enfrdeitptrues

Shooting

  • Ace Banana (PSVR)

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    Game Info:

    Ace Banana
    Developed by: Oasis Games
    Published by: Oasis Games
    Release Date: October 13, 2016 
    Available on: PlayStation VR
    Genre: Shooter
    Number of players: Single-player, multiplayer in the works
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Oasis Games for sending us a review code!

    It’s great to see kid friendly games available on the PlayStation VR platform.  The cute monkeys and premise of shooting them with plunger arrows is bound to attract kids and aspiring archers alike.  No matter what attracts you to this title, be warned that your arms will get a workout even though the move controllers are not that heavy.

    When you first fire up the game you’ll read a comic book style story about how the bananas and monkeys used to live in peace, but those days are long gone.  Now the bananas are in danger and it’s up to you to save them.  Not only do you get to pelt monkeys with various projectiles, you get to raise baby bananas too!  By showering young bananas with water, fertilizer, and sunlight, they’ll grow up and offer a unique attack style to fend off swarms of monkeys and bosses.  The monkeys are pretty sneaky and have different offensive and defensive tactics.  Fortunately, you have some tricks up your sleeve as well!

    In the beginning the monkeys are “au natural” and easy to pick off with your bow and plunger style arrows.  It doesn’t take long for the monkeys to get younger, faster, and tougher, requiring more than one shot to take down. The construction worker themed monkeys need to have their helmets knocked off their heads before they can be shot down.  Other monkeys fight back by flinging paint at you that blocks your vision temporarily.  

    Ace Banana
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute concept and aesthetics
    Weak Points: The move controllers constantly need to be re-calibrated; inaccurate aiming makes this game more frustrating than fun
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; one of the male bananas shows off all of his chest muscles

    Some of the monkeys leave behind new ammo which can be collected by shooting at it.  Besides plungers, you get to shoot out badmintons, frogs, fish, garlic, lollipops, fruit wedges and more!  Instead of ammo you may also collect single use attacks like pandas that will roll down every road and knock down monkeys as if they were bowling pins.  

    If you still have bananas left at the end of the wave, you’ll advance to the next one with harder foes.  It doesn’t take long before monkeys will spawn from two different areas and you’ll have to teleport between locations to get to them.  After a few waves, a boss will show up and you’ll have to discover and attack its weakness to progress further.  In total there are sixteen levels to see provided you can survive the poor camera controls.

    Ace Banana isn’t the first PSVR game I have played that has movement tracking issues, so it could be a platform issue.  However, since this game relies on accuracy to succeed, frustration quickly sets in when you cannot hit nearby monkeys due to calibration problems.  Recalibrating is easy to do and only takes a couples of seconds by holding the start button on the side of the move controller.  Having to recalibrate every three minutes is unacceptable and those valuable seconds will quickly end your game when your bananas are surrounded by monkeys or are being sucked up by a giant mechanical boss.  Even my children were getting flustered while playing and they generally have more patience than I do.

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

    Game Score - 58%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 0/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Besides calibration issues, the game interface is a bit confusing.  There’s a book that you can open to see how many types of monkeys and weapons you’ve come across in your adventures.  Opening the book was easy enough, but closing the book was not possible.  We tried pressing the suggested buttons on the regular controller to no avail and had to exit the game entirely to get out of the book screen.  Thankfully none of our progress was lost in the process.

    Hopefully these issues will be addressed before they roll out the multiplayer update.   No release date has been scheduled as of this review.   If nothing improves then up to four players will be able to get frustrated simultaneously!   

    The asking price is $14.99, but given the current tracking issues I’d hold off on buying this game until it gets fixed.  I really hope it does get rectified soon since this is a short but cute game that has potential.

     

  • Clay Hunt Pro (Android)

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    Game Info:

    Clay Hunt Pro
    Developed by: Aleksi Rantonen
    Release date: June 21, 2017
    Available on: Android, iOS
    Genre: Simulation, Shooter
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you Aleksi Rantonen for sending us this game to review!

    While I have never gone clay hunting, I have gone to shooting ranges and have fired .22, .38, and .357 caliber guns. I imagine that a shotgun has some significant kickback and expensive ammo which are issues that you won’t have to worry about in Clay Hunt Pro. After playing this title, I’m convinced that I would waste a lot of ammo and money missing flying targets as my hand-eye coordination is not getting any better with age.

    When you first launch the game you have the option of doing a live event via Facebook or going to the virtual shooting range. With my poor scores, I certainly wasn’t going to make a fool of myself by doing a live event. Despite the simplified controls and lack of recoil, the physics seem pretty good for this 3D shooting simulation game. While there are arcade game modes, this title is nothing like the classic Duck Hunt game from the NES era. If you’re looking for a silly shooter, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

    Clay Hunt Pro
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: All of the thrills of missing pigeons while not having to pay for ammo
    Weak Points: Targets are too small and hard to hit; minimal sound and visuals
    Moral Warnings: You can shoot virtual pigeons/birds

    Going through the tutorial is logical and mandatory. In the tutorial you’ll learn the basic controls which are pretty simple. Tapping on the screen raises the shotgun and preps it for shooting. You can move it around and position it by dragging the screen. When you’re ready to fire you have to tap the screen. The aiming and accuracy is on you and after you fire you’ll get a point for hitting the target and be shown the trajectory of your shot versus the target’s path. The results are handy in telling how close or off you were from the target.

    If you don’t like the point of view or point of impact settings, you can change them in the game’s settings menu. To get you acquainted with the controls your first task will be to shoot down targets that pop up from the ground. Your next targets will be moving horizontally and are easy to hit since they’re bigger than the clay and bird pigeons you can fire at later.

    Clay Hunt Pro
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    After the tutorial is completed you’ll have access to the Arcade Hall which lets you shoot popup targets and non-clay pigeons. The popup targets are the easiest thing to hit in the game and in the arcade mode your goal is to hit as many of them as you can before the timer bar depletes. Whenever you miss, the timer bar shrinks faster. In the pigeon hunt mode you have two and a half minutes to shoot down as many pigeons as possible. While there are a decent amount of pigeons to shoot at, hitting them takes a lot of luck and/or skill. This game keeps track of your highest scores and my best for the pigeon hunt is three.

    The main game has eight Trap levels and six Skeet levels. You cannot advance to the higher level without completing the previous one. In the trap mode you only have one shot to hit the clay pigeon. In the skeet mode you at least know the direction they’re coming from and you have two tries. While both modes are challenging, I did much better in the skeet mode, but not enough to warrant getting even one out of three stars available. As a result I wasn’t able to unlock the rest of the levels.

    Even though I wasn’t good at this game, it’s still fun and challenging. I’m curious of what people who have gone clay hunting will think of this title. The regular version of the game sells for $1.25 and has positive reviews. Any aspiring clay hunters should check their reflexes with these games.

  • Demon’s Crystals (Xbox One)

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    Game Info:

    Demon’s Crystals 
    Developed by: Byte4Games, StarCruiser Studio
    Published by: Badland Games
    Available on: Linux, macOS, PS4, Windows, Xbox One
    Release date: May 11, 2017
    Genre: Twin Stick Shooter
    Number of players: Up to four locally
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood and Violence
    Price: $4.99

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

    Demon’s Crystals is a 3D twin stick shooter that arrived on PC in 2016. Nearly a year later, console players can now enjoy this $5 game. While a story isn't really needed, I’ll share it with you now. Urican demons have been on the top of the food chain until strange beings arrived that changed the peaceful inhabitants into hostile ones. It’s now up to the Urican demons to bring things back to the way they once were.

    The arcade mode can be played solo or cooperatively with friends. In this mode you have to clear several levels before facing off against a boss. In order to complete a level you’ll have to satisfy the requirements of collecting a specified number of crystals or eliminating a certain amount of enemies. Oftentimes you’ll have to do a little bit of both. I like how the progress is saved and that the players can resurrect each other as often as needed. If you die alone or with a friend, you’ll have to restart the current level. You can continue as often as you like, which is nice. If this was genuine arcade game, I would have lost a lot of quarters!

    Like all twin stick shooters, one of the joysticks is used for movement while the other guides a constant stream of bullets. The default firing mode isn’t that powerful, but thankfully there are many fun power-ups that spawn in random locations. Some of the power-ups change the formation of your bullets or create multidirectional streams. One of my favorite power-ups are the huge rockets that are good by themselves and even better when you can shoot three at a time! The invincibility mushrooms are nice too. Health and additional time bonuses are always welcome as they are often in short supply. You have to be careful at what you grab since there are debuffs as well that subtract time or confuse your controls.

    Demon’s Crystals
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun twin stick shooter that’s great to play alone or with friends; low price
    Weak Points: A tad repetitive, but fun in short spurts; no online play
    Moral Warnings: Shooting at zombies, skeletons, and other various monsters; rune/magic use; revealing outfits

    The survival mode is the only one that does not allow for more than one player. As the title suggests, your goal in this mode is to survive as long as possible while trying to earn a high score. Sadly, there is no option for online play so you’ll need to recruit some family or friends to play with or against.

    If you’re the competitive type, there are six multiplayer modes to choose from. Here’s a quick breakdown of them:

    Crystal Quest – Collect as many crystals as possible before the time runs out.
    Deathmatch - The last player standing wins.
    Kill the Enemies - Shoot as many enemies as possible, but don’t kill the gnomes as they’ll reset your score!
    Seize the Large Crystal - Break through the barrier and capture the crystal before your opponent.
    Survival – See if you can withstand more waves of enemies than the others can.
    Versus – Eliminate the opposing team.

    Demon’s Crystals
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 77%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As you can tell, this $5 game has a lot to offer. The game variety is decent, but this title is still best in short spurts since it may get a bit repetitive after a while. My son and I had a lot of fun playing this game together.

    If you don’t mind the Halloween themed monsters and rune magic, this game is pretty family friendly. The violence is mild and the visuals remind me of the Skylanders games. They’re a little bit dated, but they’re colorful and get the job done. The sound effects are decent too.

    If you’re a fan of twin stick shooters, Demon’s Crystals will be a great addition to your PC or console library. The asking price is very reasonable and it’s bound to entertain you and your family/friends for a little while.

  • Full Mojo Rampage (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Full Mojo Rampage
    Developed by: Over The Top Games
    Published by: Over The Top Games
    Release date: June 27, 2016
    Available on: PS4, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Twin stick shooter
    Number of players: Up to four online
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Alcohol and Tobacco References, Mild Language
    Price: $12.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Over The Top Games for sending us this game to review!

    There’s not much of a story in Full Mojo Rampage other than it starting off with your character getting chased in a cemetery and stumbling upon a Voodoo doll (with pins in it) that gives him the power to fight back. Your goal is to complete various objectives while fending away swarms of undead monsters that aim to stop you. Between them and the bosses, you will die, but your experience and medals collected do carry over to your next playthrough. Like other Rogue-like games, each playthough will be different as the maps are generated randomly.

    Medals are used to unlock different masks and Loas (Voodoo spirits) with varying powers and abilities. Just like other twin-stick shooter games, one of the joysticks moves around your character while the other fires projectiles from your equipped wand. Depending on which Loa you are using, you’ll have different attacks or abilities mapped to your left and right triggers. These abilities need to recharge until they are able to be used again.

    Full Mojo Rampage
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun Rogue-like twin stick shooter game
    Weak Points: No local co-op and online multiplayer is dead
    Moral Warnings: Heavy Voodoo implementation; undead monsters; magic and Voodoo doll use; language (bad*ss); alcohol and smoking references 

    Besides enemies, you’ll find treasure chests, piles of bones, and tombstones that have loot inside if you stop to examine them. Many levels have shrines that let you combine items, which is really handy since you only have a handful of inventory slots. Vendors can also be found and they can sell healing potions and powerful wands. Unfortunately, the wands lose their charge so you’ll have to conserve their power or save them for bosses and rely on your infinite default wand as your primary. Some of the wands are pretty cool with multi-shot beams or grenades.

    Passive power-ups are nice to find and equip. Be sure to examine each one and combine them when given an opportunity to do so. Some of the power-ups can increase your speed, attack rate, or even the amount of damage you do. Sadly, the power-ups do not respawn with you if you die. Upon your death, you will be taken back to the beginning of the dungeon where you have to start all over again. If you have leveled up, you can choose which attribute (health, damage, speed, attack rate) to increase at the main menu.

    Pins can be collected as items in the game and you have to use them in order to unlock them for future playthroughs.  The pins can boost your stats, gold collection rate, or even give you starting healing potions.  Some of the pins can be upgraded so be sure to max them out if possible.  

    Full Mojo Rampage
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Playing solo is fun and I enjoyed my numerous playthroughs. Once I got the hang of the game and controls I tried to find an online game to join. Sadly, there were not any available. It’s a shame since all of the popular game modes are there: co-op, death match, team death match, and capture the flag. Local co-op play would be a nice alternative, but that’s not available. If you’re looking for a multiplayer experience, you may want to look elsewhere.

    Christians should also be wary of this title due to the numerous Voodoo references. Between the Voodoo dolls, pins for them, Loas, and shaman masks, this game is full of Voodoo symbolism. Aside from that, there are many undead monsters, magic, drinking/smoking references as well as language. Full Mojo Rampage definitely earns its Teen rating from the ESRB.

    Aside from the moral issues and lack of multiplayer options, Full Mojo Rampage is a well polished and fun game. As long as you don’t expect any multiplayer action it’s worth checking out or picking up on sale.

  • John Wick Chronicles (HTC Vive)

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    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

    John Wick Chronicles
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Lethal VR (HTC Vive)

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    Game Info:

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

    Thank you Team17 for sending us this game to review!

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

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

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

    Lethal VR
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Mustache in Hell (PC)

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    Game Info:

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

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

    Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review key!

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

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

    Mustache in Hell
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    -Cadogan

  • Pixel Gear (PSVR)

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

    Pixel Gear
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Redeemer (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

    Thank you Sobaka Studios for the review code.

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

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

    Redeemer
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • ROM: Extraction (HTC Vive)

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

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

    ROM: Extraction
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • Shoot Mania VR Fun Zombies (Oculus Rift)

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    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Subterrain (PC)

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    Game Info:

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

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

    Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review key!

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

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

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

    Subterrain
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    -Cadogan

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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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