This is a game I honestly never thought I'd play. It's not that I never wanted to; I never thought I'd be able to. Apparently there isn't a whole lot of demand for old Java mobile phone games' being made playable on modern Androids and iPhones. Fortunately, after some Googling and Reddit scouring, I managed to find an Android-based Java emulator that mostly works along with a file of the game. It wasn't perfect - the controls weren't always the most responsive, and the right part of the screen got cut off - but it worked well enough for me to play through the game and experience it.
I went into this game with very low expectations. I usually scoff at mobile phone games in 2021 despite the fact that many are objectively excellent, so I was positive that I'd be disappointed if not downright disgusted with a mobile phone God of War game from 2007. I have to admit, though, I was wrong. It's obviously no masterpiece, but considering the limitations of the time and the platform, it's an extremely competent and impressive game, and it does a much better job of capturing the tone and gameplay feel of God of War than I had ever hoped.
Visually, I'd say it looks somewhere between an impressive Game Boy Color game and a so-so Game Boy Advance game, but what really impressed me was how the game felt to play. Despite being played on a solidly okay emulator with a touch screen, the game controlled really well. It didn't always register my button presses as well as I'd have wished, but even with that, it was remarkable how enjoyable I found the experience to be. The sound in the game, while obviously limited, was pretty good too. It won't be winning any awards for audio design, but it's not nearly the auditory train wreck I'd been expecting.
The game takes place between the events of God of War: Ghost of Sparta and God of War II. Kratos is waging a war for the sake of war, fighting this weird eye monster, Argos, whom Hera sent to stop Kratos. Then this assassin dude shows up and tries to kill Kratos. It doesn't work, and Kratos goes on this revenge-fueled rampage through Greece. It's simple, but it gets the job done. The game is pretty short - as one would expect from a mid-2000s mobile game - with ten levels each taking between ten and fifteen minutes to finish. It may be lacking in quantity, but the quality is there all things considered.
God of War: Betrayal is by no means a must-play even for hardcore fans of the series, but it is definitely a neat novelty, and if you do decide to go through the effort to getting it running on your phone or tablet, it's a fun little romp. I doubt anyone other than fans of God of War or obscure old game connoisseurs would get much enjoyment out of this, but it's definitely a cool game to experience if you feel so inclined. I definitely don't regret going through the effort of figuring out how to play it.
My Rating - 3 Neps
This is the thing I hate about reboots - the naming schemes. I love franchise reboots for breathing new life into a series or changing direction after it starts to get stale, but for Christ's sake, don't repeat names. There's already a game called Doom. There's already a game called Star Wars: Battlefront. And there's already a game called God of War. When Sony announced this new God of War that would focus on Norse mythology rather than Greek, I thought it was cool to see them branch into a new type of mythology even though I'd yet to play any of the games, but that damn name...However, asinine naming scheme aside, I was hesitant about the game's new direction; it plays VERY differently than the previous six games (seven if you include Betrayal, but all of like eight people played that, so whatever). I have to admit, though, that I was very quickly won over. I see why even my Xbox fanboy friends were singing this game's praises.
This 2018 game takes place an undetermined amount of time after the events of God of War III. Kratos, having slain the bulk of the Greek pantheon and seeing the devastation his vengeance brought, travels far to the cold north of Scandinavia and seeks to live as a man. There he meets a woman named Faye whom he marries and with whom he has a son named Atreus (although Kratos will have you thinking that his son's name is simply "Boy"). Though Faye knows that he is, in fact, a god, he keeps this from Atreus, not wanting to burden the boy with the "curse" of being a god. The game starts as Kratos and Atreus are laying Faye to rest. The game never reveals how she died, but her last wish to have her ashes scattered from the highest peak in all the realms. After burning her body, Kratos and Atreus head out on this journey. Cue father/son bonding trip.
The first six games were fixed camera hack and slash gore-fests with twin blades chained to your arms. This one, on the other hand, is a pseudo-open world adventure game with a big axe that you can throw and call back to you. There's still plenty of action to be had, but if you swapped out Kratos, I wouldn't have guessed it's a God of War game at first. Once the story starts to pick up and the lore with the Norse gods comes into play, it starts to feel more like God of War with its general antitheist tone, but it's a VERY different experience. Honestly, I think I liked God of War III more, but this one is definitely a close #2.
One of the biggest differences with the experience here aside from the obvious genre shift is the massive amount of side quests to do. You've got full blown side quests to do, you've got treasure maps to hunt down, you've got optional areas to explore, you've got collectibles to find, you've got optional bosses to slay; it's a massive game on top of an already pretty big game at least compared to its predecessors. The first six games in the series averaged around 8 hours each, I'd guess whereas this one would probably take between 15 and 20 just for the main story. It can be a bit overwhelming at first if you've butt chugged the entire series beforehand like I did, but it's definitely welcome as you'll not be left thirsting for more.
Visually, the game looks amazing. It's definitely one of the best looking games on the PS4 and really showcases the system's capabilities. You get two performance modes, a resolution mode that will run the game in 4K and target 30 fps and a performance mode that will run the game at 1080p and target 60 fps. I played on PS5, and while there's no visual boost from PS5, it does improve the performance mode's frame rate from around 45 fps to a solid 60 fps, so that's how I played. I tried resolution mode, but it suffers from the same atrocious and weird choppiness that Spider-Man's fidelity mode did. Even at 1080p rather than 4K, though, the game looks amazing on my 65" 4K TV.
The sound design was one area where I was really unsure specifically with the voice acting. They changed the voice actor for Kratos for this game, and I tend to get pretty attached to a specific voice for a character. Fortunately, however, the voice actor they chose was Christopher Judge; once I heard the strong and confident voice of Teal'c (I was a big Stargate SG-1 fan back in the day), I knew I wouldn't mind. Sure enough, while the voice was noticeably different, it fits very well for a Kratos who is much older, wiser, and haunted by his past. Atreus's voice acting was top notch, too, which was another concern of mine; getting solid voice acting for children characters isn't always easy. Fortunately, it's been confirmed that Sunny Suljic will be reprising his role as Atreus in the untitled God of War game supposedly releasing later this year. The only real problem I had with the sound design is that the soundtrack choices didn't always feel quite fitting. The whole soundtrack was good, but some of the songs felt a bit out of place for an ancient Norse world. I'm sure there are many who would disagree with me, but there were a few instances when I found myself thinking, "Huh...That's an interesting song choice."
Honestly, this is everything I wanted God of War to be from the beginning of the series. A deep story with top tier voice acting and brilliant cinematic design and direction, a beautiful world to explore, and rich characters to discover. I may have had a bit more fun with God of War III's balance of world building and gratuitous gore, but it can't be denied that the storytelling and world building in this entry surpasses the rest of the series combined. It's beautiful, it's compelling, and I finally understand why the reveal of the sequel last fall made such a splash online. I wasn't quite as smitten with the game as some of my friends, but it's definitely on the short list of "Absolute Must Play PS4 Games" for me. I can't wait to see where the series goes from here and how Atreus explores his newfound godhood in the upcoming game.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm gonna be upfront here; God of War: Ascension is the point where the series gets stale. After playing this, I understand why they changed the formula so much for God of War 2018. That's not to say that Ascension is bad by any means because it's not. It just feels very rote. I don't know what the actual budgets for each game were, but Ascension feels like a much lower budget game than 3 or even 2 when you take into account the different generations. It's not bad, but it does feel like they're following a blueprint rather than making art. God of War III was Sunkist, and Ascension is Omazing Orange. God of War III was the Wii, and Ascension is Kinect. God of War III is Sonic the Hedgehog, and Ascension is Awesome Possum. Okay, that last one might have been a bit harsh, but you get my point.
Despite being the second most recently released game, this feels like it should be the third game in the series, not the sixth. The combat is super repetitive in every game, but it *feels* more repetitive here than it has since the first game. Part of the issue, I think, is the weapons. Normally, you get at least a couple of different sub-weapons you can switch two, but here, they're "magic" enhancements. So you can fiery chain blades, or ice chain blades, or electric chain blades, but everything you unlock is a chain blade. You can pick up dropped weapons from enemies like a sword, or a shield, or a sledgehammer, etc., but those are items you pick up, and you can only hold one at a time. They can't be upgraded, they don't get special combos or magic attacks, they're temporary, and their use is frankly kind of limited.
The puzzles were fine. The level design was fine. The story was fine. But that's the problem; it was all fine. Nothing stood out as a major improvement. It was the first game in the storyline chronologically, so there weren't any huge plot twists or character revelations. The interactions between Kratos and Orkos were nice, and I legitimately enjoyed Orkos as a character - his role in the end scene was actually one of the best scenes in the Greek saga - but other than that, everything about it was painfully average. Ascension just didn't really stand out. Pretty much everyone told me going into this game not to expect anything amazing and I see why. The relics you find and their abilities were kind of cool, but as far as gameplay goes, that's about all that stood out, and even there, only two of the three were all that cool. One let you manipulate time to repair or decay parts of the environment, and one let you create a shadow clone. Those two played a huge role in puzzles, and that was a fun added element. The third one just dispelled magic barriers, and it honestly wasn't used a whole lot.
God of War: Ascension is fine. It really is. It's just not great. It's like Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash or Kirby: Planet Robobot; it's painfully okay. It's extraordinarily ordinary. It's stands out only in how little it stands out. It tells you how Kratos began his journey to defeat Ares, but other than that, it doesn't really add anything meaningful to the lore or the story. I can see why a few of my friends forgot this one existed when I mentioned playing the series; it really doesn't do anything memorable. You'll play it, you'll be entertained enough to justify the ten hours you'll probably spend on it, and then you'll put it on a shelf to collect dust and never give it a second thought. That's a shame, too, because even the two PS2 games in the series that failed to really impress me in a major way were at least memorable. This one just fails to make a meaningful impact in any way.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3
God of War III is the peak of the series so far. Obviously playing the PS4 remaster makes the game prettier and smoother than its original PS3 iteration. Even with that, though, this game is pretty. More than that, though, it's smooth as silk. I don't know if it's the fact that it's on PS4 or just the progression of the series's mechanics, but everything about this game just felt better and more polished than any entry before it.
God of War III takes place right after God of War II. Kratos's war with the Olympian gods is in full swing with the Titans fighting alongside him as an ally. Then, out of nowhere, it turns out that the Titans were just using him to get their shot at a rematch with the Olympians. What, Greek gods were using Kratos as a pawn for their own purposes? Who could have EVER seen that coming? So Kratos basically says, "Screw it, every god dies." And he then proceeds to kill almost every god in the Greek pantheon. I gotta say, though, the story feels way more central to the experience this time. Part of that is definitely the better character animations although some of the faces definitely fall into the uncanny valley, but there seemed to be more emphasis on intercharacter dialogue and exposition than in previous games, and that's something I absolutely appreciated.
The game's visuals are fantastic. Like the HD remasters of the original games, you can tell from some of the character models that the base game wasn't designed for PS4, but the remaster work done here is impressive especially with lighting effects, frame rate, and overall clarity. Frame rate is SUPER important to me, and that's the main reason I played on PS4 rather than PS3, but I have to admit that I was impressed by just how much improvement there was to the game's visuals considering that this remaster was done relatively early in the PS4's life. It's definitely not going to be mistaken for a remake, but it's a nice polish, for sure. The sound design is also the best of the series so far. The soundtrack, while a little out of place feeling at times with the specific music choices, was really good, and the audio balance between background music, sound effects, and dialogue was finally adjustable.
The level design took it to the next level, too, but what especially stuck out to me about that was the puzzle design. There were a couple of puzzles that frustrated me as I'm exceptionally oblivious with puzzles, but a few of those puzzles were ridiculously fun to work out and solve, far more so than any puzzle in any of the previous games. This game came the closest to giving me (admittedly only very slight) Zelda vibes with its puzzle designs. The side weapon selection was my only major source of disappointment; three of your four weapon choices control extremely similarly, so it ends up feeling like you've only got two real choices. That's a relatively minor gripe, though, all things considered.
God of War III definitely took the series to a new peak, and while I played on PS4, even on PS3, this is a game well worth playing. I was a little more reserved in my praise for the previous games, and while Ghost of Sparta certainly impressed me, God of War III was an outright treat to play. It's certainly not a masterpiece, and there was room for improvement in many aspects of the game, but it's a rock solid game nonetheless and a key piece of any PS3 collection.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation Portable
Just as the second PS2 game did after the first, this second PSP God of War game took what made the first one on PSP good and improved that. God of War: Ghost of Sparta takes place between God of War and God of War II, after Kratos has killed Ares but before he took on Zeus. As with Chains of Olympus, it shows its roots as a PSP game in a few ways, but the PS3 HD remaster makes it look and feel like any other console release.
The core of the story is that Kratos is looking for his brother Deimos, whom Ares had kidnapped when they were children and whom he'd been led to believe was dead all these years. His journey takes him to the city of Atlantis and then into the depths of the realm of the dead ruled by Thanatos, a place neither god nor mortal dare to venture. In terms of mood building and setting up a solid sense of gravitas, Ghost of Sparta honestly does a better job than Chains of Olympus or either of the PS2 games in my opinion.
Ghost of Sparta is still shorter than its console brethren, but it's a couple hours longer than Chains of Olympus. Not only is the length an improvement over Chains of Olympus, but I found that the time I spent with the game was just overall more enjoyable. The storytelling felt smoother and more cohesive this time, and the level design was superb. We've seen Hades's underworld realm before, but Thanatos's realm of the dead unique. Darker. More hopeless. More cruel. With the mythological distinction between the god of the underworld and the god of death easy to conflate, it was great to see their realms look and feel distinct and truly separate. It was also great to get a glimpse at how things changed since Ares was slain and Kratos became the new god of war in the couple of levels that took place in Sparta.
If you'd waited until after I finished Ghost of Sparta to tell me this was originally a PSP game, I might not have believed you. The remaster on PS3 really does look phenomenal. Part of that is because the game looks really good for the platform on the PSP, so they had good base material to work with, but even with that, Kratos's character model and even most of the enemy models truly do look good. The only place you can really notice the low resolution roots of the game is with a few stretched out textures on floors, walls, and huge enemies like bosses, but even then, it's only a handful of instances where the textures look a bit off. One of my big complaints with the HD remaster of the first game was that the cutscenes looked like garbage. Either they put in the work to spruce up the cutscenes or they were just higher quality to start with, but they don't look bad at all in Ghost of Sparta. They certainly don't look as good as a cutscene in a game made specifically for the PS3, but they're certainly not the muddied mess that we got with the first game's HD remaster.
When I praised God of War: Chains of Olympus, a lot of that was because I was truly impressed at how true to the console originals the first handheld God of War game was. Ghost of Sparta definitely has that, but it's just a genuinely great game on its own. I honestly think it's the best of the four games I've played so far (the two PS2 titles and the two PSP titles). The environments, the mood of the game, the way the story is told, the interactions between Kratos and the gods; everything felt like the previous games but more refined and more polished. I enjoyed the other three, but Ghost of Sparta is definitely my favorite thus far.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation Portable
When I started this game, I expected a dramatically scaled down God of War experience. No matter how much remastering and upscaling they may have done, it's still a PSP game at the end of the day. What I did not expect was a full fledged even if relatively short God of War experience with all of the quality and gameplay features of the PS2 titles.
The first thing that struck me was just how good the game looked. Obviously being remastered in high definition will look better than the original in low definition. 270p to 1080p is a pretty huge jump. But with a jump that big, I figured it would look worse than the remasters of the PS2 games did considering that was just 480p to 1080p. For sure, some of the wall and ground textures looked a little bit rougher, but the character models and the environments as a whole looked just as good as the remastered PS2 games did. I gotta hand it to them, Read at Dawn did a superb job on these games. Even on the original PSP version, the game looks just fantastic considering the low resolution screen.
It's more than just the visuals though. Truthfully this felt like a true sequel for the series rather than just a handheld side story. It was great to see some of Kratos's story before he killed Ares and became the new god of war. Speaking of story elements and their delivery, this entry (FINALLY) added an option for subtitles during the cut scenes, eliminating my complaints about the wonky sound balancing. The game may have been shorter, but I felt like the storytelling was a bit more focused than the first game and about on part with the second game. The controls also didn't suffer in the slightest although part of that is likely utilizing the DualShock 3 for the PS3 HD conversion. Maybe it's just that I finally got in the swing of the series, but I found myself having more fun with Chains of Olympus than I did with the first two games.
God of War: Chains of Olympus is, in every way, just God of War to go. I mean, I played the not-to-go version, but you get my point. It may look nice on PS3, but the core experience that the original PSP release delivered is in no way inferior to the PS2 originals outside of visual resolution. The combat feels identical, the storytelling is just as acceptable but somewhat lacking, and the atmosphere and environments are as foreboding as ever. Rarely have I seen a series transition from console to handheld this flawlessly. If this were conceived as a third PS2 game, I'd say it was okay, a competent follow-up, but a bit too samey a third entry, but considering that it was conceived as a handheld game, you really have to give it some props here.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Vita
After my fairly lukewarm reception to the first God of War game, I was unsure how I'd feel about this one considering that it was from the same console generation and therefore likely to be very similar although I remained hopefully that it would improve on some of my complaints from the first game. While it's true that it is indeed extremely similar to the first game, there are some key changes that make this not only a very competent sequel but a much more enjoyable experience overall compared to the first game.
Some of my complaints about God of War still carried over into God of War II. Chief among those is the fixed camera. The platforming sections in this game didn't suffer from it quite as much as they did in the previous game in my opinion, but it was still a definite annoyance for me. There's one boss fight in particular in the Temple of the Fates that was made needlessly frustrating due to the lack of camera controls because of how hard it was to see if I'm close enough to and angled sufficiently towards the boss to grab her during the Circle prompt. Another element that gave me a ton of frustration during the final boss and one I think was present in the first game but didn't annoy me enough to stand out in my mind is the quick time event prompt locations. If it's a single button press QTE, the prompt is big in the middle of the screen; if it's a QTE where you have to hammer a button repeatedly, it's much smaller and in the bottom left of the screen. The final boss combines these in a single QTE chain which I found to be needlessly infuriating.
With all that said, though, I enjoyed God of War II much more than the first game. The storytelling still wasn't great, but it felt a lot more intentional and satisfying than the first game. That's pretty much how this game went; it had the same flaws as the first game, but they're better. It still used annoying timer-based puzzles, but they weren't as annoying, and the inclusion of a time-slowing mechanic gave them an added layer of depth that I appreciated. The level designs definitely had the most time and attention put into them here as they are far superior to what the first game offered. The game was a big more robust in terms of length, too. It still wasn't too long, clearly, since I managed to beat it start to finish in a day, but it definitely had a bit more meat to it than the first game even if only a little.
Like the first God of War, I played the PS3 HD remaster of this, and it was about the same as the first in terms of that HD treatment. The game itself looked fantastic although it was a little more noticeable here that some of the boss and world textures had less energy put into them than others. The cut scenes still look jarringly bad compared to the gameplay, but it didn't seem to be as stark a difference here as it was the first game. I'd say that the cut scenes here looked like a train wreck rather than a mid-air jetliner collision. Unfortunately, the sound design suffers from the same balance problems as the first game. Numerous cut scenes had music and background sounds at the same volume if not seemingly a bit louder than the dialogue, and for a game that doesn't allow for subtitles, that's just not acceptable. Fortunately, however, the number of scenes in which this is a major problem seemed fewer than the first game. It's always a problem, but it's more often a minor problem this time around.
All things considered, I still don't think God of War II is an amazing game, but it's definitely a good game, and I'd call it a must-play for PlayStation 2 owners. A friend of mine described the gameplay in the first few God of War games as "a western crack at devil may cry that doesn't really reach [its] heights," and I've got to agree. Solid hack and slash gameplay that falls short in the narrative and technical execution departments. To be compared to the original DMC games, though, puts you in good company. This is a true sequel even if not a revolutionary one; it doesn't change anything major from the first game, but it polishes everything that the first game did right and somewhat mitigates most of what the first game did wrong. It certainly didn't blow me away, but it was a good time.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Vita
Disclaimer first - I used the PS2 box art because it's part of HD collections on PS3, and I couldn't find a good PS3 box art that was just God of War. Anyway, God of War is a series that had been on my "hey, you need to play this" list since I first got my PS2 back in 2009 (late to the game, I know; I was a Nintendo fanboy). For whatever reason, though, I just kept putting it off. With the new God of War (I've seen the subtitle Ragnarök used a lot online, but as far as I can tell, Sony has yet to confirm a title officially) coming out this year, though, I figured it was a good time to marathon the whole series. That meant I could either dust off the PS3 or excavate the PS2 from its cocoon of dust. Given that the PS3 remasters have trophy support, and I'm a slut for meaningless dopamine rushes, I dusted off the PS3.
The premise of God of War is that you play as Kratos, a Spartan military commander who, facing defeat at the hands of barbarians from some unnamed land to the east of Greece, trades his soul to Ares in exchange for victory. Kratos snatches victory from the jaws of defeat and goes on to conquer for Sparta up until Ares tricks him in an attempt to remove the last of his weaknesses and make him the ultimate warrior. This earns Ares the undying rage of Kratos who then teams up with Athena to slay Ares as he lays siege to the city of Athens. I had always heard how cool the story in God of War is, and I have to admit that I was pretty underwhelmed by the first game. Friends assure me that the story becomes more of a focus in the later games, but outside of cutscenes which weren't particularly frequent, there didn't seem to be a big focus on the narrative, at least not compared to what I'd been expecting. I don't know if I'd say it was disappointing, per se, but I had definitely expected there to be more story focus.
At its core, this is a hack and slash game the type of which we saw a lot on the PS2 from Capcom with Onimusha and Devil May Cry. With the remaster's bump from 480i to 1080p on PS3, the game looks fantastic. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to have been any work done to the cutscenes which look absolutely dreadful. If the story underwhelmed me, the cutscenes outright shocked me. You go from this truly pretty game in 1080p to these god awful disgusting looking cutscenes that are clearly still being rendered at 480i. I don't know a lot about the inner workings of these HD remasters, but I've read that the cutscenes are basically stores as movie files, not something the game renders in real time, so to remaster those, they'd basically have to be remade, leading most studios doing these HD remasters to just...not. Good god, though, it looks terrible. The transition from gorgeous gameplay to grotesque cutscene is so jarring that it almost gives you a headache. The juxtaposition really does a number on the otherwise great presentation here, and it's a really a shame that they look so ugly considering that's where almost all of the storytelling takes place.
As for the sound design, it's solid. It's not amazing, but it's solid. The voice acting is alright and certainly better than the average for the time period, and the background music is very well done with a tone definitely reminiscent of Greece but not obtrusive and distracting from gameplay. Where the sound design suffers is balance. There's not option to enable subtitles, and the balance between music, sound effects, and dialogue isn't very well done, leading to a number of instances where the music and background sound effects kind of drown out some of the dialogue. At the very least, it requires a lot of focus to make out parts of the dialogue from the rest of the cacophony. Thankfully, most cut scenes are fine in this regard, but there's definitely some left to be desired in the sound balance on a few of those scenes.
All things considered, God of War is a good game, but it's not an amazing game. The gameplay and level design have not, in my opinion, aged particularly well. Imprecise platforming, no camera control whatsoever, and a bizarre reliance on timer-based obstacles throughout the game come together to create a game that can be as frustrating as it is fun. I absolutely still recommend giving it a playthrough especially for PlayStation fans as it's a core game in the brand's pedigree, but by 2005, I just can't understand why the developers opted to omit any way to shift the camera. Even Super Mario 64 which came out nine years and a console generation earlier had camera control options. For most of the game, it's not a big deal, but for the platforming sections, it quickly becomes a pretty big annoyance. I can definitely see why it was such a popular game back in the day, and it's definitely earned its spot of veneration in the Sony wheelhouse, but it's got a lot more flaws than I'd realized.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows
This right here, folks, is my game of the year. I don't mean that I think it's the best game I've played all year; it's certainly not. What I mean is that this is my favorite game release of 2020. What you all don't know is that I am OBSESSED with sharks. I have a shark onesie and a shark hat. I have two pairs of shark socks as well as a shark sticker on my car. I have two shark plushies including one designed by the amazing Tuesday Pope (check out her website and give her money). I have a Shark Week Bluray (a week which is far holier to me than the actual Holy Week), a plaster cast of a shark jaw in one of my bathrooms, and I even have an embalmed shark in a little jar that my ex gave me, and considering that she broke my heart not once but twice, the fact that I still have that tells you how much I love sharks. When I saw that there was a legit action RPG that lets you play as a shark, holy crap, count me in.
The premise of the game is that you play as a bull shark pup that was cut from its mother's stomach by a Cajun shark hunter named Scaly Pete. There's a shark fact for you - most sharks give live birth rather than laying eggs as is the norm for other fish. Anyway, the shark pup bites off Scaly Pete's hand but not before he manages to gives it some recognizable scars. From there, the game's story consists of growing your shark in preparation for your inevitable showdown with Scaly Pete. There are a number of other aquatic wildlife for you to consume from the tame and passive grouper and turtles to the aggressive alligator and mako shark. It also include a TON of awesome references and allusions. Also Jerry from Rick and Morty is the narrarator.
As you eat other creatures, you'll gather four resources - fat, protein, minerals, and mutagen. Each of these resources are used to upgrade certain traits you'll gain as you play through the game. You can customize your shark's jaws, head, body, fins, and tail as well as giving it up to three additional traits which the game calls "organ" evolution. Each component can be upgraded five times, and maxing out everything will take a LOT of resources. Fortunately, there's added incentive; not only do you need these resources to upgrade your shark, but that's also how you level up. The more resources you gather from a kill, the more experience you get. The level cap is 30, and that will take you from Pup to Teen to Adult to Elder to Mega, each stage up making your shark bigger and bulkier in a fight. Granted, being a shark fanatic, I played the HELL out of this game and was at max level at about the halfway point in the game. I was also doing literally EVERYTHING in a region before moving on to the next of the seven regions in the game, so if you actually just play through the game at a normal pace, you probably would end up hitting max level right around the end.
To give the game some padding, rather than just moving from main mission to main mission, there's a check list of things you have to do to unlock the next story mission. Hit a certain level, do a certain number of each type of side mission, get that region's completion level to a certain percent, get your Infamy to a certain rank, etc. Infamy is a mechanic that only comes into play when you eat humans. When you eat three or four people, shark hunters start to spawn. The more shark hunter boats you destroy, the higher your Infamy meter rises. When the meter is full, you hit the next Infamy level, and a boss spawns. Defeat that hunter boss, and you can start moving to the next Infamy rank. Obviously each rank is more difficult than the last - you go from having bayou rednecks in airboats chase you to having US Coast Guard command ships chase you - but each of the ten bosses you defeat unlocks a new evolution, so there's some incentive there. Eating people is also a great way to rack up protein.
Naturally, I have on the most rose tinted of glasses when it comes to this game and could sing its praises endlessly, but I do want to address some of the negatives here because this game is far from perfect. For starters, it's pretty buggy. Thankfully these are more Bethesda bugs with wonky AI movement and fish spawning inside the hull of a boat raised ten feet out of the water rather than Cyberpunk 2077 bugs where the game literally doesn't work in places. Not once did I ever experience a bug that forced me to reload a previous save, and the only time it crashed the system was when I was switching from Maneater to YouTube, so I suspect that's a PS5 issues more than a Maneater issue. The closest thing to a major bug I got was when an Infamy rank boss spawned in, and after the cut scene, my camera was bizarrely inside my shark's mouth and was totally unresponsive. I could still move around and attack, but the camera was always facing the same direction, and I could only see what was in from of me if I faced the right way and opened my shark's mouth. As soon as I died and respawned, everything was as it should be, and that was the only instance in nearly 20 hours' worth of gameplay that anything like that happened. That's really the only issue, though. Sure, it doesn't look super impressive even on PS5 (the devs claim that ray tracing support is coming in a future update), but the MSRP is only $40, and doesn't look bad by any means. The story isn't the most enthralling, but you play as a shark; there's only so much story that would really make sense, and I dig the "shark vs fishermen" vibe it's got going. The biggest downside is the controls. The controls are definitely not bad, but they do take some getting used to. Controlling the shark feels a bit stiff at first, and there's no function lock on mechanic to have your camera follow a selected enemy. You can click a control stick to have your camera snap to an aggressive foe, but it's just a snap-to function; it doesn't actually lock the camera on. That can make it pretty tough to keep track of your enemies, especially when you're facing multiple foes at once or a fast and nimble foe like a barracuda.
Maneater is a hard game for me to score. For me personally, it's an easy 10 out of 10, Game of the Century, pack your bags and go home because Tripwire Interactive won video games. Objectively, though, it's definitely a very good game, but it's not a masterpiece, and it's probably not going to knock anyone's socks off. Except for mine. I think my socks ended up in the next county over. It's got a lot of (thankfully all minor) bugs, the controls are a bit clunky and don't feel great, the story isn't going to win a Booker Prize. It is, however, an extremely creative game in which the developers clearly thought outside the box to provide an experience that breaks from the norm. It may not be a AAA Game of the Year contender, but I absolutely and whole heartedly recommend it to anyone with a current or last gen platform.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Xbox Series X and Windows
Hivebusters is a short story-based DLC for Gears 5 that tells the story of Scorpio Squad, a secret squad with the also secret Hivebuster program. Their mission is to destroy a Swarm hive underneath a fairly remote island. Success could mean saving not only the people of the island but Sera itself.
Let's start with the bad parts of Hivebusters to get it out of the way because I really did enjoy this DLC, and I want to end the review on a positive note. First and foremost, it's too expensive. If you have Game Pass, you're good to go, and if you buy Gears 5 as the Game of the Year edition, it's included, so you're solid there. If you've had Gears 5 since well before this DLC, though, you've got to cough up $20 for it, and that brings me to my second complaint; it's too short. Hivebusters is AWESOME, but it's only about three hours long, and I can't help but feel like $20 is too steep for that little content. The characters you play as are fantastic, and a bit more content could have really fleshed out who they are and their motivations and their relationships with one another really well not to mention actually justifying the $20 cost of entry. Granted, Gears 5 itself isn't a terribly long game, but even so, you got a roughly twelve hour campaign plus a handful of different multiplayer modes for $60 vs a three hour campaign here for $20. It's just a bit steep.
With that said, while there isn't a lot of content in terms of how long the campaign lasts, what content the DLC does give you is truly fantastic. It may not feature Del or JD or Marcus, but it's definitely pure Gears of War, and the characters that do feature in the game are written and acted beautifully. I know it's very unlikely to happen for Gears 5, but I'd love to see more of them maybe in Gears 6 or as a Gears 6 DLC. Not only does Hivebusters star characters for you to get to know, but it also sheds some light on a little of the politics within the COG beyond Chairman Prescott and First Minister Jinn. For someone who loves not only the action that Gears of War provides but also the lore and world that the series has built, this was a major selling point for me.
Gears 5: Hivebusters is an absolute must play if you have Game Pass since it's included, and if you have or are planning to get the GOTY edition of Gears 5, then obviously, you need to play it when you finish the main Gears 5 story. If you have Gears 5 normally, though, and would need to buy the DLC separately like I did, it's a tougher sell. It's definitely a fun experience, and if you're a big Gears fan like I am, then it's definitely worth the money. If you're just an average fan of the series but not super into, though, that $20 asking price is definitely kind of high for how short it is. Maybe throw it on a wishlist and wait for it to go on sale. If you do end up playing it, though, it's a hell of a good time.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Blood and Bacon is another dumb Steam indie game, but unlike The Last of Waifus and Simp Slayer Simulator 2K20, this one is legitimately good. It's not amazing, but it's a solidly fun game. It's only a dollar, supports up to six players, and has over a hundred levels full of achievements and secrets to find. This is in a whole different tier from most of the Steam indie crap I play.
Blood and Bacon is extremely simple. You work a farmer who's pinned to a barn wall by a pitchfork yet never bleeds to death, and every day, you take side arm and a main weapon and slaughter the hordes of demon pigs infesting the far. Do this 101 times. Every level is a bit tougher than the last, every ten levels is a boss, and there are the occasional "revenge" levels where you have infinite ammo to slaughter tons of evil pigs. There are a few "explore the tunnels" levels where you can explore tunnels beneath the farms after killing the pigs and find some secrets. They've added some stuff over time since the release, so it's a surprisingly fleshed out and content-rich game for the price point.
The visuals don't look great, and the sound design is solidly so-so, but for a dollar, you can't reasonably expect too too much. You've got six main weapons and four side arms you can choose from. There are characters to unlock as well as some cheats that can be activated from the pause menu and secrets that can be activated from the main menu. I haven't had a chance to play it online with anyone, but with how much fun it is to play solo, I can only imagine this would be a blast to play online with some friends.
Blood and Bacon is a pretty shallow game with no real story, one character, and a huge helping of "wash, rinse, repeat" gameplay, but it also proves that those things don't necessarily make a game bad. When coupled with the absurd premise and literal Dollar Tree price tag, it's actually a pretty damn good game for what you get and what you pay. I've sunk about three hours into the game, and I feel like getting three hours of entertainment out of a dollar is more than getting my money's worth. Hell, I get less entertainment time for fifteen times that price if I go see a movie at a theater. Breath of the Wild gave me thirty times as many hours of entertainment but for sixty times the price. That may be a bit of an apples and oranges comparison (okay, not may be; it definitely is), but when you look at it that way, this game is fantastic for its $0.99 price tag. It may not be an amazing game, but it's definitely a good one, and for a dollar, that's really all you need.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
Contra was one of the defining games on the NES, and most of the subsequent sequels were really good. Alien Wars, Hard Corps, and Rebirth were all solid games. Surely Contra on the Switch would be solid, too, right? Right, guys? You wouldn't let me down, would you, Konami? You wouldn't release a game so ugly and awkward to control that it would have been bad even by the Wii's standards, would you?
Spoiler alert - they would, and they did. Contra: Rogue Corps is terrible. It looks terrible, it plays terrible, and it doesn't even sound that good. It doesn't even have the "so bad it's good" factor going for it because it was almost great. There's a good game buried deep, deep beneath the muck of low resolution textures, awful controls, terrible writing, and more rough edges than a 2000s numetal concert. Nintendo has never been one to embrace anti-aliasing in their games, but even by those standards, the jagged edges in Rogue Corps are abysmal.
The most immediately noticeable thing about Rogue Corps is how god awful everything looks. I can't stress that enough; this game looks like rubbish. There are numerous Dreamcast games that look better than this, and that console came out more than 20 years before this game. The character models looks hideous, the environments look bland, and the whole game looks like it was rendered in 480p and upscaled using nothing more than a budget TV's built-in upscaler. If you first showed me this game and told me you were showing off a new N64 HDMI output option, I'd believe you. My *only* source of skepticism would be that I didn't recognize the game from the N64's library. It really does look that muddy and terrible, and this is for a game that came out in 2019.
The visuals are bad enough, but the controls aren't any better. It's a run-and-gun with twin stick controls. That should be pretty easy to get right. Somehow, though, they manage to make the controls so bad that it's more frustrating than fun to play. The aiming is so jerky and finicky that it's a headache to actually hit an enemy, and your weapons overhead in a few seconds. Bad aim and quickly overheating weapons are not a good combination. Thankfully, the ammo is unlimited, but when you have to wait for the weapon to cool back down as enemies swarm you, it quickly becomes an exercise in masochism. A game's being hard isn't a bad thing, but when the sole reason that a game is hard is because the controls are terrible, that IS a bad thing, and that's how Rogue Corps is.
The one and only redeeming thing this game has is the upgrade system. Well, and the character line-up, but those are hilariously designed characters with atrocious voice acting, so it's a toss-up. The game allows you not only to upgrade your main and sub weapons for each character by swapping out modifications and parts, but you can also utilize the surgical bay to have your characters' internal organs replaced to upgrade the characters themselves. It's an EXTREMELY interesting and deep upgrade mechanic; it's just a shame that it was wasted on such a terrible game. There are five characters in the game, four playable and one support NPC. The support NPC is a cute kid who flies your VTOL because her parents were killed in the Alien War. The other characters are a standard dudebro with a machine, a badass chick who has an alien parasite or something trying to take over her body that she keeps at bay by keeping a sword plunged into her gut, a giant murder panda with the brain of a human, and a mutated bug thing with the brain of a human scientist. The characters are actually super awesome in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, but again, they're wasted on a terrible game.
Contra: Rogue Corps was never going to be an amazing game, but it was so close to being good. The characters are funny, the concept of a cursed city filled to the brim with monstrous alien hordes is perfect, and the upgrade system is fantastic. Unfortunately, none of that can redeem the truly craptastic graphics, the bad writing, and the downright unforgiveable controls. It offers side missions as well as local and online co-op in addition to the single player campaign, but when the core of your game is so rotted, it really doesn't matter what nice features and details you tack on the sides. This is just a bad game. It may look less bad on Playstation or Xbox, but it never looks good, and the controls are just inherently awful.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Gears Tactics is what I always wanted Gears of War to be - over the top violence against aliens in a turn based strategy format. Honestly, it's what I wish Halo Wars had been. I got this game with my Series X, and I couldn't wait to dig into it. At first I was afraid that this would feel like an afterthought spin-off, and in some ways, it does, but by an large, the production quality here is a lot better than I had expected.
Gears Tactics takes place during the Locust War, falling after Judgement but before the original game in the timeline. Despite that, it's still relevant to recent Gears games as one of the main characters is Gabe Diaz, so we get some backstory on Kait's father. The game follows him and Sid Redburn on a mission from Chairman Prescott to kill a Locust scientist named Ukkon. Along the way, you meet up with a band of civilian survivors led by Mikayla Dorn, the most badass character in the entire Gears universe (other than Cole, of course). You convince/conscript these folks to join you on your mission. Gears Tactics doesn't include a multiplayer mode, and while I think that's a bit of a missed opportunity, the campaign is so much fun and tells such a solid story with such good character development that it really isn't hindered by the lack of multiplayer.
Another aspect helping Tactics feel right at home in the Gears series is that the game's genre really isn't a huge departure despite initial appearances. The developers, Splash Damage, pointed out that there were already a lot of similarities between turn based tactics games and the third person squad based gameplay of the previous six Gears games. Both include squads of two to four characters, both are played from a third person perspective, and both involve controlling different characters at certain points in the game. According to the game's executive producer, they "just took existing Gears and just moved the camera up" and made it turn based. It's a total genre shift for sure, but it doesn't feel quite as radically different as, say, Halo 4 to Halo Wars 2 with the jump from a first person shooter to a real time strategy game (another fantastic game, by the way).
Gears Tactics makes a point of being extremely approachable by offering a variety of difficulty settings. A lot of big Gears fans I know do great with cover based shooters and first person shooters but flounder when it comes to tactics games; for those folks, the lower difficulty settings allow you to experience the story told in Gears Tactics, get some practice and hone your skills, and then up the difficulty when you feel ready. Likewise, if you're confident but find out that the game puts up a bit more of a fight than you expected halfway through, you can just lower the difficulty down a peg to have the game meet you at your skill level instead of wasting time trying to "git gud." After all, most of us are adults; we don't all have time to waste trying to hack away mindlessly at a level repeatedly trying to "git gud."
As I've mentioned, the character development here is rock solid, and a big part of that is the writing and the delivery of the dialogue lines. The sound design overall, really, is great. The chainsaw sounds as meaty as ever, and the explosion sound effects have the same impact to them that you'd expect from games in the series developed by Epic or The Coalition. The only aspect that I really found lacking was the visuals, and even that was only somewhat disappointing. The cutscenes look fantastic. The detail on the character models are every bit as good as I would expect from a game optimized for Series X (although I'll never stop being pissed about the lack of dedicated Series X releases in favor of this "Smart Delivery" garbage). What I feel could have looked better is the actual gameplay. The map details, the enemy designs, and the in-game character models all look good, but they don't really look a whole lot better than Halo Wars 2. Granted, part of that is going to be attributable to how zoomed out the game is when compared to other Gears titles, but even playing on Series X, it felt like I was looking at a game running Xbox One. There are some nice physics touches; when a character runs into a random crate on the map, for example, it goes flying and bouncing for a bit. It doesn't really feel "next gen" to me, though. That makes sense given that it's a last gen game that's just been polished, but with the emphasis they put on "Series X" for the console release, I was just a little bit let down.
Gears Tactics is a fantastic entry for the Gears series and a welcome foray into a new genre. Even on Series X, it doesn't feel all that "next gen" as it runs at the same resolution as One X, the only real difference being 2160p60 vs 2160p30, but the textures don't look any more detailed on Series X. Obviously the loading times are SIGNIFICANTLY improved on Series X thanks to the SSD, but that and the frame rate boost are really the only benefits over the One X; the games look identical. Regardless of platform, though, Gears Tactics is a fantastic game. It's not only a great strategy game, but it's a great Gears game. I strongly recommend fans of either of those things to give this one a shot; it may well be what turns a Gears fans into a tactics fan or what turns a tactics fan into a Gears fan. For folks like me who are already fans of both strategy games and Gears, it's basically a perfect concept, and while the execution may not be totally perfect, it's pretty damn close.
My Rating - 4 Neps
This review is dedicated to the memory of BronyCon. May it rest in perspiration and cringe.
Why does this game exist? Seriously, who sat down and thought, "You know what would make a great game? An endless wave shooter where every enemy is a neckbeard with PS2-era character models." If you read my review of The Last of Waifus, then you pretty much know what to expect here. Just replace cute waifus with cringy neckbeards, and that's this game.
Simp Slayer does something better than The Last of Waifus, and it does some things worse. Let's start with what it does better. First off, there are four stages here instead of the one single stage in The Last of Waifus. Each stage unlocks once you hit wave 10 in the previous stage. There are also different types of enemies as opposed to one single generic zombie-looking enemy. You've got your regular neckbeards, and there are a few different models for the regular simp that the game will use. Then you've got some creepy crawling simps that move faster, crawl on the ground like the chick from The Grudge, and do more damage. You've also got fat shirtless simps, e-girls, dudes wearing trilbies that Naruto run, "30 year old wizards" that look unsettling like Klansmen, and a giant fat final boss simp once you hit wave 10 on the last stage. I may be forgetting one or two, but honestly, none of the enemy designs are very good. Lastly, there's a Counter-Strike style money system that gives the mindless slaughter some very vague semblance of purpose (emphasis on "very vague"). When you kill simps, they sometimes drop money. That money can be used on the main menu to buy additional weapons or more ammo. There are six weapons total - pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, submachine gun, sniper rifle, and light machine gun.
That's about where the positives end. The gameplay is just as mindless and monotonous as The Last of Waifus, the shooting mechanics feel somehow worse, the weapons are even less interesting, and the whole game can be completed in less than half an hour. It looks like shit and doesn't even run well. Steam told me the game was running at an unbroken 60 fps, but it still felt like it was stuttering, and that's with visuals that would have been right at home on a budget PS2 game. I personally got a good bit of entertainment out of this game, but that's mostly because I love intentionally terrible games, and this game is definitely terrible. It's worse than Apartment 666, and that's one of the worst games I've ever reviewed.
Normally I'm less harsh on games that are intentionally bad whereas Apartment 666 was a game that tried to be serious and just sucked anyway, but Simp Slayer is SO bad that it's almost frustrating. It's a shooter that was probably made in an hour and relies completely on outdated memes and garbled voice clips for its humor. It missed the mark so badly that you'd think it forgot what the mark even was. I can, however, see one instance in which this might be an entertaining time; get three or four of your most easily entertained friends over, get extraordinarily drunk, and then take turns playing this. That's literally the only way I can see this game being actually enjoyable, and even then, it's a long shot.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Also available on PlayStation 4
Spider-Man: Miles Morales is the second game in Sony's current Spider-Man series following 2018's simply named Spider-Man. While some have called Miles Morales a stand-alone expansion or DLC for that game, I think that does it a disservice both because of how good the game is but also because of how distinct it feels. Plus you don't need to own Spider-Man to play Miles Morales, so I think the "stand-alone" nature makes it its own game.
You play as the titular character Miles Morales who was introduced in the previous game as he tries to fit into his own Spider-Man role to protect New York and especially his new home of Harlem. The core gameplay here is the same, but there are some changes and improvements that definitely give it a distinct feel. First off, the UI is different as are a couple of the combat mechanics. The "Focus" meter for finishers is gone and replaced with a "Venom" meter that you build up to use your bio-electric attacks. Finishers are now tied to your combo; a combo of 15 will net you a finisher move. There are fewer gadgets this time, but the gadgets you do get - the trusty web shooter, a remote mine, a holo-emitter to create holographic allies, and a gravity well - are super cool and feel more focused on quality than quantity. The whole combat system just "feels" more polished, too. It's still not quite as smooth or fluid as Arkham, but it's definitely a LOT closer than the last game was. Building and keeping combos is a bit easier due to that added combat smoothness.
In my Spider-Man review, I said that the world felt a lot more vibrant and alive than Arkham City. That's doubly true of Miles Morales. From beautiful street art murals to the snowy weather, Harlem feels like a living, breathing community in Miles Morales, and as you go through the story and side quests and interact with the denizens, you can't help but feel a connection with the game's world. Miles as a character lends himself to this as he, too, is relatively new to Harlem. He was always from New York, obviously, but had just recently moved from Brooklyn to Harlem when the game starts, so he's getting a feel for the area, too. His character is also very different from Peter Parker. Whereas Peter had been Spider-Man for several years by the time the first game took place, Miles had just acquired his powers. He also comes from a totally different background being a black teenager rather than a white young adult and still having his mother (and, until recently, his father) whereas Peter had been orphaned and raised by his aunt and uncle. While they both may be Spider-Man, they're very different Spider-Men with different powers and different personalities, and that helps this game stand out as something truly unique rather than just more Spider-Man.
The game also looks absolutely fantastic. The remaster of the first game looked incredible, but this game looks even better in my opinion. The performance mode, like with the first game, runs at a silky and solid 60 fps and looks amazing doing it, but the fidelity mode is even better implemented than it was in the first game's remaster. It looks truly stunning, and the frame rate is better on fidelity mode in Miles Morales than it was in the original's remaster. What really sets this above the original in my opinion, though, is the soundtrack. The first game had a nice but pretty typical superhero sound track; Miles Morales, on the other hand, has an absolutely brilliant hip-hop soundtrack. It feels modern and urban while still keeping some of that superhero feel. Truthfully I can't think of a way they could have possibly made this soundtrack more perfect for the game. It's a masterpiece of mood design.
One of the things I most appreciated about Miles Morales, however, has nothing to do with gameplay or setting or character development. Those things are all amazing, but it's the nods to real world events that really put the icing on the cake for me. Stan Lee's death, even for someone like me who doesn't care about Marvel or comic books, was a big deal. The man was an absolute legend, and you don't need to be a Marvel fan to appreciate the wake such an icon's death leaves. Seeing a big and beautiful bronze statue in his honor in the game was just perfect, and even I teared up at how perfectly it was done. It was glorious and spectacular but also unobtrusive, the kind of monument you could easily overlook because of how seamlessly it blended into the world. There's also the huge Black Lives Matter mural on one of the building exteriors in the game. At a time when black Americans are fighting just for the right to live and be treated as individuals rather than tokens or marginalized set pieces, seeing a stunning work of art like that with "BLACK LIVES MATTER" in big, bold letters in a game that features a young black protagonist in a genre oversaturated by white characters is the kind of social commentary and support that give me hope. Sure, you can say it was a marketing ploy to cash in on the BLM movement. Sure, you can say it's pushing some leftist "woke" political agenda. You could, but I think that kind of cynicism blinds you to what matters - that a game in a genre popular among younger gamers reinforces the idea that black boys can be superheroes, too. That black lives DO matter. That black characters are just as deep and complicated and multifaceted and conflicted as the white characters that populate most video games. Those are things that should be obvious, but in a medium that still struggles with achieving representation and doing it right, I think it's important to reinforce that idea in the ways that they can, and I applaud Insomniac for including the mural as well as the statue of Stan Lee. They don't affect gameplay or storytelling in anyway, but they make clear those two points; Stan Lee was a legend who will never be forgotten, and black lives matter.
So, social commentary aside (which, as a social justice-minded leftists, I eat up), the game is a damn masterpiece. It's MUCH shorter than the first game, yes, but a game's quality is not determined by its length. This game packs in the same brilliant Spider-Man experience as the first game; it just does it in a shorter time. I definitely wish the game were longer, but one thing no one can say is that it overstays its welcome. It tells its story, provides its experience, and then invites you to keep playing in the world or to move on. There are a couple of side quests that don't unlock until after the main game is finished, and I STRONGLY recommend sticking around for those as they're really important in building Miles's backstory. There's also New Game+ which unlocks a new suit and some new skills. All things considered, this is a brilliant game that matches the quality of the original and, in my opinion, surpasses it even if the length took a big hit. Whether you've moved on to the PS5 or are still rocking the PS4, don't sleep on Miles Morales. Sony hit gold with this one, folks.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4
Since it first came out on PS4 two years ago, Spider-Man is a game that I'd been meaning to pick up. It looked like Arkham style combat, and as a huge Arkham fan, that naturally appealed to me. I've never been big into comic books and superheroes, though, so it stayed pretty mid-tier on my priority list. When I saw that the follow-up, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, was launching with the PS5 and included the remastered version of the first game if you bought the Ultimate Edition, I figured that was a good time to get it and finally play. I think that was right call, too, as this not only includes all of the DLC but some seriously impressive enhancements courtesy of the PS5's extra horsepower. Now keep in mind that I'm approaching this review from a position of general apathy regarding Spider-Man and comic book heroes in general, so my take will likely differ from a long-time Spider-Man fan's.
The first thing that jumped out to me with this game is just how good the characters are. Obviously Peter Parker is a likeable character, but his portrayal here is top notch and super relatable. His quips in fights are hilarious, the voice acting is absolutely perfect, and the character model is fantastic. I honestly have no idea why the internet hated the new face. The dude is 23, and in this version, he actually looks 23; I've seen the original face used for the character model, and he looked like he was in his 30s. Definitely a good move with the new face. The world itself also looks stunning especially with the enhancements that the PS5 remaster gets. You get two visual modes, Performance and Fidelity. Fidelity has the game running in 4K with some spiffy visual effects like ray tracing with a 30 fps target, and good god, this mode looks phenomenal. The detail on the gym floor in the FEAST location where Aunt May works is detailed to the point of irrelevance - reflections, random bits of debris, dust, life-like sun rays, the whole nine yards. Performance, which is the m ode I played the game with, sacrifices those extra effects in favor of a solid and unbroken 60 fps. Normally I would have been really torn between the two, but with the fluidity of the combat and the speed and acrobatic nature of the movement in the game, I felt that the experience would be better enhanced by a higher frame rate than by spiffier visuals. The choice, however, is incredible, and it's a trend I'm glad to see becoming a mainstream feature so that each player can set it based on their own performance and visual priorities.
So, as I mentioned, you play as Peter Parker, a 23 year old dude working as a research assistant for Dr. Otto Octavius and who is in a committed relationship with chronic tardiness to work and routinely flirts with homelessness from rent delinquency. Norman Osborn, the mayor of New York and CEO of the massive corporation, Oscorp, comes in being a typical capitalist pig and flaunting his money and power around to get his way. That's strike number one against the game; there's a distinct lack of guillotines despite the perfect narrative opportunity. I'm kidding, of course. Mostly. Anyway, you work for Octavius, you help out your Aunt May at FEAST, a homeless shelter established by the always-in-a-spiffy-suit Martin Li, and the beat the hell out of thugs working for Fisk, the crime boss you bust and send to prison in the beginning of the game. From there, multiple webs start to spread (no pun intended, I swear) as the city slowly but surely devolves into chaos. After slowly devolving into chaos for a while, it sprints to the edge of the cliff and leaps headfirst into anarchy. Also, pro-tip for life: get you someone who looks at you the way Peter Parker looks at a pizza.
When I first started, I figured, "I'll spend a few nights on this, power through the main story, maybe do a side quest or two, and be done with it." Rome was like, "Na man, you're gonna end up doing everything and get hooked for a straight week." I snorted at the ridiculous notion. Here I am, a week later, things having played out exactly like Rome predicted. Once I started playing, it was a compulsion. I couldn't stop. I'd play till 3 am just to get up at 8 for work. Then I'd do it again. By the time I was actually done, I'd gotten 100% on the main game (including the Platinum trophy) and 100% in all three of the DLC stories. In the whole game, I'm only missing two trophies, and they're both side trophies that got added for the remaster and (obviously) aren't counted for the Platinum trophy. I was hooked completely and totally, and that's how you know a game is good. A big part of that addicting gameplay is relatively small stuff. The photo mode that lets you take pictures with different poses and effects and frames in the game world. The wide array of costume choices for you to unlock. The tokens needed to unlock and upgrade gadgets. The little bits of story elements and character development that you get through the optional side stuff. It's the open world action game equivalent of Civilization's "just one more turn" compulsion.
That doesn't mean it's perfect, though. The combat, while extremely fun, doesn't quite match Arkham's gloriously smooth flow in my opinion. There are some bugs, too, that force you to reload the last checkpoint; I once accidentally used a web power in the air while chasing a pigeon for a side mission and ended up freezing that pigeon in the air. That pigeon then attracted a swarm of pigeons flying around it at high speeds, so I basically created a pigeon solar system. Since I needed to catch that pigeon, I had to reload the last checkpoint. Little bugs like that mostly. Sometimes the controls and mechanics can be a bit overly finnicky with being close enough to a ledge to perch but not so close that you fall off or enemies that rapidly shift back and forth from "Safe" for a stealth kill to "Danger" (like, shifting back and four five or six times per second). All in all, though, the game is damn near a masterpiece.
Spider-Man is an absolutely brilliant game, and that's especially true of the PS5 remaster. The writing is fantastic, the voice casting is phenomenal, and the visual world and character designs are works of art. Combat is fun and addicting, and while it's not quite as buttery smooth as Arkham, the open world feels significantly more alive and interesting than it did in the open world Arkham games, so that more than makes up for it. I couldn't care less about comic book heroes, so for me to sucked so hard into this game and become so bent on 100% completing it is a testament to good game design; actual Spider-Man fans will likely be over the moon with this game, although I suspect most had already played long before I did. Even if you're just a fan of action games but not comic book heroes like me, this is still a game with an enormous amount of fun and content to offer, and the PS5 remaster contains all of the DLC. All of that plus Miles Morales for $70? Yeah, that's not even a choice. If you've got a PS5, you really need this on your shelf (or on your SSD).
My Rating - 5 Neps
As a big fan both of The Legend of Zelda as well as Koei Tecmo's musou series, I was really excited for the original Hyrule Warriors for Wii U. When that game hit, it was straight up Dynasty Warriors but with Zelda characters and a Zelda theme. I loved that, but at the same time, it looked more Zelda than it felt. Age of Calamity is absolutely a different beast. This game is so much more than just "another Dynasty Warriors game" with a coat of Zelda paint slapped on it. From presentation to controls to gameplay, this feel like a true hybrid of the two.
Age of Calamity is a prequel to Breath of the Wild. It takes place 100 years before Breath of the Wild but in a separate timeline. In the opening cut scene, you see a tiny little Guardian get flung into a portal as Hyrule Castle falls to Calamity Ganon that sends it 100 years into the past, changing the timeline into an alternate universe in which Calamity Ganon was defeated. There's some other time travel shenanigans in the game, but I won't divulge more than that.
As far as visuals go, the game looks pretty good despite the relatively low resolution. The game uses a variable frame rate. When docked, it hovers around 720p with a maximum of 810p and a minimum of 570p; handheld usually sits around the maximum of 540p but can dip as low as 380p. All things considered, it looks better than I would expect from a game that never hits full 1080p. The problem comes in with performance. The game targets 30 fps, but it frequently dips down to 20 with dips even lower during a handful of especially intense moments. Truthfully, the frame rate seemed to stay sub-30 more often than not. That was really disappointing for me, but it wasn't terribly surprising given how relatively underpowered the Switch is compared to the PS4 and Xbox One. Thankfully the frame rate drops are rarely drastic and abrupt, so it's pretty easy to get used to it, and after a while, I barely noticed that it hung around 25 fps.
As you go through the game, you'll be given a handful of opportunities to do side quests and resource drop missions. In the side quests, you do some shorter battles in exchange for experience and resources. Some of these quests will have specific limits - time limits, restricted characters, no healing, auto-fail if you take a hit, ect. The resource drop missions involve collecting and donating a specific set of resources in exchange for an upgrade. Most of these are upgrades for your characters like extra hearts, extra combos, and an extra special attack gauge. Others will be more general upgrades like shorter cooldown on your rune attacks, lower shop prices, or even unlocking a couple of optional characters. You can blow straight through the 20 campaign missions if you want, but you're missing out on the majority of the gameplay experience if you skip the optional quests.
When you finish the last story mission and beat Calamity Ganon, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the game is over. The last battle is epic, challenging, and it feels like the end of a long road. You're not done yet, though. There are new side quests, and a lot of them. If you want to 100% the game like I did, you've probably got another 8 to 10 hours' worth of gameplay ahead of you. When I finally finished the game at 100%, my game time clocked in at exactly 60 hours. There are a couple of extra characters that can't be unlocked until the post-game, and they're absolutely worth the extra gameplay. You would expect from post-game content, the side quests that unlock after finishing the main game get pretty tough, and the last one is downright brutal. The feeling of accomplishment, though, was well worth the effort in my opinion, and I'm hoping that Nintendo and Tecmo will do some DLC for Age of Calamity down the line.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity took the core concept of Hyrule Warriors - a crossover between Dynasty Warriors and Legend of Zelda - and refined it into something brilliant. The original game was good, but this is truly great. It's definitely a musou game at its core, but it feels different from any other musou game I've played. If you're a Zelda fan but didn't care for Hyrule Warriors, definitely give Age of Calamity a shot; it's unique enough that it might pique your interest. If you loved the original Hyrule Warriors, then DEFINITELY check out Age of Calamity. In every way, this game is better than the first, and that's not a knock against the first game. This one is just that good. It's not perfect; the performance issues are a big let down and definitely a problem. With that said, the overall product is still amazing in spite of the performance issues, and you're doing yourself a disservice if you let the less-than-ideal frame rate dissuade you from playing this otherwise masterfully crafted game.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Windows
Gears 5 is the infuriatingly named sixth game in the Gears of War series (don't forget the Xbox 360 prequel, Judgement), and it's a game that I had eagerly awaited despite then waiting a year to actually buy and play. I really came to dig Kait's character in Gears of War 4, so having her feature prominently in the promotional material really excited me even if I do hate that they randomly dropped the "of War" from the title making it look awkward on my shelf (bastards). A note before we get into the meat of this review, though; I absolutely do not count this as an Xbox Series X game. They can offer all the patches they want, if I don't see a box that says "Xbox Series X" that contains a disc that my Xbox One X won't play, it's just backwards compatible, not an Xbox Series X game. I will die on this hill.
Gears 5's campaign offers gameplay variety in a way that a lot of cover shooters' don't. A lot of the missions are the kinds of battles I love - run in with my guns blazing and my chainsaw roaring and try to send as much blood everywhere as humanly possible. Other missions have you take a stealthier approach, giving you an enormous amount of enemies that you need to thin out via stealth executions before risking an open engagement. Some missions have you exploring on foot whereas others have you traversing large distances on a skiff. The story will run you through a pretty wide array of emotions, too. There's a lot of the funny "best bro" situations that the series is known for, but there are also a few points where your heart will ache for the characters, too. The Coalition definitely knew what they were doing here from both a character development and a game design perspective. That's not to say that it's perfect - I have some issues with JD's character development over the course of the game - but all things considered, this is another excellent narrative-driven shooter.
As is usually the case with this series, multiplayer offers a plethora of options. You've got your traditional shooter multiplayer, the always welcome horde mode, and my personal favorite, the co-op campaign. The campaign's co-op allows for three players. You can choose between the two "main" characters for that given mission and Jack, the support robot. The two main characters are usually Kait and Del, but there are a couple of missions for which that varies. I played through about half of the campaign with Grant and the other half solo. I can confirm that this isn't like Destiny where it's boring and stupid to play by yourself; the Gears 5 campaign is equally enjoyable solo as it is co-op.
I played half of the game on my Xbox One X and half on my Xbox Series X. My TV doesn't support 120 Hz, but it supports 2160p60, and while Gears 5 uses a variable resolution to maintain a higher frame rate even on Series X, it does hit a native 4K in less busy scenes, and it looks absolutely beautiful especially when coupled with a solid 60 fps frame rate. As I said in my review of the new Call of Duty on PS5, I never realized just how much ray tracing adds to a game, and it's used to great effect in Gear 5. Water ripples, lighting effects, reflections, and character models all look fantastic on the Series X. If you haven't upgraded to 9th gen hardware, yet, though, don't fret; it's still an Xbox One game, and it still looks amazing on Xbox One X. Honestly, as good as it looks at native 2160p and with the new visual effects, the biggest difference you'd notice moving from One X to Series X like I did isn't even with the gameplay; it's the load times. When I died and had to reload a previous checkpoint, it literally only took a couple seconds. I've said many times to various friends that I look at the faster load times the new SSDs bring as a "nice-to-have" more than a true game changer, but man, I have to admit, it's a VERY-nice-to-have.
Gears 5 is another solid narrative experience for the series and a definite must-play exclusive for the Xbox line. The multiplayer is the same top tier experience that fans of the series have come to expect, and the integration of co-op into the campaign is done with the same smoothness that usually accompanies games produced by an Xbox studio. The enhancements on new hardware definitely aren't enough to justify dropping $500 on a Series X on their own, but if you went ahead and upgraded to future-proof (or because you're an idiot like me), it's a definite plus and absolutely the preferred way to play Gears 5. However you play, though, be it on a steroid-fueled Series X or an oversized 2013 Xbox One, Gears 5 is a truly fantastic game that all Xbox gamers need to check out.
My Rating - 4 Neps
The “pack-in game” is a longstanding tradition in gaming for console launches that, depressing, seems to have lost popularity. The Wii U is the last console I can think of that had a pack-in game, and even that was only if you bought the more expensive 32 GB model. To the best of my knowledge, no pack-in game was included with the Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, or Xbox Series X (I’m not counting the subscription games). Sure, the PlayStation 4 had The Playroom, but I doubt anyone would seriously consider that a true “game” given that it was just a few shallow mini-games and how barebones they were. PlayStation 5, however, is a return to form in this regard with Astro’s Playroom. Not only is this a cute little game that comes pre-installed on every PlayStation 5 console, but like Wii Sports and NintendoLand did for the Wii and Wii U, respectively, it also serves as a brilliant tech demo to show customers just what their new console’s controller is capable of.
Astro’s Playroom is a 3D platformer reminiscent of the genre’s 5th generation glory days. There are four worlds - each themed on one of Sony’s previous home consoles - all connected by a hub world. Each world is broken into four levels for a total of sixteen, and within each level are puzzle pieces that go into completing a huge PlayStation mural in the hub world as well as hidden collectables - models of Sony’s previous console models and their accessories - that show up as decorations in the hub world. It gives the game the feel of an appetizer-sized collectathon platformer like Banjo-Kazooie. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to bother playing the game, let that push you onto the “Yes, Please” side.
As a platformer, controls are what will make or break Astro’s Playhouse for gamers, and the controls here are as tight and responsive as I would expect from a Mario title. Describing exactly what makes the controls for this game feel so good is hard to describe, though. You know how food reviews will often talk about “mouth feel” as a metric by which to judge food? It’s kind of like that, although I’m not sure what you’d call it. “Hand feel”? “Control feel”? Whatever you want to call it, it’s that thing you can’t quite put your finger on but that just feels right with a game, and Astro’s Playhouse has that in spades. The haptic feedback vibration, the adaptive triggers, the touchpad, the gyroscopes, and the overall more ergonomic design of the controller all come together to form one of the best “feeling” platformers I’ve played in a long time, and all of this is from a free pre-installed game. Even the controller’s built-in microphone plays a role in gameplay.
Astro’s Playhouse may not show off the new hardware’s visual power like Demon’s Souls or the frame rate stability like Call of Duty, but it’s no slouch, either. The characters models are bright, the worlds are colorful, and ray tracing adds a certain flair that I never even knew older games were missing. The crispness of the detail and shine of the lighting effects, even for a short pack-in game, drive home the point that this isn’t just a stronger and oversized PS4; this truly is a next generation machine that delivers a next-generation experience in every sense. While the sound design doesn’t really show off any neat hardware features or controller gimmicks, it is absolutely worth mentioning here as Astro’s Playhouse has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a 3D platformer. It strikes that perfect balance of unobtrusive yet addicting. It’s not Mariah Carey in November and December, but every song on this soundtrack is an earworm all the same except these songs won’t have you bashing your skull against a cinderblock wall by the end of November.
What really sets Astro’s Playroom apart from “just another tech demo” is the underlying theme of the game - an homage to the PlayStation brand’s history. Every major first party accessory for all four previous consoles and both previous handhelds is represented and honored here through the puzzle piece mural and the collectables, and for lifelong PlayStation fans, that’s got to be something special to witness. Even for someone like me who grew up a Nintendo gamer and didn’t jump on the Sony bandwagon until the last year of the PS3’s generation, it hit me in the nostalgia. That’s the thing about video games especially for us Millennials; even if you didn’t have a system growing up or weren’t a fan of a brand, you probably had a friend who did have it and played it with them. I never had a PS1 until 2009, but I played it a lot at John’s house. I never had a PS2 until 2009, but I played the hell out of it at Thomas’s house. This game is a tribute to the legacy of the PlayStation brand as much as anything else. If you have a PlayStation 5, don’t let the “Oh, it’s just a dumb tech demo” mindset deter you; this is a game in its own right, and it deserves your attention.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows
Call of Duty is a franchise that we all know, some of us love, and most of us are getting tired of in one way or another. Some (read: most) people play it for the multiplayer or the zombies mode. Personally, I’m in that minority that plays for the story. That’s why I refuse to touch Black Ops 4 with a ten foot pole (also their insistence on stylizing it with Roman numerals but using the wrong numerals is unforgivable to an academic like me). I admit that I’ve never been one to get Call of Duty games at launch. In the past, the only ones I’d gotten at launch were Black Ops III and Advanced Warfare, and that was because of the actors cast in the game. When I saw the trailer for Black Ops: Cold War in the PS5 presentation a few months ago, though, I was very excited. Those who know me know that while I absolutely despise Ronald Reagan with every fiber of being, I also love Cold War thrillers with every fiber of my being. When I saw a game that involved Ronald Reagan telling me to go do war crimes against the Soviet Union, I turned to my roommate, Rome, and said, “Dude, this is a game I have to get day one.” Or something to that effect.
Cold War doesn’t take a lot of risks, and that’s a mixed bag, in my opinion. They took a risk a few years ago by returning to World War II, something that I personally thought “made Call of Duty great again,” to paraphrase the outgoing American president, but critics seemed to disagree with scores being a bit lower than previous entries. On the other hand, I would argue that the exclusion of a campaign mode entirely with Black Ops 4 was a risk that I hated but review scores seemed to forgive. With that said, it makes sense that they played it pretty safe with Cold War; you’ve got your fan favorite multiplayer and zombies, but you’ve also got the campaign for us misanthropes who want to enjoy our video games free from the shackles of human interaction. The odd thing, though, and something that is definitely a frustration for me, is that while multiplayer and zombies is included on disc, the campaign is not; it requires a separate three-part download totaling nearly 60 GB. I understand the necessity to leave something off the disc as even triple layer Blu-ray discs only have a capacity of around 100 GB whereas this game clocks in at 140 GB if memory serves, but what strikes me as odd is the fact that one game mode most likely to be played offline is the one game mode that they required a download for. You already have to be online for multiplayer unless you’re playing with bots, so why not make that the download? Most people play Zombies online, so that could be the download. I don’t know exactly what the size of each of the three game modes is, so it could be that it had to be the campaign that got left off, but I find it unlikely. I think they probably just said “Most people ignore the campaign anyway, so screw it.” And, in all fairness, that’s a reasonable decision. I’m just a little butthurt about the continued disrespect that single player story modes are so often shown by first person shooters, but at least they included one.
I’ve not managed to find a game in Zombies yet, although I admittedly haven’t tried since the day the game came out; I have, however, played the entire campaign and a good bit of multiplayer, and those are both rock solid game modes. The multiplayer doesn’t really do anything new, but it does the same old same old very well. 6v6 matches keep the action pretty constant and fun, and there are a ton of attachments to unlock on various weapons. The unlock tokens from WWII are gone (I didn’t play Black Ops 4 or the 2019 Modern Warfare, so I don’t know if they were in those games), so you unlock new weapons by just leveling up. Attachments are then unlocked by leveling up that weapon. The maps are all pretty solid and well crafted for a variety of game types. The campaign is where it’s at in my opinion, though. It’s not the best campaign in Call of Duty or even the best campaign in the Black Ops sub-series, but man, it’s fun as hell. Most of the missions are really well executed but not especially creative, although I do have to give props to three missions in particular. One of the early missions - the one featured in the aforementioned PS5 trailer - involves a super dramatic car chase slash gunfight on an airstrip, and that mission feels like it was pulled straight out of an 80s action movie. There are also two side missions that you don’t have to complete in the campaign. Both of those optional missions have puzzles that you can solve to get the “best” outcome for the mission. To solve those puzzles, you have to find hidden pieces of evidence in the campaign’s required missions and then use the clues in those pieces of evidence to solve the puzzles. They’re not difficult puzzles, but they do require some logical thinking, and I found that to be a very welcome addition to the normal Call of Duty campaign. In addition to optional side missions, you also have some optional objectives that you can choose whether or not to complete in each mission, and there are a few dialogue choices to choose between. I’m not sure how much if at all the dialogue choices change things, but either way, it’s a very nice break from the normal pure linear formula, so kudos to Treyarch for that.
With the game’s performance, I played on PlayStation 5, so my experience was nothing short of breathtaking. The character models looked so photorealistic that some scenes could be reasonably mistaken for a live action movie. The frame rate never seemed to drop enough for me to notice, and the ray tracing is just...wow. I never gave ray tracing any thought before, honestly, but there’s one specific mission where you in a helicopter flying over a river in Vietnam, and holy crap, it looked stunning. The sound design is impeccable, as usual, but what really stands out is the use of the DualSense controller’s features. The haptic feedback and adaptive triggers in the PS5’s new controller are used to fantastic effect here, giving every gun a truly unique feel. You can feel in your hand the moment a bullet leaves your gun in a way that was never possible with the DualShock 4 controller, and the adaptive triggers give each gun its own unique trigger resistance. Does that really matter much? No, of course not, but it’s little details like that that will deepen my immersion more than just about anything else. The only things that deepen my immersion more than the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers did would have virtual reality and motion controls, and honestly, I think it’d take the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers if made to choose.
Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War, despite having a mouthful of a title, is quite a solid entry in the series. The multiplayer is exactly what you’d expect, and while most of the campaign is just more of the same done well, the addition of side missions, optional objectives, and dialogue choices really do make it stand out from the rest of the series even if only a bit. Truthfully, on PC, PS4, Xbox One, or Xbox Series X/S, this is just a very good game. On PS5, though, with the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, it really does feel like a great game. Maybe not a masterpiece. Maybe not an amazing game. Maybe not a system seller. But it’s definitely a great game on PS5, and I’m extremely glad I made the last minute decision to move my pre-order from Xbox to PS5.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is an iconic game not only for the Resident Evil franchise but for the survival horror genre as a whole. Even folks who haven't played it are usually familiar with the titular character's deep growl of "STARS!" With the smashing success of the previous remake of Resident Evil 2, it only makes sense that Capcom would have immediately begun work on remaking the third entry in the series especially considering that Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 take place at the same time in the same city.
I'm a huge fan of Resident Evil and the survival horror genre as a whole, so I'm a little biased, but this game really does feel like a nearly perfect package. The visuals are stunning, the voice acting it top notch, the motion capture is incredible, and the overall atmosphere of the game is nearly perfect. It's every bit Resident Evil 2's equal. At the game's beginning, you start in a first person perspective reminiscent of Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, and that's how they introduce Jill Valentine, badass supercop on the Raccoon City Police Department's Special Tactics and Rescue Service team and one of the few survivors of the Arklay mansion incident from the first game which took place two months earlier just outside of Raccoon City. In those two months, patients started showing up at the Raccoon City hospital with a mysterious illness that caused severe fever, rapid necrosis, and hyperphasia (or excessive hunger). At the same time, incidents of brutally violent murders were spiking. The city was facing an outbreak of the T-virus, a secret biological weapon developed by the multinational corporation, Umbrella. What's worse, though, is that a super bioweapon codenamed Nemesis has been dispatched by Umbrella to hunt down and permanently silence the few surviving members of S.T.A.R.S., the elite RCPD team that had investigated the Arklay mansion.
One thing that Resident Evil 3 gets perfect is the atmosphere that conjures a sense of foreboding from mere sight and sound. A lot of folks say that what makes a horror game scary is limited ammo and difficulty. That can certainly put you on edge and make you anxious. Others say that it's the jump scares that give a game its horror. That can certainly be an important element if executed properly. Resident Evil 3 nails true horror, though, beyond the shallow definitions of "difficulty" or "jump scares." I could be walking down a hallway in an abandoned apartment building with 30 rounds of ammunition and not a zombie in sight, and I still felt the fear. No zombie jumped out at me; Nemesis never burst through a wall to turn my skull into tomato paste, yet I still felt a linger terror deep inside my lizard brain. The darkness of the city. The fires still burning in the distance. The disheveled storefronts. The destroyed vehicles. The few odd zombies, slowly shambling through the street. The knowledge that at any moment, that perilous tranquility become a blood bath, and it wasn't a foregone conclusion whose blood would be bathed in and who would be doing the bathing. That's the atmosphere that can instill true horror in a game, and that's what Resident Evil 3 knocked out of the park.
True horror may be all about atmosphere and presentation, but it's absolutely true that other factors contribute or enhance that such as the aforementioned elements of ammo scarcity and jump scares. Resident Evil 3 has those, but what it also has going for it is incredible graphics. Playing Playstation 4 Pro, the game's presentation at 4K in HDR takes the realism of the presentation to a whole different level than its 32-bit original version; I can only imagine what the experience would be like on a high end gaming PC. I normally am the first person to dispute the game that good graphics equal a good game, but with how visceral Resident Evil's content is, the graphical fidelity is a massive enhancement. When you shoot a zombie, that damage is reflected on their body whether it's a chunk of meat blown out of the chest or a sheet of flesh ripped from the rotting face. The dismembered and disemboweled victims of the outbreak are on full display in the game's various locations, and unlike the original release, these are more than primitive polygons tinted red; these are detailed human beings, faces oftentimes visibly twisted in agony. That's not to say that the game's perfect - I vividly recall one instance of running through a donut shop to escape Nemesis and seeing him bug out and just walk through the wall of the shop as if he could phase shift - but it's damn near perfect, and Capcom's attention to detail with character models is truly impressive.
What will always make-or-break my immersion in a game is the voice acting, and Resident Evil's earlier entries are notorious for some of the worst voice acting of big budget games from the late 1990s; I'm sure everyone remembers (and cringes at the memory of) Barry's "Jill sandwich" line from the first game. As has been the case with most of the series after Resident Evil 4, that craptastic voice acting is gone. In its place is an incredible performance from a stellar cast of voice talent, and Jill's voice actor's line delivery as well as the quality of the motion capture - a critical element of game design often overlooked by gamers - kept me firmly immersed from start to finish. Beyond the voice acting, the sound design in general was extraordinarily well done. Most of the game is silent as far as background music goes. That not only enhances the feeling of dread and isolation that the game evokes, but it also heightens the anxiety players feel when there is music in the background as that only happens in high stress situations like being chased by Nemesis.
I spent a long time debating what score to give Resident Evil 3. On the one hand, it's one of the most effective games of the genre at making me feel terror, and the presentation is flawless. On the other hand, the game is really short - even with my backtracking, pausing to answer texts and walk the dogs, and being generally bad at video games, I finished in six hours - and there were a couple minor bugs I noticed. In the end, though, no game is ever going to be truly perfect, and this game definitely came close enough to perfection to earn a five out of five score. After all, as far as length goes, I prefer quality over quantity; the quantity of game here may be lacking for some folks, but the quality is undeniable. This is an S tier horror game. With the kind of name recognition and pedigree that an IP like Resident Evil has, I'm sure everyone reading this has either played the game already or firmly plans never to play it, but on the off chance that someone is still on the fence, don't be. Play the game. I can guarantee you won't be disappointed.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Xbox One, Switch, and Windows
In my household, Obsidian is a name you treat with reverence. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, Fallout: New Vegas, South Park: The Stick of Truth - Obsidian was the studio behind these games, and I give that studio the respect it deserves. When I saw that they were working on a sci-fi RPG that was clearly a spiritual successor to their work on the Fallout series, I was immediately sold. Yes, please, sign me up. Then my bank statement said, "Son, put your pants back on; you're too broke for this." So I had to wait until I could get a copy off of someone used for relatively cheap. Being a grown-up sucks.
Having secured my used copy of the game, I couldn't wait to jump into the world of the Halcyon colony and stand up to the corrupt and wicked corporate overlords ruling the system. By that point, though, it was 2020, and we all know how this year has been going...so life and mental health got in the way, and it sat on my shelf for about six months. Finally, however, October rolled around, and the impenetrable miasma of depression dissipated into a much more manageable Silent Hill-esque fog with a whole four inches of visibility! Yes, now I can finally dive into Halcyon to be the savior that no one asked for and few wanted.
Now that I've turned this review into an internet recipe with an unnecessary story about my life, let's talk about the game. You play as a colonist who's been cryogenically frozen aboard the colony ship Hope in Halcyon for 70 years until a mad scientist wakes you up in a move of bold defiance against the plutocratic corporate government of the system (eat your heart out, Mussolini). You're then put into an escape pod and launched towards the nearby planet of Terra 2 to meet up with a freelance ship captain who is supposed to get you to the aforementioned mad scientist's secret lair. Unfortunately, the freelance ship captain was an idiot and stood directly on the pod's landing beacon causing you to crush him to death accidentally. Oops. Guidance system error in your favor. Collect one starship. You're the freelance captain now!
There are a few ways you can play this game as is par for the course with these Western RPGs. You could be the selfless savior who acts for the good of the colony in all things. You could be thuggishly chaotic neutral who does whatever is best for himself without regard for effects on others. If you're a filthy capitalist pig, you could even play the role of the corporate stooge who works for the Board and turns in the bounty on the mad scientist who saved you although that's rather rude and cuts the game short by a significant margin. I, being a good comrade, chose to side the workers in all things and oppose the Board in almost everything. I'll admit that it took an hour or two for the game to hook me, but once I was hooked, I was hooked just as hard as I'd been with New Vegas.
The game's sound design is absolutely superb. The voice acting is (for the most part) top notch. The only exceptions to that are some of the random unnamed NPCs in the towns and some of the screams in battle. Some of those screams are REALLY over the top. One of my characters took an admittedly pretty hard hit from a wild creature and screamed for literally like fifteen straight seconds. Just one long, agonized, unholy scream of terror and agony. After ten seconds of it, it went from being annoying to just unsettling. Those are my only audio complaints, though. The soundtrack is phenomenal with calmer scenes and loading screens having some terrific orchestral background music.
The game's visual presentation is spot on, too. I played on PS4 Pro, and the game just looks beautiful. Some of the textures can take a second to pop in after you load into the world, and that's jarring, and there are some issues with characters just popping in and out of existence in the world (though this seemed mostly isolated to the Peril on Gorgon DLC from my experience), but I'd give it a solid 8 out of 10 on the graphics front. I did encounter a good number of bugs, but the vast majority were extremely minor bugs that affected gameplay in no meaningful way. I only had to reload a save due to a bug once or twice. I mean, compared to Bethesda's RPGs, this game was downright polished. The phrase "It just works" would actually be truthful if applied to The Outer Worlds. Sorry, Todd, but it looks like Obsidian does better work without you than with you. It might because they were using the glorious Unreal Engine 4 for this game as opposed to that wretched Gamebryo engine.
Obvious comparisons with Fallout aside, The Outer Worlds is a truly outstanding game that takes all of the good parts of its Fallout heritage while still standing on its own two feet as a unique and enjoyable experience. I do hate Obsidian's choice to use the "point of no return" mechanic meaning I'll have to reload an older save to play the unreleased DLC, but that's a relatively minor complaint all things considered. The Outer Worlds isn't perfect - it's still somewhat buggy, there aren't as many side areas and planets to explore as I might have hoped, and the unique weapons rarely feel especially unique - but it's clear from the get-go that a lot of care and effort went into the development of this game. If you're a fan of Western RPGs like Mass Effect, Fallout, Knights of the Old Republic, so on and so forth, you absolutely must give The Outer Worlds a spin. I hate that I slept on this one as long as I did, but there's still some DLC that's been announced but hasn't been released yet, so it's never too late to jump in and stick it to the Board.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
I'm an absolute slut for turn based tactics games. It doesn't matter if they're fantasy settings like Fire Emblem, modern settings like Breach and Clear, or sci-fi settings like XCOM. I absolutely adore turn based tactics. When I saw Phantom Doctrine for sale on the Switch eShop, I figured I'd take a look. What I saw looked like XCOM, and much to my delight, that's basically what Phantom Doctrine is - a dollar store XCOM clone.
Phantom Doctrine takes place towards the end of the Cold War in 1983. You can choose to play as either a former American CIA agent, a former Soviet KGB agent, or a former Israeli Mossad agent. Since this is an epic Cold War struggle, I'm obviously not going to pick Mossad (sorry, Israel, but you're not as iconic a Cold War combatant), and the Soviet Union is the ultimate video game adversary after the Nazis, so I clearly can't choose to play AS a Soviet, so I was left with the CIA. Fortunately, you play as a FORMER agent of the organization you choose, not an active agent, and your interests start to split pretty early on. You lead a secret organization known as the Cabal as you try to thwart the machinations of the cryptic and malign Beholder Initiative.
The actual gameplay is VERY reminiscent of XCOM. You have a main base from which you manage your resources, both capital and human. Money is used to expand your base, upgrade your facilities, purchase weapons and armor, and hire new agents. It's also used to send your agents into the field and in some random events. Sometimes you'll get a random prompt that one of your agents has been arrested, and you can choose to either let them rot in jail, leave them in jail but send a care package for $200 (it's a random amount I just made up; I don't remember what it actually was), or bail them out for $1000. Your choice will have effects on your relationship with the character and their abilities, so choose carefully; sometimes the choice that feels right ends up having the most disastrous consequences. Throughout the world, possible enemy activity will show up in random cities, so you have to send your agents. Sometimes it's nothing. Sometimes it's an informant who will help you. Sometimes it's a beholder plot that you have to stop lest your base's Danger rating increase. If your base's Danger rating gets too high, you'll have to pay to move your base, and that is NOT cheap. If you keep your base where it is with a high danger rating, then you run the risk of being attacked by Beholder agents.
As is normally the case with any game that lets me name my characters, I found myself getting really attached to characters really easily. That's why I had to be extra careful when I deployed my characters on a combat mission. The gameplay is almost exactly like XCOM if it were a low budget game with about a tenth of the polish and refinement. It's an incredibly fun game, but it's definitely rough around the edges, it has some pretty noticeable bugs and glitches here and there, and the budget title nature of the game shows through. The mission objectives vary. Sometimes you have to disarm a certain number of bombs, sometimes you have to kill all of the enemies, sometimes you have to kill or capture a Beholder agent (I always went for capture so I could torture them for information at my base), and sometimes you have to rescue a captured Cabal agent who will join your team after the mission. If your agent is eliminated in combat, you have a few turns to stabilize them so they don't bleed out which allows you to carry them with you back to the extraction point. If you do that, they survive. If they bleed out or aren't carried to the extraction point, they're either dead forever or captured by Beholder. In the latter case, there's a chance they'll be brainwashed and become Beholder agents in future missions although you can unlock a base facility that allows you to remove that brainwashing if you incapacitate and recapture them down the line.
The visuals are...okay. I mean, they're not terrible, but they definitely look like they'd be more at home on a seventh generation console like the PS3, not an eight generation console like the Switch. It certainly doesn't affect the gameplay, and I got used to it pretty quickly, but it is rather jarring to go from Mario Kart 8 and Breath of the Wild and Wolfenstein II to this. The sound design is fairly good overall. The music is pretty well done, but the voice acting is...bad. I mean, wow, the voice acting is definitely the low point of this game. It's definitely not at the Sega CD and PS1 FMV game levels of terrible acting, but these are clearly not A list actors. Hell, I don't think most of them are even C list actors. Your CIA contact sounds like he's having a stroke throughout most of his lines. Fortunately, the voice acting you'll hear most often are the random little lines of dialogue from your agents when you have them take an action on your turn, so they're pretty easy to block out and ignore.
Phantom Doctrine is a fun little game if you can find it cheap. Personally, I wouldn't pay more than $15 for it - maybe $20 - but definitely not the normal price of $40. If you can find it on sale, though, then I definitely recommend it as it absolutely is a fun game with an interesting albeit not groundbreaking story. If you do find yourself hooked by the game's story and world, though, there's a New Game+ of sorts where you replay the game and get some extra gameplay and extra insight into Beholder Initiative's schemes. Just don't go into this game expecting it to be XCOM because, as I said in the beginning, it's definitely a dollar store XCOM clone. If XCOM is a two liter bottle of Sunkist, Phantom Doctrine is a two liter bottle of Omazing Orange; it's still really good, but it doesn't hold a candle to real deal.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I've got some great friends. Whenever I'm feeling down - and lately that's been lower than US stock prices on October 29, 1929 - they're always there to have my back. Let me tell you a story. One of my friends, TC, knows that I've been going through a hell of a rough patch. He also knows that I'm a filthy degenerate who loves waifus. He gifted me the other night a couple of silly dumb looking indie games on Steam one of which was The Last of Waifus. I was so excited to play this game. I figured this was exactly the kind of nonsense I needed to find a moment of up in my current world of despair. I was not incorrect in this assessment.
Let's be upfront about this game's quality. It's garbage. I mean, this game is pure, unadulterated garbage. This is kind of Unity engine indie game that one dude probably made in his basement over the course of a weekend. Does that mean it's not fun? If you answered "Yes" to that question, you should probably move along because this is not the blog for you, and I am not the reviewer for you. I played this game until I had unlocked all 15 achievements, and I tell you what, it was the most fun half hour I've had in a hot minute. Okay, so it was actually more like 20 minutes, not half an hour, but you get my point; the game's short.
You play as a big titty anime girl in a camo bikini carrying an entire arsenal of weaponry from a knife and a bow to a rocket launcher and what I assume is supposed to be a .50 caliber sniper rifle. Once you go through the gate separating the safe area from the actual game, you have to survive waves of identical shirtless zombies all of whom clearly didn't miss a single day at the gym. That's it. That's the whole game. As far as I've been able to tell, there's only one map, and the waves never end. You just keep shooting identical zombies until you inevitably die. There is no story. There are no bosses. There is no enemy variety. You just shoot and eventually die. Then you respawn at the safe area and do it again. That's The Last of Waifus. And why is she holding that rifle by the magazine when there's a grip literally an inch in front of it? These are the questions that keep me up at night.
Now clearly this game's title is referencing The Last of Us, but other than the main menu very vaguely resembling it and the ruined block of town you play in looking kind of sort of like a city area from The Last of Us maybe if you squint real hard and turn your head sideways, there aren't any similarities. I don't actually even know if these are technically zombies. Are they? Are they aliens? Are they Weyland-Yutani androids? Are they reclaimed Borg drones with all of their implants removed? Are they vampires who've developed an immunity to sunlight? Are they emo kids on steroids? I don't know. All I know is that they want to kill my unnamed waifu, and it's mildly entertaining to shoot at them.
The Last of Waifus is a mindless time waster and nothing more. As a mindless time waster, though, it does a pretty fair job in my opinion. There's more depth in a sidewalk puddle, but if you just want to spend ten or fifteen minutes shooting things as a cute anime waifu, this is the game for you, bro. It's $2 on Steam, and I can say with absolute certainty that this game brought me significantly more satisfaction than an Egg McMuffin (and that actually costs more than this game). It's repetitive, and it's as bare bones as it gets, but it's cute. At the end of the day, isn't that what the world really needs in 2020? Cute waifus killing things? As a video game, though, if I'm being objective, it's pants.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows
I normally am not one to jump on Star Wars games on release day - I'm a much bigger Star Trek fan than I am a Star Wars fan - but this is one that I knew from the first reveal that I couldn't sleep on. John Linneman said in Digital Foundry's review that Star Wars Squadrons was a "perfect console game," and I couldn't agree more. He was able to test it on Xbox One, Xbox One X, Playstation 4, Playstation 4 Pro, and Playstation VR whereas I've only been able to play on the Xbox One X, but between my personal experience with the One X and his detailed analysis of how it runs on the other hardware, I've got to tip my had to EA - this really is a perfect console game.
Let's start with the reason I play games - the single player campaign. The story takes place between the end of Return of the Jedi and the start of The Force Awakens as the Galactic Empire continues to struggle against the infant New Republic while dealing with the fallout of Emperor Palpatine's death. The game tells a split narrative in which you play as both a New Republic pilot and an Imperial pilot depending on the mission. The campaign revolves around the New Republic's secret project to build its new Starhawk class capital ship, either running missions as a Republic pilot to help make that construction a reality or as an Imperial pilot to sabotage the project. The story itself is great, but what really sold it for me is the motion capture and voice acting. A lot of the cut scenes really felt like I was watching a Star Wars movie. It's a hell of a cinematic game.
The gameplay itself is, at its core, your average first person space dogfighter but polished to perfection. The game features four classes of ship the exact class of which naturally varies depending on whether you're playing as the Republic or the Empire - Fighter (X-Wing or TIE Fighter), Interceptor (A-Wing or TIE Interceptor), Bomber (Y-Wing or TIE Bomber), and Support (U-Wing or TIE Reaper). Each ship handles totally differently and plays a different role, so there's plenty of gameplay variety to be had here. The handling of the fighters makes it feel more authentic than I can adequately describe. I can only imagine how fantastic playing this VR must be (note to self: double dip on Playstation 4). By gaining experience and leveling up in multiplayer, you can unlock additional ship components each of which have their own pros and cons. Some lasers do more damage than others but overheat faster. Some shields have a higher capacity but slower recharge. Some hulls have more hit points but cut your maneuverability. Some engines have better boost but lower top speed. You can equip various secondary items - repair droid, proton torpedoes, seeker missiles, etc. In that regard, your ship loadouts are every bit as customizable as loadouts in a first person shooter, and can add an enormous amount of variety to the gameplay.
Despite the fact that I'm primarily a story mode gamer, it was actually the multiplayer that drove my purchase decision here. Normally I'd have gotten a game like this on Playstation 4 due to the VR support, but I got this one on Xbox One to play with college friends, and I absolutely do not regret that decision because the multiplayer here is absolutely fantastic. You've got your standard PVP dogfight mode - Imperial team vs Republic team - but you've also got two version of a fleet battle mode. In this game mode, each team has a capital ship, two frigates, and a bunch of fighters. Your goal is to destroy enough enemy fighters to gain the momentum advantage, then destroy the two frigates, then finally destroy the capital ship to attain victory. If enough of your ships get destroyed to give the enemy the momentum advantage, you have to go on the defensive until you can retake that advantage. It's a brilliant game mode that in my opinion is far more rewarding than the standard dogfight. There are two versions of this mode - PVP and PVE. The difference is pretty obvious; both teams are human players in one version whereas one team is entirely AI in the other.
Star Wars Squadrons just gets everything right. It really is a perfect console experience. The single player is a ton of fun, the multiplayer is virtually perfect, and the game looks absolutely beautiful in 4K. The detail on the huge battleships is stunning, and the frame rate is damn locked at 60 fps on the One X. The cherry on top is that the game is only $40 on day one. This is peak Star Wars action, folks, and it's a perfect swan song for the Frostbite 3 engine since I'd be willing to be that this will probably be the last major AAA game we see released before EA unveils Frostbite 4. No matter if you're an Xbox gamer, a Playstation gamer, or a PC gamer, between how damn good this game his, how well it runs, and its relatively low price point, this is one flight combat sim you can't afford to sleep on especially with the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X haveing backwards compatibility.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.