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  • Rock of Ages 2 (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder 
    Developer: ACE Team
    Published by: ATLUS USA
    Release Date: August 28, 2017
    Available on: Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One
    Genre: Action
    Players: 1-2
    ESRB Rating: E for everyone for fantasy violence, language, crude humor
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you ATLUS for the review code.

    So, one of the surprise sequels of 2017, Rock of Ages 2, is a great game. While the first game wasn't the most amazing indie game on the block it was top notch for what it was. Let's roll over history with Rock of Ages 2.

    In Rock of Ages 2 you play as Atlas, and as you are holding Earth above your head, Zeus asks you to pose as he draws a picture. You accidentally drop the planet and you pick up a boulder in its place. Before Zeus realizes you dropped the world you jump down into the planet to try and hide from him. Along the way you have to fight against historical figures in the most obvious and straightforward way. You'll have to roll your boulder down various obstacles to crush your enemy's castle gates. Once you do you can squish your enemies flat with your boulder. Be warned they will have a chance to squish you with their own boulder as well. You have to be faster! You can earn gold by breaking the course and getting rid of enemy obstacles. The gold you earn can be used to place various obstacles to slow down your foe. Just like you, your opponent can put obstacles in their way to impede your boulders. You will have to learn how to dodge every type of trap to quickly beat the course.

    Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: This game is a solid title on all fronts. The courses are a challenge and It's a well rounded experience from start to finish. 
    Weak Points: None whatsoever.
    Moral Warnings: Mild cursing and the crushing of historical figures. Some mild lowbrow humor. Some heavily censored nudity for Adam and Eve and particular statue characters such as Atlas. Living Depictions of False Gods.

    The gameplay can best be described as a 3d version of the classic game Marble Madness. The problems the original had were improved. Aside from barrel bombs, defenses felt useless in the first game. Walls and other defenses are now a challenge to get through. You'll have to figure out how to best impede your opponent and you'll have to take risks to keep your time better than your foe.

    Aside from the different opponents in the campaign mode you can revisit levels to earn extra stars in an obstacle course race mode. In this mode both you and your opponent share the same path on the course and you must make it to the end three times in first place to win. You'll be able to unlock gates with your stars to face various bosses such as the Thinker statue, a sphinx and more. The game has a time trial mode as well where you can race down the various courses without any obstacles in the way to compete on a global speed leaderboard. You do have a multiplayer mode as well but don't expect to find people to play this with randomly. You'll have to find friends that have the game if you want to experience anything against another person. You also have a local multiplayer option. This allows you to race other players down the same course or you can see who crushes who first under the boulder of their choice.

    Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Artstyle, humor, graphics and gameplay all blend well and nothing really inhibited the enjoyment. Each stage had a pleasant soundtrack, the noises were satisfying as I smashed through the courses and each opponent was a challenge. Each and every cutscene was funny and cute and even respected the history it was from. Squishing Edvard Munch's famous "The Scream" painting was one of my favorite parts, even if I still question how it managed to command a boulder.

    Morality problems are here and there in this game. Some of the cutscenes are a little violent but without blood it's mostly just slapstick. The cardboard cutout style foes don't have potty mouths or immoral tendencies so have fun destroying history. No cuss word is directly said though some mumbles could be taken for cussing. You have some censored nudity of Adam and Eve as well as famous statues that are depicted in the nude, censored of course. You also have living depictions of false gods.

    This game definitely gets a near-perfect score on the indie game list for sure. This game is perfect for gamers of all skill levels and ages. Enjoy crushing the competition in Rock of Ages 2.

  • 20XX (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    20XX
    Developed By: Batterystaple Games, Fire Hose Games
    Published By: Batterystaple Games
    Release Date: August 16, 2017
    Available On: Windows
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Action Platformer/Rogue-like
    Mode: One or Two Players
    MSRP: $14.99

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

    Having grown up with classic video games, Mega Man was always near and dear to my gamer heart. I have great memories with Mega Man 3, and later X and X4. Though the challenge is, well, pretty intense, I was always able to beat them with a little (or a lot) of perseverance. There have been several attempts to regain the feel and joy that these games bring, even from one of the original creators of Mega Man after he went independent. Many of these efforts have had mixed results. What is surprising is how well the 20XX developers did. They also added enough to make it more than merely a clone: they turned it into a Rogue-like.

    For those not familiar with the classic Mega Man X franchise that this borrows so much from, the premise is rather simple: you are one of two warrior robots, either the ranged focused Nina (styled after Mega Man X, except female), or the melee focused Ace (styled after Zero). The chosen robot then plays a 2D side scrolling level, typically with a lot of enemies and dangerous spikes. After making it through the challenging platform filled level, they find a boss waiting for them at the end. Once this boss is defeated, you then take their weapons, which you can then use on future levels – either as a tool to help you get through the normal enemies, or as a foil against a powerful boss, as they often have a weakness to specific attacks.

    While that alone – a well implemented Mega Man X clone with different characters – would be enough to get excited about, they really took it to the next level by turning it into a Rogue-like. A Rogue-like is a game that takes some elements from the gaming classic Rogue. What is relevant here is that the levels are randomly generated, and you lose most (or all) of your progress when you die. While that may seem strange, and indeed that was my thought at first, it's actually brilliant. Rather than the limited levels and power-ups of a typical game in this genre, levels are randomly generated, so no two playthroughs are the same – though if you want, you can specify the level seed, and play it more than once if you want!

    20XX
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good graphics and animations; great chiptune soundtrack; fantastic replay value; creative and compelling powerups; quite challenging; the developer support is some of the best I have ever seen; perhaps the best homage to Mega Man X yet
    Weak Points: Quite challenging
    Moral Warnings: Animated violence against other robots; creator scientists treat the robots as robots and dispose of them freely

    This ends up bringing an incredible amount of replay value to 20XX, as beating a level isn't enough; you have to beat the whole game in one sitting. This is most definitely easier said than done; I have never been able to beat the game at all, despite my best efforts and work to unlock various power-ups, or choosing the easiest difficulty levels. As you progress, you earn soul chips. These chips can be used to unlock permanent and temporary powerups for future runs. I reached a point where my permanent unlocks were too expensive for my skill level, and while I have plenty of temporary unlocks to get still, I just have a long way to go before victory will be in my grasp. This was made all the more clear when I was schooled online, so much so that the guy I was playing with kept leaving the game because he didn't want to play with such a n00b again...

    So while perseverance definitely plays a role here, you also have to have a certain skill level with difficult jumps and tricky shots, or you just don't have a chance. I don't say this to knock the game; it is meant for more skilled players, and the game is good and well balanced enough where it doesn't feel like the game cheats or anything. Every mistake I made felt earned, even if I got real tired of some of those nasty jump sections, or the even worse ice levels...

    The bosses are also a lot of fun to fight. What I didn't expect from my time with the Mega Man franchise is that here, unlike there, the same boss is much more difficult in level six rather than level two. Bosses may have extra moves, more health, do more damage, or even have changed action patterns based on how far you have gotten. While it does make sense, it also means that the skill wall you need to climb is that much steeper if you aren't up for that whole 'practice makes perfect' adage.

    There are a ton of different challenges available. There is the basic Reverent (easy) difficulty where you get three lives, Normal with only one, and Defiant where you can apply skull modifiers to make it even harder. There are also daily, weekly, boss rush, and hardcore mode challenges available. There are also leaderboards, if you want to see how bad you are compared to everyone else.

    20XX
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    There is local co-op, as well as co-op online play. You can play with friends, or random strangers via the auto lobby system. When I tried to play online, I didn't have to wait at all to find someone to play with, though when I tried again later, there wasn't anyone around. The community is active enough, especially the forums, that I am sure if you really want to play with someone, you should be able to. My son really enjoys playing this game with me when he has a chance.

    And really, there is no reason not to play this with someone of any age. There is robot on robot violence, and the intro shows a bit of a societal panic as buildings are being attacked by giant robots. It is presumed that you are there to stop it – but the 'story' is fairly skeleton; you are there to get to the end of the levels and beat the big baddies that wait for you; nothing more. This game is squeaky clean and I would personally have no problem with anyone of any age playing it, assuming they can handle the difficulty, of course.

    The graphics are good, and the music is very good. The chiptunes are perfectly appropriate, and fun to listen to. The soundtrack is very inexpensive, and worth it in my opinion. They also offer FLAC files, which is a nice touch. The sound effects also work well.

    I just wanted to point out one quick thing: this developer has been perhaps one of the best early access developers I have ever seen. They released the original early access on November 25, 2014, and they have been updating this game like clockwork every two weeks for almost three years. You could see the countdown to the next patch right from the main menu before 1.0 hit. It was amazing, and while I expect this to wind down at some point, they have been continuing to patch the game even as recently as three days ago as of this writing. I have also had my posts in the forums replied to by the developers directly. These guys deserve the highest praise for their dedication to their player base. Great job!

    20XX (which is a clear allusion to the Mega Man 2 intro – the 20XX intro is also a visual reference as well) is a clear homage to the source material – Mega Man and the X series that followed – in the best kind of way. Nina and Ace are both a ton of fun to play, and feel right – Ace's combos work great, and Nina's charged or rapid fire shots are also great. Wall jumping is perfect, and so on. And the gameplay is basically endless if you want it to be; there is actually an endless mode modifier for Defiant if you choose to use it. Honestly, 20XX is a very easy recommendation. The price is right, the game plays great, and is a lot of fun. Just be ready to earn those skills!

  • Attack on Titan (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Attack on Titan
    Developed by: Omega Force
    Published by: Koei Tecmo
    Release date: August 30, 2016
    Available on: PS3, PS4, Vita, Xbox One, Windows
    Genre: Action
    Number of players: Up to four players local and online
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Violence
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Koei Tecmo for sending us a review code for this game!

    My husband and I enjoyed the Attack On Titan anime which this game recreates in its Attack Mode single-player campaign. If you have any plans on watching the anime, you may want to do that first because this game will spoil it for you otherwise!

    The premise is that humanity is struggling to survive and has walled themselves in as a last resort to protect themselves from huge titans that pick them up and eat them whole. Things get hairy as the walls (which are named after goddesses) get breached and titans flood in and ravage the towns. To make matters worse, some of the trusted soldiers have the ability to turn into titans. Humanity has to fight back if they want to survive.

    The main character is Eren Jaeger who watched his mother get eaten when he was a young boy. Since then he vowed to fight back and to avenge his mother’s death. The single player campaign takes you through his boot camp experiences, being assigned to the military police, and later the scout regimen. The scout regimen is held in high regard by the civilians since they are the only group to leave the city’s walls and often return with fewer soldier than they departed with.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Engaging story that is true to the anime; fast paced action; great visuals; active multiplayer
    Weak Points: Survey mode is not as fun as the story driven or online adventures; Japanese only voice acting
    Moral Warnings: Despite being able to disable blood, plenty is shown in the cut scenes; limbs and appendages will be cut off from the titans on numerous occasions; the titans do not wear clothes but they don’t have reproductive organs either; language (b*stards, d*mn); references to goddesses

    While you’re a cadet you’ll learn how to use your equipment and how to efficiently take down these towering titans. The titans have a vulnerable spot at the nape of their neck and in order to reach it or any of their other limbs you’ll need to use special ODM Gear, which uses gas canisters to thrust you into the air. Between the grappling hooks and ODM Gear you’ll be slinging yourself around like Spider-Man. Be sure to watch your gauge levels, refill your gas canisters, and replace your dull blades as needed. There are replenishment points on the battlefield so be sure to make note of their locations.

    The titans come in various sizes and they are all deadly. If you get picked up by one you’ll have to mash the triangle button repeatedly to slice off their fingers to free yourself. Some of the titans are tougher and smarter than others. Later in the game you’ll come across ones that require taking out their limbs before you can do any damage to the nape of their neck. Other variants toughen their muscles and do a number on your blades if you strike them in a hardened spot.

    In the beginning of the game you can disable gore which is a nice feature. Even with that option enabled I still saw plenty of blood in the cutscenes and limbs/appendages sliced off throughout the game. Watching people being eaten is rather unsettling as you see their body parts bitten off. The titans don’t wear any clothes, but they don’t have reproductive organs either. The humans don’t know how they reproduce and most of the attacking titans are masculine in appearance.

    The story mode comprises of three chapters and throughout the campaign you’ll be switching between various squad mates and a titan! You’ll unlock characters for the Exhibition Mode as you play through the Attack Mode. After the credits roll, you can still complete various side quests and scouting missions. The scouting missions have single-player/survey missions or multiplayer expedition missions. You can play along with friends or people online. I had no problem finding people to play alongside online.

    Attack on Titan
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Though the scouting missions help you acquire materials and items to better your equipment, they are nearly as fun as the story missions in my opinion. Depending on how well you do on a mission you’ll be given a letter grade, materials, medals, and money towards researching better gear. I like how you can combine items to make better ones or look into new technology altogether. Be sure to check up for better models of all of your gear and horses throughout the game.

    Despite the short story mode there is still plenty to do with the exploration missions, side quests and online play. Fans of the anime will enjoy the story and may even recognize the voice actors that reprised their roles for this game. Sadly the voice acting is all in Japanese, but it’s still very well done.

    The 3D cel-shaded artwork is really neat and stays true to the look and feel of the anime it's based off of. There are lots of different looking titans to slay and plenty of variety in locations to do it in. This game ran great on my PS4 Pro.

    Overall, any fan of the Attack On Titan anime should look into this game. The active multiplayer community is refreshing to see even after being released almost a year ago. The same moral issues are present in the anime will be found in this title. Because of the blood, violence, and mild language, this is not a game to be played near or by children. Chances are the titans may give young kids nightmares since they are pretty creepy.

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

    boxart
    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.

     

  • Bastion (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Bastion
    Developed by: Supergiant Games
    Published by: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
    Released: August 16, 2011
    Available On: Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence, and Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
    Genre: Isometric Action
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)


    The soul of Bastion is the soul of a fairy tale, from the music to the voice acting to the art style. The gameplay driving you through this story of loss, regret, and survival is filled with options and the motivation to explore them. Bastion does not offer the tight mechanical fun of the great platformers or the narrative depth of more cinematic games. Instead, come to Bastion to let your mind explore. The developer, Supergiant Games, describes the effect well in their mission statement: “to make games that spark your imagination like the games you played as a kid”. Sit down, pick up a controller, and let Bastion tell you a story.

    The player is dropped into the broken fantasy world of Caelondia with little fanfare. The player character, known only as the Kid, wakes up following an event called the Calamity. His only companions are a hammer and the gravelly voice of the Narrator. The hammer can be switched out later for one of the game’s ten other weapons, but the Narrator’s voice remains. He gives running commentary of the game's events, recounting the actions the player takes as if telling a story by the campfire. The story is minimal, and the Narrator gives you just enough to get connected to the world and wonder what happened to it. Most of the Kid’s time is spent expanding and repairing the Bastion, a safe haven in the midst of the Calamity. He does this by collecting cores of power from the levels spread around Caelondia.

    The Narrator has an extensive script, but it is never burdensome. This is thanks to excellent writing and delivery along with Bastion’s unique story mechanic: the reactive script. If you stay in an area, the Narrator has a comment for it. If you blaze through enemies with no trouble, he might comment on that. He says a unique line for each of the fifty-five two-weapon-loadout combinations. The player doesn’t hear character conversations directly; instead, the Narrator describes them. This technique keeps the story moving and provides continuity to the storybook feel of playing Bastion.

    Joining the Narrator is a stunning soundtrack. It has a frontier flavor to match the Kid’s exploration of The Wilds. It is creative, unique, and plain good listening. There are a few vocal tracks which especially dominate their respective levels. The soundtrack is available for purchase, and I encourage you to check it out after playing the game.

    Bastion
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful environment and music; well-written, reactive narration; customizable play through buff, debuff, weapon loadout, and weapon upgrade variety
    Weak Points: Camera angle makes precise movement and aiming difficult; customization is limited for the first half of the game
    Moral Warnings: The player character kills people and animals in a cartoon-styled but seriously-themed world; characters recognize a pantheon of gods

    The world of Caelondia has a beautiful, painted style which belies the dark events of the story. The country is quite literally broken, floating in the air as chunks of land. Tiles to walk on rise from below as you approach. Each of the twenty-or-so levels has its own flavor and background. Here’s an old military outpost; there’s the remains of a port town; this mountain has become a center for the few animal survivors of the Calamity. The varied creative animals of Caelondia make up most of the enemies. Different types require different approaches, and levels lend themselves to certain weapons. This ensures that your playstyle is often changed up at the cost of making some weapon combinations virtually unworkable.

    The weapons are as varied as the enemies and environments. You always have access to a shield with counter-attack capabilities. There’s the hammer, a bow, a dart launcher, a machete, a spear, several guns, fire-spewing bellows, and more. All can be upgraded with components found in the levels. Each upgrade tier has two options, and you can switch between them anytime you visit the Forge. Upgrades include damage-over-time, homing, armor-piercing, charged shot, and others. Along with two weapons, you can equip a limited-use, rechargeable ability. You can equip stat-boosting elixirs (health, speed, defense, shooting spikes when at low health) alongside debuffs with rewards (increased experience, increased material, etc.). The Kid levels with experience earned by killing enemies, gaining a new buff slot and some HP at each level.

    The downside is that you open up many of these gameplay options by rebuilding the Bastion, and that happens over time. After collecting a Core, you choose a single structure to build. If you build the Armory, you won’t have access to the upgrade Forge yet. If you build the buff Distillery, you won’t have the special quest Memorial. You get all the structures before the game’s halfway point, but it can make for some frustrating moments early in the game. This is mitigated somewhat by buildings being accessible within some levels. However, each level becomes inaccessible once you clear it, so this utility is limited.

    In step with the increased capabilities of the Bastion are new ways and new reasons to use your fancy toys. Weapons have a challenge stage associated with them. For example, the hammer level requires smashing trash in a dump, and the level built for the pistol, which fires bullets as quickly as you can click, turns the Kid into a dueling sharpshooter. You gain rewards including materials, special abilities, and experience.

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

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

    It should be noted that these stages and weapons are integrated into Caelondia and the narration without a hitch. This is especially true of the character challenge stages, accessible directly from the Bastion as the story progresses. Each of the few named characters is associated with an item in the Bastion. Interact with it, and you are transported to Who Knows Where, a dreamland where you fight waves of enemies to try weapon loadouts and gain experience. This is also where you learn character backstories. Between waves, the Narrator gives snippets of how these characters got through the Calamity and to the Bastion. The stories are touching, dark, and engaging. Personally, they are what got me to push through the difficult Who Knows Where levels.

    Caelondia is a complex world worth exploring without prior knowledge. I’ve avoided worldbuilding and story details to avoid spoilers, but I have to allude to them for the sake of moral analysis. The ethical landscape of Bastion is intentionally murky. You should be aware of a few standard things: buffs come from alcohol at the Distillery, a Who Knows Where stage is entered by smoking a pipe, and your main character progresses by killing animals and people. The screen turns blood red as you lose health. The game is cartoony, but the Narrator makes sure you know the Kid is a tough, violent survivor.

    The most interesting aspects of the world come from worldbuilding flavor. The game’s themes are ambiguous and mature. Among them are survivor’s guilt, suicide, war, and revenge. Bastion does not pass judgment on its characters’ actions; it takes the higher ground of letting you form your own opinions. More potentially troubling is the pantheon. The denizens of Bastion recognize, with various levels of reverence, ten gods. Debuffs with rewards are activated at the Shrine dedicated to the various gods, and at least one enemy type is implied to be controlled by a god. You as the player can ignore the Shrine, but you can’t ignore the pantheon. The Narrator says, “Mother only knows,” referring to Micia, the goddess who gives life. He muses on whether or not the gods have abandoned the world. In a song by the Narrator available on the official soundtrack, he says of the gods, “They ain’t gonna catch you when you fall. You’ll be pleadin’ while you’re bleedin’.” Again, the game does not pass judgment on the characters or their beliefs. That’s up to you.

    The game has an easy mode to help people get through the story. It also has a score attack mode which allows you to replay levels. It is designed for those who want to focus on the gameplay. Once you finish the main game, you gain New Game+ mode. It lets you carry your unlockables with you into a new playthrough and seems to be the only way to open all buffs and special abilities. The NG+ enemies do not scale in difficulty, potentially resulting in the practiced and well-armed Kid bulldozing through. On the positive side, it is integrated into the story well.

    Controls are Bastion’s primary weakness. Paths must be navigated on more than the eight standard directions, and keyboard control takes more effort than it should. The isometric (angled top-down) view does not help matters. Still, the first time I beat the game it was with the keyboard, and it was enjoyable. For NG+ I used a controller. This helped significantly, but it also highlighted deeper problems with movement. The issue isn't the control device per se; the issue is eight-directional movement through a world that requires navigating on more than those eight axes. This isn't uncommon in isometric games, but it is particularly irritating when, as in Bastion, you can fall off the vast majority of the platforms and rolling is your easiest way of escaping heavy enemy fire. There is a mouse-based movement control scheme as well, but I couldn’t get the hang of it. In all modes, the Kid locks onto enemies to help with movement and combat. While this usually helps, there are often so many enemies onscreen that you can’t efficiently switch to the one you want to target. The game gives minor damage for falling off stages and is not punishingly difficult, but the control and camera quirks make challenge areas unnecessarily troublesome. There is fun gameplay here, but the polish went into art and story.

    Bastion does all things acceptably and some things exceptionally. The music, art, and voice acting combine to create a beautifully atmospheric game, and the weaknesses of the control scheme do not significantly detract from the experience. The gameplay, while not the highlight, carries its weight using variety in playstyle and enemy design. This game is a work of art. I hope it can “spark your imagination” like it did mine.

  • Beyond Dimensions (Mac)

    boxart
    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)

    boxart
    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.

     

  • Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King
    Developed By: Castle Pixel, LLC
    Published By: FDG Entertainment
    Released: March 28, 2017
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Action Adventure
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thanks to FDG Entertainment for the review key!

    Imitation is the highest form of flattery, as the saying goes. In the video game industry, however, it’s more accurate to say that copying is the highest form of greed, as publishers and developers single-mindedly chase after the latest big moneymaker. It’s important to note that imitation and copying are not the same; an original work inspired by another is vastly different, and superior, to a soulless clone. Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is, thankfully, an example of the former.

    Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is a 2D action adventure that borrows heavily (and proudly – there’s a near-namedrop in the opening sequence) from the 2D Legend of Zelda titles. As Lily, the newest Knight of the Rose, you traverse the kingdom in search of the three ingredients that will wake the king from the cursed slumber forced upon him by his brother and court wizard Crocus. Along the way, you’ll gain useful items, purge the land of Crocus’ evil, and occasionally endure impromptu scene changes from the audience – after all, this is simply a bedtime story a grandfather is telling his grandchildren.

    The gameplay is standard for games in this genre: outside of the movement keys, you have one key bound to the sword and two others that can hold whatever items you please. Health is measured in the tried-and-true heart meter, with every attack taking half a heart. Blossom Tales makes use of a slowly-recharging stamina bar rather than a limited inventory; other than the various healing potions, offensive items take a chunk out of Lily’s energy. Both health and stamina can be upgraded by finding four heart pieces or energy crystals scattered throughout the decently large kingdom. There’s something to find on every screen of the overworld, which, when combined with the varied landscape, makes exploration interesting and usually rewarding.

    Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Enjoyable Zelda clone with good exploration and gameplay
    Weak Points: Uninteresting sidequests; low variety in item function
    Moral Warnings: Violence and elemental magic use; undead enemies; grave desecration

    Similarly, the dungeons are large and engaging, if stylistically generic (featuring forest, fire, ice, and evil castle varieties). While most enemies fall into two or three archetypes, the bosses are more thought out, with a few feeling more at home in a top-down shooter instead, serving as an effective cap on each dungeon. The puzzles both inside and outside the dungeons do subscribe to the “get item, use item” formula, but only sparsely; mostly, you’ll find puzzles based around pushable blocks, floor tiles that change color or fall away, and Simon Says minigames. In all cases, the puzzles needed for story progress never get too difficult, with the more strenuous ones saved for optional upgrades. What Blossom Tales excels at is keeping things from getting stale; you’ll never run into vast stretches of similar puzzles, barring bad luck on the overworld, which makes pushing onward, and even backtracking every so often, something to look forward to.

    For all its successes, however, there are a few missteps. Some are minor, like Lily’s walking speed being a tad slow and the sword having a slight delay built into its swing. There’s also the traveling salesman, who only shows up in certain areas of the map from 9:00AM to 5:00PM based on your computer’s clock, with no in-game indication of this other than a generic “sorry, we’re closed” sign - you'll have to either wait or manipulate your system's time to interact with him. The lack of item variety hits a little harder; nearly all of them fulfill the same “ranged damage” role, making most of them superfluous – the boomerang, with its ability to hit one enemy twice at a low stamina cost, is vastly superior to nearly every other item outside of a few niche uses or personal preference. Blossom Tales’ biggest failure is in its sidequests: while there are three timed obstacle courses, a journal page scavenger hunt, a mail courier quest, and a few small minigames, there are a ton of dull "gather twenty enemy drops and return" tasks to complete. Since the others either encompass the whole game or last a few minutes, most of your active sidequesting will be mindless grinding. With how well put together the main quest is, the lack of interesting sidequests stands out all the more.

    Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    The presentation is competent, with its greatest success being its framing device. The graphics are good for what they are, though the 8-bit characters somewhat clash against the 16-bit backgrounds. The music is harder to fault, being consistently good and even occasionally catchy in the short-term. The game’s setup as a bedtime story, however, actually plays into the gameplay: rarely, the two children will complain about a puzzle being too easy or argue over what enemies they want to see, which makes the grandfather – and the game – have to change on the fly. Like with the main puzzles, these are played sparingly, making each instance a joy to encounter.

    As an action title, violence is a given, though enemies disappear in a puff of dust – save for one enemy in the forest that looks to burst into blood, but given the rest of the game, it might just be unfortunate dust coloring instead. Lily does get a handful of magic spells; these are all elemental, outside of one that can summon bees. Skeletons, zombies, and ghosts appear in varying frequency, with a whole segment of the game devoted to dealing with Crocus’ necromancy. There’s a church in the main town that may or may not worship flowers, but it’s barely given any attention. Finally, there’s a surprising amount of grave desecration – not just pulling tombstones, but blowing up non-respawning coffins for goodies. The game never draws attention to it, either – though it does set up a rather effective dark joke toward the end of the game. As with most of its story elements, the game never dwells on anything too much; with the colorful atmosphere and upbeat tone, it’s only grim in the background, which might ease the moral hit on younger children.

    Altogether, Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King gets a lot of things right. Its good pacing and restraint towards its puzzles and unique elements, along with its serviceable combat, make it evenly enjoyable from start to finish. While rather easy and not very long – the main story, plus some exploration, lasts ten hours or so – the $14.99 asking price is certainly fair. Whether you’re a Zelda veteran or a curious newcomer, it’s worth getting comfy and listening to this bedtime story.

    -Cadogan

  • Clustertruck (Mac)

    boxart
    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.

     

  • Cooking Witch (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Cooking Witch
    Developed by: VaragtP
    Published by: VaragtP
    Release date: May 18, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Number of players: Single-player
    Genre: Action
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $1.99

    Thank you VaragtP for sending us this game to review!

    Cooking Witch is a simple and casual game where your goal is to capture and cook children by throwing them into your giant cauldron. As gruesome as this sounds, the game is rather silly in its presentation and thankfully, it’s not that gory. Your ultimate goal is to collect as much meat as possible which can be spent on various upgrades to your witch’s stats, broom, hook, and cauldron.

    The children are broken down into colors and each one yields different rewards. Besides meat, all of the children will give you some stars, which are used to extend the time in the level. Children dressed in green provide the most amount of stars while the chunkier yellow ones give you a lot of meat. The heavier kids will drain more stamina and will take more effort to bring to the cauldron safely. Children dressed in red will give you a heart, which replenishes some of the witch’s health.

    At the beginning of the level, you’re given some simple objectives like cooking a certain quality or color of children. At the end of a level, you’ll be awarded up to three stars depending on how many objectives you have completed. As you collect stars, you’ll unlock upgrade paths for your broom, cauldron, and fishing hook.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Inexpensive and silly game that is fun to play in short spurts; cloud saves
    Weak Points: Only one level; cannot pause or tab out of the game
    Moral Warnings: You’re a witch who abducts children and eats them

    As you can imagine, the fathers are not too happy about you eating their children. After a couple of the kids are tossed into your cauldron, the dads will come out with their rifles. If you drop a child on top of their head they’ll get knocked out and you can throw them into your cauldron too! Some of the mission objectives involve knocking out or cooking a specified number of fathers.

    If your aim is off while dropping a child into the cauldron or on top of a pesky dad, chances are they will not survive the fall. You can still grab their body and toss it into the cauldron to get the meat and stars you desire. In case you are wondering, yes, there are objectives and Steam achievements for intentionally splatting children on the ground.

    As I mentioned earlier, there is no blood or gore as this game is as silly as it is wrong. The children are all wearing pumpkins on their head so you cannot see their expressions alive or dead. The graphics aren’t incredibly detailed either. Once picked up, the kids cry like infants so they seem to know that they’re doomed.

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

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 69%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 3.5/10

    While I’m not sure what kind of music goes well with cooking children, I don’t think public domain classical music is the most fitting. Despite the lackluster visuals and audio, I can’t complain about the meager asking price of $1.99.

    Besides the objectionable premise, my only other complaints are with the game’s interface. You cannot pause the game or alt-tab out of it without losing the mouse cursor. The graphics quality is adjustable, but not the sound levels. When it comes to the music and sound effects they can only be turned on or off.

    When all is said and done, this is a simple title that is goofy and fun to play in short spurts. If you’re looking for a game to entertain you for hours on end, then you’ll want to continue your search. This game is light on your wallet, but definitely doesn’t promote good values whatsoever.

  • Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim
    Developed By: Overflow
    Published By: Phoenix Online Publishing
    Released: April 26, 2016
    Available On: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Action-Adventure
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thanks to Phoenix Online Publishing for the review key!

    When the subject of Vikings comes up, certain things spring to mind: longships, axes, ale, looting and pillaging might be among the first thoughts. Not all Vikings are created equal, however; some prefer to stay on solid ground, taking less to aggression and more to craftsmanship. As Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim illustrates, the only real difference between a warrior and a homebody Viking is the time it takes for them to set out to beat you up.

    Cornerstone puts you in the shoes of Tyrim, a young Viking boy who prefers to skip out on combat and sailing to stay home and build things. When the men of his village, including his father, leave and don’t return for a week, the nagging worry and diminishing supplies finally prompts him to action. With a proficiency for crafting and a decent sword arm, Tyrim sets out onto the high seas for the first time to find the missing men.

    Since you play as a young boy setting out from a brightly-colored island for the first time in a 3D action adventure with puzzle elements, the obvious comparison is to the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Indeed, Cornerstone does take a step in that direction, though it’s noticeably rougher around the edges. You maneuver Tyrim around his environment, building weapons, armor, and other helpful tools as needed to solve mainly physics-based puzzles and fend off fiends in your way. The adventure takes place on eight different islands separated by a vast sea – though Cornerstone’s ocean has very little of interest compared to Wind Waker’s. There are some nice touches – Ships and ship debris will appear, whales will come up for air and birds will dive down for fish – but there’s no reason to stop and get out anywhere but the main islands.

    Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Consistently competent gameplay; good music and atmosphere
    Weak Points: Long loading screens; somewhat buggy and unstable
    Moral Warnings: Violence and magic use; undead enemies; alcohol use; mild language (d*mn, God’s name in vain)

    What sets Cornerstone apart, however, are its crafting feature and its physics engine. Tyrim carries with him wood, stone, wool, and fuel, and uses them to create anything from boxes to swords to mines to jet boots. Everything he creates has a varying amount of durability, tying your adventuring ability to your resources and vice-versa. You’ll find treasure chests with bigger material bags and better crafts as you explore. The physics engine is well-programmed and consistent, and the world is designed to let you use and abuse it to creatively complete or simply bypass puzzles with little ill effects other than potentially skipping huge swaths of the plot.

    The combat isn’t anything to write home about: you swing your weapon, you block attacks with your shield, and you can throw things at your enemies to damage them. The last option is usually the best, since throwable objects are often in large supply, have no chance of breaking, and don’t use Tyrim’s stamina bar – this drains quickly upon attacking or blocking but refills just as fast, and doesn’t add much to the game other than making sure you can’t stunlock your enemies. Some more powerful foes have secondary attacks that can circumvent your shield, such as bombs or magic, which helps keep you on your toes somewhat; these attacks can also knock Tyrim down, forcing him to drop his gear and potentially leave you defenseless. There’s also a rudimentary stealth aspect to the game, mostly limited to crouch-walking around enemies who will either fail to see you when you’re right in front of them or spot you across the map; it can be useful in some situations, but can also be freely ignored. For the record, there is a familiar-looking jump attack Tyrim can perform, but it doesn’t appear to do double damage.

    The real draw of Cornerstone, then, is in the exploration. The islands are varied and vast, with crafting resources and treasures tucked away all over. The dungeons and their equivalents are suitably mazelike and danger-filled, and while not every puzzle is a winner, there are some gems among them and most all of them are enjoyable to complete. The decent world-building helps out here as well, with each island having its own backstory and tribulations. While the dialogue is hit-or-miss, with its comedic tone usually falling flat and too reliant on breaking the fourth wall, the characters are varied and vaguely memorable, and the interesting settings will likely see you take interest on how the problems are resolved.

    Cornerstone’s presentation adds greatly to the game’s exploration focus. The graphics don’t make a great first impression: the title screen consists of plain black font on white squares attached to a brown signboard set among some less-than-impressive scenery. The character models aren’t anything fantastic either, though certainly not offensive. What rescues the graphical missteps, however, is the art style. Each island holds its own theme – desert, mine, library, etc. – and the lighting and texturing more than enough to make up for the lack of polygons. The atmosphere on each island fits its setting perfectly, from Tyrim’s cheery home to the stormy cliffs to the dystopian China analogue. The music greatly helps in this endeavor as well: not only does it enhance the intended mood of each location, it’s surprisingly good in its own right. The sound effects are less impressive, but they convey what they need to clearly and accurately, so there are few complaints to be had there.

    Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The game’s main failing is in its stability. It takes a fair bit of time to move from the title screen to the main menu, and loading the actual game from there can take nearly twenty seconds. Once it loads, however, you’re in the clear outside of a few inter-island transitions that are usually much snappier. Sailing from one island to another will result in the game freezing for five to ten seconds as it loads up the new setting, including rather suddenly despawning anything on the screen that isn’t Tyrim, his boat, and the water. There were also severe and long-lasting framerate drops on occasion, but it only happened two or three times. Finally and most egregiously, the game hard-locked upon finishing the China-themed island, forcing the use of the task manager to manually close the process. For what it’s worth, however, the game and its physics engine run quite well most of the time, with only a few instances of an object phasing through the floor or the wall – even if one of those objects was Tyrim at one point.

    Cornerstone is a bit of a mixed bag, morally speaking. Violence is a given, and enemy bodies stick around after death but don’t bleed in any way. Skeletons are your most common enemy, with ghosts appearing later on as well. Tyrim can’t use any magic, but a group of earth magic-wielding cultists are among the main antagonists. Blue crystals that seem to absorb and extend life are a main part of the story, though even with the cult’s involvement it’s painted as more scientific than occult. As with any Viking society worth its salt, alcohol is prevalent, though Tyrim and the other minors never use it themselves. Lastly, some mild language is present, including one or two instances of using God’s name in vain – despite Tyrim mentioning “the gods” at one point. The overall cartoony veneer helps to temper the moral issues, but they remain nonetheless.

    It might be accurate to call Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim a budget Zelda game, but to do so would do it a disservice. While somewhat repetitive and unpolished, the serviceable gameplay and excellent atmosphere warrants attention. The $19.99 price tag could be a tad steep to some, but it’s certainly worth a look come sale time.

    -Cadogan

  • Cosmic Cavern 3671 (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Cosmic Cavern 3671
    Game Title: Cosmic Cavern 3671
    Developed By: Mindware Co.,Ltd.
    Published By: Mindware Co.,Ltd.
    Released: July 14, 2016 (original release: July 1980)
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Arcade, Action, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: none
    Number of Players: Single player and two player
    Price: $4.99

    [This game was reviewed after the September 20, 2016, Ver2.0 update.]

    Thank you Mindware Co.,Ltd. for sending us your game.

    Ahh, the eighties. That good old decade when life was simpler, neighborhoods were safer, and arcade games only swallowed one quarter at a time from your pocket. Granted, I was born in the nineties, so I’m only able to imagine what that era was like. Still, regardless whether you lived back then or not, those years left strong impressions that echo today. Respected classics like Tetris, Centipede, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong survived time and avoided obscurity thanks to their makers. Developers had no crisp graphics or grand musical scores to fall back on. They had to succeed by inventive gameplay and gameplay alone. Cosmic Cavern made its debut alongside these classics in 1980. It might not be nearly as famous as the others, but that does not mean it couldn’t be a forgotten gem in its own right. To make its return more special, respected talents such as artist Hiroshi “Mr. Dotman” Ono and composer Yuzo Koshiro worked to recapture the original experience’s magic with a little extra polish on the side.

    Cosmic Cavern 3671 is as classic as arcade games come. The music, the art style; it’s a nostalgia fest. Upon startup, the game flashes a quick control schematic before displaying the main menu, and true to fashion, a demo will play if the game is left to itself. You can choose between single player mode or two player mode. As expected by eighties’ standards, success is tied to scores. Rack up the points for as long as you can survive. Now, if you wanted me to explain the game’s story, I’d be as stumped as you, but arcade games never needed solid setups to begin with anyway. However, what I did theorize is that you’re this space digger guy who is protecting his home base from little alien creatures. Well, I assume they’re aliens, anyway. I mean, when some creatures are either pink, Muppet-like blobs or walking goofy goggles, what would you think they were?

    Cosmic Cavern 3671
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid Gameplay, Great Visual Options
    Weak Points: Inconvenient Controls, Unexplained Multiplayer
    Moral Warnings: None

    Your controls are few and direct. The arrow keys move you around. ‘Z’ will plant a defensive mine to your left. ‘X’ will plant one to your right. You dig automatically just by running over the yellow dirt blocks, but you can also walk about without digging by holding ‘Shift’. If your enemies are running too sluggishly for you or you’re waiting for a specific moment, the ‘C’ key will fast forward gameplay for as long as it’s pressed. Now, this type of control scheme is all well and good. It hearkens to simplistic 80’s styled gaming, so there’s not much ‘bad’ to rant about. However, I would have liked ‘Z’ and ‘X’ to be further apart. Those keys were so close together and acted so similarly that I kept messing up my mine placement. It cost me my life a few times, but there is an even bigger crime in the control schemes. There are no button guides for multiplayer play. I’m serious. I searched high and low, in-game and out, but I could not get instructions on how to control player two. So much for monster fighting with my sisters.

    Digging up dirt will grant you points. More upturned soil means a higher score, but digging pits willy-nilly limits your ultimate score in the long run. At a certain phase, you get to paint outlines around the dirt blocks you left behind. Once you outline a section of dirt, it will change color, becoming worth double the points. Keep that in mind, especially when you dig your first tunnels. The second way to gain points is to farm your enemies. However, touching active enemies is an instant ‘Game Over’. Same goes for letting them reach your base (another reason why you don’t dig paths carelessly). However, if you can get them to fall down pits or stun them with your mines, the little weirdos will be knocked out for a bit. It’s a temporary nap, but if you’re quick; they snooze, they lose. Also you don’t have to worry about using up your mines. If your pockets run out your base has an endless supply ready for you to pick up at any point. What this gameplay does is encourage you to concentrate equally on survival and future gain. Sure you can cut off every path the little creepers have by digging haphazardly, but then you lose potential in your final score for the later phases. It gets you to form strategic patterns that’ll trip the little suckers up and provide you with points to reap later on.

    Upon first impression, Cosmic Cavern 3671’s gameplay doesn’t sound all that complicated. It sounds like you only need to trap the monsters then do whatever you want. Easy. However, this game has its ways of assisting or ruining your plans. There are two hidden items in the soil: a heart and a diamond. Both can be activated at any point after they’re found. The diamond doubles your current score, so you wouldn’t want to use that right away. However, the heart is trickier because it re-fills already dug up dirt at random. This could disrupt your booby traps, or it could block off paths that left your base exposed. Either way, the heart is a safeguard at best or a minor inconvenience at worst. The only actual upheaval is whenever the monsters decide to go nuts. Once in a while, the enemies will be rage-stomping furious. Their populace then booms. They’ll run twice as fast and can break through solid soil. It’s intimidating to be sure, but if you play your strategies right it’s possible to survive and rack your score even higher. It just can catch you off guard if you’re not thinking about it.

    Cosmic Cavern 3671
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

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

    For presentation, Cosmic Cavern 3671 obviously won’t measure up to modern standards of realism, but that would be horrendously unfair to judge visuals based solely on that. So how does this reboot stack up? Quite well. Its details aren’t quite as memorable as Donkey Kong’s, but it’s far more colorful. The newer creature designs are oddly cute and distinct. Plus, the painting mechanic adds extra vibrancy, but if that weren’t enough, the people who restored this game rolled out the red carpet. They allow gamers the option to play the game in its original format, both in traditional black and white or in color. That, I must say, was a very nice treat. I imagine anyone who grew up with this game would be very pleased. One complaint I do have, though, involves the sound effects. They were just obnoxiously loud. Even with both my speakers and headphones volumes set to low, I got startled out of my seat on multiple occasions whenever I started the game. I’m not a fan of cheap shot jump-scares, Mindware. I’d appreciate not having those, thank you very much. However, I do once more applaud those digital artists. They rose above the call of duty to give Cosmic Cavern 3671 both a creative makeover and historical respect.

    Only someone who’s really anti-videogame will have a moral qualm with Cosmic Cavern 3671. Enemies you ‘kill’ (if you can even call it that) just ‘boop’ out of existence like cherries in Pac-Man. If you die in the game’s default mode, a ‘Game Over’ screen flashes then asks if you want to play again. The original format’s death animation is a little different. It used computer symbols and numbers to portray a monster’s mouth, but last I checked, the only time any kid was afraid of numbers was on math exams. Beyond that, there are no other extra features to corrupt in Cosmic Cavern 3671. That’s something worth smiling about indeed.

    In this culture of up-to-date attitudes and rampant revamps, this re-release of Cosmic Cavern 3671 is a heartwarming testament of the tried and true. That being said, I know that eighties games aren’t something some audiences stampede for. Goes to show how spoiled we’ve become by these cutting edge visuals, cinematic spectacles, and more data content than we’d ever need. I’ll even admit that Cosmic Cavern 3671 doesn’t personally thrill me, but I’d be an ignorant fool to deny that it was games like these that first shaped the innovative industry we enjoy today. Actually, this “simple” game’s gameplay is anything but. It’s concept is easy to grasp, but to play it well is deceptively tricky - even if the multiplayer feature eluded me completely. Single player fans of the eighties, straightforward challenges, or historical gems will love this unearthed piece. The developers knew Cosmic Cavern 3671 didn’t need to have the latest and greatest bells and whistles to be good. It already was good.

  • Danger Zone (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Danger Zone
    Developed By: Three Fields Entertainment
    Published By: Three Fields Entertainment
    Released: May 30, 2017
    Available On: Steam (Windows 7, Windows 10), PS4 (Playstation Store)
    Genre: Action
    ESRB Rating: E10 for Everyone 10 and up. Mild Violence
    Number of Players: 1 player offline
    Price: $12.99

    “Revvin’ up your engine, listen to her howlin’ roar!” Danger Zone is the latest video game release from Three Fields Entertainment Limited. Three Fields is a British development studio, founded by Alex Ward, Fiona Sperry, and Paul Raul in 2014. The former two founders also previously founded Criterion Games, who developed games like the well-known Burnout series, and the latter founder worked with them during their time at Criterion Games. The studio made two other games, Dangerous Golf and Lethal VR, which are both destruction-based games, released in 2016. The previous two games were stepping stones for creating a spiritual successor to Burnout’s crash mode. Danger Zone is meant to achieve that vision.

    Danger Zone, contrary to the name, is not a Kenny Loggins simulator (as much as I wish it was). It is actually a crash test simulator where the whole goal of the game is to take your crash test vehicle and cause as much destruction and explosions as possible. There is not much else to say about that. There is no back story as to why you are tasked with this job, it just happens. In the beginning your vehicle starts off in an enclosed area, where the objective is to drive into incoming traffic to cause as much damage as possible. You obtain points for every car crashed, destroyed, or driven off the edge. There are tokens on the stage which multiply your score, as well as an ability called the “Smashbreaker.” Typically, you can only build up a Smashbreaker after a specific number of crashes are obtained, in which then you can force your car to make a huge explosion. Once the car explodes, the vehicle becomes reactive, causing anything that touches you to also explode, giving you a score multiplier. Fans of Burnout are very familiar whit this mechanic. When your vehicle is blown up, you can direct your vehicle in the air, causing it to collect the other tokens or crash into even more vehicles. Make sure not to fall off the field, because even if you crash, if you vehicle falls off, your score is invalidated.

    Danger Zone
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Graphics are well-polished. Crashing into things is very fun.
    Weak Points: Tutorial isn’t as in-depth as it should be. Car variety is non-existent. Scene variety stinks.
    Moral Warnings: Don’t crash cars in real life, kids!

    There are 4 medals for each stage that you can obtain: gold, silver, bronze, and a hidden platinum medal. You must obtain at least a bronze medal to pass onto the next level, or you must replay the level. When you first look at the game, one thinks it's all about crashing. It is about crashing, but it has some puzzle-like elements to it as you have to crash with finesse to cause the highest score possible. It has a fast pace because vehicles come and go, and it doesn’t give you an infinite amount of cars to wait upon. If a vehicle goes and you missed it, that is all you get. This can cause a bit of trial and error with your attempts as you do not have much time to pinpoint where the vehicles go or where the pickups are located. This causes the game to actually be fairly difficult and challenging, especially if you go for the platinum medals. It isn’t too hard for a casual player to never be able to beat, but casual players or players not familiar with Burnout’s crash mode will be playing most levels multiple times before moving on to the next one. I do like the small amount of depth they add into the game, such as obtaining crashes without crashing your vehicle itself, or that rear-ending causes crashes without crashing yourself. It would have been nice if they went over something like that in the tutorial.

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

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

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

    The crashes and game itself have an arcade-like feel, which considering what it took inspiration from is a good thing in my opinion. The visuals, while rather nice and crisp, could use more work, specifically on the damage side. All vehicle damage is texture based, so there are no visible dents, it only changes the coloration of the exterior of the vehicle. That means only burn marks, cracked glass, and small scratches are shown unlike other games where the vehicle damage is much more defined. The controls feel a bit slippery at first, but do not take long to get used to. Sadly there is no reverse button or option on the vehicle which can lead to restarting the level. The sound quality is fairly standard and acceptable, but the thing that you’ll notice when you start the game is that there is zero music. They couldn’t have even been bothered with adding a main menu jingle or anything. I think the lack of any form of music hurts the game as it makes it feel empty. Since the whole game takes place in a crash testing facility, the scenery will get old very quickly. Adding to that, the vehicles you crash into are the standard police car, typical sedans, taxis, flatbed and box trucks, and school buses. The only car at your disposal is a standard crash test vehicle. The game really could have used more variety on the player and AI side, such as jeeps, SUVs, light duty trucks, motorcycles and so on. A vehicle enthusiast would not be pleased. The lack of variety harms the game as the samey visuals can be pretty stale. The camera is pretty good, but there should have been a top-down option or the ability to back up the camera so you could see more of the area and what you can knock yourself into.

    In terms of moral warnings, there really is only one, and that is crashing vehicles. But since none of the vehicles contain living beings, it's fairly safe. There are zero uses of language or imagery that people would find objectionable, so that’s a plus in my book. Overall, I’d personally say the game is okay. Crashing vehicles into one another is great, but the game could definitely use more polishing in areas. For a price of $12.99 from a small indie studio, I can’t be too critical. With three test fields, containing in total twenty levels, it’s a nice price range for the amount of content. For standard players, it’ll take you 2-3 hours to simply beat it, but for people who are trying to obtain a max score, it’ll be a longer game for you. In a way, I look at the game as a movie’s worth of entertainment and it gives you exactly that. A simple game with a simple premise makes it easy to get into but for people wanting a bit more meat on their plate, I’d say to skip out on this and possibly wait for a sequel or for someone else to try their luck. For people like me that were thirsty for anything to resemble Burnout, or for people who are borderline obsessed with Burnout’s crash mode, I’d say to give this game a shot. It’ll take you “right into the danger zone.”

     

  • 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

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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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