatness.

The big one is that they’re just too damn loud! I’m not even joking. Even turned all the way down to 8-15 they’re powerful, and above that it becomes insane. Because of this, the volume adjustment is pitifully limited; 8 is too quiet, 10 is too loud, and so on. Trying to find a good level is like trying to find a microwave setting that doesn’t leave your food cold and horrible or turn it into a boiling pit of lava that will melt the flesh from your bones. This seems to be an issue with the software and Logitech have said they’re working on sorting it, but the speakers have been out for a few months now and no fix seems to become.

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There’s also a potential issue in how inconsistent the volume seems to be. Sometimes I swear there’s a much bigger leap from 12 to 14 than there has been in 4 to 6 to 8 and so on. The volume suddenly seems to jump upwards like it has been kicked in the crotch by someone wearing steel-toed boots. Again, these problems NEED to be resolved. They should never have been present at the launch, and while update or two has promised a better volume curve and other fixes there’s still considerable work that needs to be put into making these speakers more usable.

Finally, and I could be imagining this, but it sounded like the speakers were boosting the bass at certain points along the volume, specifically at around 14. It’s like the curve of the bass volume hasn’t been properly matched to the overall volume curve, creating a dissonant.

You can sort of fix some of the problems by hooking the G560s up using the 3.5mm jack instead. The volume curve is considerably less savage and likely to destroy your precious eardrums, and the speakers are no longer terrifyingly loud at even the lowest settings. However, you wind up with some annoyingly tinny sound instead. You could potentially get around this by hooking the speakers up to an internal or external sound card, but that’s an inelegant solution to an issue that shouldn’t exist.

Those are some big problems for a set of speakers that cost over £200. Thus far a quick browse on the forums indicates a lot of people having issues and Logitech has been poor with their communication. Only a few helpful Logitech employees seem to be trying to help people out and offer people some details on when potential fixes might be coming, but the company as a whole seems to be taking the approach of ignoring the irritating customers.

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Aaaaagh. These speakers are so immensely frustrating. I love how they sound, and I love how they look. The quality of audio matches that of my beloved Corsair SP2500 without the speakers and bass unit being as space-consuming. But the unresolved problems are huge and there doesn’t seem to be any real guarantees from Logitech that any of them are going to get fixed. Perhaps most annoying of all is that all of the other reviews from big sites seem to have completely ignored these issues in favor of heaping praise on them while hundreds of people trawl the Logitech forums in hopes of having their pleas answered.

If these problems get fixed then the G560s would become an instant recommendation from me. They really do sound superb, have a lovely aesthetic without the RGB lighting, and are pleasingly eye-catching with the lights on. But man those problems with volume and control are just too large to ignore. For now, avoid these speakers. Maybe just go and look at some pictures of them every now and then until you get confirmation that Logitech has sorted them out.

Categories
Board Game Review

Kingsburg 2nd Edition Review – Roll Me Some Gold

Games usually get a second print run if they’ve done something right, so this second edition of Kingsburg seems to indicate that when it first came out people must have quite liked it. Me? Well, I’m still a relative noob, so I never played it when it first came out or in the intervening time since.

Now its gotten a bit of a royal makeover with all-new artwork, some rather sexy dice and the entirety of the To Forge a Kingdom expansion rammed into the box for good measure. But thousands of people are wrong all the damn time about things, so is this dice-placement game actually any good? Have I really been missing out?

Under orders from the wise and bearded King, your job is to hob-nob with the court advisors in order to gather wood, stone, gold and other valuable things that can be spent on building up your town, adding all manner of walls, statues, churches, barracks, and other things in order to earn victory points and claim the title of Best Builder of Stuff. How you build your little township is entirely up to you.

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Right, so how do you get all this stuff? Three times per round (there are five rounds total) every player will grab their three dice in what is called a “productive season” and hurl them onto the table like they had been personally offended by something the dice had said about their mums.

Players then take it, in turn, to place their dice on the eighteen available advisors who make up the Royal court, matching the number on the dice with those listed on the spaces and combining dice to reach the numerically higher spots which offer more resources. In other words, if you roll a three, a four and a six you could combine them all to reach the 13th spot, or the 10th, or the 9th or the 7th, and so on, or you could just take the number 3, 4 and 6 spaces.

The catch is that when a spot is taken nobody else can go there, and thus depending on your roll you can easily find yourself struggling to get exactly what you want. Everyone’s dice are public knowledge, too, so if you’re feeling a tad villainous you can eye up to your opponent’s roll and then proceed to block them where possible. Man, you’re such a c***. This is why nobody wants to play with you. Or me.

Once everyone has placed their dice all the action spots get resolved, and then all the players get a chance to spend their new resources and goodies on adding buildings to their personal towns. This is the main way of scoring victory points in Kingsburg, but there are a few intriguing limitations due to the local planning office being a bit peculiar; to build the more advanced buildings you must already have constructed the prior ones in the row, so if you want to erect a church you first need to toss up a chapel and a statue.

You’ve got to commit, in other words, perhaps even propose marriage and then settle down to have some kids. This is where all the compelling decisions in Kingsburg come from because while some buildings just give you more points others can do more than just that. The crane decreases the cost of building everything else, for example, while the Merchant’s Guild will produce a steady trickle of gold to line your pockets with.

It’s a simple system to understand and quite a bit of fun. It’s here that Kingsburg is going to divide opinions because obviously, it’s heavily luck-based. It’s tricky to make long-term plans about what you want to build when you can’t ever be entirely sure that you’re going to get the wood you need or the gold, but this also means that you can enjoy swapping your plans on the fly, reacting to whatever you’ve rolled and just going with the flow.

You just have to relax, maaaaaaaaaaan. You can still have those long-term ideas about what civic improvements you’d like to make, it’s just a case of adapting that plan along the way. In other words, if you prefer your games to be about pure planning with no luck involved it’d be best to steer clear of Kingsburg.

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Not everything is sunshine, lollipops and arguing with the local planning office about why you have to have an inn before you can have a market, though, because at the end of every single round a card gets flipped over that reveals an incoming threat in the form of goblin hordes and angry barbarians who presumably want to do some raping and pillaging. I don’t really know what goblins want. More screen time in the Lord of the Rings films?

The point is aside from shiny new churches and farms and other lovely stuff you can also invest some time in your military infrastructure, maybe adding a watchtower, a barracks and a stone wall to keep out immigrants. The bad news is that military buildings typically score very little points, but if you don’t successfully repel the attack you take a penalty, sometimes in the form of a few points and sometimes in the form of a whole building.

Aside from building defenses, there are a few more ways to increase your military abilities; various advisors will offer boosts to your power, and when the fight actually starts one player will roll a die to determine the number of reinforcements the King himself will be sending and that number will get added to everyone’s total.

Just keep in mind that a player’s total combat value is reset at the end of each round. You still get to keep any bonuses that come from your buildings, but any troops gained from being nice to the advisors or from trading in resources disappear. Maybe they wander off to join the barbarians in a bit of pillaging?

It’s a neat choice; do you go all-in on the pretty buildings and hope to weather the invaders? After all, on the back of each enemy card, there’s a rough estimate of the strength, so if you’re close to the total you need maybe it’s worth risking relying on the King’s Reinforcements so you can keep focusing on building up those points while your opponents spend their time shoring up their defenses.

Or do you have a city bristling with pointy objects, soldiers, and enough implements of death to make Satan give an appreciative grin? Or do you just ride the middle-ground and hope for the best? Maybe you can have that church AND a barracks!

Between each of the dice rolling sessions, there are also a few bonuses handed out. At the very start of the round, for example, the player with the fewest buildings gets given an extra dice for the rest of the round, and later on, the person with the most buildings earns a bonus victory point.

I know, for having dealt with that bloody planning permission. Before the final dice rolling of the round the player with the least resources gets granted the Kings Envoy pawn which can be used during any productive season to either take the same action twice, including one blocked by an opponent or to let you build two buildings rather than just one. These little bonuses are a nice way of trying to keep everyone in the game.

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It’s also a game that I feel works with more players taking up the available spaces. With two players the game includes a mechanic where you roll dummy dice and plop them onto the board in order to block some advisors, but it’s just not the same as having real players who might try to get in your way.

Once you’ve got three or four people the order in which you claim spaces becomes so much more important since waiting to claim a certain spot might result in it getting nabbed before you ever get there.

Since this is the second edition of the game a bunch of extra content has been jammed into the box, including town sheets that massively bump up the number of things you can build. If that wasn’t enough there are modules that introduce special playable characters with unique abilities, random events, and more.

In total, you get six expansion modules to play around with, with five coming from the original To Forge A Realm, and a bonus new one added into the mix,   and while their quality varies quite a bit there’s really no doubt that you get your monies worth.

This new edition also gets a few other changes. For starters there are some rather pretty dice which are a superb improvement over the original’s standard dice, I reckon, though I suppose one could argue that these new ones are a bit harder to read at a glance due to their intricate designs.

The new board artwork is a bit trickier because it’s pretty subjective, but personally, I think this new art doesn’t look as good as the original, having swapped out the exaggerated, almost cartoony style for a more serious look that’s rather bland, in my opinion. This was due to necessity as apparently a deal could not be reached with the original artist to use his work, so new art had to be commissioned.

One thing I’m not a fan of in terms of component quality is how the tiny discs that you place on your town sheet to indicate what you’ve built don’t really stand out. It’s a small gripe, but one worth mentioning.

What works about Kingsburg is just how fluffy it all feels. The massive luck element will probably put a lot of people off, but if you can embrace the randomness that dice bring to the table then this a really enjoyable game here that taps into the simple joys of throwing dice around the place and building up your town, and best of all it’s easy to learn to mean you can play it with practically everyone.

It’s easy to see why Kingsburg got itself a reprint, and it’s easy to see why I reckon you should go out and pick it up if you don’t already own the original.

Categories
video game

Streets of Rage 4 Review – Streets of Awesome

2020 has already been a crazy year. And yet somehow in the midst of all this mayhem, I never would have imagined that the weirdest thing of 2020 is that I’m playing Streets of Rage 4. I never saw this coming. I never once considered that after 26-years since Streets of Rage 3 we’d get a sequel. How did this even happen? Where did this come from? I don’t know. I don’t care, because Streets of Rage 4 is a hell of a sequel.

Here’s what Streets of Rage 4 does not have: leveling systems, loot, microtransactions, tough moral choices, a massive open world, side-missions, or a min-map cluttered with so many icons that it all becomes one giant blur.

And here’s what Streets of Rage 4 do have: punching, kicking, side-scrolling, boss fights, and occasionally annoying enemies. If that sounds terribly simple in this time of vast triple-A games then kindly leave this review. Streets of Rage 4 is not for you. While there are certainly improvements over Streets of Rage 3, this is a game focused on staying true to the franchise and delivering a tight, simple experience. If you want innovation then look elsewhere. If you want to smash some people in the face, then look no further.

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The story is simple and over the top, as you’d expect from the series. Ten years after the defeat of Mr. X at the end of Streets of Rage 3 his children, the Y Twins, are out for revenge, and they’ve got some fancy brain-washing tech to help. To step them old gang is back: Axel, Blaze, and Adam. They’re joined by a few characters, including Cherry – the daughter of Adam – who’s the fastest of the bunch, and Floyd, a hulking tank of a man who uses his bionic limbs to dish out heavy damage. These newcomers slot nicely into the roster, and all five of the characters feel nicely distinct and fun to play. It’s tempting to stick to a single one throughout the few hours it takes to fight through the campaign, but it’s much more fun to jump between them. Plus, there are some unlockable additions to the lineup.

Your basic move is a straight punch or kick. It can be turned into a short combo, or you can hold the button down to power up a slightly more powerful strike. You can also flick out a quick back kick to catch sneaky enemies coming up from behind, while double-tapping forward and attack will unleash a blitz move. The nimble Cherry, for example, will deliver a shoulder barge that’s great slamming enemies backward.

If you sidle up to a foe you can grapple them and deliver a couple of swift blows to them, or you can slam them. You can even chuck them into other enemies for added awesome.

You can also launch three special attacks, the first being a ‘defensive’ special that gives you some breathing room, a jumping special, and a normal offensive special. The important thing to remember is using a special attack eats up a small portion of health. However, if you can land a few regular punches or kicks that health will be given back to you, but if you get hit that health instantly disappears. It’s a solid risk vs reward system that encourages you to pick your moment smartly.

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The defensive special I mentioned is the only true defensive option you get in Streets of Rage 4. You can’t parry attacks, block, or dodge. Even the ability to run that was introduced in Streets of Rage 3 is now only usable by Cherry. If you’re new to the series this lack of options when it comes to fending off foes could take some getting used. The trick to mastering fighting is learning how to manage the surrounding enemies, learning their attacks, and knowing when to launch into a quick combo and when to stay away.

The final move in your arsenal is a special star attack that deals hefty damage to anything stupid enough to be nearby. You need to a star to perform it, though, and those are quite rare. Plus, having spare stars at the end of a level bumps up your final score, so there’s a good incentive not to use them unless you really, really have to.

A bunch of classic enemies re-appear and are joined by a raft of new bad guys, too. It’s a diverse and fun selection of arseholes to battle, each of them with a clear ability, strength, and weakness that must be learned and exploited. The old sneaky goon with a knife still loves to catch you off guard while you’re busy dealing with a crowd, but there are also hefty biker ladies who love to deliver a powerful head butt. Admittedly, there are a few enemies that feel like they are a bit overpowered or have moves that feel almost impossible to counter or avoid, but some updates should sort that out. A bigger issue is that Streets of Rage 4 does occasionally throw too many enemies on the screen at once, and the combat mechanics don’t give you the tools to really deal with that. It can feel unfair at times. But it was never enough to make me feel too angry at the game, and overall the diversity of the enemies and the way they all behave uniquely is very impressive.

So are the bosses, too. Every level finishes up with a boss fight because that’s just what you do in a Streets of Rage game. Again, it’s a mixture of old and new here, and there are a few with annoying abilities. Shiva brings some fun martial arts and shadow clones to the mix, there’s Max and his powerhouse style and so much more. Like the regular enemies, it’s all about learning their moves and how to avoid or counter them, and picking your moments. There wasn’t a single boss fight I didn’t love, even as I swore at the screen and held the controller so tight it nearly cracked. This is the kind of game that brings your inner jerk to the fore and almost make you rage quit on the higher difficulties. And that’s why it’s awesome.

Another wonderfully smart piece of design is how Streets of Rage 4 ties lives into points. In short, if you can get your score high enough you’ll earn a free life, which is pretty valuable. Beating up enemies and snatching up cash that’s just lying around on the streets nets you some points, but the biggest way to increase your score is to build up your combos. The catch is that getting smacked in the face will break your combo and lose you those lovely, lovely points. You have to be careful and make smart choices about when to back up and bank those points before jumping back into the fight.

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Sticking on the topic of racking up the points, Streets of Rage 4 is built around chasing high-scores. The story mode will only take an hour or two to blitz through, and while that might be a negative to some people I rather think it’s a positive: as sublime as the gameplay is, a story mode that lasted any longer would outstay its welcome. You can head back and tackle individual stages on any of the five difficulty settings. You could also hit up Arcade mode where you get a single credit to beat the entire game, a challenge not for the faint of heart even on the easiest setting. There’s also a boss rush if you want to hone your skills against them. Finally, an online battle mode gives you a chance to square off against another player. There’s not really enough depth to support one on one fights like this but it’s a fun distraction.

Or you can play through the game in co-op mode with another player either online or local split-screen if you happen to be stuck in a house with an actual live human being.

I’m really not doing Streets of Rage 4 justice. On paper, it sounds so absurdly simple and lacking in-depth, yet in action, it’s anything but. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an easy game to learn and to play, but getting good at it takes time. Lots and lots of rewarding, satisfying, controller-destroying time. And it all feels so perfect. There’s nothing that feels off about the combat or clumsy or like it doesn’t quite fit correctly. Once you’ve got used to relatively slow movement speed – and have learned to attune your eyesight so you can correctly judge the depth of field so that you don’t flail madly at thin air while the bad guy just below you looks on in amazement – it feels outstanding to play. It’s downright addictive, too, each level lasting around 5-10 minutes and thus perfect for that ‘one more go’ feeling.

The brand new art style for Streets of Rage 4 caused a bit of a stir when it was revealed, but once you see it in person I think any doubts will wash away. The hand-drawn environments and characters look beautiful, and there’s plenty of nice details in how everything is animated. The way that Axel has bulked up, for example, and bounces up and down on his feet, or the way that moves transition into each other. The whole look does a good job of keeping the tone and style of the original games while also looking like something you’d want to buy in 2020. But if you do fancy a bit of the retro look you can head to the options and pixelate the characters or environment, or both. Plus there’s the original character models to unlock which look great when contrasted against the detailed backdrops.

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One of the things that stuck with me over the years about Streets of Rage was the stellar. Luckily both Koshiro and Kawashima agreed to come back, giving the music a strong foundation, but they got some extra help, too. The result is just like the rest of Streets of Rage 4: a compelling mixture of old and new. The techno soundtrack gets the vibe of the originals right, but has some modern twists. It’s damn good stuff.

I suppose I could tear Streets of Rage 4 apart for being an incredibly safe sequel that has only made small changes and improvements in the 20+ years since the last game. And I think that would be fair, in some ways. But the kid version of me who spent dozens of hours playing Streets of Rage on the Sega Genesis would never forgive me. And I wouldn’t blame him. Sure, Streets of Rage 4 does not innovate, but I don’t think myself or any of the other fans of the franchise wanted it to. What we wanted is what we’ve got: a pure Streets of Rage game with enough tweaks and small additions to make it feel like it can hang out in 2020 while still being true to what the franchise is all about. By which I mean punching dudes in the face. And Axel’s glorious facial hair does Streets of Rage 4 do punching dudes in the face well! Like, really, really well! This is a glorious example of the side-scrolling beat ’em up genre, perhaps the very best we’ve got. It’s easy to learn but hard to master. I can’t wait to spend dozens of more hours seeing if I can master it, or if I’ll forever be stuck getting measly C-grades on every level.

Categories
News

Academy Award-Winning Actress Cate Blanchett In Talks To Star In Borderlands Movie As Lilith

According to a new report from Variety, the upcoming Borderlands film might have its Lilith. Cate Blanchett is reportedly in talks with Lionsgate to play the fan-favorite, fiery Siren Lilith.

Prior to this role, Blanchett has been appearing in film and television since the 1990s. She is a seven-time Academy Award nominee and a two-time winner, including a win for “Best Actress” in 2014’s Blue Jasmine. Blanchett is also a three-time winner across three decades at the Golden Globe Awards, as well as a three-time award winner at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, including as part of the ensemble cast for The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. She also appeared as Hela in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok.

The official Borderlands Twitter account weighed in on the report:

The Borderlands film will be directed by Cabin Fever and Hostel director Eli Roth and produced by longtime Marvel producers Avi Arad and Ari Arad through Arad Prods, as well as Step Up and I, Know What You Did Last Summer producer Erik Feig through Picturestart, with the most recent script written by Emmy-winning Chernobyl writer Craig Mazin. Additionally, Gearbox President and CEO Randy Pitchford, and Strauss Zelnick, chairman, and CEO of Take-Two Interactive, are set to executive produce the project.

In a previous statement from Roth in February, the director praised Pitchford, Gearbox, and Lionsgate. “I’m so excited to dive into the world of Borderlands and I could not be doing it with a better script, producing team, and studio,” Roth said in a statement. “I have a long, successful history with Lionsgate — I feel like we have grown up together and that everything in my directing career has led to a project of this scale and ambition. I look forward to bringing my own energy, ideas, and vision to the wild, fun, and endlessly creative world of the game. Randy Pitchford and everyone at Gearbox has been incredibly supportive of my ideas — it really feels like a perfect storm of creators coming together. We are out to make a new classic, one which the fans of the game will love, but also one which will find new audiences globally.”

Categories
Review

Deliver Us The Moon Review – Love And Loss In Space

When we look to the moon, we see nothing but a glowing rock that lights up the night sky. But what if it were humanity’s last hope for survival? This is the basic premise in Deliver Us the Moon, a nicely penned story of isolation and loss that puts you in the role of an astronaut who travels to the moon to save the planet. While leaning heavily on walking simulator conventions like story progression coming from talking holograms and written documents, developer KeokeN Interactive doesn’t shy away putting you in exciting, do-or-die scenarios when things don’t go as planned.

Deliver Us the Moon’s writing is the driving force, but this sci-fi journey is also strong in its pacing and variety, which help build momentum, create tension, and make it seem like every second matter even though you mostly play at your own pace.

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The game tells the grim tale of Earth running out of natural resources, forcing humanity to the stars to find other solutions. As luck would have it, we don’t have to travel far, as the moon is rich in a powerful isotope called Helium-3 that could solve the energy crisis. The nations of the world unite and develop a revolutionary way of transmitting Helium-3 to Earth. Just when it seems we have a new beginning, the moon falls silent and the transmission ends. We have just enough energy to send a one-man rocket to the moon to figure out what went wrong, and hopefully, bring the Helium-3 feed online again.

Your first steps aren’t made on the moon and instead unfold on Earth’s surface, which looks eerily alien given the yellow sky and dust-filled air. Your mission is to power up the rocket and launch. This is an awesome moment since you manually need to bring the rocket’s systems online from within the cockpit. You are tasked to quickly throw the switches in the right order, a moment KeokeN cleverly achieves by highlighting your next interaction in a pink hue – making you look like a well-versed astronaut. You then get to experience the rocket launch from a first-person perspective, which beautifully illustrates the transition from Earth’s atmosphere to space.

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When you reach the lunar establishment, which is in ruin and not occupied by any life, exploration unfolds from both third- and first-person angles, often determined by the type of actions you must complete. Third-person view is used primarily for on-foot sections, which can be as tame as exploring living quarters for clues or as thrilling as darting dangerously past spinning blades in low gravity. These moments are backed by well-designed controls and sometimes stunning set pieces, like a tall tower crumbling with you on it. There isn’t any combat, but if you don’t move quickly enough in certain areas, you’re going to fail and have to retry.

The first-person camera is used sparingly but is effective for intense, intimate moments, zero-gravity flight, and controlling a floating droid tied to some of the game’s best puzzles. I was a little annoyed that almost every door you need to access requires a puzzle or keycode, and some of your actions feel repetitive and lose their electricity after doing the same thing two or three times. For instance, taking a lunar rover onto the surface is enthralling the first time, but feels like a chore the next time out.

Most of your effort is spent exploring and following the narrative threads of the people that once occupied this station. You see many of them as featureless holograms and get to know a few of them somewhat intimately. What you learn is that the heart can sometimes cloud one’s perspective. You see just how big of a problem that can be, but also how touching it can be. At the end of the journey, I found myself thinking about what I would do if I were in these characters’ shoes in these moments.

Deliver Us the Moon is an excellently made game that succeeds in story and atmosphere. The lunar settlement is a fascinating place to explore, and even though it’s just filled with holographic ghosts, you get a sense of how it was once thriving and what exactly went wrong. The experience starts out strong and ends strong; some of the middle ground is a bit repetitive, but the narrative is engaging throughout and makes the journey worth taking.